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GIRI VALAM – The circumambulation of the Arunachalam hill
Arunachalam Hill as seen from different points of Giri valam path
Giri Valam : Introduction
Giri Valam is a Hindu religious practice observed in the town of Thiruvannamalai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the name given to the ritualistic circumambulation of a hill called Arunachalam Hill situated at the centre of the town of Thiruvannamalai. This 14 km circumambulation of the hill is also called Giri Pradakshina, or simply, Pradakshina.
The Arunachalam Hill, also called Arunagiri, Arunai, Sonagiri, Sonachalam or Annamalaiar Hill is considered as a huge Shiva Lingam & a circumambulation of this sacred hill is regarded as one of the highest sacred circumambulations that have been prescribed in the scriptures.
Giri Valam : When it is done
As per the tradition, a proper Giri Valam should be done on the day preceding every full moon, the best in the Tamil month of Karthigai (November-December). However, many people do this ritualistic circumambulation of the hill on other days as well.
The importance of Giri Valam or Pradakshina
The scriptures also mention the rewards of doing Giri Valam on a particular day of the week as follows :
Sunday : A devotee who does this on a Sunday goes into Suryaloka (the Region of the Sun) & attains liberation.
Monday : Doing the Giri Valam on Monday remains free from the afflictions of old age& death.
Tuesday : Doing this on Tuesday makes a person debt-free & an emperor.
Wednesday : A devotee who does this on a Wednesday becomes omniscient & wise in all subjects.
Thursday : Doing this on a Thursday makes one a Guru (Master) & is worshiped by all.
Friday : Doing Giri Valam on a Friday makes one prosperous & takes one to Vishnuloka (The abode of Lord Vishnu).
Saturday : A devotee who does this on a Saturday is rewarded with worldly success & can avert the ill-effects caused by the planets as shown in his/her horoscope.
All Karma-s are destroyed by performing Giri Valam.
Pradakshina : The Spiritual meaning
Great sages had emphasized a special meaning of the term Pradakshina as follows :
PRA = Removing all sins.
DA = Granting desires.
KSHI = Obliterating the fruits of Karma.
NA = Attaining Liberation through Jnana (Knowledge).
How to do Giri Valam
As per the scriptures, the best is to perform the circumambulation in forty days. If that is not possible, it should be done in eleven days. If that is not possible, it should be done on the day before the full moon day in the month of Karthigai. If even that is not possible, it can be done on the day before the full moon day of other months.
Giri Valam is traditionally done barefooted, keeping the hill always on the right side. One should walk slowly doing meditation or chanting the name of Lord Shiva all the time.
The route of Giri Valam
The circumambulation starts at the eastern Gopuram (Tower) of the temple dedicated to Lord Arunachalam or Annamalaiar, the name by which Lord Shiva is known here. The path goes along the city roads, & passes by eight important Shiva temples housing eight forms of Lord Shiva called Ashta Lingam, & a large number of other temples.
In major portion, the Giri Valam path is along the footpath, covered by tiles to facilitate barefoot walking. In some places one has to walk along the main metalled road.
The major portion of the path has trees on both sides, mostly the Tamarind tree, to provide shadow to the devotees who take this strenuous 14 km walk bare feet. There are also provision of drinking water & refreshments along the route.
There are distance markers along the route denoting the distance covered & the remaining distance. In many places, there are PA system blaring gently Shiva Stotrams ( Chanting of Lord Shiva’s name), thus imparting a holy & serene atmosphere.
The sacred hill is kept on the right side all along the route. The hill, jutting like a huge Shiva Lingam, always gives a sense of devotion & fulfilment to a person doing Giri Valam.
The circumambulation ends at the same place where it starts, that is the estern Gopuram of the Annamalaiar temple. Devotees complete the circumambulation by doing a Puja of the Lord Annamalaiar.
The route of Giri Valam
The modern touch
The age-old practice of Giri Valam is also touched by the modern technology. At one point of the path, there is a display board stating the availability of a software (“App”) which can be downloaded in a smart phone. This “app” can give many information to the modern-day devotees about the Giri Valam.
As said before, this refers to the eight Shiva Lingams situated along the Giri Valam path, & it is customary to worship these eight Shiva Lingams while doing the Giri Valam. They are considered the Guardians of the twelve Moon Signs.
The eight Lingams & the Moon Signs they control are (as per their appearance along the Giri Valam path) :
Indra Lingam (controlling Taurus & Libra); Agni Lingam (Leo); Yama Lingam (Scorpio); Niruthi/Nirudhi Lingam (Aries); Varuna lingam (Capricorn & Aquarius); Vayu Lingam (Cancer); Kubera Lingam (Sagittarius & Pisces) & Eesanya Lingam (Gemini & Virgo).
Of the eight, seven are situated on the LEFT hand side of the Giri Valam path, only the Agni Lingam is on the RIGHT hand side.
Ashta Lingam photos
Sri Ramana Ashram
The Ashram established by the modern sage & Advaita Vedanta Philosopher Ramana Maharshi , who has a huge world-wide following even long after his demise, merits a special mention here. This serene Ashram is situated on the Giri Valam path, & the devotees make it a routine practice to go to this Ashram to pay homage to the memory of Ramana Maharshi.
Photos of Ramana Ashram
As someone has remarked, India is a country of religious practices, & Giri Valam, though strenuous especially during the hot months, undertaken by thousands of people from all levels of social strata amply proves that. There is no difference whether you are a millionaire or a pauper, if you want to do Giri Valam, you have to undertake the same hardship like the others. Yet, after completing the strenuous journey, despite having blisters in feet & painful cramps in the legs, everyone smiles a smile of fulfillment & joy. Religion, despite having many bad names now-a-days, is really a great leveler indeed.
THE AUTHOR HAS PERFORMED THIS PILGRIMAGE, & HE SINCERELY THANKS GOD FOR GIVING HIM THE CHANCE TO DO THIS.