''Girivalam'' - a good spiritual act - Annamalaiyar temple, Thiruvannamalai S. India

Girivalam, Thruvannamalai, India tvmalai.in

Going round the prakara -  space surrounding the sanctum in any Hindu temple in a clock-wise direction is part of  the prayer ritual  and devotees never fail to do it on their visit to the temple. In many  big temples such long prakaras (prathakshana path) round the shrines have covered roof made of a series of thick granite slabs or arched  roof made of light bricks and lime-mortar and flat smooth floors. So,  going round the prakara  barefoot is not a tough one as you do it in the comforts of cool environment that gives  you protection from the hot sun and rain. Examples: Rameswaram Ramanathaswami  temple, Srirangam Ranganathar temple, etc. Some temples like Thanjavur Brihadeeshwara temple have open prakara with no roof over it.  

Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswarar temple, TN. epuja.co.in

As for  Girivalam (in Tamil 'Giri' means a hill and Valam means going round clock-wise) or Giri Pradhashna (in Sanskrit Giri meaning hill, Pradhakhana means going round) it is altogether  a different religious task that has both spiritual and religious connotations combined into one. It is more or less a religious pilgrimage  consisting of circumambulating a huge hill at the bottom

Among  Hindu temples in south  India,  the Arunachaleswarar temple is famously associated with  Girivalam.  Doing Girivalam round the holy  Arunachala hill  (ht. 2668 ft) here has been a tradition  and  is considered an important holy religious custom, which has been in vogue for several decades,  may be more than a century. Geologically speaking, this hill is roughly 3.5 billion years old consisting of the oldest hard rocks (called Archaean group) and has been around since the formation of the ''earth.'' The hard rocks of Ucchipilliyar temple atop Malaikottai (hill) in Tiruchirappalli, TN also come under Archaean group) 

Year round lakhs of people do Girivalam preferably on the 'Pournami day' (full moon day) that comes once a month.  Particularly, in the days,  preceding or following Karthigai deepam, going round the holy hill, where the kathigai Deepam (Maha Deepam) is lit, is an auspicious one.  The hill was (and is) the abode of numerous Siddha Purushas (Siddars) - mystic sages who did lots of unexplainable wonders through certain mystic powers, it is believed. Besides, in and around this hill in this temple town,  there are numerous ashrams where people,  including westerners  learn yoga and meditation.

Annamalaiyar Temple. holy hill in the back drop .en.wikipedia.org.

Walking barefoot  one full round - Girivalam  on the road round the hill covering  14 kilometers in a hot country like India is  an  arduous  one,  but considering the religious  aspect and spiritual experience, it is indeed, a great satisfying experience. for lakhs of devotees.  Health wise, it is good for the heart muscles and  one develops physical and mental endurance. It gives peace of mind, tranquility and will power to freshen up life, as the person enjoys fulfillment of his religious commitment. 

Girivalam, Thiruvannamalai, TN 10tv.in

Arunachala hill, Thiruvannamalai, TN quora.com/

Certain norms and rules have to be followed before starting Girivalam. Adherence to them will benefit the devotees. They are as follows:

01. Early morning bath  and wearing proper dress are important. Avoid lungies or shorts or pajamas. 
02. It is advisable to take Girivalam  during full moon night or else in normal nights. However, one can do it on any day preferably in the early morning or after 3 pm.

03. It is not advisable to wear footwear; devotees are advised to walk barefoot till they complete it. Walking barefoot improves blood circulation. 

04. During   Girivalam, chanting of the namam of ''Om Arunachala'' is advisable and devotees won't feel fatigued.

05. Viewing  the top of the giri and focusing the mind on God all through the Girivalam will give mental satisfaction and fulfilment.

06. Taking plenty of water during pretty long walk  is  a good idea to avoid fatigue and dehydration.

07. There are eight lingams  around the Girivalam Path;  each facing a particular  direction and a star. Praying all the lingams is advisable.

08. Giri Pradakshina / Girivalam must be done  with the hill on the right side.-  that is clock wise.

09. According to great sage Sri Ramana,  Pradakshina gives you the following: removal of sin, fulfillment of desires,  free from  future births (next janma); simply salvation.

10. Sage Sri Ramana also says  every stride we make gives us salvation,  happiness in heaven and eternal  bliss of Satyaloka. While doing Girivalam or  Pradakshina,  get engaged in either in mouna (silence) or dhyana (meditation) or japa (repetition of Lord's name) or sankeertana (bhajan - singing devotional songs). This way till we complete this holy task,  our attention will be on the all pervading, omnipresent Arunachala - Lord Shiva who represents Agni (column of fire) here; The 'Shiva's column of fire' clearly implies  the Hindu concept of god having no end and no beginning (no Aathi and no Antham).

In many holy places the deity is atop the hill. But here the hill (2668 feet high) itself is holy (Lord Annamalaiyar).  "Arunam" means sun and denotes the red color of fire. "Asalam" means "Giri" or "malai" (mountain). Thus "Arunachalam" means the holy hill which is red in color. The religious ramification is that God Shiva, being all pervasive in physical embodiment, is confined himself  into a holy hill (Arunachlam) for the benefit of his devotees so that devotees could go round the holy hill. In his physical status with no end and beginning  the God is not approachable.

 For the convenience  of devotees the ''Grivalam path'' has shops that sell bottled water, etc ., besides there are  bore-well pumps  to take care of water needs. and the well paved road is well lit with sodium lamps.

Such a religious act will give us peace of mind and respite from this ever-increasing materialistic life and, of course, from the madding crowd, mad  traffic and air pollution that haunt the big Indian cities.
Personally, a  break from the mundane life means we learn to calm ourselves down and be free from anxieties. The net result is contentment and blissful life.