Monday, October 12, 2009


"Oh undefiled, abide Thou in my heart so that there may be everlasting joy, Oh Arunachala!
(Bhagwan Shri Raman Maharishi in Sri Arunachala Aksharamanamalai)

Tiruvannamalai is a temple town in North Central Tamilnadu. It is about 205 KMs from Bangalore and about 170 KMs from Chennai.

Tiruvannamalai is one of the Pancha Bhoota Sthalam representing the fire element along with Chidambaram, Sri Kalahasti, Thiruvanaikoil (Near Trichy) and Kanchipuram representing sky, air, water and earth respectively.

At Tiruvannamalai, Shiva (Arunachaleswar) is worshipped in the form of fire.

Also it is said that there are Four Sacred Places For Salvation. By seeing Chidambaram, by being born in Tiruvarur, by dying in Kashi, or by merely thinking of Arunachala, one will surely attain Liberation.

I had visited Tiruvannamalai a few years back along with friends, Pundareeka and Anil. At that time, we had taken a Bus from Bangalore in the night, reaching Tiruvannamalai in the morning.

This time we went by Car. Chandan and his family were also with us.

We started from home at around 8:20 AM on saturday morning. Picked Chandan and family from JP Nagar and then took Hosur Road.

Hosur Road at Bangalore is one of the most traffic congested road. By the time, we crossed Electronic City, my watch had already crossed 10:00 AM.

The route from Bangalore to Tiruvannamalai is Bangalore - Hosur - Krishnagiri - Uthangarai - Chengam - Thiruvannamalai.

The National Highway till Krishnagiri is excellent. My Alto was just sliding down the road smoothly.

Weather was quite hot on that October noon. But the merciful Lord Anshumaan was hiding himself sometimes behind clouds, giving us temperory relief.

Just after Krishnagiri, We have to take left turn (Chennai Highway), then again about after 500 Meters a right turn (Pondicherry Road) to go to Tiruvannamalai.

This road to Tiruvannamalai (and to Pondycherry) is via Uthanagarai and Chengam. The road is not that good but ok. Problem is of a lot of potholes. So one needs to be very careful. Also as this road passes through rural area, extra caution is needed while driving as sometimes suddenly some pets or children etc. may come to the road.

We took some rest in between and then again proceeded.

As we reached near to Tiruvannamalai, it started raining heavily. Lord Arunachaleshwar wanted us to be comfortable so he made weather quite nice for us.

We reached Tiruvannamalai at around 2:20 PM and took Krishna Lodge. Rooms were decent and clean. From there we were able to see the massive Gopuramas of the temple as well as Arunachala Hill.

The sight of these places made us peaceful.

"As (Universal) Mother, it is Thy duty to dispense Thy grace and save me, Oh Arunachala!" (Bhagwan Shri Raman Maharishi in Sri Arunachala Aksharamanamalai)
Arunachala is said to be the Shiva Lingam itself.

It is believed that this temple on the foot hill of Annamalai hill came to be built around 750 A.D. period as per the details available from archeological sculptures. It is said to be the biggest temple in India dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The current temple was built between the 16th and the 17th centuries by the kings of the Vijayanagara empire.

After taking some rest, we took our lunch at a restaurent nearby to the Temple Main gate.
After lunch we visited temple.

"O Girisha, when You took the form of a pillar of fire, Brahma trying from above and Vishnu trying from below failed to measure You. Afterwards, when they praised You with great faith and devotion, You revealed yourself to them of Your own accord" (Gandarva Pushpadanta in ShivaMahimna Strotram; Shloka 10)

We took the special darshan ticket and went inside.

And here was he....The Merciful Lord of the Universe, in the form of the Lingam, the most benign, the most powerful, the most blissful, the most merciful.

"O Lord! Bhava, Sharva, Rudra, Pashupati, Ugra, Mahadeva, Bhima, and Ishana-these eight names of Yours are each treated in detail in the Vedas. To You, most beloved Lord Shankara, of resplendent form, I offer salutations"
(Gandarva Pushpadanta in ShivaMahimna Strotram; Shloka 28)

We were fortunate to have darshan in quite close proximity.

Then we visited the shrine of Mother Parvati.

"Lord Shiva, only becomes able to do creation in this world along with Shakthi
Without her, Even an inch he cannot move, And so how can, one who does not do good deeds, Or one who does not sing your praise, Become adequate to worship you
Oh , goddess mine, Who is worshipped by the trinity."
(Adi Shankara in Soundaraya Lahari; Shloka 1)

Darshan of Lord Shiva and Most merciful Mother brings ecstasy and Joy!!

Then we had darshan of small shrines inside the temple and also "Pataal Lingam". This is the place where Shri Raman maharshi had meditated for long tome.

Arunachaleshwar temple is famous for its massive Gopurams.The 11 tiered East Rajagopuram towers to a height of 217 feet, while the fortified walls pierced with 4 gopura entrances offer a formidable look to this vast temple complex . The Pei Gopuram, Tirumanjana Gopuram and Ammanaiammal gopuram are the other three. The 1000 pillared hall and the temple tank were built by Krishna Deva Rayarar of Vijayanagar. Each of the prakarams has a huge Nandi and several towers such as the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram and Kili Gopuram.

This sthala has been inhabited by many great saints and poets who have sung many poems on Lord Shiva. Among the many saints Saint Ramana Maharishi is believed to have lived here for about fifty years till his samadhi in the year 1950. The Ashram of Maharshi is located on the hill Arunachala that is located on the western side of this town.

Every full moon night, thousands of pilgrims worship Shiva by circumambulating the Arunachala hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a distance of about 14 km.On the yearly Chitra Powrnami (full moon) night in the Tamil calendar year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across the world visit the town.

Girivalam means circumambulation of the Arunagiri hill by foot. There are 8 lingams along the route in the eight directions – Indra Lingam, Agni Lingam, Yama Lingam, Niruthi Lingam, Varuna Lingam, Vayu Lingam, Kubera Lingam and Eesanya Lingam. Each lingam bestows the devotee worshipping with happiness in different ways – health, wealth and peace.

As small kids were with us so Girivalam was a little difficult for us. So decided to do with an hired Auto. In the end when we reached Eesanya Lingam, Aarti was in progress and the environment was so joyful!!!

Sun was setting and that moment the Arunachala in a little mist was looking so beautiful!!

During circumambulation, we also visited Adi Annamalai temple, It is right at the foot of the Arunagiri hill about 4 kms from the Arunachaleswarar temple.

We also stopped briefly at Shri Raman Maharishi Ashram during circumambulation, and then proceeded after deciding that we will again vist Ashram the next day.

It is best to start the girivalam in the night or early in the morning. The reason is that the cool breeze from the trees and the medicinal properties of the herbs carried in the air at these times can have a positive effect on one’s health.

After have great time in darshan and circumambulation, we returned to our Lodge, had dinner and took rest.

On the Sunday morning, got up early and from my hotel balconey praised Arunachala and Arunachaleshwara.

After taking beakfast, we started for Shri Raman Maharishi Ashram.

Sri Ramana Maharshi (December 30, 1879 – April 14, 1950), born Venkataraman Iyer, was an enlightened Master born to a Tamil Brahmin family in Tiruchuzhi, Tamil Nadu. After having attained liberation at the age of 16, he left home for Arunachala, at Tiruvannamalai, and lived there for the rest of his life.

Sri Ramana maintained that the purest form of his teachings was the powerful silence which radiated from his presence and quieted the minds of those attuned to it. He gave verbal teachings only for the benefit of those who could not understand his silence. His verbal teachings were said to flow from his direct experience of Consciousness as the only existing reality. When asked for advice, he recommended self-enquiry as the fastest path to moksha. Though his primary teaching is associated with Non-dualism, Advaita Vedanta, and Jnana yoga, he highly recommended Bhakti.

We meditated for some time near his Samadhi.

There are two caves on Arunachala, Skanda Ashram and Virupaksha. We decided to go there. It involves trekking of about two KMs. But with kids in Lap that upward journey on the hill was a little difficult. It was quite hot and humid and all of us were sweating. But the grace of Arunachala helped us cover that distance peacefully barefooted.

Maharishi stayed at Skanda Ashrama from 1916 till 1922.

After staying sometime there, we visited Virupaksha Cave, which is at little distance from Skanda Ashram. Maharishi stayed there from 1899 till 1916.

Both of these caves are ideal places for meditation. Grace of Maharishi is still there.

We returned back and took Lunch.

We started back for Bangalore at around 2:30 PM. We reached Hosur at around 5:30 PM and took some rest. Then dropped Chandan and his family at JP Nagar and reached home to take rest and get ready for office on Monday!!

In total we drove about 424 KMs.

During my last visit, I had not visited the Skanda Ashram and Virupaksha Cave. But last time I had the oppertunity to visit Yogi RamSurat Kumar Ashram as well as Gingee Fort. These two places, I could not visit this time. But I will write something about them, what I know.

Yogi RamSurat Kumar

Yogi Ramsuratkumar (December 1, 1918 – February 20, 2001) spent most of his post enlightement period in Thiruvanamalai. He was also referred to as "Visiri samiyar". He acknowledges the contribution of three of the most well known saints of his time in his evolution to enlightenment. These individuals were Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharishi and Swami Ramdas, Yogi's eventual guru.

Yogi Ramsuratkumar was born in a village near Kashi on December 1, 1918. In his childhood, he loved very much to meet the yogis and monks. He was befriended by a number of holy men who built their huts on the Ganges shore or simply wandered nearby.

Yogi Ramsuratkumar once explained that he never would have kept wandering had either Ramana Maharshi or Sri Aurobindo been right for him. According to him, the five years of guidance under Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi was a period of spiritual maturation and stabilization. The consummation of their efforts was then taken up by a third perfected man, one who had all along been guiding him, his true spiritual Father – Swami Ramdas. Yogi Ramsuratkumar later stated:
‘Most men wouldn’t like to say they had three fathers, but this beggar had three Fathers. There was much work done on this beggar. Aurobindo started, Ramana Maharshi did a little, and Ramdas finished.’
Living with Swami Ramdas, the young Yogi eventually developed an intense desire to receive initiation. Ramdas gave the mantra, Om Sri Ram Jaya Ram Jaya Jaya Ram to Ramsuratkumar. When the initiation was complete, Swami Ramdas remained silent for a moment and then said, ‘Go and repeat this mantram day and night, all the twenty-four hours.’

‘At that moment, some force entered this beggar's body, mind, soul or whatever you may call it. It began to control all the movements. Then this beggar died. Now only this force directs everything.’

The constant reiteration of the mantra, accompanied by implicit faith in its efficacy, was soon to carry him to the summit of human perfection. In those days he was often called, ‘the mad Bihari’ and would roll on the ground in ecstasy. He wanted to stay with his guru forever.

‘After nearly two months with Ramdas this beggar wanted to prolong his stay at Anandashram. Thrice this beggar approached Swami Ramdas; every time he was refused. The last time the sage exclaimed, “There are a number of people who can be fit for ashram life. We don’t want any more of such people”.’

So, in 1952, Ramdas sent him away, insisting that:
‘In the shelter and proximity of a big tree, a small tree cannot grow to its full stature and potential, capable of giving shade and coolness to many beings.’
“Where will you go?” asked Ramdas. “Arunachala,” came the spontaneous answer.

Before coming to Arunachala, He visited India. Then Yogi RamSurat Kumar came to Tiruvannamalai and stayed here till his samadhi.


Gingee Fort is very impressive. It has the resemblance to the forts in Rajasthan. It is about 35 KMs from Tiruvannamalai on the Pondicherry road.

I visited Gingee in my first visit to Thiruvannamalai. We took an auto from Thiruvannamalai to Gingee. As per our planning, we put entire afternoon and evening for this.

Originally the site of a small fort built by the Chola dynasty in 9th century AD, it was later modified by the Vijayanagar empire in the 13th century.

The fort was built as a strategic place of fending off any invading armies. The fort was further strengthened by the Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji in 1677 AD, who recaptured it from the Bijapur sultans who had originally taken control of the fort from the Marathas. During Aurangzeb's campaign in the Deccan, Shivaji's second son who had assumed the throne, Chhatrapati Rajaram escaped to Ginjee and continued the fight with Moghuls from Ginjee. The Moghuls could not capture the fort for seven years in spite of laying siege. The fort was finally captured in 1698, but not before Chhatrapati Rajaram escaped.  The British finally took control in 1761 despite losing it to Hyder Ali for a brief period.

The fort consists of three hills, connected by walls enclosing an area of 7 km². It was built at a height of 800 feet (240 m), and protected by an 80-foot (24 m) wide moat. It had an eight-storeyed Kalyana Mahal (marriage hall), granaries, prison cells, a military gymnasium and a temple dedicated to its presiding female Hindu deity called Chenjiamman. The fortifications contain a sacred pond known as aanaikulam. The walls of the fort are a mixture of the naturally hilly terrain comprising the Krishnagiri, Chakkilidrug and Rajagiri hills, while the gaps were sealed with the main wall that measures 20 metres in thickness. It was thus an impressive sight where the defender could seal himself indefinitely.

The Gingee Fort complex is situated on three hillocks. In fact all the three hills together constitute a fort complex, yet each hill contains a separate and self contained fort. The first hill, where the main fort is located, is called Rajagiri. Originally it was known as Kamalagiri as well as Anandagiri. The fort here is most impregnable. It is about 800 ft. in height. Its summit is cut off from communication and is surrounded by a deep, natural chasm that is about 10 yards wide and 20 yards deep. To gain entry into the citadel one had to cross the chasm with the help of a small wooden draw bridge which was drawn only after getting a signal from the sentries on the parapets that a friend was approaching.

The naturally strong rock on which the fortress is located is further strengthened by the construction of embrasure walls and gateways along all possible shelves and precipitous edges. It forms the principal fortification. Seven gates have to be traversed before reaching the citadel. This citadel contains many important buildings apart from the living quarters of the royalty, like the stables, granaries, and meeting halls for the public, temples, mosques, shrines and pavilions jostling each other.

The second important hillock with an imposing citadel is known as Krishnagiri. It is also known as the English Mountain, perhaps because the British residents occupied the fort here, for some time. The Krishnagiri Fort lies to the North of Tiruvannamalai road. It is smaller in size and height compared to the Rajagiri fort. A flight of steps of granite pieces carries us to its top.

Another fort connected with Rajagiri with a low rocky ridge is called Chandrayan Durg, Chandragiri or St. George’s Mountain. The military and strategic value of this fort has been relatively lesser, but it has some interesting buildings of later period.

The third fort for some reason is called Chakkiliya Durg. Probably the royal saddlers and military shoemakers had set up their workshops over there, as Gingee obviously was a military encampment. There is also a smaller and less important fourth hill, the summit of which is also well fortified. There is nothing much-left of Chandrayan Durg and Chakkilli Durg. Their flanks are now completely covered with thorny shrubs and stone pieces.

Not many people visit the fort. Hence they are a bit secluded. Needs to take precaution if visiting with family.

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