The sun was blazing bright but the gentle breeze soothed our tired bodies. At around 1.30 pm on 11th March 2013, the day after Mahashivarathri, after a 7-hour strenuous trek up the mountains, this self stood among thousands of other Shivangas on the top of the sacred 7th hill of Velliangiri mountains, to conclude the 42-day Shivanga sadhana. As we looked at the Swayambhu Linga, where the final stage of the process has to be performed, joy drops flowed from my eyes uncontrollably – just as they invariably do in the presence of my Master Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. The physical improbability of the task that we’ve just accomplished made me speechless and even more humble than I was, when I began the sadhana. And we were already an hour behind schedule for the descent, which will take nearly the same time as the ascent!
Note to Readers: This post is my first person experience of a spiritual process that I’ve recently undertaken – especially the concluding part of it. If you’re expecting Swamy’s ‘Monday Morning Post’ as usual, you’re in for a surprise – of the pleasant kind. Of course, another post – “7 Life Lessons from Shivanga!” – usual or otherwise, will be published next week! And btw, if you notice the more than usual usage of “I” all through this post (assuming you’ve by now chosen to go beyond this para), be assured that it is purely for the purpose of narrating this fascinating experience within the language’s constraints, and not in any way a depiction of this self’s ego!
The Shivanga sadhana was announced by Sadhguru for the first time this year and promptly taken up by over 6000 Isha meditators globally, on Thaipoosam day. For a period of 42 days, the sadhakas went through a routine including a process named Shiva Namaskar (to be performed 21 times before or after sunrise, on empty stomach), chanting a mantra three times, twice a day after bathing (there were days when I had to do it just before midnight!), not consuming any regular food – liquid or solid – till 12 pm every day (other than a handful of groundnuts soaked in water the previous night and lemon juice with honey) and limiting food intake only 2 meals after that during the entire day. Sadhakas were also advised to avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and consuming non-vegetarian food during the period of sadhana (no brainer for a non-smoking, vegetarian teetotaler such as self).
The conclusion of sadhana was to start on Mahashivarathri night at the Dhyanalinga yogic temple at the foothills of Velliangiri mountains and conclude with a trek up the 7 hills of Velliangiri mountains, also known as Then Kailayam (South Kailash), where Adi Yogi Shiva himself is said to have spent some time. Just like the lakhs of Isha meditators and Shiva bakthas who congregate at the Isha Yoga center on that auspicious day, all the Shivangas too stayed awake on Mahashivarathri night, immersed in the grace of Sadhguru and Shambho, during the night long celebrations at the Isha Yoga Center.
At midnight, after the Mahamanthra (Aum Namah Shivaya) chant by Sadhguru, the sadhakas walked from the Mahashivarathri venue (about 2-3 kms away from the Ashram) to the Dhyanalinga temple and performed the first stage of the offering that included the Biksha hundi with amount collected from pious and benevolent souls for Annadhanam (free meal), which is offered to all who participate in the Mahashivarathri celebrations worldwide, along with a coconut (first of three) and sesame seeds, both tied in black cloths.
Our trek to the Velliangiri Mountains started at around 6 am in the morning after Mahashivarathri, after Sadhguru concluded the celebrations with the Shambho chanting. Shirtless and without footwear (at least most of us), we reached the Velliangiri Aandavar temple at Poondi at 6.40 am and performed the second stage of the offering – breaking the second coconut – and started the trek up the 7 hills. We were all offered food and water for the trek at the Isha Yoga center – apart from a cup of delicious Kanji (gruel) on the way to the foothills – and also the choice of collecting a stick to help with the trek. I skipped collecting the stick and went ahead as there were thousands waiting for that – a mistake that I’ll regret within hours.
Velliangiri is a mountain whose raw, pristine nature hasn’t been spoilt by modern technology yet. And probably won’t for many years to come. While the 1st and 7th hills can be termed the hardest to trek, the other five aren’t far behind on the hardness scale. The first 3 hills wind through dense forest (protecting the trekkers from the sun that was already out in all its morning glory) and have some semblance of steps made of rocks, some of which were missing at many places. The hills were steep and the trek up was slow. While going up, we continued to see many trekkers coming downhill. They were Shiva devotees from nearby places – including the elderly and children – who started their trek on Mahashivarathri night. Some of them seem to perform the trek occasionally during Amavasya (new moon) and Pournami (full moon) days. Many curious Shivangas obviously asked them about how long it’ll take to reach the peak and which hill we were in at that point in time. While none of the descending devotees offered much hope to us who’ve just started the ascent, invariably all of them were either amused or surprised by the large group of novices who were attempting this strenuous (we came to know of it only much later – apparently displayed in a board at the Poondi temple) trek, that too after dawn. They were certainly not amused by the traffic jam we were creating – not just due to our sheer numbers but also due to our naiveté.
It didn’t take much longer for us to realize that just physical prowess doesn’t guarantee the completion of Velliangiri trek, whose challenge level kept increasing till one reaches the crest, and blissfully repeats all over again, while coming down! It’s certainly not possible without either blind faith (which the descending trekkers obviously had – in Lord Shiva) or practice + faith (which we did for 42 days and had in Sadhguru). Of course, there were groups of youth who did it probably just for the heck of it. Then again, youth are known to do such things impulsively, just to prove a point to themselves and to the world and should hence be considered an exception than rule. With the right preparation and commitment, the possibility of receiving grace is higher for a sadhaka. But the trek proved that practicing a process at home is vastly different from performing a trek on the mountain!
The 42 day preparation was obviously for getting this frail physical body ready for what’s near impossible for lesser mortals. The Shiva Namaskar did prepare our ankles, knees, hip and arms – pretty much all the vital joints – for this trek. The diet restrictions made us lighter (many well-wishers observed that I’ve lost weight during the sadhana period), enabling the ascent for most of us. One of the items we were told to consume in empty stomach each morning during the sadhana (few neem leaves and black pepper soaked in honey overnight) must’ve also strengthened the physical body for what it would be subjected to during the trek. But despite all that preparation and strict adherence to the guidelines, it was amply clear that the completion of this trek would be possible only with Sadhguru‘s grace!
The 7 hills are said to represent the 7 Chakras in our bodies. While the transition from 1 Chakra to another is seamless during the trek (it obviously isn’t that simple within our physical body), each hill was distinct and different, indicating the unique nature of each Chakra. As most of us are typically stuck in Mooladhara Chakra (1st or Root Chakra) itself, many sadhakas sat down to eat their food after the 1st or 2nd hill itself. But after consuming food, it became even harder for them to continue. Later in the night, we came to know that not all sadhakas have successfully completed the trek. Many apparently returned without making it till the 7th hill! And not all of them stopped due to a physical ailment, which several other sadhakas have overcome to complete the trek, living the quote “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”
I was going along with a relative (an Ashram resident married to my cousin sister, who was kind enough to get me a guest pass for Mahashivarathri) and a few friends of his – at least till the 2nd hill. We shared fruits (probably the only wise thing I did – as I missed out on getting both the health kit and the stick) and light snacks such as dry fruits and nuts, during brief stopovers. After the 2nd, some of them have progressed much faster, which isn’t a surprise for long term meditators, who’ve been practicing Kriya for several years (both my cousin sister and her husband – younger than self – have joined the Ashram full-time about four years ago as ‘Class Parents’ in the Isha Home School (their child also studies in that school), an enchanting model that’s based on ISCE curriculum but one that turns the whole education system on its head, for good. They diligently follow several spiritual practices, every single day.
One of my relative’s friends had a physical condition, which made even normal walking, sitting down or turning his head in any direction strenuous. A long term meditator himself, he continued to be my motivation during the entire trek. We both went slowly compared to many who went ahead merrily, covering one hill at a time. When we eventually got closer to the 5th hill, he couldn’t move any further due to severe dehydration, which brought to light the other mistake I’ve committed – not carrying electrolytes or glucose, a must have for such treks. I wasn’t doing any better with a twice repaired knee crying to be spared immediately and a cramped thigh too begging me to stop right away. I offered him an orange, but that wasn’t sufficient to get him back on his feet. We just waited at a narrow passage with some shade – he panting and I massaging my cramped thigh – wondering what to do next!
All along the trek, everyone was helped by someone. All were just Shivangas, with no class or social status separating us. Without our shirts (which we were told to take off while taking Biksha during the sadhana period also – to ensure not a trace of “I” was left in us) and the constant chant of Shambho on our lips, we were just a thousand versions of the same self. There were a few foreigners as well, at least one of whom was attempting this trek for the second time. Chanting Shiva and Shambho continuously, he suddenly asked for North at noon to many Shivangas and moved to a shaded part of the path to offer Namaz, before continuing the trek again.
All Shivangas were addressed simply as Anna (brother), just as all meditators and visitors are addressed at the Isha Yoga center and Isha programs (women are addressed as Akka – sister). While one sadhaka offered electrolyte for my dehydrated friend, another readily gave lemon and honey to mix with water. Eventually he felt better – relatively speaking, of course – and slowly started to walk again. Having done this trek once before – when he was much healthier – he told me that the path would dip at the 5th hill before ascending again. It certainly did, with sheer drops without any steps at a few places. We eventually reached a Sunai (natural spring) with cold water to soothe our feet and throats. When we went past that and took a right turn, the sacred 7th hill appeared majestically, and took our breath away. And what a sight it was to behold!
By the time we reached the beginning of the sacred 7th hill, I had absolutely no strength left in my physical body to move any further. I just stood there looking forlornly at the peak and was ready to concede my quest and conclude that this is the end of my Shivanga sadhana. All the diligent daily practices weren’t sufficient to go any further. Alas, what did I know?
At that point of utter despair, on top of the 6th hill, I closed my eyes, dropped the “I” (whatever was still left of it) and surrendered unconditionally to my Master, seeking his grace to somehow complete the sadhana. I pleaded to him that I did perform the sadhana diligently and wholeheartedly – as if he didn’t know about who did or didn’t. Sadhguru must’ve seen the plight of this pitiful soul in his Ajna chakra (the 6th Chakra, also known as the 3rd Eye, located between the 2 eyebrows) and decided to lift the cobwebs of doubts clouding my mind about how to continue the trek and enable my limp legs to go beyond their limits. Help came instantly in the form of another Shivanga!
My friend who was beside me by now (we kept catching up with each other at many stages, with him leading the way for the most part) looked at my condition and asked if I can continue. He obviously appeared ready to go till the top, clearly defying his physical condition. I told him that if I had a stick, I could at least give it a try. Exactly at that moment, his friend (an ISRO scientist and Isha meditator, who was with us during Mahashivarathri event also) came down the 7th hill and upon my benevolent friend’s request, offered his stick to me, without even thinking about his own descent. Using the stick as my 3rd leg, I started pulling my other 2 legs upwards, one slow step after the other. And what a final stage of trek that was!
The 7th hill is mysterious, raw, challenging and can’t be scaled with sheer physical ability alone. It has no steps for climbing and whatever appears to be the path twists upwards and turns many times. So, every time one thinks that this is it, there’s just one more turn, upwards. I would tread about 10 steps and then hold on to the stick to catch my breath and then push myself for another ten. This went for more than an hour – on just the 7th hill. Seeing my friend ahead of me, I kept telling myself that “if he could, I should.” The slow trek on the sacred 7th hill helps one realize that Shiva and Sadhguru aren’t simple beings for us to comprehend, understand and appreciate. Both are simply beyond the physical dimension bound by five senses, which we’re limited to. After more than an hour of painfully slow progress, the first paragraph of this post happened!
We completed the final offering (breaking the 3rd coconut) to the Swayambhu Linga at the hilltop (where I offered a prayer for all the Shivangas and those who offered Biksha for my own sadhana) and slowly moved to the other side of the hill (the path was so narrow that only one person at a time could pass). To our surprise – a welcome one, for a change – ice cold wind swept at us, exemplifying the title ‘Then Kailayam‘ (South Kailash) for this mountain. As we sat down to have the packed food before the descent, the journey so far flashed past in my memory and helped in understanding the difference between pain and suffering. Sadhguru used to tell that while pain is there in the physical body for all – enlightened being or otherwise – suffering is made up by the mind, and hence can be alleviated. While there was a tremendous amount of pain all over the body, most of the sadhakas – including self – were feeling elated at that time than deflated.
Shivanga showed in a matter-of-fact manner that it is indeed possible to go beyond one’s physical limits. I was unable to go past the 6th hill not more than an hour ago, with a severe cramp in the thigh apart from a twice repaired knee that was hurting and my feet, which were used to walking around in comfy shoes for more than two decades, were begging me not to go any further. Many of us pushed ourselves beyond our physical limits (something many meditators also experience during the advanced Isha Yoga programs) and managed to complete the trek with Sadhguru‘s grace. Before we lost ourselves in the serenity of the sacred 7th hill and the pristine nature pulsating with Life all around it, we had to remind ourselves that there’s a long trek back to the foothills and the Ashram, for finally concluding the process that started over 42 days ago!
The descent was not an easier one by any means, but the stick that I got from a benevolent Shivanga (I sincerely hope he didn’t suffer too much without the stick on his way back) was handy. I waited for my friend – assuming he should be somewhere behind me – for about 15 minutes, near the Sunai at the 6th hill. Not only due to gratitude – I certainly owed the final stage of the trek to him for getting me his friend’s stick – but also out of concern due to his physical condition. Not finding him even after hundreds of Shivangas passed me by, I started my slow descent, praying for his safe return. Little did I know that my Master had a plan for each and every Shivanga on that special day of our lives!
At either the 4th or 3th hill, I acquainted another friendly Shivanga – a happy soul walking along with some of his friends – who shared many a topic of common interest with self. That he too worked in the IT industry was just coincidental. With dusk approaching fast, we slowly made our way down, marveling about the whole Shivanga process, its effect on each of us and how Life would be from now on for us. We were both amazed by the multiple facets of Isha Yoga, Sadhguru’s boundless grace for all beings, Dhyanalinga’s meditativeness and Linga Bhairavi’s benevolent control over her devotees and continued to discuss many topics including, but not limited to, the following.
- While many youngsters struggled with the trek, few elders – including a Shivanga who was over 70 years old and came along with his son-in-law – went ahead and completed the trek without much ado. But the Velliangiri mountain trek isn’t recommended for such elderly people or those with known physical conditions that can’t withstand such a strenuous adventure.
- Food and rest that naturally followed it delayed or stopped many an ascent. Despite controlling one’s hunger and craving for 42 long days, many couldn’t control the primal urge on the day that really mattered. And some of them (someone said nearly half of the Shivangas) couldn’t complete the trek this time.
- When we’re focused on achieving something impossible, it’s quite possible to forget about mundane things in Life. I was astonished by the fact that not only did I not think about anything else – family, work, blogging, the long planned but still overdue first book and a hundred other things that swirl around in the mind all day – during the trek, but I also didn’t take a bio break for over 15 hours!
- A group of Shivangas walked over 430 kms from Nagercoil to the Isha Yoga center and then trekked along with us. They were accorded a rousing reception befitting their incredible devotion and accomplishment, even before they reached the Ashram – prompted by none other than Sadhguru himself. Such feats provide a hint at what’s possible for any of us, with absolute faith in the Guru and unwavering focus on the goal.
- The Shambho chant that was on the lips of many a Shivanga on the way up, was forgotten by many on the way down, which was no less harder. I can’t help reminding myself of the quote by Tenzing’s son – himself an accomplished mountaineer, scaling the mighty Mt. Everest just like his father – “Climbing up the mountain is optional for anyone, but climbing down is mandatory!”
- Climbing a mountain doesn’t necessarily mean, up on the ascent and down on the descent, all the time. There were at least two sections on the Velliangiri mountain that turn this theory upside down. And anyone who thought it’s easy to climb the stairs than a path without stairs, were in for a surprise from the 3rd hill onwards – both upwards and on the way down. With very few of us carrying torch lights, some of us were actually guiding the Shivangas behind us on each step, on our way back.
- Some of the Shivangas also carried sacks to collect the garbage we left behind, thereby doubling their effort, without thinking twice about it.
- While listening to several conversations on the way back, it was apparent that many would go back to their daily nonsense from the very next day. It was sad that some did so even during the sadhana. Just goes on to show that doing something for the sake of doing it or just because we started doing it isn’t the same as doing the right thing – with utmost devotion, needless to say – the right way, as it was meant to be.
- Biksha (taking alms), a critical part of the sadhana to let go of one’s ego, was done right by many Shivangas – including the friend I acquainted on the way down – who went and stood outside temples or went from door to door to collect Biksha from complete strangers. Mine was a sedate affair in comparison, but I too was obviously overwhelmed by the benevolence of many souls who came forward and offered Biksha generously, upon being asked. Our servant maid, who offered Biksha along with her husband – continues to bring flowers for worship to our home daily. All I could offer in return to these benevolent souls was to pray for their well being, at both the 7th hill and Dhyanalinga shrines.
- Several comments were made by a few Shivangas on the process, preparedness, food, etc. While some were in the realm of fantasy such as the wish for a ‘cable car’ like Palani (one of the richest temples in the country, with a devotee crowd from both Tamilnadu and Kerala, thronging throughout the year) – at least for the descent, one said – some others were uncharitable remarks that were certainly not expected from those who went through the process with the full knowledge of what they were expected to go through.
We eventually reached the Poondi temple at the foothills by 8.40 pm – exactly 14 hours from the start of our ascent, from the same place. While many Shivangas made it down faster than us (with some reaching the Ashram in time for Sadhguru’s sathsang that evening), there were also many who were still climbing down – in pitch darkness (it was the new moon day after all). At least three Dolis (an open palanquin like chair on two long beams, used to carry those who couldn’t walk on their own) also went up during our descent, to carry those Shivangas who couldn’t walk any further.
I got a free ride from the father-in-law son-in-law Shivanga duo to the Ashram, where we completed the process by tying the black cloth that adorned our arms for 42 days on the tree near Nandi and taking a dip in the Theerthakund (soon to be renamed to Chandrakund, exclusively for women). Sadhguru has recently consecrated a larger theerthakund (consecrated water body) called Suryakund with 3 Rasalingas (energized ellipsoids filled with mercury) and my better half and offspring were blessed to be part of the Prana Pratishtha (energy consecration) process itself. The Dhyanalinga temple was closed by that time so we couldn’t get a darshan at night. After having dinner offered to all Shivangas at the Adi Yogi aalayam, self and most other Shivangas just crashed and slept like a log till next morning.
During my return trip back home the next day, I ignored the amused look on many onlookers’ faces – at the restaurant, airports and pretty much every other place I passed by – as I limped slowly with the luggage. They must’ve quizzed themselves on why a perfectly healthy looking middle aged man moved as if he just completed a mountaineering expedition. Only I and a few fellow Shivangas traveling on that day knew we actually did! As I waited at the airport to catch my delayed flight, the forever active mind kept going back and forth among those 43 days of Life altering experience.
Now that the Shivanga sadhana is completed – fully – is there a sense of fulfillment? No. Only the sense of longing – for the Guru, for the eternal quest of Life, for knowing the truth – has been rekindled with a renewed fervor.
Having been there, done that on that challenging terrain up and down the sacred 7 hills, is there a sense of accomplishment? No. Only a heightened awareness of how tiny a speck we’re in the grand scheme of things called Life, in the known universe.
Looking back at all that has happened during this mandalam (a duration varying between 40 and 48 days, that’s of significance in Spirituality, Yogic practices and the ancient medical practice of Ayurvedha), is there a sense of pride in being part of the first batch of Shivangas? No. Only a sense of utmost humbleness that this self too got to be part of this magnificent opportunity that my Master has offered to all and sundry.
Shivanga means an anga (part) of Shiva. Shiva or Rudra or Shambho or Mahadeva isn’t that easy to comprehend and doesn’t happen that easily to any being. Shiva isn’t considered a God in the Yogic way but the Adi Yogi, the one who figured it out and eventually – after a very long wait – taught it to his other half (Shakthi or Prakriti) and the Saptha (7) Rishis (sages). So, the Shivanga sadhana’s essence to me is if one strives and gives his or her fully, the possibility of growing small without, i.e., losing the “I” or the larger sense of self or creation, and growing big within, i.e., sensing what the true “I” or knowing the one self or creator, is available to all seekers. And that possibility is revealed and can be availed only with the Guru’s grace!
The next time – if and when it happens – this self will be better prepared, physically and with a survival kit for self and others. At least, I now know what it takes to perform the trek, though the experience next time could be a completely different one. my Master willing, Swamy will attempt the trek again, not to prove a point to anyone, but to meditate at the Sadhguru Spot (a sacred place where Sadhguru attained Mahasamadhi – leaving his physical form through all 7 Chakras, thereby earning the title of Chakreshwara – in his previous birth as Sadhguru Sri Brahma and where he went back once again as Jaggi in this birth and came back as Sadhguru, during the preparation stage of the Dhyanalinga consecration), which we missed out during this trek.
After I reached home and while trying my level best to answer a million curious queries from family and friends, I checked with my relative at Ashram about the (ascent) friend’s return. Considering his physical condition and the dehydrated state he was in during the ascent, I was genuinely worried if one of the dolis went up for him. And what I heard not only left me dumbfounded but also made me even more humble than I already was by now. He has climbed down the 7 hills, and reached the Ashram, at least half an hour ahead of me – safe and sound. I bowed down before my Master Sadhguru and Lord Shiva, once again left marveling at their benevolence and boundless grace, with a sense of gratitude and a content smile. Shambho!
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