Bharat Sundar singing during Past Forward’s heritage tour of Thiruvannamalai. November 2017

Today is sarvAlaya dIpam – when the great flame is lit atop the Arunachala Hill. Last year, around this date, I had the opportunity to conduct a heritage tour in that holy place. The crowds were immense but our group of 24 or so managed it well. Accompanying us was Bharath Sundar, who regaled us with songs of the kshetra. Also with us were my dear friends, Ravi and Sridhar of Thiruvannamalai, students of T Mukta. An unforgettable moment in that tour was when in the lamp-lit sanctum of Saundarya KanakAmbika (Azhagiya Ponnazhagi) at Thiru Arayaninallur (Arakkandanallur), the four of us – Bharath, Ravi, Sridhar and I, sang Dikshitar’s vINApustakadhAriNIm (thOyavEgavAhini/khaNDa Ekam). Yes, Dikshitar was very much on our minds at that moment.

A view of the temple at Thiru Arayaninallur

The song aruNAcalanAtham is his composition at Thiruvannamalai. For details of it’s meaning, click here. I had long assumed that the line viprOttama vishEShAntarangam just meant ‘especially close to the foremost among the learned’. I was gently set right a long while back by Ravi who said that the viprOttama in the song referred to Gnanasambandar. The nAyanmAr had arrived at the vIraTTEswara temple close by and had experienced a divine light. On looking up, he commanded a clear view of the Arunachala Hill. The Lord had shown himself as a guide to the viprOttama. A small monument stands even now at Arayaninallur atop which is a pair of feet, said to depict Sambanda. It is said you get a clear view of the Arunachala hill from the finial of the monument. Later, I checked the dictionary and it listed the following meanings for vipra – sage, seer, singer, poet, learned theologian. Who else but Sambanda could have fitted all these meanings? Clearly the ‘draviDa sishu’ of Sankara’s Saundaryalahari was on Dikshitar’s mind when he wrote that song.

A pond in the rock at Thiru Arayaninallur

Cut to the late 19th century, August 1896 to be precise, when Venkataraman left his house in Madurai and took the train to Arunachala. He got off at Mambalapattu, which was the maximum distance to which he could get a ticket with the money he had in hand, and prepared to walk the rest of the distance – 30 miles. He reached Thiru Arayaninallur, which is 11 miles away and there, exhausted, he entered the temple. He unknowingly sat next to the Sambanda statue there and experienced a divine light. He thought it emanated from the idol of Lord athulyanAthEsvara (OppilAmaNisvarar) but on reaching the sanctum found that this was not so. The light was beyond physical explanation. From here he continued his journey to Thiruvannamalai, where he became Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Dikshitar’s line had come true once again.

Many years later, Bhagavan said of Thiru Arayaninallur as follows-

“From here Jnana Sambandha beheld the peak of Arunagiri and sang verses out of excess of joy and installed an image of Arunachaleswara in the same spot.”

Linking Bhagavan and Sambanda is Muttuswami Dikshitar, who too was a viprOttama! On this kArthikai dIpam day, let us pray to all three to show us the way to Arunachala.

This article owes much to the inputs of Ravi and Sridhar. It also quotes from the book Bhagavan Sri Ramana, A Pictorial Biography, published by the Sri Ramanasramam in 1981.