Tiruvannamalai and the Silence of Mount Arunachala

There’s a saying amongst spiritual seekers that it’s grace alone that brings you to Tiruvannamalai and Mount Arunachala, and when the mountain calls you, you must go.

Tiruvannamalai, around four hours from Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India, is a holy town with a distinctive dual identity. Home to an important temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, where he is worshiped as the element of fire, it attracts plenty of Hindu pilgrims who come to be purified and liberated from their sins. As is common in India, the area around the temple is congested and clamorous. Yet, just a few kilometers southwest, calmness pervades. It is here that the Sri Ramana Ashram is located, drawing devotees of the revered spiritual teacher Sri Ramana Maharishi.

Both Hindu pilgrims and spiritual devotees are united in their pursuits by Mt Arunachala. Certain sacred sites around the world are believed to buzz with energy and evoke a strong connection to the divine, and this holy mountain is one of them.

Hindus consider Mt Arunachala to be a manifestation of Lord Shiva himself. On full moon nights Hindu pilgrims circumnavigate the mountain, walking the long road around it on foot while meditating on Lord Shiva. Once a year, on the occasion of Karthikal Deepam in late November or early December, a towering fire is lit at nightfall on top of the mountain in honor of the Lord. The fire symbolizes his light, which banishes darkness and evil. More than 500,000 pilgrims come to circumnavigate Mt Arunachala at this auspicious time.

Sri Ramana Maharshi was also aware of the special energy of Mt Arunachala. According to him, the mountain is a source of silent transmission. It emits a “jamming signal” that stops and silences the mind. This has led to Mt Arunachala being called the most silent place on earth.

In December 2013, I found myself in Tiruvannamalai. Ashok from Bougainvillea Tours offered to take me up to a healing cave on the mountain. I assumed we’d go to one of the well-known meditation caves there. I was wrong though. We went to an unknown cave that his grandparents had showed him when he was young. It wasn’t easy to get to. After crawling under branches at times, we reached a small cave obscured behind some bushes. Made from craggy boulders, the cave was unremarkable looking. It was only big enough to accommodate a few people and it was impossible to stand inside it.

Little did I know what was about to happen to me.

Inside, Ashok instructed me to sit down in a certain place, put my hands in certain positions on the roof of the cave, and meditate. It wasn’t easy. I was hot and sweaty from climbing up the mountain. I was also both tired from my travels and energized by the strong coffee I’d had earlier. And, my mind was chattering, asking me what the heck I was doing. None of it was a good combination for meditation. At times, I just sat there, gazing out into nature with my eyes half open. I could easily see the hazy energy fields of the trees and plants.

Gradually, I started noticing a strange thing happening to me. I began feeling very light and relaxed. And then, even lighter. The longer I sat in the cave, the stronger I felt the energy becoming. Time passed quickly, but I must’ve been in there for around an hour when all of a sudden, my mind became completely quiet. I no longer had to try and focus it to be quiet. It just was. There was no way I could even think about anything. There was nothingness. Just a feeling of such lightness, of being completely disconnected from my body, and of my energy merging with the energy of everything else around me.

I had no idea how I was going to get back down the mountain. Surely, I couldn’t walk. I’d have to float! Ashok instructed me to turn around and put my head on a rock at another point on the cave. Within a couple of minutes, I felt somewhat normal again. It was like a switch had been flicked off. The lightness and trippiness rapidly faded.

“The energy can be too strong for people to handle if they’re not used to it. Keeping your head in that position allows it to drain back into the cave,” Ashok explained to me.

I’ve studied Reiki (a form of energy healing) and I do meditate, so I’m not unfamiliar with such experiences. What really shocked me was how profound it was. To have my mind completely dissolved like that, without even trying or focusing, was astonishing and unexpected.

I must’ve experienced the “jamming signal” that Mt Arunachala is renowned for, and could only conclude that I’d been blessed with grace.