• Legends of Arunachala – 1

    There are many legends and interesting tales which are recited about Arunachala and here is one that speaks about the supreme blessing that one receives by coming here.

    In puranic times, Markendaya an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, who was granted eternal life due to his devotion, asked Nandi, the bull-mount of Shiva, “O Nandikeswara, please tell me which is the place where true knowledge can be acquired without rituals, book learning or elaborate religious practices, where even an ignorant person can attain enlightenment by merely smearing sacred ash on the forehead, where all residents overcome obstacles and attain the Supreme Knowledge without any conscious effort, where even the worst of men, the lowest of animals and inanimate objects attain perfection ?” In response Nandi starts to describe in detail all the places on earth sacred to Shiva… But Markendaya is not satisfied and cunningly asks Nandi again, “O Nandi, all this i already know. Of course each of these sacred places has its speciality but which is the sacred spot that thas the totality of the benefits of all the sacred places? Please tell me the name of the one place by remembering which even once, knowingly or unknowingly, all beings, moving as well as immobile can obtain liberation?” According to Arunchala purana, Nandi, at this point, thinking of Arunachala, became esctatic and went into samadhi. With tears streaming down his eyes and voice hoarse with emotion, Nandi says, “yes there is such a place, it is ARUNACHALA, the embodiment of Lord Shiva”.

    Since then, during every yuga, Arunachala has drawn numerous saints to its lap and without doubt, in this kaliyuga, Arunachala Himself deigned to take a human form as Sri Ramana Maharshi and showered the world with his grace and silent teaching. Blessed are we indeed to live at his Holy Feet!

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  • Girivalam shrines – Pachaiyamman Kovil

    At the end of the inner giri pradakshina path as one approaches the town, one comes upon the ancient temple of the Goddess Pachaiyamman. This is where Bhagavan Ramana resided during the plague epidemic and this is where the tiger used to come and visit Him, announcing its arrival with two loud roars that would send the disciples fleeing in terror while Bhagavan remained undaunted and granted dharshan to the royal animal.

    Goddess Pachaiyamman is a manifestation of Shakthi, and it is here that she is believed to have done tapas during puranic times to be united with Shiva in one form. It is believed that Shiva appeared here and integrated Her in the left half of His body and thus Lord Ardhanareeswara was created.

    This temple is situated in an idyllic spot on the hill surrounded by beautiful old banyan trees where birds sing all day long and langur monkeys prance about. There are three perennial theerthams with lovely cool green waters and the water in the main one is used for the god’s abhishekams. The entrance path to the temple is flagged by enormous Muniswara statues (tamil guardian deities) and it is very impressive to see them gazing down upon you with their huge eyes as you walk inside.

    Inside the sanctum sanctorum, the Goddess sits in a benign attitude and you cannot but feel her compassion and grace flowing into your heart as you take dharshan. Pachai Amman means the Green Mother and she is named thus to signify her fertility and also because, according to legend, the Dharba grass which is usually yellow, turned completely green as she walked over it in her tapas.

    An inner giri pradakshina can be quite difficult as the hilly path is stony and hard. However, devotees feel well rewarded to come upon this temple after the arduous walk and take repose in the Green Mother’s arms.

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  • Girivalam shrines – Surya Lingam

    Surya Lingam is located on the outer girivalam path about half a kilometre after Kannappa temple. This shrine has the good fortune of retaining its ancient stone mandapam structure. It is a very popular shrine although it is not part of the Ashtalingams and even on an ordinary non-festival day, there are always devotees and pilgrims worshipping the Surya lingam.
    Surya symbolizes the Sun God. Surya is considered as the only visible form of God that can be seen every day. Lord Surya is regarded as an aspect of Shiva and Vishnu by Shaivites and Vaishnavas respectively. Surya is also known as Surya Narayana. Surya, the Sun God is verily acknowledged as one of the eight forms of Lord Shiva (Astamurti) and he is the lord of excellence and wisdom. The celestial body, Surya (the sun) is visible in the sky. Surya forms the major god of the Navgrahas (nine planets). He is the God of light and He is usually remembered for the brilliance and light in one’s life. The Gayatri Mantra of the Hindu Religion is also associated with the Sun God, Surya.

    The Brahmin priest who performs the pujas ceremonies in the Surya lingam shrine is a fountain of wisdom and holiness. Having taken diksha from the Paramacharya of Kanchi, he has devoted his life to the service of God. In his humble abode behind the shrine he has a very elaborate puja room with a consecrated Shri Chakra mehru and many other Hindu gods. After the puja ceremony in the Surya lingam, devotees often sit at his feet in Satsangam and listen to his spiritual discourses.

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  • Ashtalingams – Varuna lingam – West

    Varuna Lingam, is dedicated to Varuna, the God of the Western direction. The shrine of Varuna Lingam is situated on the outer girivalam path about 1 kilometre before the village of Adi Annamalai.

    Varuna, according to Hindu mythology, is the Guardian of Cosmic Justice and the Lord of the Sky. In the days of yore, He may have been one of the most revered and powerful deities of Vedic India. Varuna is a dual god known as Mitra-Varuna, the former ruling the day and the latter the night, but slowly the names became synonymous. Scholars agree that Varuna was a sky god like Ouranos; in fact the two names are derived from the same linguistic root.  Legend has it that it was Varuna who found the sun, hidden in the cosmic waters and set it in the sky. He is praised as the king of kings, the one responsible for making rain. It is believed that repentance and service to Varuna washes away your accumulated sins (sanchita karma). In later myths, Varuna is described as the Lord of the Waters. This is a focus on his powers of inducing dropsy, as well as the Vedic description of him as the god who satisfies the thirst of his followers. Varuna’s power over the water as well as the geographical conjunction of ocean waters with the sky at the horizon made sure that his water aspect would remain, even when his people cast him down from the sky. His names like Jalapati, ‘Ruler of Waters’ and Yadapti, ‘Lord of Aquatic Animals’ reflect this changed reality. He rides a makara, a fabulous animal with the head and front legs of an antelope and the body and tail of a fish. Best of all, he is supposed to live in a house with a thousand doors, as he is always accessible to man.

    Today the Varuna lingam shrine attracts very few people and ranges among the less popular ashtalingams. An unfortunate attempt at renovation has resulted in the destruction of the old stone paving and ancient facade and led to the complete concretization of the floor with the cement façade, all of which give the temple an unattractive modern appearance although the lingam dates back to the 12th century…

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  • Chitra Pournami

    This is the full moon in the month of Chithirai in conjunction with the Chaitra or Chitra constellation. It is a one of the special full moons of the year and the word chitra means brilliant or colourful from which the term chitrakar is derived meaning painter-artist or magician.

    On this full moon night, the legend of Chitragupta is narrated among families.

    Chitragupta is the Hindu god, who is assigned with the task of keeping a complete record of the good and bad deeds of human beings and after their death, judge them whether they should go to hell or heaven, depending on their actions on the earth. In some beliefs, Chitragupta is the creation of Lord Brahma and the younger brother of the god of death, Yama. According to Hindu mythology, Brahma is the creator of the whole world. He first created sixteen sons from different parts of his body. Then lord Brahma created his seventeenth son Chitragupta from his belly. Chitragupta is also called `Kayastha` as he was created from the Kaya(body) of Lord Brahma. He is a divine incarnation in human form. Chitragupta has eight sons namely Gorh, Mathur,Bhatnagar, Saxena, Asthana, Srivastava, Ambastha and Karn. The Hindu religion believes in the cycle of life, death and rebirth. It is believed that those who have done misdeeds in life have to take rebirth after a punishment period in hell to complete their life cycle. The primary duty of Chitragupta is to create a log of the lives of all human beings. After the death of each creature, Chitragupta judges and decides whether they will attain ‘Moksha’ or go to heaven for their good-deeds and get redemption from all worldly troubles or receive punishment for their sins in another life form or in hell.

    It is a general belief that on this night, any religious act of absolution like bathing in sacred waters or pradakshina around a holy mountain will propitiate Chitragupta who may obliterate the records of one’s bad deeds as a result. Hence millions come to Tiruvannamalai on this night to do giri pradakshina.

    Interestingly, the nakshatra Chitra is placed under the protection of Tvastr, the divine carpenter of hindu mythology who supposedly crafted the living creatures, It is believed that he is also associated with the fire and lightning bolt of Indra as well as serving as priest to the Asuras.

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  • Girivalam shrines – Kannappa temple

    The Kannappa temple is situated on the Girivalam inner path but it is also accessible from the outer path by means of a little forest trail near the Echo mandapam. Set with Arunachala as a backdrop, this temple is a scenic and quiet spot, ideal for meditation and is built at an altitude with a fine view of the forest and hill. It was falling into ruins some years ago and was renovated to its present state by the Shantimalai foundation. Today it appears as a beautiful stone monument with carved stone pillars in front and a fine stone staircase leading up to the shrine.

    As the name suggests, this temple is dedicated to Sri Kannappa Nayanar who is one of the 63 Tamil Saivaite saints. Legend has it that Kannappa was a hunter in the forest and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Everyday he would worship a Shiva Lingam in the forest with great devotion and piety. One day the Lord decided to test his faith and made the left eye on the Lingam to bleed copiously. When Kannappa saw this, he was so distressed that he pulled out his own left eye out of its socket and placed it on the bleeding eye on the Lingam. When he did this, the Lord made the other eye on the Lingam to bleed too and on seeing this, Kannappa even more pained, started to pull out his other remaining eye out of its socket to place it on this bleeding eye after first marking the spot with his foot because he knew he would be unable to see if he pulled out his other eye. At this point, Lord Shiva, greatly moved by his devotion, appears to Kannappa there and holds his hand. Thus Kannappa’s devotion is rewarded and he is granted liberation. Till today he is revered as one of the 63 holy savants of Tamil saivism even though he was only a simple huntsman.

    The Kannappa temple also plays a role in the Thiruvoodal festival in January which is the Divine quarrel between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. During this event, the jewels of the Gods are supposedly stolen and this episode of the ‘Divine Jewels robbery’ takes place, interestingly, inside the Kannappa temple where it is enacted every year in the form of a divine drama ritual.

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  • Ashtalingams – Nirudhi lingam (south-west)

    The Nirudhi lingam shrine on the Arunachala giri pradakshina path nestles in a cool and woodsy spot surrounded by lovely old trees and can be quite a refuge on a hot summer afternoon. A fine old stone well near the entrance serves as the water source for the temple. The theertham also called as Sani theertham known to have psycho-therapeutic properties is unfortunately dry at this time. Legend has it that king Nala himself bathed in this sacred pond to be relieved of some doshas that he incurred due to his karma. The sign in tamil says that this lingam is specially renowned to help people recover from the bad effects of black magic and other negative energies. The officiating sadhu-priest claims that it also bestows peace of mind and indeed as one takes darshan of this lingam and comes out, one does feel swept by a wave of tranquility…

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