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  • Girivalam shrines – Gautama Rishi kovil

    The shrine of Sage Gautama can be found on the outer girivalam road, on the left side, a few metres before one comes to the Surya lingam shrine. What used to be a derelict shrine falling to ruins has now been renovated in  a fairly correct manner, keeping intact many of the ancient aspects. After the renovation, the Kumbhaabhishekam ceremony to reconsecrate the shrine in all its sacred elements was performed on a grand scale a few months ago.

    The foyer of the temple is an ancient classic mandapam with sculpted stone pillars and statues of some lesser deities. Leading from this, a small ante-chamber opens to the main shrine where-in stands the deity of Gautma Maharshi in the form of an ancient stone sculpted figure with a very fine, venerable head seeing which one feels obliged to bow and pay obeisance to this great saint of yore.

    Indeed Gautama Maharishi is one of the Saptarishis (Seven Great Sages) and one of the Maharishis of Vedic times. He is revered as the inventor of the Mantras — ‘Mantra-drashtaa’, in Sanskrit. The Rig Veda has several suktas (Sanskrit: ‘hymns’) that chant with his name. He was the son of Rahugana, belonging to the line of Angiras. There is even a legend that the river Godavari is thus named because of its connection with Gautama. He had two sons by name Vamadeva and Nodhas. His wife isAhalya, the ‘mind born daughter’ (Sanskrit: manasa putri) of Brahma. The puranas contain the story wherein it is described how Gautama won the hand of Ahalya by circumambulating the divine cow in order to fulfill the stipulation of Brahma that whoever first goes round the whole Earth would win the hand of Ahalya. The ‘chief priest’ of King Janaka by name Shatananda was the son of Gautama and Ahalya. Gautama’s sixty-year long penance is mentioned in the Mahabharatha. Among the renowned deeds of Gautama there is one in the Narada purana which describes the story of the 12-year famine during which Gautama fed all the Rishis and saved them from starvation!

    The Puranas also say that sage Gautama came and worshipped Arunachala at one time and Ramana speaks of this in his Aksharamana maalai verse 26 “Gautamar potrum karunai maamalaiye kadaikannil thaalvai Arunachala” – “Arunachala, compassion incarnate in the form of a glorious mighty hill, praised and worshipped by the Sage Gautama of great penance, turn thy gracious glance of grace upon me, shower me with thy grace and govern me !”

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  • Samadhi – Kevala and Nirvikalpa

    Disciple : I maintain that the physical body of the man sunk in samadhi as a result of unbroken contemplation of the Self becomes motionless for that reason. It may be active or inactive. The mind fixed in such contemplation will not be affected by the body or the senses being restless. A disturbance of the mind is not always the fore-runner of physical activity. Another man asserts that physical unrest certainly prevents activity. Another man asserts that physical unrest certainly prevents Nirvikalpa Samadhi or unbroken contemplation. What is your opinion? You are the standing proof of my statement.

    Sri Ramana Maharshi: Both of you are right, you refer to Sahaja Nirvikalpa and the other refers to Kevala Nirvikalpa. In the one case, the mind lies immersed in the Light of the Self (whereas the same lies in the darkness of ignorance in deep sleep). The subject discriminates one from the other, – Samadhi, stirring up from Samadhi, and activity thereafter, unrest of the body, of the sight, of the vital force and of the mind, the cognization of objects and activity, are all obstructions to him.

    In Sahaja, however, the mind has resolved itself into the Self and has been lost. Differences and obstructions mentioned above do not therefore exist here. The activitiies of such a being are like the feeding of a somnolent boy, perceptible to the onlooker (but not to the subject). The driver sleeping on his moving cart is not aware of the motion of the cart, because his mind is sunk in darkness. Similarly the Sahaja Jnani remains unaware of his bodily activities because his mind is dead – having been resolved in the ecstasy of Chid Ananda (Self).

    The two words contemplation and samadhi have been used loosely in the question. Contemplation is a forced mental process, whereas Samadhi lies beyond effort.

    from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, 13th March 1936

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  • The Mahakumbaabhishekam of Adi Annamalai temple

    The Mahakumbaabhishekam ceremony was performed for the Adi Annamalai temple after 16 years. The last one was in 1996. The events leading upto the grand ceremony were begun on Tuesday, 10th July and the actual pouring of the holy waters on the gopurams took place on Sunday, 15th July. On Thursday, the splendidly decorated yaga salas were inaugurated and 108 sacrificial fires or yagnas were kindled in a spectacular manner during which the waters in thousands of pots or kumbhas were consecrated in preparation for the grand abhishekam.

    It was indeed an awesome spectacle to witness the crescendo of the vedic chants, the exotic rituals surrounding the fires and the divine energy which seemed to pervade and rise with the passage of each day. More than 300 venerable brahmin priests hailing from the four vedic traditions of  Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana took part with great devotion and expertise in all the ceremonies and devotees were treated to a sumptuous feast of religious extravaganza during all the 6 days.

    The word Mahakumbaabhishekam literally means ritualistic pouring of sacred water from the great vessel. This type of ritualistic pouring of water dates back to hundreds of years to post-vedic times when temple rituals were formalized. During the vedic period, deities were invoked and propitiated in great rituals of fire sacrifices such as yagnas and homas, which were performed in the open. After this period, when temples were built for different deities, the divine energy/spirit was invoked by appropriate homas and transferred into kumbhas — brass or mud vessels containing the water of the holy rivers of Bharatavarsha — by chanting mantras derived from the Vedas and Samhitas. These mantras consisted of prayers to different deities for the well-being of mankind, guidance in performing religious duties properly, and instruction in following the four-fold duties of  Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. After the vigrahas of the deities were installed, the energy in the water in the kumbhas was transferred to the vigraha in the temple by pouring the water on the gopuram (top of the temple tower) and on the vigraha of the deity. This pouring from the Kumbhas was accompanied by the chanting of appropriate mantras derived from the Vedas, considered to be of divine origin.

    According to the tenets of Vedanta , the living being is a part of the supreme consciousness which embodies the origin, sustenance and annihilation of the universe as we know it. It is beyond our human ability to comprehend this ultimate reality. The enlightened ones sometimes glimpse the Ultimate through meditation. The ordinary human offers obeisance and worship to the best of his ability to the personification of this supreme being in the form of the deity in the temples. He consecrates the Vigraha sculpted by the best artisan, and installs it in the temple built in the best architectural tradition. Divine energy is endowed on the vigraha by single-minded performance of worship in the best ritualistic tradition. Through the continued performance of worship by numerous people over generations, the divine energy in each vigraha builds up, and the temple as a whole grows in spiritual status.

    And thus,on Sunday morning, July 15th, millions of devotees thronged the area around the Adi annamalai temple from 4 am. The previous night there had been an utter deluge of rain and people had to wade through oceans of water even inside the temple. The lucky few were admitted to the roof tops of the temple where they waited eagerly for the Kumbhas of holy water to be brought up. And sure enough around 9 am the pots arrived borne on the heads of brahmin priests to the loud chanting of the Rudrams. And then they were carried up by the stately Sivacharyas and finally, the waters were poured slowly over the spires of each gopuram hailed by cries of devotional fervour from the crowds below “Annamalaiyarukku haroharaa” !

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  • The Tirumanjanam of Aani

    Mid June to mid July is the tamil month of Aani. During this month there takes place the first of the two important festivals dedicated to Lord Nataraja, the Aani Thirumanjanam festival. Nataraja, the Lord of Dancers is the cosmic form of Lord Shiva  (In Sanskrit, Nata means dance and raja means Lord). The ring of fire and light, which circumscribes the entire figure, identifies the field of the Lord’s cosmic dance encompassing the whole universe. The lotus pedestal on which the Lord rests, locates the universe in the heart or consciousness of each person.

    In the temple of Lord Arunachaleswara, the celebration of the Aani Thirumanjanam festival takes place with the following ceremonies: The deities of Lord Nataraja and his consort Goddess Shivakami are worshipped and brought outside of their altar in the main shrine, they are then borne in procession around the first courtyard and then installed amidst great fanfare in another temporary altar inside the thousand-pillared of the temple. Here the deities are venerated, over the course of the week, with a series of elaborate abhishekams or sacred ablutions followed by karpoora aarathi (waving of camphor flames) and deepaaradhana (waving of lighted lamps).

    Simultaneously, there takes place another ritual which is called the Arakattu Utsavam. During this ceremony, the three great tamil Saivaite saints namely Appar, Sundarar and Manickavasagar, are worshipped in their altar which is the one directly opposite the altar of Lord Nataraja in the main shrine. Devotees crane their necks back and forth in order to get darshan of both the ceremonies as they take place at the same time and the priests rush from one altar to the other to do the honours correctly to all the deities. It is quite a sight ! The end of the festival is celebrated at night with a grand Abhishekam and Aarathi to the deities after which they are borne back in procession to their altar inside the main shrine.

    Interestingly, this festival is believed to correspond to the period of ‘between two’ which highlights the transition from day to night, the ‘pradosha’ moment. From this point of view, it would signify the coming of a period of longer nights and shorter days. And thus the end of the hot summer!

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  • Manickavasagar Utsavam

    Thiru Manickavasagar, author of the ‘Thiruvasagam’ an important scriptural work in the tamil saivaite scriptures, is one of the most revered among the tamil saivaite saints known as the Nayanmargal. He was born at Thiruvathavoor near Madurai in a Brahmin (Amattiya) family. He completed learning religious works and the agamas of the Saivaite order very early in life. Impressed by his intellect, the Pandya king Arimarttanar employed him as his prime minister. Although he was a loyal aide to the king and a “brilliant courtier” enjoying all the luxuries attached to his honoured position, his mind was always immersed in sacred writings on the Saivaite faith. His soul was filled with infinite pity for the sufferings of the people who, he felt, passed through the cycle of births and deaths only to suffer irremediable woes.

    His soul longed for Siva and “he yearned to meet a guru who  would teach him the way of release”. So, it was not surprising that, even when he was sent by the king to purchase horses for the kingdom, his mind continued its search for the guru. He did meet the guru (Siva), as the legends go, on the way. Manickavasagar spent all the king’s money on the guru’s disciples and assistants. Learning of this, the king brought him back. According to the legends, when the king ordered punishment to be meted out to Manickavasagar, Siva intervened on behalf of his devotee and performed some miracles. Ultimately, Siva ordained that Manickavasagar should visit temples, sing songs and spread Saivism, the legends say.

    In Tiruvannamalai, Manickavasagar is believed to have stayed in the village of Adi Annamalai and here the Lord appeared to him and granted him the divine outpourings of the Tiruvempavai, the sacred chants of Lord Siva which are sung till today in all Siva temples during the month of Karthigai. At the place where the Lord actually granted him dharshan, there now stands a temple known as the Manickavasagar temple. The outside walls of the temple contain frescoes of the 63 Nayanmars and hindu gods and goddesses notably one of Lord Shiva-Nataraja.

    Recently, a festival was celebrated here in honour of the saints’ birth anniversary. The whole external structure of the temple was decorated splendidly with golden lights and inside the shrine, abhishekams were performed to the shivalingam and to the statue of the saint himself depicted in the position of playing a veena (since he was known for his musical talents in vocal singing and the playing of musical instruments). After the religious ceremony, the temple authorities had also organised a live instrumental and vocal music concert with compositions of the saints’ works played and sung by local musicians. This was quite pleasant and made a fine change from the usual blaring of loudspeakers with recorded music which is often the practice at small temple festivals.

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  • Maha Puja

    Mahapuja is the anniversary of the Mahasamadhi day of  Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s Mother. It is celebrated every year in the Ramanashram inside the Mathrabhutheswara shrine where the Mother’s mortal frame was buried. This year it took place on !3th June.

    At the time of his mother’s passing away, Bhagavan recounted, “Mother said she would not leave me and go anywhere else. If she went anywhere she was afraid that she might die there. She was particular that she should die in my hands. She used to say, “even if you throw away my dead body in these thorny bushes i would not mind but i must end this life in your arms”.

    Here is an account of the Mother’s death by Suri Nagamma in Letters: In 1922 mother’s health broke down. On the festival of Bahula Navami, which fell that year on May 19th, it was obvious her end was near. After his usual morning walk Bhagavan entered mother’s room and waited on her the whole day, even taking his afternoon meal in the room. About sunset the evening meal was prepared and Bhagavan asked the others to eat, but he himself did not. In the evening the devotees sat beside mother in 3 separate groups singing the marital garland of letters. For a further 2 hours she lay there, her chest heaving and her breath coming in loud gasps; all this while Bhagavan sat beside her, and during the last hour he laid his right hand on her heart and his left on her head. There was no question of prolonging life but only of quieting the mind so that death could be Mahasamadhi, absorption in the Self. Later Bhagavan explained, “innate tendencies (vasanas) and the subtle memory of past experiences leading to future possibilities became very active. Scene after scene rolled before her in the subtle consciousness, the outer senses having already gone. The soul was passing through a series of experiences, thus avoiding the need for rebirth and so effecting union with Supreme Spirit. The prana was absorbed in the heart and the soul was at last disrobed of the subtle sheaths before it reached the final destination, the Supreme Peace of Liberation from which there is no return to ignorance”.

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  • Vaikaasi Amavasya

    The new moon falling in the tamil month of Vaikasi (May-Jume) is Vaikasi Amavasya. This happens to be an important occasion in the big temple of Arunachaleswara and one of the grandest abhishekams of the year is celebrated to the Utsava Murthy, Lord Shiva-Somaskanda (whose shrine is in the left corridor of the inner mandapam of the main sanctum). The ceremonies start early in the morning with Rudra japa and Mahanyasam during which the kalasams and all the abhishekam elements are consecrated.

    After this, the actual Maha Abhishekam commences. It is indeed an impressive array. There are about 5000 litres of milk in cans. Hundreds of pots of sandalwood paste, ghee, curd, honey, turmeric and rose water are kept in front of the deities. Flower garlands and flowers dear to Lord Shiva are heaped in the side aisles for the alamkaram to the Gods. Fruits of the trinity, mangoes, bananas, jackfruits and also pomegrenates, dates and coconuts are brought in baskets. The Brahmin Archaka priests work with tireless energy carrying the hundreds of pots to the pedestal where they are received with devotion by the Gurukkal brahmin priests who then bathe the gods elaborately with the different elements. The devotees who are assembled to watch the Abhishekams are overcome by spiritual fervour every time the milk or curd or honey or ghee is poured on the deities, and as it gently flows down, the air is charged with sacred enthusiasm and devotional energy. The temple musicians play unstintingly throughout the celebration which takes place for upto over 8 hours.

    The Arunachaleswara temple of Tiruvannamalai stands as a towering pillar in the beautiful and elaborate manner with which they perform all the ceremonies due to the Gods and thus celebrate and preserve ancient sacred traditions. Needless to say be it scorching sun or pouring rain, the Gods here are always honoured properly at all the appropriate occasions.

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  • Rivalry over sitting on Bhagavan’s lap !

    When Bhagavan was living on the hill, this incident took place. Bhagavan loved children and was charmed by their innocence. He admired their lack of hypocrisy. Vajreswari, the four year old daughter of Kavyakanta Ganapathi Muni, a staunch devotee of Bhagavan and a well known Sanskrit scholar, had full liberty with Bhagavan and would insist on sitting on his lap whenever she came. Bhagavan would often call her near him, and show her affection by putting her on his lap and talking to her.

    Once Vajreswari came to the Skandasramam and as usual sat on Bhagavan’s lap. As Bhagavan was holding her and talking to her lovingly, a young monkey came up to them. The young monkey apparently got jealous of Vajreswari, pushed her off Bhagavan’s lap and took her place. Vajreswari started to cry, and she pleaded with Bhagavan, “Send this monkey out, I want to sit on your lap.” But the young monkey would not give up his privileged place and continued to sit there. This rivalry between the child and the young monkey thoroughly amused Bhagavan but at the same time, he wanted to appease both of them. He turned to the young monkey and said, “Look, Vajreswari is your sister. Is she not? Let her also sit on my lap with you. Give her some room.” Then he looked at Vajreswari who was standing near him and said. “Is he not your young brother? Come on both of you sit on my lap.”

    Finally both the child and the monkey sat together on Bhagavan’s lap fully satisfied and enjoyed each other’s company. Is this not a practical demonstration of Bhagavan’s great love for all beings irrespective of their forms?

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  • Existence after Realization

    On 26th October 1947, a gentleman asked Bhagavan, “Swami, it is said that though a jnani (a realised soul) appears to be doing all the routine things, he really does nothing. How can that be explained?”

    Bhagavan Ramana: “How? There is a story about it. Two friends while travelling on business slept the night somewhere, and one of them had a dream that he and his companion had gone together to several places and had done various things. On rising in the morning, the other man had nothing to say, for he had slept soundly. He merely said, “I have gone nowhere, I have been here only”. As a matter of fact, neither had gone anywhere; but the first man had only an illusion of having gone. Similarly, to those who look upon this body as real, and not unreal as in a dream, it may appear real, but strictly speaking, nothing affects the jnani”.

    Those who have attained complete emancipation (jnana siddhi) merge with the universe after the bodies fall off, just as milk merges with milk, oil with oil, water with water. In the case of lower souls, because of some samskaras of latent tendencies remaining unexpired, they stay in this world, taking whatever form they please, and ultimately become merged. – Viveka Chudamani, v566

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  • The Full Moon of Chithra

    Chithra Poornima is the full moon in the month of Chithirai in conjunction with the Chaitra or Chithra constellation. It is considered as one of the important full moons of the year. The word chithra means brilliant or colourful from which the term chitrakar is derived, meaning painter-artist or magician.

    On this full moon night, the legend of Chitragupta is narrated among families. Chitragupta is the Hindu god, who is assigned with the task of keeping a complete record of the good and bad deeds of human beings and after their death, judge them whether they should go to hell or heaven, depending on their actions on earth. In some beliefs, Chitragupta is the creation of Lord Brahma and the younger brother of the god of death, Yama. According to Hindu mythology, Brahma is the creator of the whole world. He first created sixteen sons from different parts of his body. Then Lord Brahma created his seventeenth son Chitragupta from his belly. Chitragupta is also called `Kayastha` as he was created from the Kaya(body) of Lord Brahma. He is a divine incarnation in human form. Chitragupta has eight sons namely Gorha, Mathura, Bhatnagar, Saxena, Asthana, Srivastava, Ambastha and Karna. The Hindu religion believes in the cycle of life, death and rebirth. It is believed that those who have done misdeeds in this life have to take rebirth after a punishment period in hell to complete their life cycle. The primary duty of Chitragupta is to create a log of the lives of all human beings. After the death of each creature, Chitragupta judges and decides whether they will attain ‘Moksha’ or go to heaven for their good-deeds and get redemption from all worldly troubles or receive punishment for their sins in another life form or in hell.

    It is a general belief that on this night, any religious act of absolution like bathing in sacred waters or pradakshina around a holy mountain will propitiate Chitragupta who may obliterate the records of one’s bad deeds as a result. Hence millions come to Tiruvannamalai on this night to do giri pradakshina.

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