Thiruvannamalai, a town of about 1.5 lakh people and a district head quarters is one of the numerous temple towns in Tamilnadu. Even in this state filled with many such places, Thiruvannamalai stands out. The gigantic Arunachaleshwara temple complex set against the backdrop of the majestic Arunachala (red mountain) hill attracts devotees and tourists in thousands. The whitewashed Raja gopuram at 218 feet is one of the tallest temple towers in the state. It may not be as colourful as the Madurai one, but is every bit as impressive with its scale.While the temple, impressive as it is, is just a part of what makes Thiruvannamalai special. It is the holy Arunachala mountain, considered an embodiment of Lord Shiva himself that adds to the flavor of the town. It has been and continuing to attract countless saints / sadhus over the centuries . The more famous of the sadhus, Ramana Maharishi amongst the earliest, with their international followers brought a different dimension to TVmalai. Crisscrossing foreigners in their cycles and sundry sadhus (real and fake) jostling for space with the devotees give a unique feel to the town. A massive afforestation effort has even managed to green this grey mountain and climb up the hill is a nice trek.
Where it is Situated ?
"The Arunachaleswar Shiva temple in Tiruvanamalai situated at the foot of the Arunachala hill, is one of the largest (25 acres) and oldest temples in all of south India. The era of its founding is unknown; the complex grew over several millenia; and the large towers, called gopurams, were erected between the 10th and 16th centuries. The tallest gopuram is over 60 meters tall and has 13 stories..."
* "The hill temple Arunachaleswara temple is one of the largest shrines in South India, sprawling 25 acres. It is dedicated to Lord Siva and one of the 12 Jothilingams in India. The giant 200 ft Gopuram towers over the giant gateway..."
* "The ancient and vast Arunachaleswarar Temple as it stands today is the result of several centuries of building, alteration and extension. A Nandi faces the main shrine in each of its five prakarams. The outermost prakaram houses the thousand pillared hall and the Shiva Ganga tank and is pierced on four sides with colossal Gopurams..."
* "...When we observe the general structure of the temple, we notice that there are five small gopurams on the inner boundary and four big gopurams on the outer boundary. The inner gopurams are known as Kitti gopurams. There are two gopurams in the East and one gopuram each for the other three directions. The first of the two Eastern gopurams is called Kili gopuram. There are indications that this was built in the 11th century. The gopurams built during this period have no more than five stories. The Kili gopuram was built by Veera Rajendra Chozhan around 1063 A.D. He is referred to as Maharaja Thiribuvana Chakravarthigal in the inscription.This name was also given to the gopuram. The Kitti (smaller) gopurams, except the top of the western one, were built by the Hoysala King Vallala Maharaja III. His name is given to the biggest Kitti gopuram which is in the East..."
An interesting legend...
In India there are three major categories of pilgrimage temples dedicated to the god Shiva: the Jyotir Lingams; the Svayambhu Lingams, and the Bhuta Lingams. Located in five south Indian temples, the Bhuta Lingams are sa to be places where Shiva manifested himself as the natural elements. The temples and their respective elements are Chambaram: ether, Sri Kalahasti: wind, Tiruvanaikka/Jambunath: water, Kanchipuram: earth, and Tiruvanamalai: fire. Chambaram is also associated with the heart, Tiruvanaikka with the stomach, and Tiruvanamalai with the chest.
An interesting legend, told in the excellent book Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition by Alan Morinis, tells how the sacred hill of Arunachala came to be associated with the fire Lingam of Shiva. Mourning the loss of his wife Sati, Shiva was wandering nude in the forests of Daruvana and was seen by the wives of certain sages. The women were aroused at the sight and desired to unite with him. The jealous sages cursed the god's linga (phallus) to fall off. As it touched the earth it grew to immense size like a great shining column. The gods Brahma and Vishnu saw it when its top had reached upwards beyond the clouds and its lower end was buried deep in the earth. They deced to investigate. Taking the form of a boar Vishnu dived into the depths of the primeval ocean to reach the base of the column, and Brahma taking the form of a swan flew up to its top. When they returned Vishnu honestly confessed that he could not find the foundations, while Brahma boasted that he had reached the summit. At this moment Shiva appeared, denounced Brahma as a liar, praised Vishnu for his honesty, and declared that the column could not be measured because it was his Linga. At the request of Vishnu, Shiva left part of his Linga in its 'tejas', or fire form, on the Arunachala hill.
The Arunachaleswar Shiva temple in Tiruvanamalai (Tiruvanamalai is the Tamil word for the Sanskrit Arunachala), situated at the foot of the Arunachala hill, is one of the largest (25 acres) and oldest temples in all of south India. The era of its founding is unknown; the complex grew over several millenia; and the large towers, called gopurams, were erected between the 10th and 16th centuries. The tallest gopuram is over 60 meters tall and has 13 stories. The central temple enshrines images of Shiva as Lord Annamalai and his consort as Unnamalai. Every year during the Hindu month of Kartikai (November-December), the great Deepam festival is held to celebrate Shiva's manifestation as the light of Arunachala. For ten days the whole city of Tiruvanamalai is alive with celebration, processions, dancing and singing. On the final day of the festival, the eve of the full moon, a huge beacon fire is lighted atop the hill in commemoration of the fire left by Shiva. Many thousands of pilgrims flock to this exciting festival from all over southern India. Arunachala hill is consered a miraculous healing place, especially for ailments of the lungs and barrenness in women. The hill of Arunachala is also a symbol of spiritual knowledge and several great sages have lived here, including Arunagirinathar, the author of the Tiruppugal, and Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950).
Thiruvannamalai is 107 km from Kumbakonam and 185 km from Chennai.The nearest Airport from Tiruvannamalai is Chennai which is 182 k.m. Tiruvannamalai is situated in between Katpadi and Viluppuram Junctions on the railway line. It is well connected by road with various parts of country.