Tiruvannamalai is a temple town in Tamil Nadu, situated 185 km from Chennai and 210 km from Bangalore. It is known for its centuries old Arunachaleswara Temple and for the Ramanashram, where Ramana Maharishi lived for many years after his sixteen years of deep meditation on the Arunachala hill. There is known to be a connection between Arunachala and Machu Picchu in Peru, both being along the axis of spiritual power.
There is so much about Tiruvannamalai that makes it belong to all those who have revered the Maharishi and worshipped the Shiva linga at the temple here. There are shops within the temple, shops along the temple street and shops all over the temple town. However, it is when you walk into the main bazaar streets in the centre of town that you realise that there is so much life also outside the silence of the ashram and the ritual of the temple.
As always, there is so much to see and so much to absorb. As much as you know that on a less busy time in the bazaar, you would be noticed immediately as being an outsider, this is not a day anyone pays attention to another passer-by. I move through the bazaar in perfect bliss – unnoticed and uninterrupted. There are enough customers to bother about without the vendors trying to catch the eye of an uninterested one. It is nearing the end of the day and business has to be brisk and good.
This bazaar has narrow streets that are crowded with goods and with people. In a few streets, there are vegetable vendors along the centre with people moving in aisles on both sides. In other streets, there are jute bags filled with whole red chillis, pulses and bags of rice. The shops that sell gold jewellery seem to be overflowing with people. Are these the pilgrims who are in the town for religious workship and a family outing combined with it?
The Bazaar is populated with the locals at the vegetable and grocery shops nad with pilgrims at the jewellery shops. As we learn from a young man who owns an Internet café in Tiruvannamalai, amongst the many foreigners who come here, there are ashramites, there are “tourists” and there are “travellers”. The tourists are those who are keen on a good holiday and will spend any amount for a room in the town, as they would in Goa or Pondicherry. There are the travellers who are careful with how much they spend and who want their money to last a long time. There are no tourists and no travellers at the Bazaar today. It is perhaps not a place they frequent so much. Besides, it is “off-season” in Tiruvannamalai, as many shop-owners on ashram road had pointed out earlier in the day.
It is that time of the year when many foreigners who have made the town their home go away for a month or more to their families in the countries they have come from. But, nothing about this bazaar would tell you anything about the presence of an ashram in the town or the tourists and the travellers. This could be a bazaar anywhere, in an interior part of Theni district or in Madurai district. It is the typical bazaar of a town in Tamil Nadu.
The market streets spread out in many directions, well, actually only four directions – North to South and West to East. The sun is setting over the west gopuram of the Arunachaleswara temple. You can see the Arunachala hill beyond and for a moment, it is so captivating a sight that it is the bazaar that seems more like that passing landscape through the window of a train compartment, a far away destination being all important.