Arunachala is a symbol

by Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)


Original Language French

Arunachala is a symbol
and Arunachala is a Reality,
a high-place of the Dravidian land,
all ruddy, aruna, in the rays of the rising sun,
where is worshipped the linga of fire,
the elemental sign of the Living God,
he who appeared to Moses in the burning bush
and on the summit of Mount Horeb,
Fire that burns and Fire that gives light,
Deus Ignis consumens
Lux mundi
Paramjyoti
Phos hilaron

the joyful light of the immortal glory
of the Blessed One,
Bhagavan!

For there at the dawn of time was standing
the column of fire
of which Brahma could not reach the summit
nor could Vishnu find its foot,
symbol as it was of unfathomable Love--
Anbe Shivam--
which is the very ground of Being.

Later it took the form of a sapphire;
and then, in the evil times of our kaliyuga,
the Linga of fire became stone
for the blessing of mankind,
the sacred Mountain,
achala,
which the Lord set firmly on its foundation
and which is never shaken.

To its caves, age after age, there has come a succession
of those who are hungry for wisdom and renunciation,
whom the Mountain, the divine Magnet,
draws to its bosom,
to teach them in its own silence
the royal path of the supreme Silence,
and how to be established in the Self--
achala, atmanishtha.

From its sides there flow springs
sublimely named--
“The spring of the milk of grace”
“Milk from the breast of the divine Mother”--
where pilgrims come
to bathe and drink.

And finally, from its crest on the great day of Thibam,
when the Sun sinks in the west,
and the full moon of Karttiki
rises above the horizon,
there shoots up the Column of Fire,
which reveals the secret of Light.
hidden in the heart of the Mountain!

*

From the very Depth of Arunachala's Heart
there sounds a call
to him who speeds towards the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala;
but he who enters into the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
has lost even his own name
and all that till then he was;
so that henceforth he is only the dweller in the Depth,
the one who lives within the Cave
of the Heart of Arunachala;
he has entered his own Depth,
has been swallowed up in the Self,
having discovered at the deepest centre of himself
the secret of Arunachala.

But for him who at last reaches the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
does there still remain a Depth?
Is there still an Arunachala?
What has become of the Mountain,
rosy-coloured Arunachala?
Where now are the springs
on the sides of Arunachala?
What has happened to the Light,
on the crest of Arunachala?

The caves themselves have vanished,
and with them the hermits of Arunachala;
has not he himself also disappeared,
swallowed up in the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
merged in the Self,
the Unique Arunachala?

-- from The Secret of Arunachala: A Christian Hermit on Shiva's Holy Mountain, by Swami Abhishiktananda

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Arunachala is a symbol
and Arunachala is a Reality...


Arunachala is a sacred mountain in the Tamil regions of southern India. It is said to be an embodiment of the god Shiva, and has attracted the spiritually minded for centuries. It is the site of an ancient temple and several ashrams.

It is said that a dispute once arose between the three gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva over who was greater. Lord Shiva, to prove is endlessness, manifested as an immense column or Lingam of light, and the other gods were unable see his beginning or end.

For there at the dawn of time was standing
the column of fire
of which Brahma could not reach the summit
nor could Vishnu find its foot...


As the ages passed and the materialistic Kali Yuga came, Shiva's column of light took on the material form of a mountain -- Arunachala -- so spiritual seekers caught up in the increasingly materialistic world would still be able to witness divinity.

the Linga of fire became stone
for the blessing of mankind,
the sacred Mountain...


In this way, spiritual seekers understand Arunachala to be both a symbol of God and also an embodiment of the Ultimate Reality.

In recent times Arunachala has become especially associated with the greatly revered nondualist sage Ramana Maharshi, who took up residence at the holy site at the end of the 19th century until his death in 1950.

From the very Depth of Arunachala's Heart
there sounds a call...


This poem uses so many Sanskrit and Latin phrases, that you may have to approach it like a puzzle, filling in the pieces using the following notes. It may require a bit of extra work, but it's worth it. Some beautiful and profound concepts are being suggested with these words...

aruna -- "Reddish brown" or "ruddy." This can be used as a reference to the sun god Surya.

achala -- "Immovable" or "mountain"

The name Arunachala can be understood to suggest that the mountain is the light of the sun standing still -- Lord Shiva's column of light.

As a Catholic priest, Abhishiktananda naturally gives us a few elevating Latin phrases:

Deus Ignis consumens - "God the consuming Fire"

Lux mundi - "The Light of the world"

Phos hilaron - "The joyful Light"

And back to his adopted Hindu Sanskrit:

Paramjyoti - Jyoti means light and param means the ultimate or supreme, so paramjyoti means "the supreme Light"

Bhagavan - "Lord" A respectful title used for divine figures and spiritual masters, often bestowed on Ramana Maharshi, the sage most associated with Arunachala.

Anbe Shivam - "Shiva is Love" or "God is Love"

atmanishtha - The atma is the true Self, the divine Self realized in enlightenment. Nishtha implies fullness, faith, steadiness. So atmanishtha means to be "established or abiding in the divine Self."

Karttiki & Thibam - Karttiki or Kartikai is the month between mid-November and mid-December. Thibam (more commonly written today as Deepam) is a Hindu Tamil Festival of Lights that occurs in the month of Kartikai. He is describing a specific full moon night of the year during a holy celebration of lights when Arunachala itself is seen as a living embodiment of "the secret light."


When we follow Abhishiktananda's trail around the mountain of immortal light with its secret springs and sacred depths, along with him we discover a unity beyond self and beyond place.

he has entered his own Depth,
has been swallowed up in the Self,
having discovered at the deepest centre of himself
the secret of Arunachala.



Recommended Books: Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master The Secret of Arunachala: A Christian Hermit on Shiva's Holy Mountain The Further Shore Swami Abhishiktananda: Essential Writings Prayer
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