The Isha Southern Sojourn 5-day itinerary will bring you to four of the most unmissable temples of south India, two ashrams, one pristine beach on a perfectly-turquoise sea, and India’s southernmost tip where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet. Read the details directly from Isha, while we reveal our personal experience.
But before starting, who is Isha Sacred Walks? Absolutely not a tour operator, but an activity organized by Isha Yoga Center, the ashram founded by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. And who is Sadhguru, and what do all the terms—sadhana, samadhi, mahasamadhi—mean?
If you’re planning a trip to the top temples in India, you’ll need this info.
Thiruvannamalai, a sacred town with myriad temples and ashrams,
from which our experts selected the best for us
Ramana Maharshi ashram.
It’s the starting point from which we began our trek through Arunachala Hill and the Virupakshi Malai caves. Who is Ramana Maharshi? Here is the true story of a human of India…
Ramana Maharshi is a Master famous for the self-enquiry “who am I?” as the most efficient way to self-realization. He spent many years in Samadhi, so absorbed in meditation that he was completely unaware of his body even when vermin and pests bit him. People had to care for him. He sat for years without doing anything physical like eating, drinking, attending to his physical needs yet he did not die! I can’t understand of how this is possible, but India is a land of unfathomable, mysterious things. What I can say is that in those places where Ramana sat “doing nothing” the energy is still tangible. Even if your mind says it’s impossible, your body will feel it in a big way.
Arunachala Hill and Virupakshi Malai caves are above the ashram. Here, Ramana Maharshi and his disciples spent years in meditation. We are riveted by the intensity of these sites, by the clash of questions running through our logical minds as what we experience is simply inexplicable. In this way the journey holds our full attention.
The genesis of the Ramana Maharshi story can be found by following our column: SuperHeroes of India or go deep in Ramana Maharshi website.
One of the largest temples in India, situated at the foot of Arunachala Hill, and known as one of the five Pancha Bhuta Stalam temples, meaning temples for the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space. In one of the videos we saw during the trip, Sadhguru explains how these five temples are aligned on the same longitude, and that they work together as a “machine”.
“…consacrated thousands years ago by yogis for the wellbeing of the people that could benefit the cleansing of the respective element in their body without the knowledge of any practice or Sadhana” — Sadhguru
Our question was, why should I go there, aside from seeing the incredible architecture? We later understood that sitting in the Pancha Bhuta Stalam temples for a while cleanses one’s body, that means improving your capabilities on a physical, mental and energy level, plus keeps balance and harmony within yourself.
The most fundamental sadhana in yoga is bhuta shuddhi, or cleansing of the five elements. If you look at yourself, your physical body is made up of five elements. These are earth, fire, wind, water and space.
They come together in a certain way to become the body. So the whole spiritual process is about going beyond the physical, beyond the five elements. These elements have a huge grip on everything that you experience. — Sadhguru
Arunachaleshwarar was built expressly for the element, fire. Isha Sacred Walks first took us to a private part of the temple, where step-by-step we were guided through a process for cleansing the fire element within us. This cannot be done without Isha. Next, they led us into the innermost chamber of the temple where only Indians can enter, guiding us through the tremendous chaos all around. Believe me, it’s definitely not a place of silence! There are always chants going on, different offerings you can do and a lot of people in multiple queues.
We ended the visit by taking time for ourselves, sitting with eyes closed, trying to imbibe what this place has to offer. This first day was something that I absolutely could never had imagined. I was surprised by every single moment of the journey.
A new city, Thiruvanaikavali—also called Trichy—to explore another ashram and learn about another master, then onward to one more Pancha Bhuta Stalam temple.
Sadhguru Sri Brahma Ashram.
Who is Sadhguru Sri Brahma, and what is his story?
Another mystery awaits us …
They say that he was a man like no other, and definitely not a nice person. Everyone was afraid of his apparent anger, but at the same time everyone loved him, maybe as a result of the flamboyant miracles he performed in some extreme situation, such as “walking through a locked prison door or making a boy walk on a lake”.
“Everyone experienced him as a truly supernatural being because he did things which no human being is known to have done.” — Sadhguru
His life is completely intertwined with that of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the founder of Isha Foundation. Actually, they’re the same person in different lifetimes. You can believe it or not—that’s not the critical question. Again in Sadhguru Sri Brahma ashram we experienced something almost inexplicable. The place is simply an octagonal room that covers a pit. Here Sadhguru Sri Brahma sat in state of Samadhi preparing himself for the consecration of the Dhyanalinga, the mercury-based linga that puts everyone in a state of deep meditativeness, finally consecrated at Isha Yoga Center in 1999 by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.
“The space still reverberates with intensity”
(about Sadhguru Sri Brahma ashram)
What had a huge impact on me, was how Sadhguru Sri Brahma reacted to the worse situation of his life.
He had only one goal: the consecration of the Dhyanalinga, but he failed. Not because he didn’t have the inner capability, but because of social opposition, external conditions that anyone else would have reacted with, “It’s not my fault!”. Sadhguru Sri Brahma instead chose to check if something was wrong with his energy system, without placing blame on others. So, he left his body through all seven chakras, a miraculous occurrence and proof of his immense capabilities. The place where he did this became a place of pilgrimage with a crazily intense energy. Definitely another extraordinary story is waiting for you on our SuperHeroes of India, and here Sadhguru talks about Sadhguru Sri Brahama. This is what impressed me deeply:
“..if something in your life does not work, the first thing is to check yourself,
if there is something wrong with you.
The problem with most human beings is, if something does not work, the first thing they do
is blame someone else.
You should first look at yourself. Pay absolute attention to every aspect of your life and see why this has not happened in a successful manner. Something may not be okay with you.
Only after checking this and being sure that everything is okay with you, you see if there is some other factor that is messing it up.” — Sadhguru
How many times do we blame someone else for everything that happens to us?
It was built for the water element.
Here the linga is below ground in a sanctum sanctorum filled by a spring. During the afternoon ritual, the priests that conduct it dress in women’s clothes. Definitely something unique, not to be missed, but what was really special for us? Thanks to Isha, another private, ancient ritual, unfolded. No white shirts are allowed because you’ll end up wet! What we learned is that being wet in this consecrated space makes you more receptive to the energy present there. This was another free ride to the not logically explainable life in India.
photo credits: Anand Kumar, Arian Zwegers, Rob van de Sande.
A different perspective, instead of ancient rituals a UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered one of the best examples of South Indian temple architecture.
The day ended with our feet on the soft white sand of Ariyaman Beach, playing ball and splashing in the warm, turquoise water with our group of fellow travelers.
New day, new city: Thanjavur, also known as Tanjore or City of Temples. It’s a very vibrant place known for music, paintings, handicrafts, antiques, textiles and for Brihadeeswarar, the Big Temple. We were all impressed by the beauty of this Dravidian style temple, but our hearts literally stopped for a second thinking about how people had constructed it. In an era with no machines, this place could only have been born by devotion. They say devotion can move mountains and in this instance you can take it literally. When you’re in Brihadeeswarar temple you don’t see any mountains around you. Where did they find the rocks for building the temple? How did they transport them, and the construction? Please pause for a second and try to comprehend what these people had in their hearts in order to build what today is recognised by UNESCO World Heritage.
Regarding Brihadeeswarar temple, there’s another thing that grabbed my attention: the true story about the controversial consecration of this place that Sadhguru always tells in such an engaging way, that you can almost feel what those people felt over a millennium ago.
“….something went wrong during the consecration of the Brihadeeswarar temple.
They built a magnificent temple but the core of the temple failed, they could not consecrate the linga as they wanted. It did not work.” — Sadhguru
I won’t reveal the story because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but here’s an important detail. As Sadhguru said, the consecration of the main linga was not completed and for that reason, the energy is distorted, regressive. This means it’s better not to enter the sanctum sanctorum but visit the temple from the outside.
It’s the last day of the yatra and I thought that nothing new could happen… but I was wrong. We woke up very early to see the sunrise on the beach at Dhanushkodi, one of the last points on the Indian mainland where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet. Then, our last destination: Rameshwaram temple.
It is one of the most famous in India. It’s beauty is dazzling. You’ll see 4000 colored pillars in a total of one kilometer of corridors (0.6 miles) and during the temple festival, elephants walk through them. We didn’t see any elephants but we did experience the 22 theerthams, the sacred water wells consecrated by Patanjali, the father of modern Yoga. They exceeded all expectations. We followed a line of devotees ready to get splashed with buckets of water. Not everyone in our group was ready, but we did it all together with deep respect and trust for this culture and the process. I was very into it until I looked up for just a second, saw the wet face of my friend Mary from NYC, her dripping hair stuck to her head and clothes stuck to her body. She looked back at me with an expression that said, “I don’t know why I’m doing it, but I trust them!” Looking at each other we couldn’t help but smile, and in that moment a thought crossed my mind: Indians don’t trust foreigners because of everything we did to this country in the past. They don’t allow us to enter and be close to the main linga, but we on the other hand put our faith in them. The result was a memorable experience.
Isha Sacred Walks was the key, for without their guidance and without the deep trust we gained in them during the journey, nothing would have been the same.
They’re not a tour company or a travel agency. Their sole purpose is to help people experience the power of these places.
Rameshwaram temple is not only famous for its beauty and for the 22 theerthams. Here you’ll find the Patanjali Mahasamadhi—the place where Patanjali left his body, and it merits a visit.
Everything you’ve read up until now is truly unique, but the main reason the Rameshwaram temple is so famous is because it is home to one of the twelve Jyotirlingas in the world.
What is a Jyotirlingas?
It’s a consecrated linga, of course still alive, but why is it so special?
“Jyotirlingas have tremendous power because they were consecrated and made in a certain way. There are only twelve Jyotirlingas in the world. They are located at certain geographically and astronomically significant points. These points are subject to certain forces in the existence. A long time ago, people with a certain level of perception very carefully calibrated these spaces and fixed those points according to the celestial movement. These spaces are created in a certain way, not just using human capabilities, but the forces of nature. That is the reason why the Jyotirlingas are located at those particular points.”
Do you want more fascinating details? Sadhguru explains everything here.
Our personal considerations
This was a huge adventure for us, the kind where you listen and experience things beyond western knowledge and lifestyle. I listened. I tried to absorb everything that was available to us there. I learned that if you come to these powerful places willing to be fully involved, with devotion in your heart, this pilgrimage can start a transformation inside of you.
How was this a transformative experience? With Isha Sacred Walks, you’ll participate in processes that will impact your system. The energy is subtle, and how much you feel will depend upon how open and receptive you are to the process, and to what degree you’re receptive to this energy… however no participants fail to be impacted. You can trust Isha on that.
The experiences are on physical, emotional and energy levels. It varies from meditative states, to feelings of inclusion with an element (fire, water etc..) or a sense of unity with everything and everyone, and so much more… but don’t take our word for it! Try it yourself, enter this yatra like a blank sheet of paper, and then let us know your experience!
A heartfelt thanks to Isha Sacred Walks for making it all happen.