This temple is the home of Shiva worshipped as a
Shiva Lingam in the form of Arunachaleswarar (Annamalaiyar) and the
Goddess Unnamulai Amman (Apitakuchambal, Parvati). It is one of the
largest temples in India. This greatest of Saivite shrines, is set
within a sprawling 25 acre temple compound and draws hundreds of
thousands of pilgrims every full moon. It is associated with the element
Fire and regarded as one of the Pancha Bhuta Stalams; the other four
Stalams being Tiruvanaikkaval (Water), Chidambaram (Space), Kanchipuram
(Earth) and Sri Kalahasti (Wind) respectively.
Shiva is said to have
manifested himself in the form of a massive column of fire, whose crown
and feet, Brahman and Vishnu attempted in vain to reach. In his
compassion the Lord conceded to their request of appearing in the form
of a Sivalingam and thus vanished within the hill. Immediately a
Sivalinga appeared and overwhelmed with joy, Brahma and Vishnu caused a
temple to be erected through the divine sculptor Mayan.
The town of
Tiruvannamalai is said to have nine entrances — from where the hill of
Arunachala can be seen from up to 15 km. Arunachala, at an elevation of
2,668 ft, towers over and behind the temple. The hill and its environs
and the town itself has been known for its long association with Yogis
This temple is a result
of building activity over the last one thousand years. However, even
seventh century Tamil poetry glorifies this temple and all four Saivite
Saints: Appar, Sambandar, Manikkavacakar and Sundarar have sung its
praises. It was also at Arunachaleswarar that Arunagirinathar began
composing his immortal work Tiruppugazh.
The outer enclosure
surrounding the temple compound has granite walls 30 feet high. The
temple has four Gopurams (towers) on its outer boundary. The biggest
tower which provides the main entrance to the temple, is situated in the
east and known as the Raja Gopuram. It has 11 tiers, with a width of
135ft by 98ft at the base and soars to 217ft (65m) in height. Ammani
Ammal Gopuram (171ft), Thirumanjuna Gopuram (157ft) and Pey Gopuram
(144ft) are the names of the north, south and west towers respectively.
These towers were added as tributes by emperors at different times from
Veera Rajendra Chola in 1063 A.D. to Krishnadeva Raya around 1690 A.D.
Together with the four
major Gopurams there are also five inner Gopurams, known as the Kutti
Gopurams which are approximately 70 feet in height
A Nandi faces the main
shrine in each of its five prakarams. On entering the temple through the
East tower the big structure one faces on the right is the Thousand
pillared Hall. It is believed that it was built by Krishna Deva Raya.
The sacred pool, Sivaganga, which is to the south of the Kambathu
Ilayanar Mandapam is used for sacred abulations to the Deities in the
temple. The third prakaram surrounds the roofed second prakaram which is
home to deities associated with Shiva, which in turn surrounds the
shrine of Annamalaiyar.
The fourth prakaram
includes the Brama Tirtham which is located in front of the Bairavar
temple, and its eastern gateway Vallala Gopuram holds a statue of King
Ballala. The third prakaram which dates back to the 12th century AD has
several Linga Shrines, and the Kili Gopuram Entrance. In the East side
of the prakaram stands the Flag Staff while the Northern side is home to
the massive shrine of Unnamulai Amman.
The Sanctum Sanctorum
of the sacred Annamalaiyar is reached by the main entrance in the east.
The sanctum itself is described in texts that were written as far back
as 750 A.D. Within the sanctum, Annamalaiyar, personified, is present in
Linga form. While the Avudiyar is round, the Rudra baga is covered with
gold plate. Nearby is the Meru Chakra, the Bedroom Idol and a bronze
idol of Yaga Sakti Amman.
The Devi shrine is
opposite the Siva shrine and was renovated last century by the
Nagarattars and thus exhibits more contemporary architecture. In its
sanctum is enshrined Unnamalai Amman, 3ft tall, radiating peace. The
Mandapam, outside the Sanctum, is also known as the Asta Lakshmi
Mandapam, and has beautiful pillars worked with exquisite art.
An elaborate protocol
of worship services marks each day at the Tiruvannamalai temple where
about a hundred and fifty people are attached to the temple including
priests, musicians, singers, carpenters, potters, washermen, palanquin
bearers, garland makers, administrators and guards. The day begins with
the ceremonial arrival of Ganga to the shrine, from a tank in the
Southern part of the town on an elephant through the Southern,
Tirumanjana Gopuram. This water cleanses the entrance to the second
prakaram, and then the next ritual involving the waking up of Shiva and
Parvati in the bedchamber. The Shiva-Meru returns to the Annamalaiyar
shrine while the image of Parvati returns to the Unnamulai Amman shrine.
Six other pujas are offered at the temple:
the first one at 5.30 am, and the last one at night where the Shiva Meru
and the image of Parvati is carried in a procession into the bed
chamber. Each service is accompanied by chants of invocation, dedication