The history of Arunachaleshwarar Temple dates back to thousand years. Mention has been made in the Tevaram and Thiruvasagam, both of which are great literary works in Tamil Language of ancient India. The temple is significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as one of the temples associated with the five great elements, the Pancha MahaBhoota Stalas, and specifically the element of fire, or Agni. The five great elements of Hinduism are Space, Air, Fire, Water & Earth. Shiva is worshiped as Arunachaleswarar in this temple, and is represented by the Lingam, with his idol referred to as Agni Lingam. His consort Parvati is depicted as Unnamulai Amman. The presiding deity is highly revered in the 7th century Tamil Saiva canonical work, ‘Tevaram‘, written by Tamil Saint Poets known as the Nayanars. The 9th century Saiva poet Saint Manikkavachagar composed the holy Tiruvempaavai in this most sacred temple of Shiva.
With the magnificent hill in the background, the temple gives the appearance of a fort to those who see it from a distance. It is unique on account of its magnificent towers, high rampart walls, broad quadrangles, spacious gateways, large Mandapams and fine tanks. The temple has both architectural importance and sculputural beauty as well.
The temple complex covers 10 hectares, and is one of the largest in India. It is the biggest Shiva Temple in the world. It houses four gateway towers known as Gopurams. The tallest is the eastern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 66 metres (217 ft), making it one of the tallest temple towers in India. The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Arunachaleshwarar and Unnamulai Amman being the most prominent. The temple complex houses many halls; the most notable is the thousand-pillared hall, built during the Vijayanagar Empire of Indian history.
The Karthigai Deepam, one of the most important festival in this shrine, is celebrated on the day of the full moon between November and December, and an enormously huge lamp is lit atop the hill. It can be seen from miles around, and symbolizes the Shiva Lingam of Fire (Agni) joining the sky. The event is witnessed by three million pilgrims. On the day preceding each full moon, pilgrims circumnavigate the temple base and the Annamalai hills, in a worship called Girivalam, a practice carried out by one million pilgrims yearly.
The Western world learnt of Tiruvannamalai during the mid 20th century, through the work of Ramana Maharishi (1879–1950 CE). The cave where Maharishi Ramana meditated is on the lower slopes of the Annamalai hills, with the Ashram further down at the foothills. The basement of the raised hall inside the temple has the Patala Lingam, where Ramana attained Cosmic Consciousness while ants devoured his flesh ruthlessly. The place is also known as a Mukthi Sthalam, meaning place of Salvation, and Saints like Seshadri Swamigal, Gugai Namachivayar and Yogi Ramsuratkumar have been associated with this Immortal Sacred Temple.
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