Hello I’m Swami Suryananda, from Skanda Vale Temple and I’d like to share with you a most profound and beautiful experience of pilgrimage, that I’ve just returned from in India. It’s the first opportunity I’ve had to travel to India – there was an opportunity for me to travel with my sister Judith and a devotee of the temple, Lata on pilgrimage to Arunachala in Tamil Nadu.
Arunachala is an amazingly sacred place; it’s the manifestation of Lord Shiva as a column of fire. And when I heard I had this opportunity to travel there, there came from the Lord a very strong impulse in my mind to be able to worship Lord Shiva in the form of a lingam on top of Arunachala. And for that lingam to be incorporated into the new temple that we are hoping to consecrate in Switzerland, in Fideris – it’s going to be a Shiva Lingam Temple.
This was a very, very strong impulse, and I offered it again and again to the Lord to see if that’s what the Lord really wanted. And I said to the Lord – “If this is what you want, may you provide the lingams”. We have many lingams in Skanda Vale, but I resisted the temptation to take those lingams with me to India, trusting and surrendering that if it was the Lord’s will, then He would provide.
When we arrived in India, the first thing that hits you obviously is the heat – it contrasts from 2 or 3 degrees in Wales to 30 degrees in India. And the vitality and life, and vibrancy of Tamil Nadu – the colours, the sounds, the smells, the people. The simplicity of life, and the joyfulness of life of the people who live there. It was profoundly beautiful.
We met many, many beautiful people, many simple people, and I was very humbled at how much God was such an integral part of their lives. They invited us into their homes, into their shrines, fed us and cared for us. And these were people whom we’d literally just met on the street, but with whom we had an amazing rapport with when we started to connect and talk about God and the Grace of God.
The holy mountain of Arunachala
After a couple of days of travelling around Tamil Nadu, we came to the holy mountain of Arunachala, and were privileged to stay in Ramana Maharshi’s ashram. It’s like a serene oasis in this land of colour, vibrancy and noise. The ashram is at the foot of Arunachala, and at the centre of the ashram is the samadhi of Ramana Maharshi – the great saint that lived on the mountain and loved the mountain as Lord Shiva.
There’s a profound beauty there, and profound essence of the Divine there in the ashram – an amazing serenity. We spent some time in the ashram, in the main hall where Ramana’s samadhi is, then after a couple of days felt ready to do Girivalam, which is pradakshina (ritual circumambulation) of the holy mountain. We set off on the full moon, at about 4pm, when the sun had started to get a little cooler.
And we were with Lata, who is 78 years old, but whose lifetime wish had been to come on pilgrimage and do Girivalam around this mountain. There were thousands and thousands of people doing Girivalam barefoot around the mountain. As we started we joined the people, and then as we were progressing around the mountain, and as the light faded, the most beautiful full moon came out – a yellowy golden full moon.
And we had darshan of Lord Shiva; darshan of the mountain in His many different manifestations – we saw Nandi, we saw Sada Shiva – the five peaks of the mountain. We saw Shiva Nataraj – the foot of Lord Shiva. And although there was the chanting and the singing and the noise of the pilgrimage always in the background, we were in our bubble of silence as we were walking around the mountain – enthralled at the vibration of the Lord that we were beginning to have that darshan of Lord Shiva.
Girivalam took 7.5 hours, and at the end of it we felt somehow incredibly unified as a small group, and uplifted and joyful at having had this first darshan of the Lord. We spent several more days in the ashram and had many more beautiful experiences of people and life in Tamil Nadu, including being privileged to bless a couple who were being married, travel and to see the amazing temples and the temple to Lord Shiva, close to the ashram and witness Mahabishekams in those temples. And the deep devotion of many thousands of pilgrims who come to that place.
We felt we were ready to go up the mountain to worship Lord Shiva. And it was absolutely clear that prior to doing that we had had to do Girivalam. So again we left the ashram in the late afternoon and travelled up to Skanda Ashram, which is where Ramana Maharshi had spent his early years on the mountain. It’s about an hours walk up from Ramana’s ashram and the places where he meditated are there – there’s a cave that’s set into the rock face and a small building which has been built in front of that now.
And as we arrived there we saw monkeys playing, but people just sitting in silence; in meditation and contemplation – tuning into that timeless vibration of grace and power of God. We spent a little time in the ashram and then started climbing the mountain. When we arrived on top of the mountain we had with us two lingams, which through an amazing grace of God, had been given to us as a gift by devotees when we arrived in the ashram. They had them specially made for us. They had been inspired by the Lord to bring them to us, in order to fulfil the will of God.
Puja on the mountaintop
I was with my sister Judith. Lata, being 78 years old, was not able to climb up the mountain with us. We were accompanied by a very close friend, who knew the mountain well, and who was one with Lord Shiva. As we got right to the top of the mountain, there was this most amazing wind – and we were transported into this timeless consciousness of the Lord. This elemental power and the manifestation of Lord Shiva.
The first thing that we did was to clean the feet of Lord Shiva, which are inscribed right on the very peak of Arunachala. So as we chanted to the lingam and to Lord Shiva, we cleaned His feet with limes, with haldi, with water, and then started to do the most beautiful puja to the feet of Lord Shiva and to these two lingams.
As we were offering the ingredients – milk, yoghurt, honey, haldi, sandalwood, incense – we felt completely merged with that elemental power of Lord Shiva… with the wind, with that column of fire. And we felt that Lord Hanuman was there, directing the puja, as Shiva Avatar, dancing on top of the mountain, offering the ingredients. We just felt so blessed, and so part of the nature of God.
The final part of the puja was offering aarthi. We managed to put some of the Divine Mother’s camphor garland into a coconut shell inside a kumbham, shield it from the gale and the wind, and worship the Lord with fire. The mountain and the Lord then presented us with a beautiful conch, that had been worshipped there for many many years, as a grace and power to accompany the lingams to Skanda Vale.
As we came down the mountain we were able to have darshan of the sacred places where Ramana Maharshi and many of the siddhas had meditated on the mountain. To see the sacred waters of the mountain and to bring some of those waters back, as a grace and power for the temples. It was the most profoundly beautiful experience and an amazing fulfilment of pilgrimage to know that the Lord had organised this intricately – to provide the impulse, the idea, the motivation, the means, the opportunity… and the lingams.
And to think that this lingam, that had been made especially for this purpose, had been integrated with that column of fire and would be placed in the spire of the new Lord Shiva temple in Fideris, as the first manifestation of Lord Shiva’s energy into form – to be worshipped by many many thousands of pilgrims in time to come. Those lingams were then incorporated into the main Mahabishekam in the Shiva temple – the Agni Lingam temple that is near the ashram.
Swami Murali Krishna & Palini Temple
The second part was travelling to Kerala, to Krishnapuram near Palakkad – Swami Murali Krishna’s ashram, for Mahashivaratri celebrations. The ashram is a new ashram, it’s been there about 6 years, but it’s growing rapidly. There’s a temple for Shirdi Sai, there’s a 7-foot high copper lingam, there’s also a temple for Lord Shanmukha, a hall for Maha Saraswati and Maha Lakshmi and a Goshala, where many beautiful cows are cared for. Accommodation facilities for pilgrims visiting from all over the world, and of course Swami Murali Krishna’s Gurupeedam.
The celebrations for Mahashivaratri took place over a week. There were about 15 priests chanting the Vedas throughout the day. Each day started with a puja to Nandi the bull and the cows. And there were yagams, homas and mahabishekams performed on Shiva lingam. Whilst this was going on, twice a day Swami Murali Krishna did a puja in his Gurupeedam, performing the most articulate and beautiful worship of the Lord through the elements, bringing peace into the lives of the people of the world. And harmony and joy.
We were very privileged during our stay in the ashram to go on pilgrimage to various Lord Shiva temples around there, and also to visit Palani – the main shrine for Lord Subramanium. After Mahashivaratri celebrations we went on a 6-hour drive, with very little sleep, arriving in Palani just before midnight and Swami then took us all on pradakshana around Palani hill. And again, it was important to do pradakshina around the hill before we were to climb the hill to the temple.
It was such a joyful occasion. Chanting “Aro Hara” and Vel Vel Muruga” – dancing through the streets of Palani. A group of 50 or 60 of us, followed by packs of dogs, who somehow joined our pradakshina. After an hours rest, we got ready to climb the hill in pilgrimage. And Swami gave each of us kavadi and gave me a kumbum full of milk to carry up the hill for world peace and for joyfulness in our hearts.
We left then and started towards the temple, singing and dancing in joy to Lord Murugan, through the streets of Palani. As we arrived in the temple precincts, we sought the grace of Lord Ganesha, Shiva Lingam and the various shrines that are at the foot of temple in Palani. And then accompanied by drummers and musicians, we started to dance up the steps, the many, many hundreds of steps which climb the mountain, with seemingly inexhaustible joy in our hearts – offering that vibration of joy to the Lord, to transform the negativity and the heaviness in the hearts of the world.
As we got into the main temple area at the top of the hill, we realised what a profoundly sacred space this was – amazing views of the surrounding countryside. And it really felt that Lord Subramanium was standing there on top of this hill.
We then entered the main shrine and had darshan of the Lord having a mahabishekam. After the mahabishekam the Lord was dressed and we were then able to offer the kumbums of milk over the special murthi of the Lord that had been made by Sage Bhogar, from nine medicinal herbs many, many centuries ago, and receive as prasadam that milk, offered over His sacred murthi.
It was such a profoundly moving experience to fulfil that pilgrimage, and to offer all those vibrations of heaviness and negativity of the people that we love and care for – our wider community in the world – to the Lord and to receive the grace and blessings of Lord Murugan into our lives.
We then travelled back to the ashram. And before we finished our pilgrimage we went to see Swamiji and as we went in for darshan, he presented me with the most beautiful murthi of Lord Krishna from his own shrine that had been worshipped for many years.
When he had visited Skanda Vale previously, he had blessed some of our cows that were in danger of being killed by the government. And as he handed us this murthi he said “This is to help protect the cows in Skanda Vale – this is bring the love and the joy of Lord Krishna more into our lives.” And he said “Lord Krishna will show you how He wants to be worshipped”.
Coming back to Skanda Vale with these amazingly powerful murthis, experiences and darshan of the Lord, the Lord had created receptivity in the minds of the Community. And an amazing willingness to embrace change, where change can result in a real inner joy and spontaneity in the worship of God. And it’s our prayer that this can be shared with our wider community – all the devotees that come to Skanda Vale.
Gurus are connected, swamis are connected. God, the guru, you, and I are one. And if we use the opportunities that are presented to us in our lives and really surrender to the grace of God, our hearts will be filled with grace and love.