Annamalaiyar Temple is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located at the base of the Annamalai Hills in the town of Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. Shiva is here worshiped as Annamalaiyar or Arunachaleswara. The temple is one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalas and in specific related to the element of fire. The lingam is known as Agni lingam and his consort Parvathi is known as Unnamulai Amman.
The temple complex is spread across 10 hectares and is one of the largest temples in India. The temple has four gateway towers known as gopurams and the tallest is the eastern tower with 11 stories and a height of 217 ft, which also makes it one of the tallest temple towers in the country.
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The temple complex houses numerous shrines apart from the shrines of Shiva and Parvathi and also has many halls. The most notable is the thousand-pillared hall built during the Vijayanagar period.
The present stoneworks and towers date back to the 9th century, as seen in an inscription in the structure made by the Chola Kings who ruled the place at that time. Further, some more inscriptions indicate that before the 9th century, Thiruvannamalai was under the Pallava Kings who ruled from Kanchipuram.
Best Time To Visit
The temple can be visited throughout the year. Every day the place is filled with devotees from various parts of the country and the crowd swells up during festival days and other special occasions.
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According to mythology, Parvathi once closed the eyes of Shiva playfully in a garden atop Mount Kailash. Although it was just for a moment that Shiva closed his eyes, the entire universe was robbed off its light, which also resulted in the earth being in darkness for years.
Realizing her mistake, Parvathi along with other devotees is said to have performed a penance to Shiva and he appeared as a column of fire atop the Annamalai hills, returning light to the world. The Annamalai or red mountain forms the background of the temple and is considered sacred and is also seen as a representation of Shiva himself.
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Another legend is that once while Vishnu and Brahma contested for superiority, Shiva appeared before them as a flame and urged them to find the source. Brahma took the form of a swan and flew up to see the top of the flame, while Vishnu took the form of a boar or Varaha and went to the base.
Neither Brahma nor Vishnu was successful and while Vishnu accepted his defeat, Brahma lied and said he had found the pinnacle. In punishment Shiva cursed Brahma saying that he would never have temples on earth in his worship.
The Four Gopurams & The Thousand-Pillared Hall
The temple is built at the bottom of the Annamalai Hills and faces east. It has four gopurams in the four directions. The eastern tower or the Rajagopuram is the tallest amongst the four. The construction of this tower was started by Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara empire and was completed by Sevappa Nayaka.
The south tower is called Thirumanjangopuram, the west tower is known as Pei Gopuram and the north tower is named after Ammani Ammal, a sanyasini who built it. The gopurams each hold a huge Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva. The other towers here are Kili Gopuram or parrot tower and the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram.
To reach the innermost sanctum one must pass through five prakarams or compounds. One can find a sixteen-pillared Deepa Darshana Mandapam or hall of light at the third precinct. The wedding hall or Kalyana Mandapam is located in the south west region which is built in the Vijayanagara style of architecture.
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The Vasantha Mandapam which is also in the third precinct holds the temple office and a shrine dedicated to Kalahateeswarar. In the fourth precinct one can find a six-foot-tall Nandi which was erected by Vallala Maharaja.
A thousand-pillared hall built during the late Vijayanagara period by Krishnadevaraya along with the temple tank can be found in the fifth precinct. The pillars in the hall are carved with images of Yali, a mythological beast with the body of a lion and the head of an elephant.
Every full moon, tens of thousands of devotees worship Arunachaleshwara by circumambulating the Annamalai Hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a total distance of 14 km and is known as Girivalam. Devotees believe that the walk removes sins and fulfills desires and also helps one to achieve freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth.