Thiruvannamalai called Trinomali during British times is a town in the British state of Tamil Nadu. It is 180 kms from Chennai and 80 kms from Vellore. It is located on the foothills of the Annamalai hills and has been ruled by the Cholas, Pallavas, Hoysalas, the Vijaynagar Empire, Tipu Sultan and the British. The Annamalai hills or red mountains are sacred and are considered an iconic representation of Shiva in itself. It is famous for the Annamalaiyar or Arunachaleshwara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalas dedicated to fire element.
It is also called the ‘Manipooraka sthala’ as it is supposed to be so sacred that Gods and celestial beings like the Sun, Moon, eight Vasus, Brahma , Vishnu and others have worshipped here. Shiva Puran identifies sacred places for attaining salvation and Thiruvannamalai is said to be one of them. The significance is that by mere remembrance of the Lord Arunachaleshwara, salvation of all souls can be attained(in Tamil referred to as Ninaithale Mukthi Tharum Thiruthalam)
The Arunachala Puran says-
‘All stones in Arunachala are lingams. It is indeed the abode of Lord Shiva. All trees are wish granting trees of Indra’s heaven. Its rippling waters are the Ganges flowing through our Lord’s matted locks. The food eaten there is the ambrosia of the Gods. Moving about in that place is like performing pradakshina. Words spoken there are Holy Scriptures. To fall asleep there is to be absorbed in Samadhi beyond the mind’s delusion. Could there be any other place which is its equal?’
Annamalai has found place in all kinds of literature like Puranas, Prabandhams, Sathakam, Maalai, Kovai, Sthotras, Kummi etc. The Arunachala stotras and the Arunachala Puranas are sacred and well known. Annamalai is mentioned even in Keno Upanishad.
During full moon day a huge fire is lit in remembrance of the fire that Lord Shiva ignited and is said to have left behind in the hill. To reap maximum benefits lakhs of devotees pray to Lord Arunachaleshwara every full moon day. The Annamalai hills is said to be Agni(fire) during Sathya Yuga, Manikkam (emerald) during Threta Yuga, Pon(gold) during Dwapara Yuga and Rock during Kali Yuga.
A great saint Arunagirinathar wrote volumes about the uniqueness of Lord Arunachaleshwara and this temple. It was here that he composed Thirupugal, a magnificent work in Tamil which stands testimony to several centuries for its greatness. Krithi Arunachalanatha was created by another Tamil poet composer Muthuswamy Dikshithar.
Shiva is worshipped as Annamalaiyar or Arunachaleshwara and is represented by the lingam referred to as Agni Lingam. His consort Parvati is depicted as Unnamulai Amman (sometimes also referred to as Abhithakuchalambal)
The Chola inscriptions that can be seen on the temple show that right from the ninth century there have been records maintained of the history of the town. Before the ninth century there were inscriptions depicting that the Pallava Kings were ruling the land. There were indications that for four centuries the Chola dynasty ruled the land and all the Kings patronized the temple. Victories and other achievements made by the Chola Kings were commemorated by offering gifts to the temple in the form of animals like sheep and cow and grants of land and oil for the temple given were all recorded and this can be seen in the inscriptions on the temple.
There are 48 inscriptions from the Sangama dynasty,2 inscriptions from the Saluva dynasty and 55 inscriptions from the Tuluva dynasty indicating that gifts were given by the rulers to the temple at various times. Krishnadeva Raya the Vijaynagar King contributed a great deal to the temple as can be reflected in the inscriptions seen in the temple. These inscriptions were either in Kannada, Tamil or Sanskrit. The Vijaynagara Kings seemed to have emphasized on local concerns and administrative matters which contrasts with the inscriptions of the same rulers in other temples like Tirupathi where the majority of the gift related inscriptions were for land endowments or animals like sheep and cow were gifted and in some cases there were gifts of oil to the temple or gifts in the form of cash.
There are inscriptions that show Thiruvannamalai as an urban centre before the precolonial period with the city developing around the temple similar to cities like Madurai etc. Inscriptions indicate that the Rajagopuram was built by Sevappa Nayak of Thanjavur and it is stated to have been done at the instance of two Tapasvin brothers Sivanesha and Lokanatha and the inscriptions contain verses which were likely to have been composed by the court poet named Srinivasa Dikshitar in AD 1572.
Legend of Ardhanarishwara
Once, Goddess Parvati playfully closed the eyes of her husband Lord Shiva in a flower garden at their abode atop Mount Kailas. Although it was just for a moment for the Gods, all light was taken out from the Universe and the Earth in turn was submerged for years in darkness. Mother Parvati along with all other devotees of Shiva performed penance .Then the Lord in His infinite mercy appeared as a column of fire at the top of the Annamalai hills thereby returning light to the Earth. He is then said to have merged with Parvati to form Ardhanarishwara, the half male, half female form of Shiva.
Origin of the name Arunachaleshwara
Another legend states that once Brahma and Vishnu contested over superiority. Shiva appeared as a flame and challenged them to find His source. Brahma took the form of a swan and flew to the skies to see the top of the flame while Vishnu took the form of a boar Varaha and sought its base. Neither Brahma nor Vishnu could find its source and while Vishnu conceded defeat, Brahma lied and said he had found its pinnacle. As punishment for his lie, Shiva ordained that Brahma would never have temples on earth dedicated to his worship.
In Tamil the word Arunam means red or fire and Achalam means hill. Since Shiva manifested himself in the form of fire in this place the name Arunachaleshwara came to be associated with the Lord and the Annamalai hills.
This temple is one of the biggest and grandest temples in South India.
The temple is spread over 25 acres and is situated at the bottom of the Annamalai hills. The temple has a total of five precincts; each precinct holds a huge Nandi, the sacred bull of Shiva. Towers include the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram and Kili Gopuram or Parrot tower.
The Fifth Prakaram is the outermost prakaram and it has four gopurams on all four different sides of the temple. The Eastern Tower, the Rajagopuram is the tallest in the temple. It is considered to be the second tallest temple gopuram in South India. The base of the Rajagopuram is made of granite measuring 41m by 30m.It was begun by Krishnadeva Raya of the Vijaynagara dynasty and completed by Sevappa Nayaka. The south Tower is called Thirumanjan Gopuram and the West Tower is called Pei Gopuram. The North Tower is called Ammani Ammal Gopuram. She was a Sanyasin and it was built by her.
Entering the Rajagopuram devotees worship Gopura Ganapathi.
It also has a thousand pillared mandapam besides a holy tank called Shiv Ganga tank. It has stone steps and on all four sides it has the Thirumalapathi Mantapam. This hall is very aesthetically designed with all stone pillars finely sculpted. It is used specially on Thirumanjanam that coincides with the appearance of Thiruvadurai star. Thousands of devotees gather together in this mandapam to worship Lord Arunachaleshwara. There is an underground chamber known as the Pathala Lingam chamber. It is said that in his early days Shri Ramana Maharishi sat in deep meditation for long hours, days and nights in this chamber.
The next important landmark in this Prakaram is the Kambattu Elayanar Sannathi which was built by King Krishnadeva Raya. It has four chambers. The first chamber contains many sculptures leading into the second chamber. The third chamber is used for prayers and the fourth one is the Moolasthanam where Lord Muruga’s shrine is placed. Behing the Kambattu Elayanar Sannathi and in front of the thousand pillared mandapam stands the sannathi of Shiva Ganga Vinayaka. It has an imposing Vimanam with plenty of colourful deities. Another important structure is the Arunagirinathar mandapam. Here Arunagirinathar is in a standing posture offering prayers to Lord Karthikeya. It is also called the Gopurathilayanar Sannathi. Next comes the Kalyana Sudarshana shrine. This shrine faces the Vallala Maharaj Gopuram from the south side. There is a marriage hall in this sannathi where many devotees perform weddings. Here idols of Nandi, lingam and Goddess Devi are found. The Vallala Maharaja Gopuram was constructed by King Ballala. The uniqueness of this Gopuram is that Lord Arunachaleshwara himself took the role of King Ballala’s son to perform the funeral rites of the King since the King was childless.
In the fourth prakaram Brahma Teertham (temple tank) is located. The waters of this tank are considered to be so holy that it is said to remove all sins of the devotees rendering them pure. The statue of King Ballala is placed on the east side of the Gopuram named Vallala Gopuram. There are several other shrines dedicated to Arunagirinathar, Keshavar, Kalyaneshwar,Viranmandie and the Panchasthalas. There is a hall with a six foot tall statue of Nandi erected by Vallala Maharaj. There is the Puravi Mantapam and Shakti Vilasam, here religious discourses are held regularly.
Once the Kili Gopuram is crossed, one reaches the third prakaram Arunagirinathar is said to have entered the body of a parrot in order to fetch the Parijatha flower. His enemy Sambandan burnt his body and hence Arunagirinathar settled himself on the temple tower in the form of a parrot and sang his famous Kantharanubhuti. There is a form of a parrot in one of the stuthis testifying to this story.
Here there are many shrines for lingam which date back to twelfth century period. On the Eastern side the flag staff is located and the huge Unnamalai Amman shrine is on the North side. In this prakaram there are temples dedicated to Bhimeshwar and Vigneshwar beside the Mahila trees. The temple tree ’Maghizha’ is present here and it is considered medicinal and sacred. Childless couples tie cradles in its branches and pray for progeny.
There is a sixteen pillared Katchi Mandapam or Deepa Darshana Mandapam or hall of light in the third prakaram. The five deities are brought to this mandapam during the Karthiga Deepam festival. The south of the Katchi Mandapam has the store room, temple kitchen and the hall called Pannir Mandapam. The Vasantha Mandapam meaning the hall of spring is in this precinct and contains the temple office and the Kalahateeshwarar shrine.
The second prakaram has several forms of Shiva lingam and other deities like Ganapathi and Muruga are situated on either side of the entrance. The shrine of his consort Unnamulai Amman is here with the goddess depicted in a standing posture.
This prakaram is the innermost and lies closest to the Lord Arunachaleshwarar temple. It encloses the Garbha Griha of Shri Arunachaleshwarar (Tejolingam) the presiding deity of this famous temple. The Palliyarai or the divine room for resting deities is located at the first precinct around the sanctum. Behind the walls of the sanctum, there is an image of Venugopalaswamy, an incarnation of Vishnu. Around the sanctum are images of Somaskanda, Durga, Chandikeshwarar, Gajalakshmi, Dakshinamoorthy, Nataraj and Lingodbhava(an image of Shiva emanating from the lingam)
It is said that there are as many as 360 tirthas and 400 lingams in the eight mile circuit of this sacred hill. Around the hill there are many hermitages inhabited by great Spiritual saints like Ramanashram, Seshadri Swamigal Sannidhi, Durvas Ashram, Goutama Ashram, Adi Annamalai temple, Manickavasagar temple, Isanya Gnanadesikar Mutt, Durga temple, the famous Virupaksha cave, Sadai Swami cave and Mamarathu cave.
Religious Significance of the temple
The Annamalai temple is one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalas representing the Fire Element. Here, Shiva is said to have manifested as a massive column of fire whose crown and feet could not be found by the Gods Brahma and Vishnu. The main lingam in the shrine is referred to as Agni Lingam and represents duty, self sacrifice, virtue and liberation through ascetic life at the end of the Agni Kalpa.
Shiva temples which are considered to be personifications of the Tantrik Chakras of human anatomy are called Aadhara Sthalas.
The Annamalai temple is called the Manipooraka Sthala and is associated with the Manipooraka Chakra.Manipooraka is the chakra of spiritual ignorance, jealousy, thirst, shame, fear, delusion, disgust,sadness and foolishness. It is said that even thinking of the Lord Arunachaleshwara or Annamalaiyar gives Moksha.
Cultural Significance-Saints and literary mention
In Tevaram, the 7th Century Tamil Shaiva canonical work by Appar and Thirugnanasambandar, the first mention of Annamalaiyar is found. Thirugnanasambandar venerated Annamalaiyar and Unnamulai Amman in ten verses in Tevaram compiled as the First Tirumurai. Appar also venerated Annamalaiyar in ten verses in Tevaram compiled as the Fifth Tirumurai. Sekkizhar the author of Periyapuranam records that both the saints worshipped Annamalaiyar in the temple.
It is classified as one of the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams eulogized by the Tamil saint poets and the 9th century Saiva saint poet Mannickavasagar who composed the Thiruvempaavai here in the holy month of Marghazi. He revered Annamalaiyar in his writing.
Arunagirinathar was a 15th century Tamil poet who was born in Thiruvannamalai. His early years were spent in rioting and debauchery. After ruining his health he tried to commit suicide by throwing himself from the Northern tower but was saved by the grace of God Muruga. He became a staunch devotee and composed great Tamil works eulogizing the Lord.
The greatest saint of recent times who has put Thiruvannamalai on the world map is Ramana Maharishi. At the place where the temple has the Patala lingam was the place where Ramana attained supreme awareness while ants devoured his flesh. The place is called Mukthi Sthalam meaning place of salvation and saints like Seshadri Swamigal, Gugai Namachivayar and Yogi Ramsuratkumar have been associated with the temple.
Two Nayak scriptures Raghunathabhyudayam and Sangitha Sudha describe the towers of the temple. The Thanjavuri Andhra Raja Charithamu mentions that Krishnadeva Raya built the tower and the outer precincts of the temple.
The lighting of the Maha Deepam is mentioned by Nachinarkiniar who wrote Tholkappiam in 1000 BC which is considered as one of the oldest works in Tamil literature. A Jain work ‘Jeevaka Chintamani’ and one of the five great Tamil epics written by Thirthaka Devar also mentions this Karthikkai Deepam. Mention has been made about this even in the 7th century AD by Saints Appar and Sambandar.
The temple priests perform pooja on a daily basis and during festivals. The temple rituals are performed six times in a day. Ushathkalam at 5.30am,Kalasanthi at 8am,Uchikalam at 10am,Sayarakshai at 6pm,Irandamkalam at 8pm and Ardha Jamam at 10pm.Each ritual has four steps, Abhisheka(sacred bath), Alankaram(decoration), Neivedhyam(food offering), Deepa aradhana (waving of lamps for both the God and Goddess). The worship is held amidst music with Nadaswaram(pipe instrument) and Tavil(percussion instrument),Vedic chanting by priests and prostrations by worshippers in front of the temple. There are weekly rituals like Somavaram and Shukravaram, fortnightly rituals like pradosham and monthly festivals like Amavasya(new moon day), Pournami(full moon day), Krithhikai and Chaturthi.
Karthika Deepam Festival
This festival is celebrated during the Tamil month of Karthigai between November and December and it is celebrated for 13 days. For the first three days the procession is at the Durga temple and for the remaining 10 days it is at the Annamalaiyar temple. On the last day a cauldron is taken which contains three tons of ghee and a huge lamp is lit at the top of the Annamalai hills which can be clearly seen from all over the city.
The sequence of events begins at 4am that day when the Bharani deepam is lit in five places in the main Arunachaleshwarar shrine signifying the unification of the five elements. In the evening the five idols of Ganapathy, Muruga, Chandikeshwarar, Annamalaiyar and Unnamulai Amman are taken and placed on the Katchi mandapam which is in front of the golden flag mast. Five torches and the akhanda deepam are lighted in front of the golden flag mast at 6 pm and at the same time the Ardhanareeshwarar deity is brought out forcefully dancing. On seeing the lighted torches, men at the peak of the mountain ready with the caudron light the Maha deepam. Immediately devotees start loudly chanting’Annamalaiyyarruku Harohara’ which means Hail or Salutations to the Lord. This maha deepam is visible around a radius of 30 km. Some of the devotees are fortunate to witness the rituals inside the temple but due to crowds the remaining devotees perform the circumambulation or Girivalam.
The same night the eleven storeyed Gopuram is lit up with earthern oil lamps called Ahals set in rows throughout the eleven storeys. Most of the devout devotees fast the whole day and break their fast only after taking darshan of the Maha Deepam.
The spiritual meaning behind seeing the light is summed up as follows ’The hill represents the human body ,the vessel or the cauldron used represents the mind, the wick represents love, the ghee poured into the cauldron represents incessant meditation and longing, the camphor represents breath and the fire represents the light of wisdom or Jnana Jyothi.
On the Chitra Pournami day every year which is the full moon day of the Tamil calendar lakhs of pilgrims come from all over the world to worship the Lord Arunachaleshwara. The ‘Ther’ or five temple cars with wooden carvings are used for the procession.
Another festival celebrated during the ‘Thai’ month of the Tamil calendar at mid Jan every year is Thiruvoodal. Between Jan 15th and 16th on the morning of the Maatu Pongal day, Nandi the sacred bull of Shiva is decorated with sweets, vegetables and fruits. The two main deities Lord Arunachaleshwara and Goddess Unnamalai Amman are taken to Tiruvoodal Street from the temple in the evening to supposedly enact the love tiff or the ‘oodal’ between the two.
Every full moon day of the month, Girivalam is undertaken by the pilgrims. The word ‘Girivalam’ originates from Giri meaning hill and valam means circumambulating. Lakhs of devotees participate in this ritual every month. A full circle going around the hill measures around 14kms. The Girivalam path is a well tarred road and enables pilgrims to walk 24 hours a day as the roads are well lit up which makes it secure even in the night. Some pilgrims offer free water, juices, milk etc as a way of doing service to others. Devotees chant a shloka or mantra while walking and endeavour to keep their mind pure and holy.
People from all walks of life in all age groups are seen carrying out this ritual with great fervour and devotion. It is said to not only rejuvenate physical health and well being but also gives mental peace and satisfaction.
During Girivalam the devotees have Ashta Linga Darshan.
Ashta Linga Darshan
At Arunachaleshwarar there are eight lingams known as Ashta lingams. They are positioned at different locations and facing various directions, each lingam signifying various directions of the Earth. They are Indralingam, Agnilingam, Yamalingam, Niruthilingam, Varunalingam,
Kuberalingam and Isanyalingam.
Each linga addresses different aspects of man’s life and they bless the devotees with different types of benefits. It is said that these lingams were installed by various Gods. All of these lingams have a dominant Navagraha and praying to each lingam brings forth various benefits that is being bestowed by that particular Navagraha on the devotee who prays to that particular lingam to achieve the desired results.
Indra Lingam-It is the first lingam on the Girivalam and it has East as its cardinal direction. It is said to be installed by Lord Indra. The dominant Navagraha of this lingam is Sun and Shukra. Worshipping this lingam blesses the devotees with long life and prosperity.
Agni Lingam– It is the second lingam on the Girivalam and faces the South East direction. It is located near the lotus tank and is unique because it is the only lingam on the right side of the path on which ones does the Girivalam. The dominant Navagraha of this lingam is said to be Chandra. It is believed to be installed by Lord Agni. It helps devotees to keep away illness, maintain good health and counter problems that occur in life’s journey.
Yama Lingam– It is the third lingam on the Girivalam and faces the South direction. It is said to be installed by the Lord of death Yama. The dominant graha of this lingam is Mars or Mangal. It has a holy tank called the Simha Thirtham. Worshipping this Lingam ensures removal of financial problems.
Niruthi Lingam- It is the fourth lingam on the Girivalam and its cardinal direction is South East. It is believed to have been installed by the King of the giants. The dominant graha is Rahu. This lingam has a holy tank called Shani Thirtha. Devotees are freed of all their problems on worshipping this linga.
Varuna lingam-It is the fifth lingam on the Girivalam and it signifies the West direction. It is said to have been installed by Lord Varuna who creates rain on Earth. Shani is the graha dominant in this lingam. It has a holy tank named Varuna theertham. This lingam elevates social development of the devotees and protects them from illnesses.
Vayu Lingam-It is the sixth lingam on the Girivalam and is placed facing the North West direction. It is believed to have been installed by Lord Vayu, the God of Wind. Ketu is the graha dominant here. Worshipping this lingam helps devotees to fight against heart ailments, lung and stomach problems.
Kubera Lingam-It is the seventh lingam on the Girivalam and it faces the Northern direction. Guru is the dominant graham here. It is said to have been installed by Lord Kubera who is the Lord of wealth. Worshipping this lingam gives prosperity to the devotees.
Isanya Lingam- It is the last lingam on the Girivalam facing the NorthEast direction. It is said to have been installed by the Lord Isanya(one of the seven rudras of Shiva). Buddh is the dominant graham in this Linga. Devotees get peace of mind and think in a positive way to achieve their goals in life by worshipping this lingam.
Legend on the importance of Girivalam
It is believed that once Goddess Parvathi went to Sage Gouthama and asked him to explain to her the greatness of the Karthikkai Deepam in the Arunachala hills. He told her that if on the 13th day from the new moon or full moon called Pradosha in the month of Karthika on the day of the star Krithika all devotees would perform Giripradakshina, then they would never be born again. Their karma would be destroyed and this would be equivalent to performing crores of Yagnas. Great merit would accrue and it would liberate devotees from all sins and bestow peace and prosperity on them. Such is the greatness and sacredness of the Girivalam.
Arunachala is the hill of Agni
This is the Tejas Lingam
O Lord,O Mahadeva
O Rudra, O Dakshinamoorthy
Have mercy on me O Lord
Let me be consumed in Thy Divine Flame
In the fire of wisdom
Hail Harohara Harohara
Salutations Unto Thee.
Location and Contact Details
Joint Commissioner/Executive Officer
Arulmigu Arunachaleshwarar Temple
Tel No- 04175-252438
Nearest Airport – Chennai
Chennai To Thiruvannamalai- 3 hrs by road
The temple is located on the Villipuram-Katpadi Railroad, it is 65 kms from Villipuram and 90 kms from Katpadi.
Frequent bus services are available from most of the towns in Tamil Nadu.
The town also has a helipad from the major metro cities
There are temple accommodations at a nominal cost for devotees.
Private accommodation is also available in and around the temple.