This trip was literally one of combining work with pleasure. We had some work at Chennai, so we decided to check out some places that we can cross off our ever-long list of Places To See. Tiruvannamalai was suggested by a friend, and as it had relevance to our religious history, we decided to include it into a trip.
The itinerary we laid out was Bangalore – Tiruvannamalai-Chennai-Bangalore. We had 2 night’s stay at Chennai to complete our work, so hadn’t really planned much for Chennai itself.
We set off on Saturday morning at 6 am, so that we would have ample darshan time at Tiruvannamalai. The route we took was the same as to Chennai from Bangalore along NH 7. However, the road turns off at Krishnagiri towards Tirvannamalai.
The road here is supposedly AH 45 / NH 46. There is no evidence though that this is highway. The road is HORRIBLE. There are no signboards to show us where we were. That fact was especially sad, since Tiruvannamalai is such an important destination. The least the State Government could do was encourage travelers to reach their destination! The trip from the time we turned off at Krishnagiri till Tiruvannamalai was ~122km long and was supposed to take us about 2+ hours to cover. However, the truth was that it took us close to 4 hours to cover this distance. The blame for that can be solely laid on the road. If in places entire sections were dug up for “road work”, then other places didn’t seem to have a road at all. Right until we reached Tirupattur and we turned onto SH 18A. From here on, the patches where the road was dug up were lesser, though not entirely gone.
We finally reached Tiruvannamalai at 11 am. We entered the temple through the Ammani Amman Gopuram or North Gate.
Tiruvannamalai is one of the Pancha Bhoota Linga, the Lingas that embody the 5 elements. The Linga at Tiruvannamamali is called Arunachaleshwarar and embodies Agni/Fire. The other temples are Ekambareswarar (Prithvi/Earth) at Kanchipuram, Thiruvanaikaval (Water/Appu) at Trichy, Natarajar (Sky or Ether/Akasha) at Chidambaram, and SriKalahasteeshwar (Air/Vayu) at SriKalahasti.
In Hindu mythology, Vishnu and Bramha argue about who is the greatest between them. Shiva then appears as a great column of fire, and challenges them to find the start and the end of this column. Vishnu takes on the form of Varaha or boar and seeks the base, while Bramha turns into a swan and flies towards the top. Bramha on the way sees a mogali puuvu or fragrant screw pine that fell from Shiva’s crown. When asked the flower states that it had been falling for forty thousand years and had yet to stop falling. Bramha, realizing he would never be able to reach the top, convinces the flower to act as false witness. When both Bramha and Vishnu return, Vishnu claims defeat as he was not able to find the base, while Bramha, with the mogali puuvu acting as false witness, claims to see the top. Shiva, in anger, banishes the mogali puuvu from his worship and declares that Bramha would not have any temple to worship him on Earth. The place where the column of fire appeared is said to be the Annamalai mountain.
The temple is located at the foot of the Annamalai Hill. The Karthigai Deepam is lit atop this hill during the Full Moon of the Hindu Month of Karthika. This huge beacon is visible for miles away, and signifies the place where Shiva’s Lingam of fire met the sky. Hundreds of devotees circumnavigate the hill and temple, a tradition called Girivalam. “Annamalai” itself means inaccessible mountain. “Thiru” is suffixed to signify its greatness.
The temple itself is built over 24 acres, and is the largest Shiva temple in India, and is second only to the Vishnu temple at Srirangam. The temple is truly majestic to view.
As we got there a little late, we first rushed inside to get darshan. We stopped outside the North Entrance, one which is possibly the closet to the main temple. There is an option of free darshan here, and a paid one. We decided to go for a paid one (which costs Rs. 20) and were able to have a very comfortable darshan. While the attendent keep yelling at everyone to move on, they let us stand there for a moment longer, and were nice about letting us view the Lord to our heart’s content.
We moved out to the back of the main sanctum sanctorum, where the Utsava Vigraha of The Lord and his consort, Parvati as Unnamulai Amman, are placed, and all coconut and flower offerings as well as archanam are performed here. The next temple here, is that of Lord Vishnu, and them of Subramanya Swamy. We turn towards the exit and reach the temple of Unnamulai Amman. Here, she is in standing form and has a peaceful countenance. The main offering here is ghee deepams. There is a table nearby where they are placed and lit, and offered to the Goddess in prayer.
We stepped out of here and made our way to the main courtyard where we first started. There is a shop here which sells prasadam that is dry and can be carried, while another sells fresh prasadam to be consumed right there. After buying some prasadam, we made our way toward the East Gopuram. Here we found a second outer courtyard which was just as (or more) magnificent as the main temple courtyard!
We were first faced with a huge Nandi facing the steps. With a huge temple doorway as a backdrop, this Nandi is truly awe inspiring.
After crossing the Nandi, we came to the Patala Lingam to our left. This Lingam is where Sri Ramana Maharishi lived and worshipped during his stay at Tiruvannamalai. Next to this temple is the 1000-pillared hall. This hall was closed off, so we couldn’t take any pictured inside. Further up towards the Main East Gate entrance, there was a temple dedicated to Lord Subramanya Swamy to the right. After paying obeisance, we made our way back to the main courtyard. On the way we saw 2 major tanks, one right there in the outside courtyard, and another inside the main courtyard.
Satisfied with our experience, we made our way back to the North entrance and started off from Tiruvannamalai to Chennai. The roads on this route were relatively better, and we covered the 180km in approximately 4 hours.