– Dr A Pranesh
Arunachaleshwar located in Tiruvannamalai of Tamilnadu. It is about 185 kms from Chennai and 210 kms from Bangalore. The town is located on the base of Annamalai hills which is to the east of Eastern ghats.
Tiruvannamalai is named after Annamalaiyar, the main deity of the temple. During November and December on full moon days, Kartika Deepam festival is celebrated. On those days huge quantity of camphor is lit on top of Annamalai hills and about three million devotees from different parts of India gather.
Annamalai hills are also known as Arunachala hills. Aruna means red and Achala means hills.
The Parikrama or Circumambulation of Arunachala hills is a very popular ritual. It is known as Girivalyam, Giri means Hill and Valam means Circumambulation. The trek is about 14 kms which starts from east gopuram (gate) of Arunachaleshwara temple.
Usually Girivalam should be started either early in the morning or late evening. But circumambulating on full moon night is very popular.
Arunachala hill to a human eye is 3000 feet high but for Siddhas, it is an infinite hill with no ends on either side. Siddhas say that even Sun and Moon circle Arunachala without going directly over head.
So Girivalam is considered as the most sacred of all rituals. It is advised to perform Girivalam with pure mind, and also give alms liberally to Sadhus, needy people and animals who are found on the way. At every step of Girivalam, one should look at the Arunachala hill. Each of this vision is known as Arunachala Mukha Darshan.
At the beginning of the Girivalam one should enter Arunachaleshwara temple from east gopuram and have darshan of Brahma Lingam.
From there one has to go to South gopuram and have the darshan of lord Arunachaleshwara and then proceed to Indra Lingam shrine, which is about 50 meters from east gopuram.
Indra Lingam shrine is very inconspicuous as it is amidst shops. The entrance is very small and could be easily missed. It is first of the eight or ashta Dik Lingams on the Girivalm route.
After trekking for 1.5 kms there is the shrine for Agni Lingam the second of the Ashta Dik Lingam on Girivalam route.This is also in the midst of houses and quite inconspicuous.
A kilometer away from Agni Lingam is the Sheshadri Ashram. There is also an old Devi temple opposite Sheshadri ashram.
Further a kilometer away is the most popular Ramanashree Ashram.
The glimpse of Arunachala hill from inside the ashram is called Eka Mukha Linga Darshan.
Further a kilometer away from Ramana ashram, there is a shrine for Parashakti.
Three kilometers away is the Yama Lingam. It is the third of the Ashta Dik Lingams on Girivalam route. There is Appu Nandi next to Yama Lingam. One has to look at the Arunachala hill between the horns of the Nandi deity. This vision is supposed to reunite those who are separated or estranged.
Six kilometers from the starting point lies the shrine of Nirutthi Lingam and is the fourth of the Ashta Dik Lingams on the Girivalam route.
There is a pond opposite to this shrine called Siva Raja Singa theertam and a Nandi being installed on the banks of the pond. A small temple for lord Vinayaka temple is at one corner of the pond.
One has to look at the peak of the hill between the horns of the Nandi. This place is to give up bad habits and make spiritual resolutions. It is believed that Siva Raja Singha, who resides here, is the witness for your resolution.
A small dense forest known as Kaama kaadu is seen a meter further. Siddhas refer this as forest of desire. From here Arunachala hill is not visible. Symbolically once we get lost in the forest of desire, we lose sight of all spiritual journeys. Hence in this site, one has to give up lustful or immoral desires.
A little further trek leads to a shrine and an adjacent ashram of Nava Linga and Nava Shakti. There is an idol of Durga in the middle of sanctum with nine Lingas and nine Shaktis on either side.
Next important shrine on Girivalam route is Gayatri devi. One has to take the blessings from Gayatri devi and proceed.
Further away from this temple, the Arunachala hill gives a darshan of Shakti Shiva. This vision was given to King Nala and his wife Damayanti and it is believed that vision brings about unity and harmony in life.
Next in the Girivalam route is Mother Unnamalai temple. She is the consort of Arunachaleshwara. Mother Parvathi devi performed penances here for a long time and finally got merged with Lord Shiva.
Adjacent to Unnamalai temple, there is a pond known as Unnamalai theertham. Unfortunately it lacks maintaince. The vision of Arunachala hill from Unnamulai temple is known as Somaskanda darshanam.
Proceeding further in Girivalam route, there is the ashram of Goutama Maharishi and a temple for Maharishi Gauthama.
A little further away is the Surya Lingam and then Varuna Lingam temple. It is about 8 kms. from the starting point.
About half a kilometer from Varuna lingam, is Vayu Lingam. It is about 9.5 kms. from the starting point. About 2 kms. from Varuna lingam is the Kubera Lingam temple. It is about 11.5 kms. from the starting point.
Slightly further in Girivalayam route is Chandra Lingam temple. The temple appears to have been built quite recently.
Further in the Girivalayam route is Pancha mukha darshanam. Proceeding further, leads to Eesahnya lingam, which is about 13 kms.from the starting point. This is the last of the ashta Lingams of Arunachaleshwar Girivalayam or Parikrama. From here one has to come back to the starting point.
After coming back to Arunachaleshwara temple, the devotees have to enter east gopuram, from there to south gopuram and to west and north gopurams successively. Then finally should have Arunachaleshwara darshan after entering main sanctum santorum and get the grace of Lord Arunachaleshwara.
Om Namah Shivaya