In a legal deposition he made in the 1930s Bhagavan stated that there was a tradition that Mulaipal Tirtham had come into existence to supply water to Guhai Namasivaya and Virupaksha Devar (after whom Virupaksha Cave is named):
There are some Thirthas on the Hill, e.g., Mulaipal Thirtha and Pada Thirtha, said to have been originated for or by Virupakshi Devar and Guha Namassivayar. There is also Rishabha Thirtha. All of them are in good condition.
Pada Tirtham is slightly up the hill from Guhai Namasivaya Temple, on the left, below Virupaksha Cave.
Left: the entrance gopuram of Guhai Namasivaya Temple. Skandashram can be seen as a clump of trees in the top right of the photo.
Right: the entrance to Virupaksha Cave. The date is not known, but it is before the front wall of the outside room was built.
Bhagavan used to swim in Mulaipal Tirtham, and was joined there by the local boys who took it in turn to display their diving prowess. This account is from Arunachala Ramana volume two, page 191, and is narrated by Colonel A. N. S. Murthi:
When I first went to see him I was still a boy of six or seven, more intent on play than on pondering the imponderable. So, I loved to see him swim in the Mulaipal Thirtham – one of my resorts with other boys during the holidays. As though to attract his attention or show my prowess, I used to dive into this ‘Milk Pond’ from a nearby crag. He spoke not a word of admonition, though diving in that dangerously shallow pond with a bed of rock could have meant certain death. We boys knew no fear and perhaps, he didn’t want to instill fear in us, as it becomes the cause of many ills in later life. Is that not why Krishna, in telling Arjuna about the virtues mankind must develop, put fearlessness before everything else? Or maybe the boy-saint was unconcerned, in the bliss of his beatitude. Or maybe he knew that no harm would come to me. Or maybe if anything had happened, his all pervading benevolence would have protected me and, therefore, he seemed unconcerned.
An avalanche in the early 1980s made the tirtham unusable for a while. It was eventually repaired by Narikutti Swami, an Australian sadhu who lived on the hill. The story of his association with Arunachala can be found here.
Left: Mulaipal Tirtham as it looks today. The deep rectangular tank is fed by a spring, which also supplies the well. The paved area to the left is where bathing and clothes washing takes place. Narikutti Swami paved this area, putting a slight slope on the paving so that the used water would drain down the hill and not back into the tank. The photo is taken from the top of the wall at the rear of the tirtham. This is the back wall that, in Bhagavan's day, was the diving platform for the young boys who were trying to impress him. It is no longer possible to dive in from these rocks since the area at the bottom of the rocks has been paved over. Also, swimming in the tirtham has now been banned to protect the quality of the water.
Right: Narikutti Swami in his younger days, when he was living as a sadhu in Sri Lanka.
In his youth in Madurai Bhagavan had been a skilled and enthusiastic swimmer. As ringleader of a group of local boys, he would organise secret night-time expeditions to swim in the Vaigai River. This is how Arunachala's Ramana, volume 0ne, page 40, describes his activities:
The venue of the activities, fixed well in advance, would be either the sandy river bed of the Vaigai or the Pilliyar Paliyam Kanmoi (rain-fed tank) close to Aruppukottai road, on the outskirts of Madurai city. Every member of the group would, while passing the house of Venkataraman, leave a pebble at the door step. Nagasami and Venkataraman [Bhagavan's given name], as leaders of the group, would be the last to sally forth from the house after a check of the pebbles showed that all their friends had gone to the place of the meeting. There was rarely a defaulter. Venkataraman and his playmates had a hearty time playing games on the sandy bed of the Vaigai River or engaging in swimming contests in the Pilliyar Paliyam Tank. They would then return sufficiently early to their beds without exciting the least suspicion of their absence from home.
Left: a sandy beach on The Vaigai River outside Madurai.
Right: the entrance to the Sri Kalyanasundareswarar Temple in Madurai, which Bhagavan called by its historic name 'Pilliyar Paliyam'.
Bhagavan was the best swimmer in his gang, a fact he mentioned to a devotee who had just returned to Ramanasramam after visiting some of the places that Bhagavan frequented in his youth. This is how Letters from Sri Ramanasramam (15th January 1950) reports the story:
Bhagavan said, “That’s all right. But tell me, you have gone to the temple of Varadaraja Perumal, haven’t you? You must have noticed that there are three parapet walls for each of the three storeys. Very often, all of us boys used to go to the third storey and play hide-and-seek and other games. A big tank could be seen from the window of the third storey. We used to go to that tank off and on and have competitions in swimming. I invariably used to win in the competitions. That tank is on the way leading to Tirupparankundram.”
The main gopuram of the Varadaraja Perumal temple (left) and its tank where Bhagavan used to swim as a boy.
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