There are five main Pancha Bhootha Lingams in South India (Tamilnadu & Andhra Pradesh) and recently I completed my tour of the last one. This I will be posting one by one. In my thirst for the spiritual quest I found the visits to the temples extremely an enchanting experience. Each temple has its own charm, a legend to tell and all this I want to share with one and all.
These Pancha Bhoothas lingams - Agni, Vayu, Bhoomi, Akash and Jal are situated in Tiruvannamalai, Kalahasthi (Andhra, all others are in Tamilnadu), Kanchipuram, Chidambaram, Tiruvanaikal near Trichi. The last visit was to Tiruvannamalai and I thought I would start with the same.
This temple is 1000years old and situated at the foot hills of Tiruvannamalai. The Siva here who is the in the form of Agni, is called Annamalayar or Arunachaleswar. This temple has a sprawling area of 24 acres and surrounded by huge towers. The one at east side is the tallest called the Rajagopuram has 11 tiers and is 217 feet tall.
It is the second tallest in Tamilnadu the first being the Meenakshi Kovil at Madurai. We can see the temple with the back drop of the hill . It is really magnificent.
As we enter the first prakaram we come across the Subramanian temple on the left and this is the place where he appeared before the saint Aarunagirinathar. On to the right is the One thousand pillared mandapam. Behind the Subramanya temple there is a mandapam and when we went the function (valaikappu) was being conducted to the Amman (goddess). It is the seemantham for the goddess, done in the belief that she is expecting Lord Ganesha in her womb as Ganesh chathurthi falls in August.
Opposite to this Mandapam is the Vinayagar temple and Ganesha's idol having a valmpuri trunk was kept outside with silver kavacham.
Opposite of the Vinayagar Kovil in the centre is a huge Nandi the vehicle of Lord Siva and on the right side we could see the Pathala lingam. For this we had to get down few steps as the Lingam is situated in the basement. This is adjacent to the thousand pillar mandapam.
Then we cross the next tower and here also we can find a Nandi in the centre and Vinayagar which is made of pink stone. We also saw the Kalabhairava temple opposite to Ganesha temple facing the west. After this comes the third tower also called as the kili gopuram where we can see a parrot sculpted on the tower.
Inside as we move one can see the Unnamalaiyamman sannidhi but we headed straight inside and went to get the special ticket to get the darshan of Annamalair. After finishing the darshan we moved towards the Amman sannidhi and we could see many pilgrims lighting lamps for the Navgrahas, situated on left side of the Amman sannidhi.
We circumambulated the temple where we could see the deities of Lord Dakshinamurthy, God's palliyarai, (sleeping chamber) and Chandikeshwarar sannidhi. We went around the whole of 4th prakaram where we could see the idol of Ganesha under a tree, then the Kalahasthiar temple, which are sub shrines spread around the main temple. There are two temple tanks in the first and second prakaram.
Then we went for Girivalam (circumambulation of the Arunachala hill or Tiruvannamalai. At the start of the hill there is 1500 year old temple dedicated to Adi Arunachaleshwar and his consort Abhidha kuchambigai. The Girivalam is about 14 kms. and it is expected one completes the girivalam on full moon night then visit the main temple to get the full benefits of the Lord’s blessings. How ever we did it the other way around to save time. The Arunachala hill itself is considered to be the Lord himself and this hill gives different views from different angles. On one side it appears as the reclining Lord with a face and his flowing Jada, on another side it appears as twin hills; the ardha narishwara . It is believed that Siva and Parvathi exists here as adrdha narishwara. The Karthigai deepam festival is very famous here and during that period a huge lamp erected on a pedestal is lighted atop the hill and it burns for about 13-14 days and can be viewed from kilometers away.
Around the hill there are 8 lingams and we visited all this shrines called, Yama lingam, Nruthi lingam, and Vayu, Varuna, Surya, Kubera, Isaneya and Indra lingams. Of this Indra lingam is very near to the Arunachaleshwar temple. En route to girivalam, we also saw a new temple coming up with 1008 lingams.
This temple town is considered sacred by the devotees for meditation and we found lot of sadhus all around the town. We visited the Ramana Maharshi’s ashram and could see the evening prayer in progress and many were meditating in the prayer hall. There is also a small temple inside the ashram. We stayed in Seshadri mutt and there is a Samadhi of the swami gal there. Many foreigners and people looking for peace and solace were attending the discourse at the ashram. It was altogether a fantastic experience.
How to reach Tiruvannamalai
Nearest airport –Chennai
Nearest railway station _ Tiruvannamalai, Katpadi and Villupuram
Accommodation: there are many Mutts and ashrams in addition to commercial hotels offering various kinds of accommodation.