When I was in college, I read the celebrated book of Paul Brunton. This introduced me to the two great sages of our time - the revered late Kanchi Sankaracharya and Ramana Maharishi. This book further evoked in me a great interest in Annamalai. But, I could never visit Annamalai for a long time.
It was some time in 1993, when I was at Villupuram on the eve of the Karthigai Deepam, I felt a desire to visit the place. My first stop in the town was Ramana Ashram. There were huge crowds all over town and even the Ashram was milling with a mass of village-folks. That day, I did not do the girivalam as I was not mentally prepared for it. But that day was special to me, for on that day only I witnessed the deepam being lit atop the hill, exactly at 6 p.m. I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe, at sighting the deepam.
I came back in 1994. This time, after having the darshan of Annamalaiyar in the form of the deepam, atop the hill, I did the girivalam. It was a scintilating experience. It is believed that on the karthigai deepam, Lord Arunachala is said to be in the hill. The Lord is no longer in the temple. That the hill is verily the Lord on the day can be easily felt by all. In the twilight of the day, as the light is lit, the entire 'mala' appear to be sheathed in fire with the subtle line of light visible to the spiritually discerning eyes. As we do the parikarama round the 'mala', Arunachala reveals Himself in different forms to us. You need to maintain a holy communion with Him throughout parikrama so as to internalise the experience. I used to chant the hymns of Devaram and Thiruvasagam, that I know.
I have made it a point never to miss the deepam - girivalam except on a few occasions when there was a bereavement in the family and I was far away from my place, on account of my transfer. I consider Arunachala, as virtually my father and this visit is to my father's place. This annual pilgrimage rejuvanates me. I did not have the good fortune to see Ramana Maharishi,in the mortal frame, for he attained samadhi before I was born. I always take pride to say that Ramana Maharishi was born in my neighbouring village. I had the darshan of the Kanchi seer around the time I visited Tiruvannamalai. That was during his last days. To me, Swamiji was spiritual grace personified.
I have done girivalam several times now. No two experiences have been the same. On one occasion, I could not make it to Tiruvannamalai in time and I had to be content with the vision of light far away from the town. In another year, I was pained to see all the tanks - thirthams - dry. I prayed to Arunachala that they must be filled the next year. The Lord answered my prayer. The tanks were brimming with the theertham the following year. I had a dip in the last thirtham, en-route, brushing aside the protest from my wife.
I vividly recall a rare experience. As I saw the deepam being lit, in the midst of the chanting of arohara, I was overwhelmed with emotion and tears rolled down my cheeks. I could distinctly see a flash of light coming from the hill and touching me, a clear sign of benediction from Annamalai appan.
I had a desire once to participate in the puja conducted inside the temple, which culminates in the arti accompanied by the bursting of crackers which act as a signal to the temple authorities atop the hill to light the deepam. I had made a prior arrangement for obtaining a pass to go inside the precincts of the temple. Unfortunately, I reached the place where I was to collect the pass late. Disappointed I was looking up at the holy hill. Then I saw a villager approaching me particularly. He offered me the tickets for entry into the temple stating that he had purchased it for himself and that he did not require it now. I cried at the grace of Lord.
There are many more incidents associated with my visits to Annamalai. Each one is unique in itself and I pray Annamalaiyappan to keep me forever under his fold.