In the two months since we said goodbye to Arunachala Siva, He has bestowed many blessings upon us and then brought us back so soon. It is not like we live in Kathpadi or some place close to Tiruvannamalai. We live in North America. So you can imagine how surprised and grateful we were when we found out that we were coming for Karthigai Deepam.
We found out only a few days before December 1. By then, there was no accomodation available within the town of Tiruvannamalai. So we had to settle for something in the countryside. Or so we thought.
As we drove up to our host's property, we realized that it was Arunachala himself who wanted us to witness Karthigai Deepam from these serene surroundings, far away from the town's noise and filth. There were beautiful trees, amazing birds and animals that we had never seen before that came out only at night and we were staying in modern thatched rooms that were out of this world. They were clean. It was Arunachala's gift to us. We were filled with gratitude.
Everytime we looked up at Arunachala Siva, He seemed more beautiful than before and SO happy that we were there for his big day. We could see him from the beautiful gardens on the property and when I laid down in bed at night, I could still see Him. As a result, love and happiness bubbled up in me. I prayed for our entire japam group(see http://www.puthurshivatemple.blogspot.ca/ ) that they may some day be able to witness Karthigai Deepam.
On Karthigai Deepam evening we all waited on our front porch for the Deepam to be lit and then lit our own little lamps in our make-shift puja tables in our rooms, chanted a little, and then went on girivalam.
Going on Girivalam on Karthigai Deepam Day seemed a fitting thing to do after everything Arunachala had done for us. Many of our local friends thought we were crazy. THEY [who know everything :-) ] were going to stay home and look at the Deepam from the comfort of their terraces and leave girivalam to the masses. THEY were going to go on girivalam only after the masses had left town. Ignoring their advice, we decided to go on our first girivalam on Karthigai Deepam day.
All the roads into town were blocked but the cops helped us out by showing us another way. We joined almost 3 million people about the middle of the 14-km Girivalam path. From the start it didn't feel right. We weren't starting from our favourite spot - the Dakshinamoorthy temple - near Ramana Ashram. Also, the roads were wet from water packets and annadanam that the various ashrams were distributing. The path was filthy to say the least. It smelt. It was really bad.
But we decided to keep our minds on Arunachala and walk. It wasn't easy. Our minds were constantly brought back to reality and we walked only 10 kms of the 14-km path. The stench of human filth made us give up the girivalam around Ramana Ashram. "Atleast we made it to Ramana," we thought. From there, we took an auto rickshaw back to our clean and beautiful abode in the countryside.
When our local friends found out, they all had broad grins on their faces. "We told you so", they said. "The Deepam stays lit for 10 days. Go on Girivalam on any of the other days," they piped-in. I guess they were right because today, we did a full girivalam and enjoyed it. It has been a full six days after Karthigai Deepam. The roads have been cleaned up but the muck is stacked up on the sides. The stench of human filth is gone. Infact, it was fun walking this morning after seeing the flame on top of Arunachala. It is so peaceful in Tiruvannamalai. What can I say, it seems like we are enjoying Arunachala Siva all by ourselves.
For the record, the Deepam is not a huge flame that we see in pictures of Annamalai and Unnamalai, and the mountain in the background (like the picture above). It is a small one, very powerful and breath-takingly beautiful (like in the picture below).
The flame is lit every evening for 10 days. At the Ramana Ashram, there is chanting of Sri Arunachala Aksharamanamalai everyday at sunset and I am enjoying it because now I know the meaning of the words. There is also a big cauldron in the courtyard with a huge flame burning in the centre. Devotees being allowed to come up one at a time and pour ghee on the wick.
P.S. In subsequent years, we have done Girivalam on Karthigai Deepam and enjoyed it. Never again were we bothered by the crowds or by road conditions. I guess something within us changed.