Arunachala, more popularly known as Thiruvannamalai is a sacred place, where Lord Shiva is believed to be present in the form of a mountain. While this Aruna-Achala, the red mountain, itself is worshipped as the Lord, a grand Shiva temple also stands at the foothills, where the Lord is enshrined in his Lingam form as Arunachaleswara or Annamalaiyaar, along with his consort Apeetha Kuchambigai or Unnamulai Amman.
This is one of the Pancha Bhoota Sthalas, representing the element fire and the Lord is worshipped here as Agni Lingam. Nayanmars, the Shaivite saints have sung about this temple in their Thevaram compositions, while saint Manikkavasagar composed his famous Thiruvempavai hymns here only.
Mythology about Arunachalam Temple
According to a mythological story, once Goddess Parvati, in a playful mood, closed the eyes of Lord Shiva and this led to a calamity, with the worlds plunging into absolute darkness. The universal mother that she was, Parvati realized the enormity of her action and as atonement for it, came down to earth and performed severe penance, in the present day Thiruvannamalai. Lord Shiva got pleased with her devotion, appeared before her as a massive pillar of fire on top of the hill and blessed her. This fire-pillar became the Agni Lingam, and the mountain itself became Arunachala or Thiruvannamalai, and both are worshipped with fervor by the devotees.
As per another story, there once arose an argument between Gods Brahma and Vishnu as to who was bigger among them. It is said that Shiva intervened, transformed himself as a massive column of fire, stood between them, and declared that the one who could see its end would be the mightier one. Brahma, like a swan and Vishnu as Varaha, the wild boar proceeded upwards and downwards respectively, in search of the mysterious fire’s ends, but neither could succeed. Vishnu accepted his failure, but Brahma started claiming that he did get to the top of the fire-pillar. He also produced a Thazhampu flower as a proof, which he said he picked from the top.
Shiva then manifested himself out of the fire, called Brahma’s bluff and cursed him that there will be no formal temple-worship for him in the world. He also ordained that Thazhambu will not be used for his worship. The world realized then that Shiva is the supreme divinity and started paying obeisance to him.
It is believed that the hill of Arunachala in Thiruvannamalai represents this great column of divine fire, and is worshipped as a Shiva Linga. In commemoration of this happening, the Karthigai Deepam festival is celebrated every year, when a great lamp is lit on top of the mountain. A lot of people also do Girivalam, the circumambulation of the hill on special occasions like Full Moon days.
This temple complex remains as one of the biggest in India with many enclosing walls, corridors, and towers. While this remains as a very ancient temple the antiquity of which cannot be ascertained precisely, as per historical accounts, the structure in the present form was built initially in the 9th century by the Chola kings. Vijayanagar rulers belonging to dynasties like Sangama, Saluva, and Tuluva, added new structures later and expanded the temple.
Karthigai Deepam is the grand festival celebrated here on the day when Purnima combines with Krittika star during the month of Karthigai (November-December). A great flame is lit on top of the mountain then, which is worshipped as the Lord himself, while the temple is also decorated with rows and rows of traditional lamps. People also light lamps in their homes and offer prayers to the Almighty.
Arunachalam Temple is an important Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Located in Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu.
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