From Arunachala Puranam Vignettes - By J. Jayaraman

(Prada = giver of boons; Kshi = destroyer of Karma; Na = giver of Jnana. Also, Pra-Dakshina = going around with centre kept to the right). The holy Arunachala is the primal, Adi linga. The path around its base is the sacred Yoni. Pradakshina of the Hill is therefore pradakshina of the source of all lingas! So one goes round keeping to the left-edge of the path. A mere step taken, confers the benefit of a Yaaga, sacrifice; two steps, the fruit of Raajasuya Yaaga; and three that of Asvamedha Yaga. Going round the hill one gains in health and vigour. The hill abounds in rare herbs sought by traditional herbalists. The breeze carries the salubrious wafts from these siddha
herbs to the one doing the holy round. The dust from the feet of such a person, carried and deposited in towns far away effects immeasurable purification.

The circumambulation of Arunachala (Giripradakshina) has been prescribed as a panacea for all the ills of life. The Maharshi encouraged all of his devotees to make the nine-mile circuit, even those who were infirm, knowing for certain that the spiritual benefits of giripradakshina far outweighed any physical hardships. He said, “The greatness of this giripradakshina has been described at length in Arunachala Puranam. Lord Nandikesa asked Sadasiva about its greatness and Sadasiva narrated as follows: “To go round this hill is good. The word ‘pradakshina’ has a typical meaning. The letter ‘Pra’ stands for the removal of all kinds of sin; ‘da’ stands for the fulfillment of desires; ‘kshi’ stands for freedom from future births; ‘na’ stands for the granting of deliverance through jnana. One should go round either in mouna (silence) or dhyana (meditation) or japa (repetition of Lord’s name) or bhajan (singing praises) and thereby think of God all the time. One should walk slowly like a woman who is in the ninth month of pregnancy.”

Another day while describing its benefits, the Maharshi was recorded to have said, “Really, it is difficult to describe the pleasure and the happiness one gets by this pradakshina. The body gets tired, the sense organs lose their strength and all the activities of the body become absorbed within. It is possible thus to forget oneself and get into a state of meditation. As one continues to walk, the body automatically gets harmonized as in the asana state. The body therefore becomes improved in health. Besides this, there are several varieties of medicinal herbs on the hill. The air that passes over those herbs is good for the lungs.

“Pilgrims become absorbed in their Atma by walking with no other thought than that of God. Giripradakshina is also the same thing. The body becomes light and walks of its own accord. There will not be the feeling that we are walking. The dhyana that you cannot get into while sitting, you get into automatically if you go for pradakshina. 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.”

These days it is a common sight to see hundreds thousands of pilgrims piously treading the pradakshina route on purnima, the full moon night, and there are also a good number of devotees that make the circuit daily. The Maharshi often walked around the hill taking a whole day, several days or sometimes even a week. This came to an end in 1926 when he felt that the attention he attracted while doing pradakshina inconvenienced others. But of the early days of his wanderings he has said that there was not a single spot on the hill where he had not set his foot.

The Maharshi’s “Five Hymns to Arunachala” are the ecstatic outpourings from the spiritual heart of a fully illumined sage united forever with his beloved, Arunachala. There is immense inspiration and guidance on the path in each and every stanza of these poems.

When I approach Thee regarding Thee as having form, Thou standest as a Hill on earth. If with the mind the seeker looks for Thy (essential) form as formless, he is like one who travels the earth to see the (ever-present) ether. To dwell without thought upon Thy (boundless) nature is to lose one’s (separate) identity like a doll of sugar when it comes in contact with the ocean (of nectar); and when I come to realize who I am, what else is this identity of mine (but Thee), O Thou Who standest as the towering Aruna Hill. — Sri Arunachala Ashtakam, verse 3
Map of Arunachala and Shrines [Click on map to enlarge the size]

The fruit of a Sunday pradakshina is Siva’s abode; that of Monday is merger in Siva-form; that of Tuesday is termination of debt and cyclic death; that of Wednesday is divinity through skill in philosophy and art; that of Thursday is lordship over gods and god-men; that of Friday is lordship of the Lotus Lady. A Saturday pradakshina confers the astronomical benefits of a nine-planet conjunction in the Eleventh House.

The above effects are magnified if done on Sivaraatri, New-year day, or during the three months, mid-October to mid-January. The fruits increase by a factor of one crore if done on the two solstices; or on the day the moon is in the Magha asterism during February-March; or during the pre-dawn hour; or during solar eclipse or Vidhipaada Yoga.

As to the ritual of the spiritual round, one abjures all thought of the opposite sex on the day of pradakshina. After bathing one wears clean white clothes, applies the holy ash and proceeds, giving alms but without accepting any. One does not wear shirt or shawl or carry an umbrella. Free from fear, anger, irritation or sorrow one walks on bare feet, without using vehicles. Without swinging one’s arms about, with a silent soft tread, one saunters like a queen in her ‘tenth-month’. One bows, first to the holy Hill from each of the eight cardinal directions, and then to the Lord of that direction enshrined in the linga there. One bows mentally to the incorporeal gods and siddhas going the rounds and keeps to the side. One could keep silence of speech and mind; or one could allow thoughts to flow on to the Hill of Fire; or one could sing and listen to songs of devotional praise.

In the company of those of lofty character, one could halt here and there and enjoy a feast of fruit and milk. Otherwise, simple food free of flesh may be taken.

In conclusion, the Arunachala Puranam declares, “The residents of Tiruvannamalai must scrupulously follow the above rules. Pilgrims from far-away places are allowed to do the holy round according to their capacity.”