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Picture of Arunachala hill taken from outside town
Highest point
Elevation814 m (2,671 ft)
Coordinates12°14′28″N 79°03′26″E / 12.24111°N 79.05722°E / 12.24111; 79.05722Coordinates: 12°14′28″N 79°03′26″E / 12.24111°N 79.05722°E / 12.24111; 79.05722
Arunachala is located in Tamil Nadu
location of Arunachal in Tamil Nadu
LocationTiruvannamalai district, Tamil Nadu, India
Parent rangeEastern Ghats

Arunachala (IAST: Aruṇācalam [əɾʊˈɳaːtʃələ], 'Red Mountain') is a hill in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, and one of the five main Shaiva holy places in South India.[1] The Arunachalesvara Temple to Shiva is located at the base of the hill.[2] The hill is also known by the names Annamalai, Arunagiri, Arunachalam, Arunai, Sonagiri, and Sonachalam.

Every year in the Tamil month of Kārttikai (November–December), the Kārttikai tīpam light is lit atop the hill.

It is also an important place for devotees of Ramana Maharshi, with Sri Ramana Ashram situated at its foothills.

References in religious texts[edit]

According to the legend, associated with the Temple, a dispute occurred between Brahma the creator, and Vishnu the preserver, over which of them was superior. In order to settle the argument, Lord Shiva is said to have manifested as a column of light, and then the form of Arunachala.[3] But Brahma and Vishnu forgot their highest sacred duties and competed with each other. To solve this, Lord Shiva got up to test the heavens and the earth, saying that the one who sees his head and feet is the greatest among you. Brahma and Vishnu, no matter how hard they tried, failed miserably. Following this, the Devas, who could not bear the heat, prayed to Lord Shiva for peace. Lord Shiva, in response to their request, bowed down to a mountain and a small torch appeared on top of it, and everyone worshiped. The place is also known as Thiruvannamalai, also known as Arunachalam, the site of the fire. The Karthika lamp is mounted on this hill every year during the month of Karthika . Tens of thousands of people are flocking to Thiruvannamalai on that day.

Creation is done by Brahma; Maintaining is done by Vishnu; Destruction is done by Rudra; Grace and Illusion are done by Shiva

The Maheswara Khanda of Skanda Purana, sage Veda Vyasa describes in great detail the wonder of Arunachala.[4]

Over the centuries, many saints and sages have been drawn to Arunachala. The Saivite saints of 5th to 10th CE Manickavachagar, Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar are four examples. In the fifteenth century, Guhai Namasivaya, Guru Namasivaya and Virupaksha Deva came from Karnataka and settled on Arunachala.[3] Saint Namasivaya lived in one of Arunachala's caves which is still known by his name. Virupaksha Deva lived in an OM-shaped cave higher up on the Hill, and this cave too still bears his name.[5] Located on the south-east slope of Arunachala, this was the cave that Sri Ramana Maharshi lived in from 1899 to 1916.[6]

Arunachala Mahatmyam says,

"By seeing Chidambaram, by being born in Tiruvarur, by dying in Kasi, or by merely thinking of Arunachala, one will surely attain Liberation."

Another verse in the Arunachala Mahatmyam, translated from Sanskrit into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi says:

"Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places it is the most sacred! Know that it is the heart of the world. It is truly Siva himself! It is his heart-abode, a secret kshetra. In that place the Lord ever abides the hill of light named Arunachala."[7]

Asked about the special sanctity of Arunachala, Ramana Maharshi said that other holy places such as Kailash, Varanasi and Rishikesh are sacred because they are the abodes of Lord Shiva whereas Arunachala is Lord Shiva himself.[8][9] However, as the above verse of Arunachala Mahatmyam says, Arunachala is a secret kshetra. It is this place that bestows jnana (Self-knowledge) and because most people have so many other desires and do not truly want jnana, Arunachala has always remained comparatively little known. But to those few who seek jnana, Arunachala always makes itself known through some means or other.

"All stones in that place Arunachala are lingams. It is indeed the abode of Lord Siva. All trees are the wish-granting trees of Indra's heaven. Its rippling waters are the Ganges, flowing through our Lord's matted locks. The food eaten there is the ambrosia of the Gods. To go round it in pradakshina is to perform pradakshina of the world. Words spoken there are holy scripture, and to fall asleep there is to be absorbed in samadhi, beyond the mind's delusion. Could there be any other place which is its equal?"
-source: Tamil Arunachala Puranam,[10][11]

Malai Suttru / Giri Valam / Giri Pradhakshinam[edit]

Annamalai covered by clouds during winter and rainy seasons

The circumambulation of Arunachala is known as Giri Pradakshina in Sanskrit and Giri Valam in Tamil. Performing pradakshina of Arunachala is considered to be beneficial in all ways.[12] Typically, pradakshina is done in bare feet, with the Hill on the right. Sri Ramana Maharshi once explained the meaning of the word pradakshina and how it should be done by a devotee: "The letter "Pra" stands for removal of all kinds of sins; "da" stands for fulfilling the desires; "kshi" stands for freedom from future births; "na" stands for giving deliverance through jnana. If by way of Pradakshina you walk one step it gives happiness in this world, two steps, it gives happiness in heaven, three steps, it gives bliss of Satyaloka which can be attained. One should go round either in mouna (silence) or dhyana (meditation) or japa (repetition of Lord's name) or sankeertana (bhajan) and thereby think of God all the time. One should walk slowly like a woman who is in the ninth month of pregnancy."[13]

Throughout the year, pilgrims engage in a practise called giri valam (circumambulation of Annamalaiyar temple and Annamalai hill 14 km in circumference), considered to be a simple and effective form of yoga. The circumambulation is started from the temple with bare feet and is considered a sacred act.[14] The central government of India asked the Tamil Nadu government through the supreme court to direct the path of girivalam under the provision of the proposed Tamil Nadu Heritage Conservation Act.[15] There are eight small shrines of lingams located in the 14 km circumference of the hill, each associated with the 12 moon signs. These are collectively termed as Ashta Lingam (meaning 8 lingams) and is considered one of the rituals of worship during the girivalam (circumbulation of the hill).[16]

Lingam Moon Sign Direction
Indra Lingam Vṛṣabha, Tulā (Taurus, Libra) East
Agni Lingam Siṃha (Leo) South East
Yama Lingam Vṛścika (Scorpio) South
Niruthi Lingam Meṣa (Aries) South West
Varuna Lingam Makara, Kumbha (Capricorn, Aquarius) West
Vayu Lingam Karka (Cancer) North West
Kubera Lingam Dhanuṣa, Mīna (Sagittarius, Pisces) North
Easanya Lingam Mithuna, Kanyā (Gemini, Virgo) North East

Karthigai Deepam[edit]

Arunachala during winter – view from Vengikkal

Every year, on the tenth day of the celebration of Karthikai, devotees take embers in pots from the sacred fire lit in the Arunachaleswara temple and carry them to the top of Arunachala, along with cloth wicks. An enormous cauldron is placed on the highest of Arunachala's five peaks and filled with hundreds of gallons of ghee mixed with camphor. At precisely six o'clock, as the sun sets and the full moon rises, lights are lit on the top of the Hill, on a flagstaff in the temple, and at Sri Ramanasramam, accompanied by chants of Arunachala Siva by the vast crowds.[3] The fire on top of Arunachala can be seen for miles around. Sri Ramana Maharshi described the meaning of this event in this way:

"Getting rid of the 'I am the body' idea and merging the mind into the Heart to realize the Self as non-dual being and the light of all is the real significance of darshan of the beacon of light on Annamalai, the centre of the universe."[17]
Karthikai Deepam 2020


The temple is famous for its massive gopurams, some of which reach as high as 66 m. It is made up of three nested rectangular walls each of which was built during different periods; the innermost could have been built as early as the 7th century by Pallavas. It was later refurbished by the kings Cholas, Pandyas, Hoysalass, and Vijayanagara Empire from 10th through the 17th century. The temple is renowned for some of the remarkable carvings on the walls. In one particular carving Lord Shiva is shown as dancing in an elephant's skin.[18]


Arunachala is in the South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests ecoregion. The forests that once covered the mountain have been reduced by fires, illegal logging, and the footfalls of thousands of pilgrims. Reforestation of Arunachala began in the 1990s by a civil society initiative called Annamalai Reforestation Society. In 2004 the Tiruvannamalai Greening Society was founded by district forest officer Pasupathy Raj and other local officials. The society registered as a non-profit trust in 2008 called The Forest Way.

The Forest Way employs full-time and part-time staff and engages volunteers to grow seedlings of native trees and plant them on the mountain. The charity operates a plant nursery, and plants 15,000-18,000 seedlings each year. The charity helped build a children's park and forest park on the site of a former dump, removes litter from the mountain, and watches for fires and creates fire breaks during the dry season.[19][20]

Arunachala World Heritage Site Initiative[edit]

The Arunachala World Heritage Site Initiative was founded in 2012 in recognition of the fact that this is a crucial time for Arunachala. "If we do not do something now," founder Mr. Peter Berking says, "we may soon see more man made structures on the slopes of the ancient Hill. The pressure for development is relentless. This is only a matter of time."

This is part of a worldwide trend of human development resulting in environmental degradation of spiritual centers that we sadly see now all over the world, he says. "We have already witnessed this happening to Tirupathi Hills," Mr. Berking points out. "If it can happen there, it can happen here as well."

The main appeal to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status is being made on the basis that Arunachala is a spiritual centre for millions of spiritual seekers who converge on it from all over the world every year. This fact is underscored by highly revered Shaivite saints and other sages over the ages and emphasized in the Scriptures. The World Heritage Site program recognizes that it is in the best interests of the international community to preserve such spiritual centers for posterity.

In addition to the Great Living Chola Temples, Mahabalipuram, and other such sites in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, he feels that Arunachala, too, deserves to obtain this UNESCO status. Mr. Berking lists the benefits of World Heritage Site status as follows:

  • Arunachala will be protected and preserved for future generations.
  • Businesses will find tangible gains in becoming a World Heritage Site through boosting tourism.
  • Government authorities will realize their objectives of sustainable development.
  • International visitors to India will have yet another treasure highlighted to visit.
  • The fortunate local citizens will enjoy the cumulative benefits of this prestige in having a World Heritage Site in their midst.

The actual measures needed to preserve Arunachala's sacred and environmental integrity will be worked out by UNESCO in conjunction with local, state and national government authorities. The Arunachala World Heritage Site Initiative will gather and supply crucial information, and provide logistical help and encouragement.

Arunachala in popular culture[edit]

"Arunachala" is the first track of the Pervogenesis album by The Kristet Utseende.


  1. ^ Lonely Planet South India 2009 Page 418 ed Sarina Singh, Amy Karafin, Anirban Mahapatra "Welcome to Tiruvannamalai. About 85 km south of Vellore and flanked by boulder-strewn Mt Arunachala, this is one of the five 'elemental' cities of Shiva; here the god is worshipped in his fire incarnation as Arunachaleswar (see boxed text, ..."
  2. ^ "Thiruvannamalai Annamalaiyar Kovil". 5 April 2013. Archived from the original on 15 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b c A. R. Natarajan, Arunachala From Rigveda to Ramana Maharshi
  4. ^ Veda Vyasa – Skanda Purana. Maheswara Khanda, Arunachala Mahatmya – Book One, Translation and Annotation by Dr. G. V. Tagare
  5. ^ The Silent Power
  6. ^ A. R. Natarajan, Timeless in Time, Sri Ramana Maharshi
  7. ^ James Michael, English translation(1982) "Arunachala Mahatmyam", The Mountain Path, pp. 75-84
  8. ^ Venkataramiah Munagala (1936) Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, (Talk 143), (ISBN 81-88018-07-4) Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai html
  9. ^ Venkataramiah Munagala, (1936) Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi PDF Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Butler R, translator (2012) Arunachala Puranam, Saiva Ellappa Navalar, available as book and .pdf @
  11. ^ Jayaraman J., Extract from Sri Arunachala Puranam: , Vignettes
  12. ^ A. R. Natarajan, Arunachala from Rigveda to Ramana Maharshi
  13. ^ Suri Nagamma, Letters from Sri Ramanasramam
  14. ^ Melton 2008
  15. ^ Gaur 2006, p. 21
  16. ^ Goodman 2002, pp. 38-39
  17. ^ Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi
  18. ^ South India Handbook By Roma Bradnock
  19. ^ Sridhar, Lalitha (2017)."Holy hill gets its groves back". The Hindu, 1 April 2017. Accessed 4 May 2020. [1]
  20. ^ "Overview". The Forest Way. Accessed 4 May 2020.

External links[edit]