Long before I saw the sacred spot with my two tiny eyes, my soul experienced its grandeur in a dream. In the mild darkness of dusk, I found myself face to face with a hill, whose conical structure seemed calm and immensely at ease with itself. Suddenly a black crow glided from nowhere and came near. I ask where I was and the crow replied––‘You are in a village whose name starts with A’.

I woke up abruptly, feeling uneasy by the incomplete reply. This sense of incompletion was to stay with me for an year after the dream, until I boarded a bus from Bangalore towards Tiruvannamalai (Tamil name for the Sankrit Arunachala or the Red Mountain), and I saw a lone hill standing amidst barren uncultivated stretch of land. I realized now what the alphabet ‘A’ had stood for in my dream.

Securing a room at Seshadri Swamigal Ashram (of the late Saint who scared away flies off young Ramana so he could contemplate unhindered), I walked towards Maharishi’s ashram. The spirit of Ramana and the eternal quest of ‘Who Am I?’ is palpable with a single step inside ashram premises. The meditation hall is resplendent with the Maharishi’s presence who lived here just for 20 years of his life, yet its stillness can be withstood only by a strong mind. Taking a path behind the ashram, one reaches the Virupaksha and Skandasraman caves, where the Maharishi lived in silence and solitude for years. As I squat near a stream, collecting water in my palm and watching it slip out, thoughts began to slip from the surface of my mind. ‘This place is lovely!’, ‘The deer is so dainty!’, ‘I am so happy…’, ‘I am here…. I AM….”. Thus stilled, and in this stillness, stirred the words of the Maharishi, “Realization is not acquisition of anything new. It is only the getting rid of thought, the false identification with the body and the limited mind.”

Emerging from this sublime, indescribable state of unadulterated joy, guess what I saw near the meditation hall. The tomb of a crow! The old crow who perched at the ashram and died after having a sip of water from Maharishi’s hand, had been a saint in his previous life (described Ramana), and had come to have a glimpse of the saint before his passing. The presence of this saint of Arunachala permeates the entire town of Tiruvannamalai (one amongst the five holiest towns in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and synonymous with the fifth element of fire). Just like the essence of what he preached exuded more in his smile than his words, heading in the direction of the sacred hill (deity of Tiruvannamali), bookish knowledge recedes to a backdrop.

Gist of the teaching stood revealed to first hand experience. Just like rest is inevitable sitting under the shade of a tree, the presence of Self is evident in the proximity of this hill. Arunachala Shiva stood like an emperor with the definite awareness of its own grandeur. Its barrenness seemed abundant. My soul met with familiarity. Yes, the time too was dusk just like in my dream. The day was to merge into night. Only this time the hill no longer appeared to be of silt and stone, but rather an effulgence, a column of light that creates, sustains, and rebuilds a million universes all at once.

Hindu Mythology does identify Arunachala as the place where Shiva demonstrated his power over Brahma and Vishnu, by manifesting himself as a pillar of fire. As I neared the hill, my pace quickened. Keen to respond to the pull, I cut through the dense shrubs (forest of desire), and sitting atop a crude rock watched the hill in the backdrop of Arunachaleshwara temple (temple of eternal sunrise), and what felt to be the presence of invisible Siddhas. Soon the state called one-pointedness of mind surfaced effortlessly. I do not know if the hill drew closer or I went near, but I felt one with its immovability. As the rays of love emanating from this fiery form of Lord Shiva wrapped me up in a loving embrace, the great mantra Om Namah Shivaya fell from my lips spontaneously. As I repeated the chant, the beads of my breath became fewer and deeper. Its movement was no longer in and out, rather moved vertically up and down along a cylindrical space of vacancy and light. And I knew I have met with Arunachala Shiva, the sacred cone of radiance that resides within me.

Pradakshina (circumambulation) of the base of the mountain (PRA is expelling sins, DA is granter of wishes, KSHI is destroying karmas, and NA means liberation) is considered customary to receive grace. The 8.5 mile trail around the sacred mountain is lined with Shiva shrines, small hermitages, statues of Nandi, footprints of Shiva, more that 360 sacred ponds, springs, wayside resting places and meditation seats of Ramana. Going around the hill barefoot is described as the simplest spiritual exercise, while there are 100,008 procedures for doing so and as many visions of the hill that offer redemption in their unique way!

Views of the hill from Seshadri Ashram (Théjó Muka Darshan) makes the wavering mind purposeful. Witnessing the hill from Ramana Ashram (Éru Pancha Muka Darshan) redeems. Gazing at the hill through the horns of the Nandi (Janma Saabalya Muka Darshan) offers salvation from curses of previous births. Having a vision of the hill from the cemetery (Kóna Linga Muka Darshan) is meant for renunciates who desire nothing but the Lord. Customary rules and the late evening hour did not permit me to physically go around the hill. Yet the urge being irresistible, I silently arose from my seat, and chanting with a pure meditative mind, made a circuit of this great pillar of light in the corridors of my heart. Just then a voice uttering Tattvamasi (Thou Art That) more audible than thunderstorm, lit up my being.