Suffice it to say, 30 hour travel with less than 5 hours sleep, by arrival I’m nurturing chest cold, next day, I’m down – hard. Having, stupidly left my miracle cure (oregano oil) at home, it is two days of accepting the offerings of my fellow yoga students, from echinacea oil to NyQuil ( I accept and take it all) so that I might recover enough to join the group for our big over night trip to the town of Triuvannamalai, a short 3 hour bus ride. It was a rough landing, but onward…..
My friend Mallory, having spent 4 months in India a few years ago on a spiritual quest of sorts, was looking forward to the great food of India, the delicious chai tea and Indian coffee. None of this is available at the Verite Guest House where we are staying in Auroville. No coffee, no chai, and a somewhat bland, what is called satvic diet. These deprivations in addition to, I’m sure not sleeping through a single night with my hacking cough (although never once mentioning it), no hot water, no napkins at meals (a very strange Indian custom since they eat with their hands), and not inconsequentially, nursing me back to life for 2 days, all converged into a whining outburst on the morning of our early departure for Triuvannamalai. “Why can’t we have chai? Why can’t we have chai? Why can’t we stop for chai on the road?” Mallory eventually put her question to the bus and received overwhelming support for a chai/coffee stop in route to our destination, and good coffee it was. Mallory had chai and a coffee.
We all looked forward to our hotel stay. It was rumored we were to each have king size beds and hot water showers (deprivation nurtures fantasy). Queen size beds – yay; separate rooms in shared suites – yay; air-conditioning- yay; hot water and showers – well, not for me. My shower didn’t work and no one told me you had to turn the water heater on to heat the water. Enjoy the gifts, let go of the rest…..
We did some shopping. Surprisingly I am the only one to show restraint in our little shopping group. We meet for lunch and are introduced to Peter, an Ayurvedic practioner and general scholar on Indian spiritual matters. (Peter Malakoff) We are invited to Peter’s apartment for a talk on the vast and to my mind confusing subject of India’s spiritual heritage. One lineage considers Shiva the top guy, another believes it is Krishna, and still others, Vishnu. Some believe in many gods, some in one God, and the rarest in “only God”. It is the sage of this “only God” school we are in Triuvannamalai to celebrate and learn about…Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Ramana, as a young man of 14 or 15 was drawn to this hill, from which, it is said, the great God Shiva arose in a pillar of fire. Ramana climbed the hill and sat in a cave for many days (I forget how many – but a lot) in a state of samadhi, so now people come to climb the hill and sit in the cave and feel the power of this sacred place. Several of our group do this only to discover the cave closed.
At the base of this hill, the largest temple to Shiva in all of India was built 1000+ years ago. It is also said that Ramana sat in the very depths of this temple, when it was still only rubble, with rats nibbling at him, for many months in a state of samadhi. These stories of sages, saints, and gods are at the heart of spiritual India and as fantastical as we Westerners might find them, one cannot deny the truth in many of the teachings.
It is 14 miles to circumambulate the base of the mountain with temples and holy sites along the way. All but 3 of our group (I being one of the 3) begin at 4:30 a.m to achieve this task before the heat rises to its height. It takes 5 1/2 hours and they are an exhausted but satisfied group when we meet at the Shiva temple to explore this massive stone structure, a courtyard surrounded by high stone walls with many smaller buildings and structures within the walls. Beautiful carvings, smaller temples, hidden gardens, enormous pools of water, the elephant stable and marriage hall just some of the interesting features in this massive temple to the God Shiva.
After all of this serious work, the entire group returns to the hotel to shower, change, check out and of course – shop. This time I succumb…….