Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswarar temple and fascinating historical towers (gopurams) in the complex

Arunachaleswar temple 4 main towers upload.wikimedia.org
Located on a huge plot of 25-acre of land in the prime area of Tiruvannamalai town, Arunachaleswara temple, dedicated to God Shiva (who symbolizes Agni- fire here) is one of the biggest in South India. The huge eastern tower of the temple is the tallest one  at 217 feet, built by Krishna Deva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire, in 1516.  This popular temple town was ruled by many dynasties -  the Pallavas, the Medieval Cholas, the Later Cholas, Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Carnatic kingdom, Tipu Sultan, and the British. 

Arunachaleswar temple en.wikipedia.org

Being a historical temple, more than1000 years old,  this place was once ruled by the Hoysala kings beginning in 1328. There are  numerous inscriptions from various dynasties - 48 from the Sangama Dynasty (1336–1485), two inscriptions from Saluva Dynasty, and 55 inscriptions from Tuluva Dynasty (1491–1570) of the Vijayanagara Empire, and they are related to the grants to the temple from the kings.  The Vijayanagara  inscriptions from  Krishnadeva Raya (1509–1529) period  were written in Tamil,  some in Kannada and Sanskrit and the latter rulers gave a better patronage to this temple. 

This temple is famous for  Karthigai Deepam worship  celebrated during the day of the full moon between November and December, and a huge beacon is lit atop the Annamalai hill. The event is witnessed by three million pilgrims and the other religious ritual being undertaking girivalam - going round the Annamalai  hill more than 14 km  clockwise  barefoot on the day preceding each full moon,  Kartika Pournami, falling on the Gregorian months of November or December  is marked on the day the full moon  and is in conjunction with the constellation of Kartika. It corresponds to the occasion of the Kartika Purnima, though it falls on a different day due to the correction of equinoxes in the Tamil calendar. 

Sangam Tamil literature works mention about Karthigai Deepa worship, and is referred to as Peruviḝa.   In Kerala, this festival goes by the name of  Trikkartika, celebrated in honour of Chottanikkara Bhagavati, a form of Lakshmi and  in the name of Lakshabba in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.

The nine day Karthigai deepam festival is a major event starting from November and at Thiruvannamalai the processional deities will be taken on processions around the Maada or Ratha streets. The procession includes  pulling of huge wooden rathas or temple chariots  carrying  the deities. The huge temple complex has 9 big and small gopurams built at different periods centuries ago,  6 huge prakarams, 142 shrines, 22 idols of Ganapati and 43 solid copper idols  of immense value.

There are four tall cardinal towers (gopurams).The huge massive  eastern tower of the temple is the tallest one  at 217 feet. Including small towers, there are 9 towers built in Dravidian style on the temple premises built in Dravidian style , symbolic of 9 openings in the human body. Hence this temple is referred to as Nvadwara Pathi. The 9th-century Shaiva saint poet Manikkavasagar composed the Thiruvempavai here

There are four primary big Gopurams on the Temple's outer boundary; Raja Gopura (East), Pey Gopura (West), Thiru Manjana Gopura (South) and Ammani Amman Gopura (North),  besides 5 small gopuram called  Kattai gopurams

Eight lingams  enshrined  at the eight directions and provide an octagonal structure to Thiruvannamalai Town. The eight lingams are: Indra Lingam, Agni Lingam, Yama Lingam, Niruthi Lingam, Varuna Lingam, Vayu Lingam, Kubera Lingam and Esanya Lingam

Among the temples  dedicated to Lord Shiva's manifestation, the Arunachala Temple is considered the most sacred of all them. The Agni Lingam in the temple symbolizes self-sacrifice, liberation, duty,

Raja Gopuram (main tower facing east direction): 

Thiruvannamalai temple, TN in.pinterest.com

Raja Gopuram, Thiruvannamalai, TN. alamy.com

Often called Royar Gopuram,  Sri Krishnadeva Royer had a strong foundation laid  so that the main eastern gopuram would be   taller than the tower of  Thanjavur (Brihadeeswar temple). It was  built by Rajaraja Cholan I over the sanctum - garbhagriha. 

Work on the main tower began in 1550 CE. Length 135 ft and width 98 ft.  As king Krishna Devaroya died unexpectedly, Tanjore Nayak ruler  (vassal of Vijayanagara) Sivappa Nayak  completed the main tower work and kept the height at 217 ft as wished by Sri Krishna Deva royar.  With 11 tiers, it is the 2nd tallest Rajagopuram in Tamil Nadu and is a good example of Vijayanagara temple architecture,

Pey Gopuram (western tower):

 This 9 tier  160 ft tall west tower (merrukku gopuram) is called Pey Gopuram. Earlier   Main tower used to be called the Periya Gopura (big tower) before the later and larger Gopurams were built - but as years passed, the original name got corrupted into Pey Gopuram. Its base is similar to that of the Raja Gopura on the east.  This tower is richly decorative and carries  intricately mde divine sculptures one would find in the Hindu Pantheon. Mention may be made of the well made images of  Mahishasura Mardini and God Shiva on his vahana Rishaba (bull), Tanjore Seveppa naik was the builder of this tower. 

This entrance gate gopuram year round remains closed. However, during Karthigai Deepam Thiruvizha (festival), the gates are opened and devotees are allowed to get into the temple.  

Thirumanjana Gopuram:  

This 157 ft tall south Gopuram is a majestic one, but details are not available about the builder's name, date of construction, etc. When Aani Thirumanjanam and Arudra Darshan festivals take place  the Uchavamuthy of Sri Nataraja will be taken out in a procession to the main streets through this gate. It is mentioned that in the olden days when Thirumanjana ritual was done to the main god, the holy water was brought to the temple on the caparisoned elephant only through this entrance gate. Hence the name Thirumanjana gopuram for this gate. 

Ammani Ammal Gopuram: 

Ammani Amman Gopuram, Annamalaiyar templ/twitter.come

Above image:   Ammani Amman Gopuram, Annamalaiyar temple, Tiruvannamalai; Height: 171 feet tall.......................

This refers to the tall tower built on the northern side of the  temple complex. One woman,  native of Chennai, and who settled here at a young age became a siddhar. Quite grief stricken over the incomplete gopuram , the pious woman  was instrumental in building   this tall tower, hence it bears her name. The holy woman undertook this tedious task after the strange dream in which Lord Shiva instructed her  to have a gopuram built. To fulfil her personal desire and the wish of the God, she relied on donation from the public and also public subscription. However, it is said, God Shiva appeared in her dream again and advised her to start the work on the gopuram  and gave Vibhuti Prasadam to the workers as part of wages. At home instead of  Vibhuti Prasadam, the workers found the wages in the bag.  The gopuram is 171 ft tall with 11 tiers and 13 kalasams. Like other towers one can see a variety  of sculptures  -mostly gods and goddesses. There is a Jeeva samadhi (17th CE) close to the Shivalingam in the Eesani Moolai  in the temple. 

Next in importance to the four Raja gopurams linking the main streets are five Kattai Gopurams that stand in the interior parts

East entrance toer, Thiruvannamalai temple, TN, /en.wikipedia.org

Vallala Maharaja Gopuram: 

Vallala Maharaja Gopuram, arunachalagrace.blogspot.com

Once you go past the East tower you can see the tower and at the base in one of the pillars you can see the image of the builder -   Vellala Maharaja holding his hands in supplication.  The work began in 1318, but completed only in 1340. The long delay was due to many reasons and the primary reason was due to financial consr=traints followed by changing political scenarios.  The legend has it when the ruler was grief-stricken  with no son, God Shiva appeared in his dream and told him that he would take the role of his son and carry out the required duty as a son. Even today, the ritual of Thithi is held in which the God is doing Pitru Karyam to the Hindu Maharajah. This ritual comes in the Tamil month od\f Masi. King Vallala was none other than Veera Ballala III, the greatest Hoysala emperor. After the fall of Dwarasamudra (Halebidu), the capital city of the Hoysalas, Ballala Deva reorganised his forcs here at Tiruvannamalai.

East entrance tower, Thiruvannamalai temple, TN, /en.wikipedia.org

Kili (Parrot) Gopuram:

Kili Gopuram, Thiruvannamalai temple, TN. twitter.com

Kili gopuram, Tamilnadu Tourism.com

Built in 1053 by the Chola dynasty, this tower is believed to the oldest on the temple complex. 81 ft tall, it was built by king  Rajendra Chola, son of Sri Rajaraja Chola. Rajendra Chola was the one who built the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple (Unesco world heritage site) on the model of big temple at Tanjore.  

A masonry parrot (kili) is seen in a niche  in the inner most tower in front of the image of Saint Arunagirinathar who composed the famous devotional Kandar Anubhuti. Arunagirinathar, it is said to have taken the form of a parrot to bring Amrith from the heaven to save the life of the king. After his death, it is believed, he lives here taking the form of kili (parrot). Also seen in the base of the tower are the images of King Rajendra Chola and his assistant who helped construct this gopuram.

1000 pillar hall Mandapam, Thiruvannamalai  upload.wikimedia.org

South Kattai Gopuram 70 ft tall with 5 tiers can be spotted after coming out of Thirumanjana Gopuram.  

North  Kattai Gopuram : 45 ft tall is next to Ammani Ammal gopuram and  has well made sculptures of various goddesses and gods, 

West Kattai Gopuram can be accessed from Pey Gopuram and has interesting divine sculptures including Astathikku palakas, Dwarapalakas- sentinel deities. and dancing girls
70 ft tall,5 tiers