[ Date : Nov 23th, 2010 ]
Thiruvannamalai is a pilgrimage town and municipality in Thiruvannamalai district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the headquarters of the Thiruvannamalai district. Thiruvannamalai is home to the Annamalaiyar Temple located at the foot of the Annamalai hill and amongst one of the great Shiva Temples of Tamilnadu. Thiruvannamalai has long been associated with many yogis and siddhars, and more recently the 20th century guru Ramana Maharshi. The sanskrit name for Thiruvannaamalai – Arunachala – became known worldwide mostly due to Sri Ramana. The other saint being Swami Arunagiri Nathar who wrote the Thiruppugazh and Kandaralankaram in Tamil.
Devotees inside the temple
Thiruvannamalai is one of the Pancha Bootha Sthalangal representing the fire element along with Chidambaram, Sri Kalahasti, Thiruvanaikoil and Kanchipuram representing sky, air, water and earth respectively.
Four Brahmotsavams are celebrated every year, the most famous of which is the one celebrated during the Tamil month of Karthikai (November/December). The ten day event culminates on the day of Karthigai Deepam. On that evening, a huge lamp is lit in a cauldron with three tons of ghee at the top of the Annamalai hill.
Every full moon night, tens of thousands of pilgrims worship Shiva by circumambulating the Arunachala hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a distance of about 14 km. On the yearly Chitra Powrnami (full moon) night in the Tamil calendar year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across the world visit the sacred town.
Advaita Vedanta guru Ramana Maharshi lived in Thiruvannamalai for fifty three years until his death in 1950. His ashram, Sri Ramanasramam, is located at the foot of the Arunachala hill, to the west of the town. Seshadri Swamigal and Yogi RamSurat Kumar are examples of two other gurus who lived in this city.
Tiruvannamalai is situated 185 km from Chennai and 210 km from Bangalore. Saathanoor Dam across Thenpennai River is a tourist place near Thiruvannamalai. The height of the Arunachala hill is approximately 1,600 feet.
As of 2001[update] India census, Thiruvannamalai had a population of 130,301. Males constitute 51% of the population and females 49%. Thiruvannamalai has an average literacy rate of 74%, higher than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 81%, and female literacy is 68%. In Thiruvannamalai, 11% of the population is under 6 years of age.
Glory of the Place
Thiruvannamalai – Annamalaiannal
The Saiva cult is a world phenomenon. Thiruvannamalai is the capital of Saivism. The South Indian deity Siva is the God of all countries. Annamalaiannal is the most sacred of the names of the manifestation of Lord Siva.
Saint poets Thirugnana Sambandar, Thirunavukkarasar, Sundarar and so on have visited Thiruvannamalai, prayed to the Lord and have composed divine poems. Saint Manickavasagar had lived at Thiruvannamalai for long period and had composed “Thiruvempavai – 20″ and “Thiruvammanai”. Even today there is a temple for Saint Manickavasagar on the Girivalam path at Adi-Annamalai.
There are 275 sacred places (Lord Siva Temples) which were praised by the hymns of Thevaram and were called “Thirumurai Thalangal”. Of these places twenty two are found in Nadu Naadu (a part of Tamil Nadu ). Thiruvannamalai is the most sacred of these twenty two.
Place of Salvation
SivaPuranam identifies four sacred places for obtaining salvation. Thiruvannamalai is one among them. The significance of this place is that by mere remembrance of Lord Arunachaleswarar at this place gives salvation to all souls (Ninaithale Mukthi Tharum Thiruthalam).
Pancha Bootha Sthalam
The earth is formed by five basic elements namely land, water, fire, air and ether. Our ancestors called them “Pancha Boothas” and associated them with five sacred places for worshipping Lord Siva. The center of these five elements fire is identified with Thiruvannamalai.
Thiruvannamalai is the “Manipooraga Sthalam”, which is one among six athara sthalams. Thiruvannamalai is so sacred that even Gods, and celestials offered their prayers. Tradition has it that Sun, Moon, Eight Vasus, Brahma, Vishnu and so on have worshipped here.
Saints and Scholars
Thiruvannamalai has been the abode of Siddhars. Idaikkattu Siddhar, one of the eighteen Siddhars, belongs to this sacred soil.
Thiruvannamalai has the honour of providing an abode for saints such as Arunagirinathar, Vitpatchathevar, Gugai Namachivayar, Guru Namachivayar, Deivasigamani, Arunachala Desikar, Mahan Seshadri Swamigal, Bagawan Ramana Maharishi, Sri Yogi Ram Surathkumar and the like.
The Creator Lord Bramha and Protector Lord Thirumal entered into a controversy among themselves so as to ascertain who was the greatest. Lord Siva was asked to be the judge. Lord Siva told them that whoever was able to see his crown as well as his feet would be termed as the greatest. Then Lord Siva transformed himself into a Jothi (a column of fire) touching the heaven and earth. Thirumal took the avatar of varaha (wild boar) and dug deep into the earth to find Siva’s feet but at last accepted defeat. Bramha took the form of a swan and flew to see the crown of Siva. Unable to see the crown, Bramha saw a thazhambu flower which had decked Siva’s crown falling down. He asked the flower as to the distance of Siva’s crown whereby the flower replied that he had been falling for forty thousand years. Bramha, realizing that he would not be able to reach the crown asked the flower to act as a false witness.
The thazhambu flower acting as a false witness declared that Brahma had seen the crown. Siva became angry at the deception and cursed that Bramha should have no temple on earth and that the thazhambu flower should not be used while praying to Lord Siva. The place where Lord Siva stood as a column of fire to eliminate the ego is Thiruvannamalai.
The Annamalai Hill was Agni (fire) during Krithayugam, was Manikkam (Emerald) during Threthayugam, was pon (Gold) during Dwaprayugam and rock during Kaliyugam as per the ancient legends. On the request of Thirumal and Bramha by their devout prayer, Siva who was in the form of a fire column took the form of a Sivalingam at the foot of the hill hwere the Arulmigu Annamalaiyar Temple is located.
Lord Siva’s wife Goddess Umadevi once playfully closed His eyes which plunged the world into darkness. All living beings suffered in the dark. To absolve herse of this sin Mother Umadevi created a Sivalingam out of sand and worshipped at Kancheepuram. At that instance, Lord Siva ordered her to proceed to Thiruvannamalai and do penance so that she could get half of His body. Likewise Mother Parvathi did penance at Pavalakundru with the help of Saint Gowthama. A demon called Makidasuran disturbed the penance of Mother Parvathi. The Mother took the form of goddess Durga Devi and destroyed him on the full moon day of the Tamil Month of Karthigai during the auspicious period of pradosham. Lord Siva presented himself in the form of Fire atop the hill and merged Goddess Parvathi on the left half of his body.
To commemorate this event, every year during the Tamil month of Karthigai in Kiruthigai Star, exactly at 6.00 p.m. Arthanareeswaramurthi presents himself as Jyothi Swaroopa to his devotees at the time of Karthigai Festival 10th day.
The following legends are also associated with this temple:
Appearance of Lord Muruga
Saint Arunagirinathar was the ardent devotee of Lord Muruga. Sambandan was a scholar in the king’s court and had obtained many boons from goddess Kali. Afraid of Arunagirinathar’s popularity, he proposed to the king a competition between him and Arunagirinathar, as to who could bring his chosen deity manifest in the form visible to everyone present.
In the competition the devotion of Arunagirinathar brought the appearance of Lord Muruga through a stone pillar. Since then this has became one of the famous places of visit for the devotees of Lord Muruga.
Vallala Maharaja humiliated by Lord Siva
After completed the construction of this Gopuram King Ballala became proud of his achievement. In order to teach him a lesson, Lord Arunachaleswarar refused to leave the temple through the Vallala Gopuram during first 9 days of 10 day Special Festival. The King was distressed and prayed for his forgiveness. Only then, Lord Arunachaleswarar consented to pass through this gopuram on the 10th day of the festival. This is a lesson taught by Lord Siva about humility and greatness, not only to King Ballala but to everyone.
Arunagirinathar saved by Lord Muruga
In his earlier years Arunagirinathar climbed the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram and attempted to fall off. Lord Muruga appeared before him and saved his life. Since then Arunagirinathar became known as Gopurathilayanar.
Lord Arunachaleswarar himself performing the funeral rites of King Vallala
Arunachala Puram describes King Vallala as an embodiment of all human virtues. He was praised for his uprightness, generosity and love for Lord Arunachaleswarar.
The King had no issues. Lord Siva tested him for his piety and became a child at the hands of king Vallala and his wife. King Vallala embraced the child in all his lovingness and later Lord Siva disappeared. When the king prayed for a child, Lord Siva assured him that would perform all his funeral rites as he himself became a child to the king.
Even now in the month of Maasi (February) when the annual anniversary of King Vallala Deva’s death occurs, at the instruction of Lord Arunachaleswarar, the Lord is taken in procession with great Ceremony to the village Pallikonda Pattu, where the funeral rites take place. This festival is known as ‘Masi Maga Theerthavari’ Urchavam.
Yanai Thirai Konda Vinayagar
Once a king from Andrapradesh after a battle captured the locality and allowed his troops to occupy the area. In the night the King had a dream that an elephant was charging his troops and making him to run away. When asked, he was informed that they stayed over a holy land which was protected by Lord vinayagar. Realising his mistake, the king donated his elephants and begged forgiveness.
Arunagirinathar’s Life force entering into the body of a Parrot
The Vijayanagar King Pravda Deva Maharaya, once lost his vision and was blind. Sambandar, a confidant to the king advised him to get the flower Parijatham to regain his sight and suggested that Arunagirinathar could do the job. The king was convinced and asked Arunagirinathar to bring Parijatha flower.
As the Parijatha flower is in heaven, Arunagirinathar moved his life force into the body of parrot, after keeping his own body in the gopuram. Even before his return with Parijatha flower his body was cremated. As he could not get his human form back, Arunagirinathar remained as parrot and composed great songs including Kandaranubuti.
Arulmigu Arunachleswarar Temple consists six prakarams. The sixth prakaram is the outer prakaram. Rajagopuram, Thirumanjana gopuram, Pei gopuram and Ammaniammal gopuram are located between sixth and fifth prakarams.
The tower located on the eastern side between the sixth outer Prakaram and fifth Prakaram is the tallest of all the towers in this temple. This is known as Raja Gopuram. It stands in splendid dignity at the foot of Annamalai Hill over looking the town with its immense height and beauty. It is 217 feet in height with 11 storeys. It is the second tallest temple tower in South India.
The Raja Gopuram, built by Krishnadevaraya is lavish with the sculptured art of the period.
Kambathu Elayanar Sannathi
Slightly at inner left side of the Raja Gopuram entrance stands this magnificent Sannathi. This Sannathi consists seven steps which lead devotees to the inner chambers.
This Sannathi was built during the reign of Vijayanagara kings. It marks the actual spot where according to legend, Sambandan’s boastful challenge to Arunagirinathar took place in front of Prabudadevaraya Maharaja and his court, where lord Muruga appeared.
The Sannathi was divided into four chambers. The first chamber consists very fine sculptures over the entrance leading to second chamber. The left and right side walls of this chamber carries pictures and devotional hymns of Arunagirinathar. Third chamber is the place for devotees to worship and the fourth chamber is the moolastanam, the inner shrine of Lord Muruga.
Parallel to Kambathu Elayanar Sannathi and to the northern side of the fifth prakaram stands “One Thousand Pillared Mandapam”. Every pillar of the Mandapam is engraved with beautiful figures and the roof with numerous stone Nandis. Thousand pillared Mandapam is used for the deities to be seated for ablutions and worship on Aani Thirumanjanam and on the day of the star Thirivaathirai. This Mandapam consits an underground chamber which houses Sri Pathala Lingam.
Sri Pathala Lingam
Descending stone steps from Thousand pillared Mandapam lead devotees to the shrine of Sri Pathala Lingam. The sculptured vimanam of this shrine is at the floor level of the mandapam. The stone Lingam found in this shrine stands there undisturbed several hundreds of years.
This was the shrine where Saint Ramana Maharishi used to meditate during his early days. The meditation was so deep and wonderful that he could not feel pain even though his body was covered with insects and was eaten by vermin. It was at this stage Mahan Sheshadri Swami noticed Ramana Maharishi and arranged assistance to him.
Sivagangai Vinayagar Sannathi
Close to Sivagangai Theertham stands Sivagangai Vinayagar Sannathi. This is situated at the rear side of Kambathur Elayanar Sannathi and opposite to Thousand Pillared Mandapam. The Vimanam of this shrine is colourful covered with a profusion of deities.
Arunagirinathar Mandapam consists a spacious Hall. The hymns of Arunagirinathar are engraved on marble stones of the walls. At the inner side of the Mandapam is a shrine for Lord Subramaniyar wherein Arunagirinathar is seen praying the Lord with folded hands. This is also known as Gopurathilayanar sannathi.
Kalyana Sundareswarar Sannathi
Kalyana Sundareswarar Sannathi stands at the southern side of the broad flight of stone stairs leading upwards to the majestic Vallala Maharaja Gopuram. This Sannathi houses a Lingam, Devi and Nandhi. In front of the Sannathi is a marriage hall where marriages of the devotees are performed.
Vallala Maharaja Gopuram
This is the direct entrance and exit between the Fifth and Fourth Prakarams.The Vallala Maharaja Gopuram was built by the Hoysala King Ballala between AD1318 and AD1343. Two stories are associated with this Gopuram one is Vallala Maharaja being humiliated by Lord Siva and the other one is Saint Arunagirinathar saved by Lord Muruga. The fame of this ardent devotee king Vallala Deva soars high as Lord Arunachaleswarar himself performs the King’s funeral rites which are supposed to be done by King’s son.
The Significance of Girivalam (Circumambulation)
In most of the holy places the Deity is found atop the hill. But here the Holy hill itself is the Deity (Lord Annamalaiyar) and is worshipped. “Arunam” means sun and denotes the red colour of fire. “Asalam” means “Giri” or “malai” (mountain). Thus “Arunachalam” means the HOly hill which is rd in colour. The Holy hill is 2668 fi. high.
The Annamalai Hill was Agni (fire) during Kirthayugam, was Manikkam (Emerad) during Threthayugam, was Pon (Gold) during Dwaparayugam and rock during Kaliyugam.
There are eight lingams located at the eight directions and provides an octagonal structure to Thiruvannamalai Town. The eight lingams are: Indra Lingam, Agni Lingam, Yama Lingam, Niruthi Lingam, Varuna Lingam, Vayu Lingam, Kubera Lingam and Esanya Lingam. The Adi Annamalai Temple glorified in Dhevaram is located on this path.
The circumambulation path is 14 kilometres. History has it that even today a number of siddhars are living on the hill. It is auspicious to perform “Girilvalam” during every Full moon day which would do immense good. It is because during Full Moon Day siddhars movement would be there and the whole atmosphere would be filled with perfumes of herbal plants. This will provide peace of mind and good health to body. It is a proven fact that on every Full moon day lakhs of devotees circumambulate the Hill and get all benefits by praying to Lord Annamalaiyar .
The circumambulation path has been provided with sodium lamps at the expense of 12 lakhs donated by cine artist Thiru Rajinikanth. This benefits pilgrims who perform circumambulation during night times. On behalf of Town administration bore well pumps are erected to supply drinking water to pilgrims. Moreover for the benefit of the devotees during special occasions annadhanam is performed by Sri Agasthiar Ashram,and so many donors. Milk is distributed by certain well wishers.
Thiruvannamalai is well connected to many cities and towns in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh by road. This town lies on the junction of the Chittoor – Cuddalore state highway and the Puduchery – Bengalooru national highway (NH 66). The TNSTC operates many bus services to different towns and cities in Tamil Nadu, such as Chennai, Vellore, Salem, Thiruppathi, Villupuram, Bangaluru, Tiruchi, Madurai, Coimbatore, Erode, Tiruppur, Kanyakumari, Puduchery.
A railway line between Vellore and Villupuram passes through Thiruvannamalai, where passengers can board a passenger train to Vellore (up) or Villupuram (down) (traffic in this section is now closed for gauge conversion). The nearest major railway station is at Villupuram (60 km). New railway line between tiruvannamalai and chennai via tindivanam inprogress.
The nearest airport is at Chennai (170 km) and Bengaluru International airport 200 km.
In spite of being fairly close to the city of Chennai, there are no major industries in and around Thiruvannamalai. As a result, a large number of people of this district have traditionally been looking for opportunities either in Bangalore or in Chennai.
Administration and Politics
Thiruvannamalai is the headquarters of the Thiruvannamalai District. Thiruvannamalai assembly constituency is part of Tiruvannamalai (Lok Sabha constituency). Thiru. E. V. Velu, Food Minister, Government of Tamil Nadu hails from Thiruvannamalai.Former housing minister K.Pitchandi hails from Tiruvannamalai. Arunai Engineering College and SKP Engineering College are the two prominent engineering colleges located in Thiruvannamalai.