The glory of Arunachalam Tiruvannamalai Temple, Tamilnadu

Tiruvannamalai is named after the central deity of the Annamalaiyar Temple, Annamalaiyar. The Arunachalam or red mountain, lies behind the Annamalaiyar temple. This hill is sacred and considered a lingam, or iconic representation of Shiva, in itself.

Shiva manifested himself in the form of fire in this place, this name Arunachalam came to be associated with Annamalai hill and the town. The first mention of Annamalai is found in Tevaram, the seventh century Tamil Saiva canonical work by Appar and Tirugnanasambandar.  

According to Hindu Dharma, Parvati, wife of Shiva, once closed the eyes of her husband playfully at their abode atop Mount Kailash. Although only a moment for the gods, all light was taken from the universe, and the earth, in turn, was totally in darkness for years.

Relenting this, Parvati performed penance, and her husband appeared as a column of fire at the top of Annamalai hills, returning light to the world. He then merged with Parvati to form Ardhanarishvara, the half-female, half-male form of Shiva.

There is also another story, associated with the temple. According to that, a dispute occurred between Bhagwan Brahma the creator, and Bhagwan Vishnu the preserver, over who amongst them was superior. In order to settle the argument, Bhagwan Shiva is said to have manifested as a column of light, and then the form of Arunachala. 

In the Maheswara Khanda of Skanda Purana, Rishi Veda Vyasa describes in great detail the prominence of Arunachala. The Saivite rishis Manickavachagar, Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar are some of the many saints who were drawn to this temple.

In the fifteenth century, Guhai Namasivaya, his disciple Guru Namasivaya and Virupaksha Deva came from Karnataka and settled on Arunachala. Rishi Guhai Namasivaya lived in one of Arunachala’s caves which is still known by his name.

Virupaksha Deva lived in an ‘Aum’ shaped cave higher up on the hill, and this cave too still bears his name. In the cave located on the southeast slope of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi lived in from 1899 to 1916. 

One of the verses in the Arunachala Mahatmyam, translated from Sanskrit into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi says:

“Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places it is the most sacred! Know that it is the heart of the world. It is truly Siva himself! It is his heart-abode, a secret kshetra. In that place, Bhagwan Shiva ever abides the hill of light named Arunachala.”  

It is one of the five main Shaivite holy places popularly known as Pancha Bhoota Lingas in South Bharat. Pancha Bhoota Lingas refers to five temples dedicated to Shiva, each representing a manifestation of the five prime elements of nature: land, water, air, ether and fire. Four of these five temples are located in Tamil Nadu and one in Andhra Pradesh. 

Earth -Prithivi Lingam at Ekambareswarar Temple, Kanchipuram (Tamilnadu)  

Water – Appu Lingam (Jambu Lingam) at Jambukeshwarar Temple, Thiruvanaikaval, near Trichy (Tamilnadu)  

Fire – Agni Lingam (Jyothi Lingam) at Arunachaleswara Temple, Thiruvannamalai (Tamilnadu)  

Air  -Vayu Lingam at Kalahasti temple, Kalahasthi (Andhra Pradesh)  

Space– Akasha Lingam at Thillai Natarajar Temple, Chidambaram (Tamilnadu)   

The above pancha bhoota lingas along with the Shiva temples in Rameswaram, Kaleswaram and Kedarnath are geographically located on almost same longitude (forming a straight line).

Kartheeka Deepam Festival

The Kartheeka Deepam festival is celebrated during the day of the full moon between November and December (Kartik month according to Hindu calendar), and a huge beacon is lit atop the Annamalai hill. Millions of pilgrims come to witness this event.

A huge lamp is lit in a cauldron, containing lot of ghee, at the top of the Annamalai hills during the Deepam. An enormous cauldron is placed on the highest of Arunachala’s five peaks and filled with large quantity of ghee mixed with camphor.

At precisely six o’clock, as the sun sets and the full moon rises, lights are lit on the top of the hill, on a flagstaff in the temple, and at Sri Ramanasramam, accompanied by chants of Arunachala Siva by the vast devotees. The fire on top of Arunachala can be seen for miles around.

Sri Ramana Maharshi described the meaning of this event in this way: “Getting rid of the `I am the body’ idea and merging the mind into the Heart to realize the Self as non-dual being and the light of all is the real significance of darshan of the beacon of light on Annamalai, the centre of the universe.”

Inscriptions indicate that the festival was celebrated as early as the Chola period (850–1280) and was expanded to ten days in the twentieth century. Every full moon, tens of thousands of pilgrims worship Annamalaiyar by circumambulating the Annamalai hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a distance of 14 kilometres. It is believed that the walk removes sins, fulfils desires and helps achieve freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth.

The recorded history of the town dates back to the ninth century, as seen from a Chola inscriptions in the temple. Further inscriptions made before ninth century indicate the rule of Pallava kings, whose capital was Kanchipuram.

Image Source: https://tiruvannamalai.nic.in/

The seventh century Nayanar saints Sambandar and Appar wrote of the temple in their poetic work, Tevaram. Sekkizhar, the author of the Periyapuranam records both Appar and Sambandar worshiped Annamalaiyar in the temple.   

The height of the Annamalai hill is approximately 2,669 ft (814 m). The town is located to the east of Eastern Ghats. The temple complex covers an area of 25 acres, and is one of the largest temples in Bharat. It houses four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the eastern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 66 m (217 ft), making it one of the tallest temple towers in Bharat. 

The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Bhagwan Annamalaiyar and Devi Unnamulai Amman being the most prominent. The temple complex houses many halls; the most notable is the thousand-pillared hall built during the Vijayanagar period. 

The Ramana Ashram and ashram of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, located around the Annamalai hill are popular visitor attractions of Tiruvannamalai. There are 8 small shrines of lingams located in the 14 km circumference of the hill, each one associated with the 12 moon signs.

These 8 shrines are considered as one of the rituals of worship during the girivalam (circumbulation of the hill).   

Lingam  Moon sign  Direction 
Indra lingam Vrishabha , Tula (Taurus, Libra) East
Agni lingam  Simha (Leo)  South East
Yama lingam  Vrischika (Scorpio)  South 
Nairuti lingam  Mesha ( Aries)  South West 
Varuna lingam Makara, Kumbha (Capricorn, Aquarius)  West 
Vayu lingam  Karkataka (Cancer)  North West 
Kubera lingam  Dhanush, Mina (Sagittarius, Pisces) North 
Eesanya lingam  Mithuna, Kanya (Gemini, Virgo)   North East 

While the Annamalai temple is an architectural marvel the sanctum sanctorum is a centre of spiritual vibrations and positive energy. The total stretch of 14 kms surrounding the Arunachalam mountain surface has very good road and is convenient for the pilgrims to walk.

The road is surrounded by trees, flora and fauna on both sides and a feast to the eyes. One can find several truth seekers, saints and monks wandering or some of them staying by the side of the road with temporary make shift arrangements. 

There are also many other temples, murthis and mutts across this 14 km road. Ramana ashramam has developed herbal garden by the side of the Arunachalam hill. There are also many shops on this stretch of 14 km road where the pilgrims can get soft drinks and beverages while doing the giri pradakshina or parikrama.   

There are certain places of spiritual importance which one cannot visit in spite of lot of efforts unless the Almighty beckons and Tiruvannamalai is undoubtedly one such spiritual and divine place. 

How to reach ?– Tiruvannamalai is situated 185 km (115 mi) from the state capital Chennai , 210 km from Trichy and 210 km (130 mi) from Bangalore. Tiruvannamalai has a railway station that falls in the Trichy division of Southern Railway in between the Katpadi- Villupuram railway line. Nearest airports- Puducherry (87 Kms), Chennai (172 Kms). 

References– 

http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.com/2011/02/tales-from-life-of-guhai-namasivaya.html.

https://tiruvannamalai.nic.in/.

http://www.arunachaleswarartemple.tnhrce.in/gloryplace.html.

(Featured image source: www.inner-quest.org)


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About the Author

Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex- Senior Banker, Financial and Management Consultant and Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. Areas of Specialization & Teaching interests - Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Global Business & Behavioural Sciences. Qualification- M.Com., M.B.A., A.I.I.B.F., PhD. Experience- 25 years of banking and 14 years of teaching, research and consulting. 100 plus national and international publications on various topics like- banking, global trade, economy, public finance, public policy and spirituality. One book in English “In Search of Eternal Truth”, two books in Telugu and 20 short stories and 27 articles published in Telugu. Email id: [email protected]