Walking Around the Hill
Arunachala Hill appears to be a single integral mountain with a well-defined peak from many locations. Similarly Ramana Maharshi’s teaching is described by many to be pointing to the single peak of “self-enquiry” with emphasis on severance of “I-am-the-body” idea. Even as Arunachala Hill appears to be composed of many hillocks each with its own distinct peak, Ramana Maharshi’s teaching also appears to give prominence to many different spiritual practices. One such practice is walking around the Hill of Arunachala, a distance of about 14 kilometers.
Walking around the Hill is called Giri Pradakshina. Pradakshina means the act of walking around any holy place in a clockwise direction, with one’s right side facing the object of adoration. ‘Giri’ means hill; so giri pradakshina refers to walking around the Arunachala Hill.
Devaraja Mudaliar states in My recollections of Bhagavan:
Such, however, was my indolence and also perhaps to some extent my supercilious sense of superior wisdom which counts mental worship enough without such physical austerities as walking about eight miles barefoot, that even after coming to live in the Ashram as a permanent inmate, I did not go round the hill as most others did. Nevertheless, from all I had seen and heard, I felt there must be something really significant in this Pradakshina. So I often plied Bhagavan with questions as to whether it is important to take this trouble. …The following is the gist of what I was told as the result of my conversation with Bhagavan on this subject.
”For everybody it is good to make circuit of the hill. It does not even matter whether one has faith in this Pradakshina or not, just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe it will or not, so the hill will do good to all those who go round it.” Once he said to me : “Why are you so concerned with all these questions about the efficacy of going round the hill? Whatever else you may or may not get, you will at least have the benefit of the physical exercise.”
Bhagavan thought this at least would be clear to my dull intellect. On another occasion he said to me : “Go round the hill once. You will see that it will attract you. I had also seen that whoever came and told Bhagavan he was starting on Pradakshina, however old or infirm he might be, Bhagavan never even in a single case discouraged the idea, but at the most remarked : “You can go slowly”.
I am now as confirmed a believer in Giri Pradakashina as any other devotee of Bhagavan, though I regulate the frequency of my circumambulations with due regard to my age, health and strength and the strain to which they can reasonably be put.
In Letters from Ramanasramam we read that Sri Bhagavan told: “The greatness of this Giri Pradakshina has been described at length in ‘Arunachala Puranam’. Lord Nandikesa asked Sadasiva a similar question and Sadasiva narrated as follows: ‘To go round this hill is good. The word ‘Pradakshina’ has a typical meaning. The letter ‘Pra’ stands for removal of all kinds of sins; ‘da’ stands for fulfilling the desires; ‘kshi’ stands for freedom from future births; ‘na’ stands for giving deliverance through Jnana.” Really, it is difficult to describe the pleasure and the happiness one gets by this Pradakshina. The body gets tired, the sense organs lose their strength and all the activities of the body become absorbed within. It is possible thus to forget oneself and get into a state of meditation. As one continues to walk, the body automatically gets harmonized as in the Asana state. The body therefore becomes improved in health. Besides this, there are several varieties of medicinal herbs on the hill. The air that passes over those herbs is good for the lungs”.