“If you want to walk this mountain, you have to do it barefoot”
I was told by the Guru of the ashram I was staying at, as I watched from a far distance hundreds of thousands of people walking up a mountain which looked like rows of ants climbing a hill.
“This mountain (Aruṇācalam) is a Shiva Lingam. It IS Lord Śiva himself. Our shoes cannot not touch it.
Besides, I don’t recommend climbing it. It is too dangerous and people, especially their feet, are highly likely to get injured. It’s too late anyway, sunset is dawning on us and we will light our own lamps here.”
I was in an ashram where I slept on a grass mat on the floor of a room with about 40 other men, all devotees to the great seer Ramana Maharishi. I felt very safe as everyone was very to themselves and quiet. Just like Lord Shiva. There was only one other westerner, a bearded American man, perhaps a decade older than me, who like me, was also comfortable living a (partly) ascetic life.
The ashram Guru’s directive sparked a stronger motivation for me to head to the mountain ASAP.
I ended up in this city because my Guru sent me here on pilgrimage (yātrā यात्रा). I knew nothing about the places he sent me to, only the names and locations. And when I arrived in the city of Thiruvannamalai, it happened to be during the city's biggest festival, a 10 day full moon festival “Karthika Deepam,” when the small city goes from a population of 500K locals to 3 million pilgrims.
This is why I could not find any accomodation except for sharing a room with 40 men.
I happened to be here at this auspicious time, (my Guru didn’t tell me any dates for my pilgrimage), so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to have the “full experience.”
I asked the American if he was going to the mountain. He replied “I am going to celebrate here.”
I kicked off my chapals (sandals) and rushed out of the ashram to the mountain base.
About 50m up the mountain were police not letting anyone up. They said it was too late and the mountain was “full” (too many people).
Me and some young men found a way around them and climbed up.
We were about halfway up the mountain when we came to a halt. There was a big congestion of people on the track. One reason was because it was sunset, the time to light the lamps.
Firstly, the Great Lamp (Mahā Dīpam), that resides on the tip-top of the mountain is lit. This lamp contains 3500kg! of ghee that is carried up by pilgrims and offered.
Once the Mahā Dīpam is ignited, everyone in the city lights their lamps. When this occurred I couldn’t see the Mahā Dīpam from where I was, but it was stunning to see the whole city light up below.
Eventually the pilgrims started moving. I have never trekked up a mountain with so many people packed onto the track.
It was well dark and we got to another halt. This time it was thousands of people held up by police. The pilgrims and police were at tension. Typical eager Indian pilgrims pushing with force vs. Indian police screaming and hitting the pilgrims attempting to manage overwhelming crowds, all happening in a Divine way in devotion and love for God.
This big group of people wouldn’t budge. Nothing was moving.
I somehow made my way around them to the line of police standing their ground. This group of police were tough. They made it to the top of the mountain themselves. They were the strong ones. They were holding off the crowd well.
I had a little digital camera and said I was the media, and they luckily let me through (Mostly because they were surprised to see a westerner).
50m up a small hill and there was the Mahā Dīpam directly firing under the full, Ojas exuding, Shakti of Shiva, the outer of the inner, gorgeous, still, full moon, Kārtika Pūrṇimā.
The mahā fire is Shiva consciousness. The hot-blooded force that has so much mastery over Prana (life-force) that it can destroy the whole of creation with a yawn.
The full moon is Shakti consciousness. The divine feminine dynamically expresses itself with tremendous shakti (energy) that was generated in the deep inner stillness of Shiva’s fire which was bright as a billion suns.
People were having darśana (divine view) of the Mahā Dīpam from about 10 meters away - getting about 5 seconds of time to stand in front of the ghee lamp, pray and have a visual experience of unity with it.
Police and “officials” were aggressively moving people to ensure the 5 seconds were not surpassed. This is typical at any highly visited pilgrimage sites or temples where numbers are very high. And it all happens divinely.
I was again lucky enough to get special treatment to go right next to the lamp and spend as much time as I wanted.
With me were a couple men pouring the packs of ghee offered by pilgrims into the big drum, and also a yogi wrapped in cloth, continuously playing the conch shell while squatting on a boulder.
I thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the moon’s Soma and took my time.
Now I have walked barefoot a lot in my life, especially my teenage years and those days. Certainly much more than the average westerner (but nothing compared to Indians). I have tough feet. But till today, I have never had sorer feet than when I walked down that mountain that full moon night.
It was dark and most people didn’t have torches, but we were guided by the generous full moon light amongst a clear sky.
I limped back to my ashram where everyone else was asleep and lay down in silence as I shifted the wild Prana I absorbed into a more domesticated and balanced Prana to soothe my spine and bless me with a restorative sleep.
Aum Namo Śivaya
- December 2015