I have been writing in the blog to boast about how I have been preparing myself to walk circumnavigate the base of Arunachala hill on barefoot. I had a barefoot walk to the town centre and return home. I do not expect myself to encounter obstacle to complete the 14 km journey on barefoot. Mathematically saying, if I run a 10 km quarter marathon for 60 minutes, I will need only one hour and 24 minutes to complete the 14 km. If I walk the entire journey, say 4 km for one hour, I’ll need only three-and-a-half hours to complete the 14 km. If I add on another half an hour for temple visit and offering oblation along the way, I don’t foresee myself to walk for any longer than 4 hours.
A four-hour journey was exactly what Uncle Raman described to me and he had expected me to fulfill his prophecy. Uncle Raman, a neighbour of Ala Melu who lives two houses away from hers, was sitting at the corridor of the tea house having his sip of chai when I walked past. I was about to make my way into the main street of Ramana ashram. Time was 2.30 pm, I felt my ductless glands secreting lots of adrenalin hormone as I was about to begin the walk, taking Ramana ashram as a starting point. I noticed him wanted to say something. But before he managed to utter his first words, I spoke ahead of him, “The street looks empty, no crowd at all? Isn’t today a girivalam day?”. Obviously there was no human crowd on the street yet but only seeing peddlers selling mangoes and watermelons by the roadside and some cows finding some greens to graze by the drain channel.
“2.30 pm is not an appropriate time to begin, it’s too hot. Devotees are avoiding the heat during afternoon. You should come out to join the crowd by evening and if you stay late, human crowds are built up by midnight, it would be the busiest time on the street”, Uncle Raman was clarifying. At 39 reaching 40 degree Celsius under the scorching heat, who on earth will not hide away from the burning sun until it sets down? I have only thought to begin the journey earliest possible, and hoping for early return before it reached late night. I was a Cinderella in the making but a male version.
If you have not gained much insight about Arunachala hill, or completely not heard about it until recently, it is perfectly acceptable. Geocentrically, possible you are a simpleton when you learn geography. No worries, I am not much better. One night, when I was attending a pooja at the Shridi Sai Baba centre in my hometown of Teluk Intan, while listening to Praveen’s singing oblation to Lord Shiva, I was blown away and had an exalted mood after listening to his singing. Of the words I will not forget, Arunachala Shiva was one of them. Soon times later, I was able to hum the lyrics the way he sang. That was how I began to get to know Arunachala, a scared hill that holds reverence unto Lord Shiva.
When I began to walk by the crowd, only I realized I have to study more than I had already known.
According to Uncle Raman, particularly during the months of November and December, during the full moon day according to Hindu calendar, the Hindus will celebrate Karthikai Deepam festival throughout India but this festivity is particularly significant in Tiruvannamalai. Legend has it that Lord Shiva appeared as a column of fire on Arunachala hill, creating the original symbol of the lingam. According to him again, one will come to aware an expressively meaningful lingam stones, all eight of them along the journey. One of the eight lingam stones, Agni lingam of fire, it’s the nearest in town. It is situated adjacent to Ramana ashram. Literally if you see lingam as a stone, it is then a stone. If you see lingam as a composite of universe energy underlying within the erected lingam, then you’ll see it on a completely varying sphere. During this festive time up to half a million people throng to Tiruvannamalai. Many scale the hill and others circumnavigate the base of this hill that has a circumference of 14km. I only have a mediocre knowledge about Shiva Lingam, I have no eligibility to tell you more about it. There is an in depth knowledge immersed within the understanding of lingam, if you explore on it you may find a plenty to gain.
On the left and right to the horizon ahead, it was dotted with endless koils, big and small and many little shrines. Each of them holds devotion to their respective deity. Seeing groups of monkeys swinging on the trees above a little shrine, I wasn’t wrong to find out it was a shrine dedicated to Lord Hanuman, the lord of monkey. There was a little Shridi Sai Baba centre built by the 8th kilometer of the journey, and I paid unto him an oblation of anjali mudra with a humble bow. Seeing Baba is seeing a guru and I felt at home, the Baba centre of Teluk Intan.
I have an incident that night, you may find it amusing but I am still pondering whether to tell you.
When I was reaching less than half of the complete journey, by the undergrowth trees and bushes of a gravel stone yard near a little shrine, I noticed several men stood by some pots above the stove, with their hands handling ladles and dippers ready to scoop some rice and rasam out of the pots for distribution. All I took note was the undergrowth trees and shrubs by the bush, I had not taken notice for the free meal. So, I went in. When I came out of the bush, two men whom I believed were the volunteers of the shrine caught me by my left arm, held it tight and clenched to it so firmly without having wanted to release.
“What have you done? What did you do in the bush?”, they were throwing interrogation on me, and repetitively queried me with the same questions. They couldn’t figure out what a person, an outsider had done in the darkness of the undergrowth bush of their territory.
What did they expect me to say? Should I say, I had an ease of my bladder? No, that was too academic. Should I say I had a clear of urination? That was too subtle a manner to speak. I was thinking of a proper word to tell them, and I knew they were a group of peasants who do not speak words of English. Then I thought of a common word to express.
“I had a pee!”, I divulged to them and I thought they understood me. And their reaction? “Pee? Pee?”, they held me puzzled when they look at each other, then they faced me with an exclamation, “pee?”. I found I was hopeless to explain as more of them, including children began to besiege around me. What do you expect me to say then?
In a reluctant way, I raised my index finger and pointed it to my crotch. With both my hands lifted up then, I put them down by each side of the crotch and I made some sound of whistle blowing off my lips. What happened next? What else, burst of laughter. The children burst into laughter seeing my way of acting making me like a silly fool.
I have never been able to urinate the way anywhere as many people pleased to do. There were pilgrims everywhere along the main road, having chosen the undergrowth bush deep in the dark was my belief an intelligent choice. However, that incident was an ice breaking with the villagers and afterwards I had a treat of rice dinner cooked by the shrine volunteers.
At the 8th kilometre, I was held up for a stop from an exacerbating painful shrill over my feet. Abruptly I felt I needed to pull over as both my soles began to show sign of burning. I knew it was the sensation of my soles having a friction against the ground for long hours. When I turned my right foot over, there were signs of blisters developed in patches. Pockets of blisters with fluid plasma collected in between the big and index toes and within the sural edge. When I turned over another foot, I had a more intense burning sensation and I found more blisters developed on it. I was determined I would be able to make the girivalam to the end. I held up my breath. With my teeth gritted and holding my fists tight, I rose from the brick pavement that I sat and continued to stride off the journey.
I had not been able to perceive the meaning of frantic pain until I surrendered to a deadly cry for a stop some moments later. I had another four kilometres to go before reaching the end point. The blisters on the epidermis layer over the soles of the feet began to shear off from the lower layer. As I continued to walk, the skin began to shear off deeper. It was not anymore a common wound of blisters. For every step I landed my foot on the ground, I had a thousand needles poked on the blisters and having a red hot pepper smeared over the reddish opened wound.
Rising from the staircase of the shrine where I sat while holding tight to my self-disgruntled emotion, with an appalled face I decided I must continue the journey. There was no way I will give up. So, I began with – left, one step and right another step. One two, one two, and I did it very slowly, pace after pace for the rest of the four kilometres.
It is not my motive to write in such a solemn pitiful manner to impress you that how much I had suffered for I am a devout aspirant in offering an oblation to Lord Shiva during the full moon girivalam. No, if you understood in such a way, then you have got my message upside down. That is completely not the idea of what I wanted to convey to you.
What I wanted to tell is, be alert for the level playing field. I deceived myself at a playing field that is completely contrary to the way I live. All I thought I will well survive but not. We live in a pampered, a very material over-indulged society. When I was taken away a pair of footwear, only a pair of slippers not anything else, I almost had a frantic cry for developing severe wounds over the soles. The Indian little boys and even young girls were care free for whether they have a pair of cushion beneath their feet or not. No anything big deal to them but a great deal for me.
Because we are too indulged in every worldly possession and living over pampered, if we lose to hold one of them, we feel life is handicapped. Don’t you think we are highly vulnerable to our list to-have and seem to be softly fragile? It is worth a ponder. Oh a reminder, we can boast but never be boastful too early.
Do you know that in humans for example, the skin on the soles of the feet and on the palms is 4 mm thick and it’s the thickest skin in the body. The soles of the feet are extremely sensitive to touch due to a high concentration of nerve endings. The skin located under the eyes and around the eyelids is the thinnest skin in the body at 0.5 mm thick, and is one of the first areas to show signs of aging such as crow feet wrinkles. Do you know about it?