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The Holy Mountain of Arunachala is revered as Shiva himself. From the time of the Rig Veda, spiritual seekers have been drawn to the magnetic power of Arunachala and they were doing the circumambulation of the 14 km pathway around Arunachala.
This act of walking around Arunachala mountain in a clock wise direction is called Girivalam in Tamil and it is called Pradakshina or Parikrama in Sanskrit. It is called as circumambulation in English. Millions of Devotees and pilgrims from all parts of the world come to Arunachala for doing the Pradakshina around Arunachala. It is one of the most important forms of worship of Lord Shiva and one of the most significant forms of seva (service) and sadhana.
Pradakshina (Walking around Arunachala mountain) has been practiced since time immemorial by saints, sages, devotees, and siddhas. Arunachala is the physical embodiment of Sat, the reality, and hence to have contact with it in any manner is satsang and will help to realize the self and liberate us from Maya ( illusions ) of the world and its bondage and attachments.
To see, think, live and mediate on Arunachala is the way to enlightenment and Moksha ( Liberation).The one very special way of receiving this blessing from Arunachala is to do pradakshina which means to walk barefoot in a clockwise direction round Arunachala mountain.
Devaraja Mudaliar a ardent devotee and who lived in the times of Ramana Maharshi records that the importance of pradakshina became evident to him ‘from the frequent references by Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi himself’. In fact he used to say that the benefits which cannot be gained by meditation and various other forms of mind-control with great struggle and effort,can be effortlessly gained by those who do Pradakshina round Arunachala hill.
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi used to say that the power of Arunachala is such that even if one does pradakshina with no faith, it will still have its effect and will surely purify the mind. “Just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe in it or not, so the hill will do good to all those who walk around Arunachala hill.”
Because Arunachala is the Fire of Knowledge (Jnana Agni) in the form of a Hill, the out-going tendencies (vasanas) of the mind are automatically scorched when one walks around round it. When damp wood is brought close to a fire, it will gradually be dried, and at a certain point it will itself catch fire. Similarly, when the mind which is soaked with worldly tendencies will gradually dry up and at a certain point the mind will become fit to be burnt by the fire of jnana.Such is the power of doing Pradaskhina around Arunachala mountain. Ramana Maharishi said “This Hill is the storehouse of all spiritual power. Walking around Arunachala hill benefits you in all ways” and so doing Girivalam /pradakshina / Girivalam /circumambulation around Arunachala will always help a person to overcome worldly attachments and help identify with the “self”.
Suri Nagamma another devotee of Bhagavan and who served Ramana Maharshi writes‘Bhagavan often said that those unable to meditate would succeed in their endeavor by circumambulating Arunachala,’ (in My Life at Sri Ramanasramam, p. 144.
Kunju Swami another devotee who lived during the times of Ramana maharshi records on p. 108 of Enadu Ninaivugal that Bhagavan once told him. ‘What is better than pradakshina? That alone is sufficient.’
In verse eight of Aksharamanamalai ,it says, ‘It is a well-proven truth that the minds of those devotees who see Arunachala will achieve great love to turn inward towards the Self. Arunachala is the blazing, wild hill of fire [the fire of Jnana] that burns all our worldly desires into ashes.’
And in verse nine Ramana gives the example of a piece of iron being rubbed against a magnet. Just as the scattered atoms of iron are all aligned by the magnet to face in one uniform direction, thereby transforming the iron into a magnet, so when a person goes around Arunachala, the divine magnet, his scattered mind, is turned towards Self and is thereby transformed into Self.
Once Sri Muruganar a devotee of Ramana Maharshi asked Bhagavan about the spiritual benefit of doing pradakshina around Arunachala hill.Ramana asked him to go round Arunachala first and them come to him. Sri Muruganar followed his advice and went around Arunachala mountain and then returned and told Bhagavan that he lost his dehatma buddhi [sense of identification with the body] after a while and regained it only after reaching Adi Annamalai [a village on the way]. He told Ramana Maharshi that the experience was surprise and different to which Ramana smiled and said, ‘Do you now understand?’
This incident proves very clearly the power of pradakshina, and it shows that mature souls can even lose their sense of identification with the body by going round the hill. It also illustrates what Ramana Maharshi meant when he used to say that while going round Arunachala one can experience sanchara-samadhi, a thought-free state of bliss while doing Pradakshina.
The main benefit of pradakshina is that the tendencies (vasanas) are slowly made to lose their grip over the mind, but just as a child cannot easily perceive its own growth, so the mind cannot easily perceive the weakening of its own vasanas.
In Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, volume 2, letter 98, Suri Nagamma records Sri Bhagavan as saying, ‘ What you cannot acheive through dhyana [meditation], you can achieve automatically if you do pradakshina. The place and atmosphere here are like that. However unable a person is to walk, if he once goes round the hill he will feel like going again and again. The more you go, the more the enthusiasm for it. It never decreases. Once a person is accustomed to the happiness of pradakshina, he can never give it up.’
There are eight Shiva lingams that are around the Pradakshina path around Arunachala.They are – Indra Lingam, Agni Lingam, Yama Lingam, Niruthi Lingam, Varuna Lingam, Vayu Lingam, Kubera Lingam and Esanya Lingam. The Adi Annamalai Temple,the oldest shiva temple built even before the main Arunacheshwara temple in Tiruvannamalai is located on this path.It is even more auspicious to perform “Pradakshina” during every Full moon day which would do immense good.
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi declared that the holy Hill of Arunachala is the axis of the earth, the spiritual centre of the world.Ramana expressed his love for Arunachala in action, by doing Pradakshina to the Sacred Hill countless times. While emphasizing the importance of Self-enquiry ( who am I ?) , Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi also adviced his devotees the importance of pradakshina by his own example.
If we humbly and sincerely walk around the holy hill of Arunachala with devotion and pray to Arunachala, then Arunachala will certainly bless us with the wisdom to destroy our ego and find the pure self within ourselves which is Shiva himself.
Just as the mind is automatically attracted to the Guru, knowing intuitively that he can bestow eternal bliss, for the same reason the mind feels automatically attracted to Giri Pradakshina.