Pilgrimage to Red Mountain | A Photographic Story
Arunachala translates to Red Mountain and is located in Tamil Nadu, South India. A holy place for the Shaivite tradition, Arunachala is considered to be the place where Shiva manifested a column of light after a dispute between Brahma and Vishnu to then form the holy mountain.
Saravan was my guide for visiting this mountain for the first time. As I waited for him at the base of the hill, he arrived on his motorcycle, and we picked up only water to take with us. We started our climb at 4p.m. in 100-degree weather, wearing traditional Indian attire. As we started our adventure, Saravan was sharing his personal connection to the mountain – to him, and many others, the mountain is Shiva himself.
Growing up in Thiru, Saravan spent his youth getting lost in the mountains, waiting to finally meet his Guru Ayya Narayana. Guru Ayya meditated on the very tip of the mountain, Shiva’s head, for 17 years, without drinking or eating, in a tiny hut. Saravan and other devotees would and still communicate with Guru Ayya telepathically, through ancient Vedic wisdom.
As I was climbing the fire mountain, I felt my whole body turn into a furnace. Dripped in sweat, I was challenged to keep going for what was to be a 3-hour hike, 2671 feet in the air. My guide, however, was hiking effortlessly, telling stories of encouragement and explaining how Shiva is helping me burn lifetimes of Karma.
We arrived on top of the mountain in the dark of night, with only star light aiding us in seeing shapes. Other devotees were already waiting in the hut. We settled by the fire that was heating the clay pot with a very special and tasty healing tea that Guru Ayya taught them to make. Herbs gathered from the mountain, milk, water from the holy spring, raw butter and honey touched my lips with delight and soothed my belly. After more stories and some time for meditation, I settled my body on the rock and fell asleep with the sound of the wind echoing and waves crashing over and over and over…
Time of dawn came, and we woke ourselves up to witness Saravan do a Puja Ceremony, drawing the feet of Shiva with attention and love, chanting with the morning sun. His devotion to the mountain is so beautiful, and my gratitude to him and to the mountain for allowing me to have had the experience and for him to open his heart to me is immense.