The influence if Arunachala is legendary. This exquisite hill is the spiritual equivalent of an active volcano; it’s a super-famous pilgrimage Hot-Spot. The myth is that it was the first protuberance on the surface of Earth. It is The Fire Lingam of South India, the very embodiment of Lord Siva – destroyer of ignorance. It is littered with temples, mosques, ashrams. It is a very holy place. A holy place is a microcosmos in KaliYuga.
Nowadays the most famous ashram is Sri Ramanasramam, the sanctuary that grew in the previous century around Ramana, who as a boy was irresistibly drawn to his father and guru Arunachala. Even during his lifetime when the true-blue quality of Ramana’s authenticity and simplicity shone for all Ages to come, the ashram as an institution grew as a family business and as all human institutions tend, its shadow became increasingly perceivable. Nowadays it has the distinct flavour of a Spiritual Resort.
This is the re-vamped humble ashram Guesthouse, transformed in middle-class times into five-star apartments with rich green green grass unseen previously within a radius of sixty miles – grass that demands lots and lots of precious water and has to be cut by hand with clippers! The rooms all have western toilets, as bad for health as biscuits and chocolates, but this is KaliYuga in Ramana’s ashram.
Nevertheless the ashram is definitely a sanctuary, a refreshing contrast to the surrounding broken-down, garbage-littered, stinky, chaotic and confused surrounding arena – superficial as all may be in the overwhelming presence of Arunachala.
Ramana’s ashram is a sweet, calm, graceful, free space: free of pretentious ideological impositions, free of authoritative control – with notable exception of watchmen with big sticks for the canine and simian confrontations that humans seem to need. The ashram is congruent with the fabulous plurality of human expression, it is truly a sanctuary for visitors coming continually to the hill from all over India and the world, desirous of drawing on the opportunity of KaliYuga: awareness beyond consciousness.
Particularly in lucrative recent times, modern holy men and women also come to Arunachala from all over the world either bringing with them or hoping to enlist devotees. A mildly famous Indian holy man once gave his reason for visiting Arunachala as To encounter new devotees from among the highly evolved beings from other countries who are drawn to this divine place. He found it so rewarding that he built his own ashram and moved here with his Shakti. Foreigners with ambition sit on the stony roadway outside his gate for hours in the infamous heat – maybe they never get let in. His Shakti (who wears her hair in what is generally known here as Boudoir Behaviour) particularly adores foreign devotees who bring her HikingFood.
That any aspiring guru would come and sit expectantly sprouting crumbs of wisdom with his/her back to Arunachala, even charging US$$$ for The Satsang Experience – as many do, has always felt too preposterous for much of a future, nevertheless the phenomenon has remained emergent, you should know: every year when the climate becomes tolerable in Winter this divine place becomes Cult Camp, full of foreigners. Huge five-star apartment buildings swing into action with little Maharajas presiding over their sheep or goats amid tasty smells wafting from kitchens served by locals happy for a dignified job. And holy men in uniform trailing Gopis swan through ashram gates to put in appearances, it’s all so predictable – no wonder the Rishis of old had such a clear view. This is humanity at its most endearingly foolish.
Recently a home-grown Super-Star pretty-boy business-man guru grew up near the vegetable market to rise to infamous heights by his twenties and flash an energetic orange-turbaned smile on huge billboards all over tourist routes and now – after a splash in Bangaluru, he aspires towards translocating his enterprise to the very feet of Siva. Will he demolish the one-thousand-and-eight linga with big brass Donor name-plates – one wonders, or perhaps erect sky-scrapers on the perimeter for his countless devotees? There will certainly be huge free-food kitchens and crowd-control barriers. Lots of job creation. Perhaps he will be forced to buy up even more agricultural land, although this seems most unlikely since many locals are marshalling objections already.
And no wonder – we foreigners would say: launching himself from the platform of poverty within twenty years of spectacular dressing in the uniform of a renunciate, this character has risen to become India’s wealthiest individual! He is the archetypal KaliYuga actor; better than Being in Bollywood.
Yes, but: there is no inconsistency between business and holiness in India, that’s why KaliYuga is so much spicier here than elsewhere and even more instructive than on the other side of the fence where things still do work. The reason for the local objections to the influx of all this lovely money derive from the unfortunate fact that a few years back he was disgraced by a sexual scandal – perhaps concocted by his enemies, however truth is not relevant here; it’s myth that matters.
Nevertheless, you should know that one true guru does live here; she’s not a foreigner, she’s a modest Indian lady in a sari who is reliably present for well-attended daily meditation and she doesn’t talk. Not a word.
So between her and the sanctuary of the ashram and Ramana’s teachings, we can definitely be thankful that some focussed benign influence is still rippling out into the apocalyptic chaos.