The four of us set off to circle the sacred Arunachala Mountain on a hot Indian summer day at 3.30 p.m.. The sun was blazing down mercilessly upon us. It couldn’t have been hotter. I have been living for decades in a cold country where MINUS double digit degree temperatures are the norm, this was my first exposure to India’s pollution, or the noise or the lorries belching out smoke and stirring up dust. Besides, my only claim to exercise was an occasional 4k walk on a treadmill in the controlled environs of a gym. I should have taken all of these into consideration before I started the walk, but I was way too excited to bother.
We must have walked 45 minutes, when I tired out and sat down. I prayed, “Arunachala, I want to do Girivalam. Please help me.” Moments later, I found the strength to walk again. The others in the group wanted to take the inner Pradakshina route. I had read only good things about it on a friend’s blog, but the group was worried I wouldn’t be able to get an auto back to the Ashram, if I wanted to. I assured them that I would be okay.
A dog joined us
As we entered the gated inner path, I noticed there was a dog waiting expectantly for us. [Many siddhars to take on the forms of animals to help out devotees. That aside, dogs are the vahana or vehicle of Lord Bhairava]. This beautiful dog wagged his tail and joined us on our girivalam. He stopped when we stopped and walked, when we did. I found it interesting that he walked neither ahead of us nor behind us. He walked with us. [ see pictures here]
He was a cute dog, with large expressive eyes. There was so much love coming from him that I finally asked him, “Who are you?”. He simply wagged his tail and went off on a path to the side. For sure, he was someone very special to Arunachala Siva. I thought it was very auspicious that a dog should accompany us on my very first girivalam.
The dog went behind a building and looked at us from there. All four of us felt he was beckoning us and we followed him. It was a good thing that we went because there was shady spot were we could rest and it was the last of the concrete benches we could find for the next hour.
The Inner Path is hard
The inner path is hard to walk. Don’t let any one tell you otherwise. I was told it as long as the outer path but guides take westerners on only 7.5 kms of it, leaving out the parts that go through the noisy and busy town. Unlike the outer Pradakshina road, there are no trees to provide shade. Besides, the sun beat down mercilessly upon us and the terrain became more rugged with every step we took.
My legs had long become very stiff from walking and I found it difficult to find large rocks to sit on without having to bend my knees. There were only thorny bushes and I couldn’t squat like Indian villagers do. I was beginning to feel marble-sized blisters developing on the underside of my feet. No, I was not barefoot. I was wearing good American shoes.
My group was very patient with me. “Keep your mind on Siva, and you will be okay,” they said repeatedly. The only thing that occupied my mind, right that moment, was how difficult the terrain was, how much my legs hurt and how tired I was. I had long stopped looking up at the peak of the Arunachala mountain with every step I took. The only practical thing to do was to see where I put my foot next, lest I twisted my ankle or fell in a ditch.
In desperation, I looked up at Arunachala Siva and asked “why do you make everything so difficult for us? We have to fast on Mondays, stay up nights on Siva Ratri, and now this?” Just when I thought that, we found the road again. It was three hours since we had left Ramanasramam. I could see many tea stalls on the other side of the road and wanted to buy the dog some water and biscuits for accompanying us through the rough terrain.
Water and biscuits for the dog
“Would he cross the road and come with us?” I wondered. Just when I thought that, the dog crossed the road ahead of us and went straight to a tea-stall I would have gone into. The shop owner looked bright, cheerful and happy. We got the dog a drink and some cookies, which he ate, gladly, but I could see his mind was on something else. For whatever reason, he wanted to accompany us on our girivalam.
At this stage, there were four kilometers more to walk and I was very tired. The others in the group persuaded me to take an auto rickshaw back to the ashram. I was proud of what I had accomplished. I had walked two-thirds of the way on my very first girivalam. So I bid them adieu. When my auto passed them, I saw the dog was still following them but they were totally oblivious of the animal.
Already planning my next girivalam
Back at Ramanasramam, the manager was worried if I had withstood my first girivalam. He came and sat with me while I had dinner. I couldn’t help but notice how caring and loving some people at Ramana Ashram were. For sure, Ramana's love shone through all of them.
I went to sleep, after a late night shower. I woke up around midnight, refreshed and already planning my next girivalam.
I was worried about the dog that had accompanied us earlier in the evening. Did he get back home safely, did he take the inner path? It would have been dark for him by then and there were nocturnal wild animals to think of. If he took the outer Pradakshina route back, then there were streets to cross and cars and buses to think of. Did someone feed him dinner? I worried myself sick until I could worry no more. I asked Arunachala to take care of him and fell soundly asleep.
These dogs do Girivalam regularly
Next morning, I asked the three people I walked with, what became of the dog and they didn’t know. They hadn't noticed that the dog was still following them.
Luckily, I met an American who now lives in Tiruvannamalai. I told him that a dog had accompanied us on girivalam and he said that there were a couple of dogs that do Girivalam with him regularly. In fact, they were with him just that morning. Relieved, I logged on to his blog to see if we were talking about the same dog, and we were. The dog that had accompanied us the previous evening was safe and had walked with my friend the next morning. [ See http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=3001254594310904295&postID=7341544569300482851 ]
I thanked Arunachala for that and asked for blessings to do more giri pradakshina. He blessed me because over the next few days, he let me do three Girivalam, totally on foot.