“That which is known as the heart of earth,
at whose caves live the enlightened souls of saints,
that which gives refuge to devotees,
such a place is called Arunachala
which enables self Realisation”.
The power that originates from Arunachala, the grace that emanates from here and the light that radiates from here are so great that even Godess Parvati took refuge here to free herself from the consequences of an act unwittingly done by her. Goddess Parvati came to the banks of river Kampa in Kancheepuram, made a small Linga with the soil and started performing Tapas. She then heard a divine voice from above: “Your Tapas is fulfilled. The Linga you have worshipped has high sanctity. Leave this sacred Linga here so that the devotees here can worship. I have my abode at the sacred hill, where I reside as Arunachala, the name that drives off all sins, come there and be united in Me.”
Having reached the abode of Arunachala, Parvati met the sage, Goutamar. She expressed her wish that the sage should enlighten her all about the origin, the power and significance of Arunachala. “Oh Devi, you are the embodiment of knowledge, you know every movement and you know the supreme power of Siva who is part of you. But still you find pleasure in hearing the glories of the Lord. However, it is my privilege to describe the infinite divine qualities of Arunachala to you. “This is a unique mountain”, sage Gautama continued: “It has existed from time immemorial, in different stages and in different ages, from Krita, Tretha, Dwapara and Kali Yuga. Sacred rivers pass through this area, visibly and invisibly, like the Indira Teertham, Brahma Teertham, (east), Yama and Nairudha Teertham (south), Varuna and Vayu Teertham (west), Soma and Eesana Teertham (north). It is the confluence of all holy rivers. Nowhere else, one can find the mountain itself in the form of a Linga as in Arunatri,” said sage Gautama.
Pleased by the devotion and dedication with which Gouri Devi performed the Tapas and Puja, Lord Siva appeared before her and said: “Having done the Pradhakshina of the mountain in all sincerity you have become free from Karma and reached the stage of being united with Me. You, are not different from Me”, the Lord said and merged into her which signaled the unique confluence of two supreme powers; Sakti and Sivam. This gave another form to Lord Siva; that of Ardhanareeswara, combining both the form of woman and man.
With the guidance provided by Sage Gauthama, Viswakarma established the temple with Arunachala as the presiding deity, Siva in the forms of Nataraja and Matrubootheswara, Parvati in the form of Unnamulayar, Sundareswari, Parasakti and Kali and deities of Bala Ganapathi, Muruga, Dakshinamurthi, Brahma and Vishnu. Later, the temple was built by Krishna Deva Raya in 25 acre land with 9 gopurams (tower) and 7 Prakaras (circular ways). The majestic tower on the eastern side is considered as the second tallest, having 217’ height with 11 stages (Nilaikal). It is a magnificent sight to view this temple while climbing up Virupaksha cave.
Lord Siva’s grace and presence is experienced throughout this hilly region. While Kailash is considered as the seat of Lord Siva, Tiruvannamalai Mountain is considered as Siva Himself. It is believed that liberation (Mukti) is attained by taking birth at Tiruvarur, by worshipping at Chidambaram or dying at Banaras but the mere thought) of Arunachala (Smarana) is enough to liberate the devotee from the cycle of life and death. Lord Arunachala, full of mercy, extends his abounding grace to all devotees who think of Him or recite His name (Nama). Among the Siva temples which represent the five elements (pancha boothas) Tiruvannamalai represents fire.
Apart from Kanda Puranam, we find references about the importance of Arunachala in various other scriptures like Siva Rahasya, Siva Puranam, Skanda Puranam. Having studied all these works, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi has selected certain important features relating to the importance of Arunachala, compiled them in his own inimitable style in 2659 verses, under the title ‘Sri Arunachala Mahatmyam’ and kept them carefully. The care with which he compiled them reveals the importance he attached to them. Munakala Venkataramiah, an ardent Ramana devotee, realised the importance Maharshi attached to ‘Sri Arunachala Mahatmyam’ and translated them into Tamil, giving the sources from which they were translated. “Sri Arunachala Mahatmyam”, published by Sri Ramanasramam, contains very vital facts.
In his excellent works, ‘Sri Arunachala Venba’, Sadhu Om has highlighted the sacredness of Arunachala. “Arunachala wears the hymn-garlands strung by the famous Saiva saints, Appar, Jnana Sambhandar, Sundarar and Manikkavachagar in the divine outpouring of Thevaram and Thiruvachakam. Arunachala shines with added luster by wearing one more garland in the form of Akshara Mana Malai that poured forth from the divinely sweet countenance of Sri Ramana.”
Puranas speak of Tiruvannamalai as witnessing a conglomeration of saints. Tiruvannamalai served as the ultimate destination for all spiritual aspirants. Thirujnana Sambhandar described Arunachala Hill as the manifestation of divine knowledge in his song, “Poovar Malarkondu”. (1) Thiru Navukkarasar said: “Oh Lord Arunachala, who caused the origin of the universe, the Lord of the immortals, the Lord who abides in Annamalai, I nourish no other thoughts than you”. While saints from different places came here in search of spiritual enlightenment, Sri Arunagirinathar was blessed to be born here. According to legend, Lord Muruga Himself appeared before him and graced him jnana (Arul Jnana). While other saints underwent long period of struggles, sacrifice and penance, Arunagirinathar was blessed enough to have the grace of Lord Muruga at the very outset, without any effort being made on his part and without even being qualified, in the normal sense. He then composed his immortal works, ‘Thiruppugazh’. “Would I imbibe the nectar of wisdom that emerges from the ocean of Siva’s grace flowing from Arunachala?” sings Arunagirinathar in his Thiruppugazh (Jaya Jaya Aruna Thiri Siva..). Saint Ramalinga Adigalar, popularly known as Vallalar, the proponent of Jyothi worship who attained Jivan Mukti has composed innumerable songs about the glory of Arunachala. Sri Seshadri Swamigal, known as Sanchara Dhakshinamurti (the Dhakshinamurthy on the move) attained spiritual fulfillment from here. Sri Siva Prakasa Swamigal came to Tiruvannamalai from his young age. Among his many works, ‘Sonasaila Maalai’ a song of garland of 200 verses in praise of Arunachala is the foremost. “There is nothing equal to the majesty of Sonasaila, the Red Mountain of Tiruvannamalai. Neither the Mount Meru, nor Mandara, nor Pothigai or not even the Kailash, the own abode of Siva can match the magnificence of Arunachala”, he said. After visiting many holy places like Thiruvarur, Sikkal etc. Kandappa Desikar came to Tiruvannamalaiand and chosen it as his permanent abode. “Oh Lord Siva, the Destroyer of evils, you have destroyed the cities of Asura. You have destroyed Kama, the sensual desires. You have destroyed all that symbolised desires and evils. I prostrate before you, grace me and destroy the ahankara (ego) in me so that I can realise my Self”, he said (1) Many great saints like Yogi Ram Surat Kumar have pursued their spiritual mission from Tiruvannamalai.
‘Girivalam’ or Pradhakshina (circumambulation), the ritual of going round a sacred hill in reverence, is a sacred and a time honoured ritual that is being followed for many generations in Tiruvannamalai. Circumambulation or Pradakshina signifies that all human activities revolve around God at the centre. Physical disability, old age, sickness or any other consideration should not deter one in undertaking Pradakshina because the spiritual ‘benefits’ that one derives far outweigh the strain and hardship involved. Since Brahman is the underlying reality of the universe, the most effective way is go round the universe but since this is not feasible, Pradakshina of Arunachala Hill, considered as the manifestation of eternal reality, is advised. It is believed that going round the hill of Arunachala has the same value as going round the universe.
Bhagavan said: “As one continues to walk, the body automatically gets harmonized as in the Asana state. The body therefore becomes improved in health. Besides, there are several varieityes of medicinal herbs on the hill. The air that passes over those herbs is good for the lungs. As there is no vehicular traffic there is no worry about making way for cars and buses. One can walk care-free according to one’s wishes.” While performing Pradakshina, the mind stops hovering over the worldly objects and concentrates on the deity at the centre. Pradakshina undertaken on a Pournami day is considered very auspicious. The importance of Giripradakshina has been described at length in Arunachala Puranam. Pradakshina is preferably undertaken before entering into the temple so that the devotee gets prepared by driving away thoughts from his mind and unfolding the heart for the God to enter. Devotees who come round the hill derive the grace that radiates from God at the centre. Sri Rramana Maharshi said: “One should go round either in mouna (silence) or dhyana (meditation) or japa (repetition of Lord’s name) or bhajan (singing praises) and thereby think of God all the time. One should walk slowly like a woman who is in the advanced state of pregnancy.” The Maharshi often walked around the hill taking a whole day. Sometime, he would return the same day or a day later. However, he gradually reduced the practice when he felt that by drawing the attention, he was causing inconvenience to others. Saint Sadasiva said about the greatness of Girivalam thus: “The hill radiates a divine power and one who goes round it derives all the grace of Arunachala.”