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Picture of Arunachala Hill taken from outside town
Highest point
Elevation814 m (2,671 ft)
Coordinates12°11′N 79°02′E / 12.18°N 79.04°E / 12.18; 79.04Coordinates: 12°11′N 79°02′E / 12.18°N 79.04°E / 12.18; 79.04
Arunachala is located in Tamil Nadu
location of Arunachala in Tamil Nadu
LocationTiruvannamalai district, Tamil Nadu, India

Mt Arunachala (IAST: Aruṇācala, "red mountain") refers to the holy hill at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. The hill is also known by the names Arunagiri, Annamalai Hill, Arunachalam, Arunai, Sonagiri and Sonachalam.

It is one of the five main shaivite holy places in South India.[1] The Annamalaiyar Temple, a temple of Lord Shiva is located at the base of the hill.[2] Every year in the Tamil month of Karthigai (November–December), the Karthigai Deepam (Light) is lit atop the hill.

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

References to Mt Arunachala 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]

According to Vedas and Puranas, once the other two of the triads of Hindu Gods, Brahma and Vishnu were fighting over each other’s prowess. While Rudra or Shankara and Maheswara didn't felt Ego or Ahamkaram as they know 5 Divine functionalities (‘Panchakritya karmas’ ) are controlled by the power of Lord Shiva. Bhagavan Shiva advised Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra and Maheshwara and Sadha Shiva to do divine functionalites (‘Panchakritya karmas’ ). They are essentially of the manifestations of His origin. They would carry out ‘Panchakritya’ or Five Duties viz. 1. Srishti or Creation would be performed by Brahma, 2. Sthithi or protection by Vishnu, 3. Laya or destruction by Rudra; 4. the fourth task, viz. Tirobhav would be performed by Mahesa (After destruction millions of souls will be protected which is Concealment and Revival) and 5. Sadha Shiva will give ‘Anugraha’(Providing Salvation).finally the most significant task of Anugraha would be the exclusive dispensation by Himself. But Brahma and Vishnu forgot the holy and supreme power and fought each other. By seeing the intensity of the battle, Lord Shiva assumed the form of a flaming Linga in between Brahma and Vishnu and challenged both of them by asking them to measure the gigantic Linga (symbol of Lord Shiva).The place where lord Shiva manifested is Arunachala refers to the holy hill at Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. The hill is also known by the names Arunagiri, Annamalai Hill, Arunachalam, Arunai, Sonagiri and Sonachalam. Awestruck by its magnitude, Brahma and Vishnu decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other. Lord Brahma took the form of a swan and went upwards while Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Varaha - a boar and went into the earth towards nether land. Both searched for thousands of miles but neither could find the end. On his journey upward, Brahma came across Ketaki flower. Exhausted and bewildered with his search to find the uppermost limit of fiery column, Brahma made Ketaki assent to lie that he had seen the top of the column where the flower had previously resided. Accompanied by his accomplice, Brahma confronted Vishnu and asserted that he had indeed discovered the origin of the cosmic column. At this point, the central part of the pillar split open and SadhaShiva revealed himself in his full glory. The night SadhaShiva revealed himself is celebrated as Shivaratri or Satya Ratri or Gyana Ratri on the Shivaratri Night. Overawed, both Brahma and Vishnu bowed before him accepted lord Shiva’s supremacy. Lord Sadh Shiva also explained to Brahma and Vishnu that both of them as well Rudra and Maheshwara were born out of lord Shiva and all the five were then separated out into Five different aspects of divinity. This day is regarded as Satya ratri or gyana ratri because Brahma and Vishnu lost their ego and found supreme almighty god is Sat Chit Ananda However, Lord Sah Shiva was angry with Brahma for making a false claim. The Lord cursed Brahma that no one would ever pray to him. (This legend explains why there is hardly any Brahma temple of significance in India.) Lord Shiva also punished the Ketaki flower for testifying falsely and banned her from being used as an offering for any worship. While Lord Vishnu realized the mistake for it so vishnu got the boon that he will be equally beautiful as me (Shiva) but he too felt Ahamkaram as supreme (ego) so he did not supreme fame while Shankara or Rudra and Maheswara didn't felt ego or Ahamkaram So Lord Shiva gave them boon that there fame and power will be equal to mine.They both will praised as equal as me.Since it was on the 14th day in the dark fortnight of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a Linga, the day is extremely auspicious and is celebrated as Mahashivaratri - the grand night of Shiva. To celebrate the occasion, devotees of Lord Shiva fast during the day and pray to the Lord throughout the night. It is said that worshipping of Lord Shiva on Shivaratri bestows one with happiness and prosperity.Unlike most Hindu festivals which are celebrated during the day, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated at night. The celebration includes maintaining a "jaagaran", an all-night vigil and prayers, because Shaiva Hindus mark this night as "overcoming darkness and ignorance" in one's life and the world through Shiva. Offerings of fruits, leaves, sweets and milk to Shiva are made, some perform all-day fasting with vedic or tantrik worship of Shiva, and some perform meditative Yoga. [4] In Shiva temples, Aum (Corruptedmby Language accent as "Om" in modern time) Namahh Shivaya", the sacred mantra of Shiva, is chanted through the day. The legend of marriage of Shankara and Parvati is one the most important legends related to the festival of Mahashivaratri. The story tells us how Lord Shankara got married to Parvati, his divine consort. According to legend of Shankara and Shakti, the day Lord Shankara got married to Parvati is celebrated as Shivaratri - the Night of Lord Shiva. Maha Shivaratri is celebrated over three or ten days based on the Hindu luni-solar calendar. [2] Every lunar month, there is a Shivaratri (12 per year). The main festival is called Maha Shivaratri, or great Shivaratri, and this is on 13th night (waning moon) and 14th day of the month Phalguna (Magha). According to the Gregorian calendar, the day falls in either February or March

In 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 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 Siva whereas Arunachala is Lord Siva 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]

Giri Pradakshina/Giri Valam[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 8 small shrines of lingams located in the 14 km circumference of the hill, each one 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
Eesaniya Lingam Mithuna, Kanyā (Gemini, Virgo) North East

Karthigai Deepam[edit]


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]


The temple is famous for its massive gopurams, some of which reach as high as 66m. 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 11th century. It was later refurbished by the kings of the Vijayanagara Empire from 14th 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 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 85km 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

External links[edit]