Arunachala – the mystery Mountain in South India – a Holy Hill emanating a great silence, a core-deep peace.
Life is manifesting around this Hill, in the temples and shrines where gods and goddesses are worshipped, on the sidewalk where orange-clad men sleep each night, in the numerous chai stalls that serve tea and coffee all day and night long, the dogs dancing and prancing thankful for a biscuit or a loving rub, the monkeys who are hand-fed bananas each day from a motorcycle seat, and the devotees who walk the Hill’s fourteen kilometer circumference barefooted.
It is also a road where vehicles belch out black smoke, loudspeakers erupt with music or chanting at any hour, old people scuffle forward for lack of strength, garbage sits rotting in the sun and beggars hope for a hand-out. It is a multi-layered Indian meal. A meal of sharp contrasts that can be hard for a mind to digest – yet tenderize the toughest hearts.
Each time I walk around the Hill, different lenses appear before my eyes. Today as I approached one small roadside temple a friendly dog waggled and wiggled before me. I turned to walk on and then felt pressure on my stomach. Looking down, I saw two paws on my belly and a loving face turned upwards. A large-bellied priest emerged from inside the temple, laughed and said, “Cookie, she wants cookie.” Alas, I had no cookie but her loving spirit stayed with me around the Hill.
At a chai stall, a ragtag thatch-covered shelter, the chai vendor showed me a small white dog lying by the fence. I went over to look at the shallow breathing dog, who did not move or show any awareness of my presence.
The vendor said, “Madam, dog sick. No eat, no drink milk. Can you help? Tell someone?”
I said, “Okay, I will let the people at the animal hospital know.”
In a country where dogs are often treated like yesterdays bad meal, that obvious poor man sparkled – adding one more gem to India’s humility crown.
An hour later, reaching one of South India’s grandest temples, the twenty-five acre Arunachaleswar Temple, I passed young Vedic scholars chanting in the Temple courtyard.
I walked to a back hall where twenty-one priests sat face-to-face in two lines chanting the Vedas, India’s sacred scriptures. Sanskrit verses rang out in the atmosphere and circled the walls covered with ancient Hindu images decaying from moisture and age.
It could have been a scene from hundreds of years ago – only one thing gave it away – the cell-phones lying on the mats beside the chanters.
Two hours later the group stood up and walked outside into the Temple courtyard. They continued chanting for another ten minutes, and then ending, turned around and looked up at the Holy Hill behind them.
On my way out of the Temple I saw a family gathered around a camphor lit flame – a simple offering to the mysterious Divine.
The dance of existence swirls.
A Holy Hill stands in the background.
Silence solid as a Mountain.