Arunachaleswarar temple representing fire. Thiruvanamalai Tamil Nadu

                   Arunachaleswarar temple,Thiruvanamalai,Tamil

The Annamalaiyar or Arunachaleswarar temple at the base of Annamalai hills in Thiruvanamalai town, Tamil Nadu, is one of the famous Pancha Bhootha Stalams, or five Shiva temples, each a manifestation of a natural element: earth, water, air, sky and fire. 

In Annamalaiyar temple, Shiva represents the element of fire or 'agni'. The lord is said to have manifested himself as a massive column of fire, whose crown and feet could not be found by the Hindu gods, Brahma and Vishnu. The main lingam in the shrine is referred to as ''Agni Lingam,'' and represents duty, virtue, self-sacrifice and liberation through ascetic life at the end of the Agni Kalpa.

His consort  Parvati's depicted as Unnamulai Amman. Another Legend has it that once the universe was plunged into darkness when Parvathi closed the Lord's eyes playfully. Parvathi  did penance here and other places. Pleased with her devotion, on a Kathikai day, Shiva appeared as fire before her and Parvathi merged with Him. To mark this day in the month of Karthigai (November-December) on 'Karthigai day' (full moon day) Deepam (oil lamps) is lighted first on the hill behind the temple  and later in all shiva temples and homes. 

Arunachaleswarar temple,Thiruvanamalai, Tamil Nadu,
Arunachaleswarar temple,Thiruvanamalai,,

This huge temple complex covers 10 hectares, and is one of the largest in India and has four main towers or gopurams. The tallest being the eastern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 66 meters (217 ft), making it one of the tallest temple towers in India. The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Annamalaiyar and Unnamulai Amman being the most prominent. The temple complex houses many halls; the most notable being the thousand-pillared hall built during the Vijayanagar period. 

Arunachaleswarar temple,Thiruvanamalai,
Several kings made valuable contribution to the construction of this massive temple complex. The present masonry structure came up during the Chola dynasty in the 9th century, while subsequent expansions were from the Vijayanagar rulers of the Sangama Dynasty (1336–1485 CE), the Saluva Dynasty and the Tuluva Dynasty (1491–1570 CE). Some earlier Kings of  Vijayalaya dynasty must have begun the work in the  inner shrine (Garbegraha) in the fourteenth Century. The base of the Rajagopuram is made of granite, measuring 135 ft (41 m) by 98 ft (30 m). It was begun by king Krishnadevaray (1509–29 CE) of the Vijayanagara dynasty, and completed by Sevappa Nayaka (1532–80 CE). The former built the hall and dug the tank opposite to it. The pillars in the hall are carved with images of yali, a mythological beast with body of lion and head of an elephant, a symbol of  Nayak power.

Another legend has it once Shiva appeared as a flame and challenged Brahma and Vishnu to find his source. Neither Brahma nor Vishnu could find the beginning and end and while Vishnu conceded his inability, whereas  Brahma lied that he had found the crown, his witness being Thazambu flower (Screw pine. in Hindi: Kewra). Upon this Shiva  cursed that  Brahma would never have temples on earth dedicated to him and Thazambu would never be used for pooja - prayer.

Among the dozens of festivals, Karthikai is a  ten day festival  during the Tamil month of Karthikai, between November and December, concluding with the celebration of Karthikai Deepam (lamp). A huge oil-ghee lamp several feet  high is lit in a cauldron, containing three tons of ghee, at the top of the Annamalai hills which  will be visible over a few miles surrounding. To mark the occasion, the festival deity (Urchavar) of Annamalaiyar Shiva) is taken around the mountain in a procession.. 

Temple stone inscriptions record that the festival was celebrated as early as the Chola period (from 850 CE to 1280 CE) and was extended to ten days in the twentieth century. Every full moon, tens of thousands of pilgrims after taking bath worship Annamalaiyar by walking around the Arunachala hill barefoot  covering a distance of 14 kilometers (8.7 mi), and is referred as Girivalam. According to Hindu legend, the walk removes sins, fulfills desires and helps get freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth.

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The beautiful lush mountains and the peculiar  serene, quiet and blissful ambiance around Thiruvanamalai offer excellent opportunity for those who want to come over to this place for respite, relaxation and meditation, a change from the mundane and monotonous  urban life. This place is closely associated with such well known yogis and spiritual Gurus as Ramana Maharishi,Yogi Ram Surath Kumar, et al.