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A Pilgrim’s Guide to Arunachala

A Pilgrim’s Guide to Arunachala

Arunachala is not a physical place – it is a state of mind.  Only by the good merit of countless births will you be called to go there, and if now is your time treasure it.


Since ancient times, the holy mountain called Arunachala, in the town of Tiruvanamalai, India, has been revered as one of the supreme places of pilgrimage on this planet.  Next only to Mount Kailash in Tibet, Arunachala has called old souls to take refuge near its base and go deep within to explore the frontiers of human consciousness and discover the true meaning of life.


Countless yogis and yogini’s have heard the holy mountain whisper to them “come” in the depths of their meditations and many amongst us have heeded this call.

The Sacred Mountain of Fire

In India, there is an old proverb that says:

“You can wander through this ancient land hoping to find her saints & sages, or you can simply go to Arunachala where they have taken refuge.”

The light of Arunchala, the mountain of fire, attracts sages like the radiance of a flame attracts moths.  It is an irresistible and unexplainable pull that draws one there to receive teachings from the awakened ones, and have their karma be extinguished.

Over the centuries the collective vibrations of deep meditation, prayer, mantra chanting,  ceremony, visits from deities and other mystical phenomenon have accumulated to form a halo of pristine pure vibrations that emanate to about a distance of 7km from the core of the mountain.

In the ancient scriptures, and the teachings of the awakened ones, it is said that a celestial realm exists inside the mountain – which is the home of many great siddhas, angelic beings and deities of the higher realms. The mountain is akin to a portal that links our world to the highest causal plane satya lokah – the realm of enlightened rishis and deities.

An ancient temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, in His elemental form of fire, is situated at the base of the mountain.  This fire temple brings balance to the elemental forces of nature, as well as the inner energy body (sukshma sharira) of the pilgrims that come into proximity to the Shiva Lingam that is in the sanctum of the temple. Along with the 4 other elemental temples scattered across Tamil Nadu (earth, water, air, ether), this temple emanates powerful vibrations that support deep sadhana.

Hundreds of ashrams are scattered near the base of the mountain and are a testament to the teachers that once taught the dharma in these sanctuaries.  At any given time thousands of sadhus, swamis, yogis, monks, nuns and many highly advanced householders live near the mountain practicing deep sadhana in order to realize the supreme truth of their own existence.

Of particular interest, is the ashram of the silent sage of Arunachala Ramana Maharshi, who lived at the base of the mountain from 1922 until 1950, when he left his body.  In addition to the main ashram, Ramana lived in 2 caves on the mountain prior to his main ashram’s construction.  He lived in Virupaksha cave for 17 years, and then at the Skanda Ashram (which has a cave in it’s core) for 6 years.  Both of these caves have been used for thousands of years before the Maharshi by other great sages. The vibrations in both these caves are incredibly powerful and help the mind settle into stillness with ease.

There are also many other caves in the mountain which you can learn about here.

Balancing the Inner and the Outer Vision

The physical spectacle that is Tiruvanamalai, is nothing more than the typical chaos of 1 Billion + people living in poverty, which can be seen nearly everywhere in India.

When you first arrive prepare to be shocked at how such a holy place can appear so loud, smelly and polluted.  Do not allow the outer appearance to fool you.  Find suitable lodging, clean food and then begin your meditation.  With your eyes closed and senses introverted you will begin to immediately notice the subtle ease at which you slip into the inner world.  If you find restlessness in the first few days, do not worry, some disturbing vibrations within you are being shaken up and will quickly be released – it will not last long before you tune in to the mountain.  Its vibrations are like a satellite dish transmitting waves – train your mind to tune into its frequency.

Ignore the outer chaos.  Keep most of your attention inward.  Wake up early, bathe, meditate, visit the local holy people, eat lightly, walk around the mountain, visit its caves, read scriptures and meditate as much as possible.

You are welcome to visit the dharma talks and satsangs of the local or foreign teachers, but try to avoid the new age scene that has emerged in recent years.  Many foreigners are now coming to Arunachala giving teachings, bringing groups, and setting a new precedent.

The majority of these foreign teachers largely have good intentions, say positive things, yet are not fully awake. You will need to learn how to filter your teachers like you do your water.  The real teachings are heard in silence and the mountain itself is the real guru of Arunchala.  If you can tune into the mountain – no other teachings will be necessary.

Spend most of your time in silence, solitude, reflecting on Ramana’s teachings or with our sangha.

If you are planning a pilgrimage to Arunachala for the first time, here are a few things that will help ease your way into sadhana …

Make the Area Around Ramana Ashram Your Base

We recommend that for your first visit to Arunachala you stay within walking distance of Ramana Ashram.  The main advantage of this is that you will be able to:

  • Walk around easily to access the mountain (via the backgate of Ramana Ashram)
  • Listen to the Vedic chanting at Ramana Ashram in the morning (Veda Parayana) and devotional chanting in the evening (Wednesday & Saturday is best)
  • Be near the living saint Shiva Shakti Amma –  have her darshan regularly, she will help you from within
  • Find western (non-spicy and more hygienic) food : Dreaming Tree Café, German Bakery, the Ayurvedic 5 Elements Restaurant, Shanti Café (they can even help you get a sim card and an internet package)
  • Be near the healthy grocery stores, if you find a room with a kitchen, and you wish to cook for yourself (Ramana Store, across the entrance of Ramana Ashram , and Nilgiri’s, a few minutes walk from the main gate)
  • Be around other westerners and locals who can speak English
  • Find basic and affordable accommodations:
  1. Ramana Towers
  2. Lakshmi Residence Inn
  3. Homestays: Many local pious householders provide basic rooms for rent (some even have a kitchen so you can prepare your own food.  These are ideal if you want a cultural immersion.

If you choose to not stay near Ramana Ashram there is also:

  1. Sparsa Resort: more luxurious and farther away – you will need to take rickshaw
  2. Sunshine Guest House – Farther away from Ramana Ashram, more communal, quiet and natural, but rickshaws will be necessary

May your pilgrimage be full of light and if you choose to circumambulate the mountain (Giri Pradakshina), which brings an abundance of merit, follow Ramana’s advice:

“One should go either in Mouna (silence), Dhyana (meditation), Japa (repetition of Lord’s name) or Sankirtan (singing) and thereby think of God all the time. (Additionally) one should walk as slow (and carefully) as a woman who is in the ninth month of pregnancy.”

– Ramana Maharshi


About The Author

Ramananda Mayi

Author of “The Essential Teachings of Yoga,” Ramananda inspires the awakening of the spiritual heart through the wisdom traditions of Yoga, Tantra and Vedanta. A natural born mystic, vedic astrologer and ayurvedic medicinal healer, he is one of the founders of Blooming Lotus Yoga in Bali. Bridging the gap between the wisdom of the ancient sages with the modern age, Ramananda is an advocate of selfless service, devotion, meditation and contemplation as a means of promoting world peace.

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