|In Tiruvannamalai where the Siva Temple is omnipresent and all-powerful
there are also a large number of Temples dedicated to the Goddess and
Ganapati. These are street shrines and community Temples, all of which
relate to the great Siva Temple. During Festivals the processions from
these Shrines proceed through the mada veedhis surrounding the great
Temple and abhishekam of the idols take place, depending on the location
of the Temple, either at Isanya Teertham to the north or Agni Teertham
to the south.
Structure of Arunachaleswarar Temple
The Temple has five enclosures (courtyards) and except for the first and
second, each enclosure is separated from one another by a wall. These
enclosures are called prakarams which may be open to the sky or covered
with plain or carved stone slabs.
Prakarams are compared to the body sheaths: annamaya, pranamaya,
manomaya, vijnanmaya and anandamaya kosas. In respect of
Arunachaleswarar Temple, the mada veedhis (4 streets around the outside
of the Temple perimeter walls) represent the annamaya kosa, the three
open courts one inside the other represent manomaya kosa, pranamaya kosa
and vijnanamaya kosa; and the closed court represents the anandamaya
According to tradition, enclosures are numbered from the centre. At
Arunachaleswarar Temple, Priests and Temple authorities call the
platform that is contiguous with the central shrine to be the first
Prakaram. Thus at Tiruvannamalai there are five major 'Prakarams' (i.e.
corridors) around the central structure with a high wall running on all
four sides at the edge of the outer 'Prakarams'. The sixth Prakaram is
regarded as the mada veddhis (perimeter Temple streets). These mada
veddhis are: Car Street (east), Thiruvoodal Street (south), Pey Gopura
Street (west), and Big Street (north). The seventh Prakaram is regarded
as the 14 km girivalam roadway that circumscribes Arunachala.
It is believed that one aspect of the Temple which has determined the
physical form of the town was the later construction of the fourth and
fifth prakarams. These extensions caused the relocation of residences,
especially of gurukkal priests and those serving at the Temple, who
would usually live around the Kovil in the square formed by its four
car-streets (i.e. mada veddhis).
At Tiruvannamalai Pey Gopuram Street (west of the Temple) has few houses
because the mountain slopes upward almost immediately. Thus until
recent times, most of the gurukkal Brahmin residences near the Temple
were those on Big Street. As for the streets east and south of the
Temple, they follow main regional highways and are thus crowded with
shops and pilgrim accommodation. For these reasons Brahmins serving at
the Temple were often located far from it, almost at the old town
limits, around the Ayyankulam and Indra Teerthams.
Vimanas should not to be confused with the elaborate gateway-towers of
Gopurams, which are perhaps the most prominent features of South Indian
Vimana is a term for the towers above the Garbhagriha (Sanctum
Sanctorum) in a Hindu Temple. A typical Hindu Temple of Dravidian style
may have many Gopurams which are usually constructed into multiple walls
in tiers around the main shrine. The Temple's walls are typically
square with the outermost wall having four Gopurams, one at each side
situated exactly in the centre of each wall. The Garbhagriha and its
towering roof (the central deity's shrine) are also called the Vimana.
Generally, these do not assume as much significance as the outer
Gopurams, with the exception of a few Temples where the Sanctum
Sanctorum's roofs are as famous as the Temple complex itself. The
structure of the Vimana are generally believed to be the docking zone
for celestial vehicles in which gods travel.
During the Kumbhabhishekham ceremony at Temples; Divine Power is
transferred back to the deities by performing abhishekam (salutary
bathing) to the Vigrahas and Vimanas (pinnacles) on the roof with
sanctified holy waters—this is accompanied by Vedic chanting and special
rites. On the final day at the designated auspicious time, the Kumbha
is bathed with charged and sanctified holy waters—thereupon consecrated
and sanctified pranic powers trickle down a silver wire and enter the
Deity installed inside the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple.
Specifically at Arunachaleswarar Temple, these smaller towers known as
Vimanas are found over certain shrines in the various prakarams. In the
first prakaram, the Garbagriha is surmounted by a tower constructed with
painted brick masonry, which consists of 2 false-storeys. This is,
therefore, a shrine-tower on three levels; the first corresponds to the
height of the walls of the ground floor and the 2 others to the 2
The three photographs below are of Vimanas over Central Shrine of the 1st and 2nd Prakarams.
Annamalaiyar Vimana, Centre
West side of second and first Prakaram
North east of 2nd prakaram
List of Vimananas over the Central Shrines are:
1. Arunachala Garbhagriha
2. Amman Garbhagriha
3. Palli Arai (sleeping chamber)
4. Sambandha Vinayaka (left side flagpost)
5. Pazhani Andavar (right side flagpost)
6. Natarajar (right side entrance 2nd prakara)
7. Somaskandar (northwest corner 2nd prakara)
8. Venugopala Swami
9. Arumukha Swami
Alankara Mandapam and Gopurams
To the east of the Raja Gopura is a small mandapam meant for darshan of
the Panchamoorties during processions. A fire on July 11, 1996 burnt the
previous Mandapam to the ground. The current Mandapam built at an
estimated cost of 107 lakhs was part of major restoration work of the
Temple completed in time for the Arunachaleswarar Maha Kumbhabhiskeham
of February 27, 2002.
This current mandapam which is used for darshan of the Panchamoorties
during festivals, rises 31 feet at the Central Eastern Pinnacle and 22
feet on the North and South sides and consists of 20 Anivoti Stone
pillars and 24 Chittrakanda Stone Pillars as well as 44 stone Bothials
and cut stone flooring. Although this current mandapam consists of 44
pillars it continues to be known as the 16 pillar mandapam (pathinaru).
Alankara Mandapam side view
Raja Gopura with previous Mandapam, 1930’s
The entrance to Arunachaleswarar Temple and courtyard at the entrance
are exactly aligned to the successive courtyards. It is therefore always
by these axis that one penetrates inside an enclosure.
Temple with all 9 Gopurams
There are four big Gopurams on the Temple’s outer boundary; Raja Gopura
(East), Pey Gopura (West), Thiru Manjana Gopura (South) and Ammani Amman
Gopura (North). Historians say that the western Gopura is the oldest.
Its base was built by Vallala Mahara III but the top belongs to a later
style. Inscriptions attributed this to Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar.
It is said that this King also built the base of the other three
Gopurams. However examination suggests that the base of the Western
Gopura was constructed first and then followed construction of the
South, East and North Gopurams.
In addition to the four large Gopurams on the outside wall, there are
also three small Gopurams on the inner boundary in the directions of
south, west and north—known as Kattai (smaller) Gopurams. Additionally
there are two separate Gopurams at the east namely, Vallala Gopura and
The outermost North and South walls of the Fifth Prakaram are 1479 feet
and 1590 feet respectively and the Eastern and Western walls of the same
Prakaram are each 700 feet long. Surrounding the Fifth Prakaram stand
huge stone walls which rise to a height of about 30 feet. They are thick
and strong and connect all four outer Gopurams.
The main entrance to Arunachaleswarar Temple is via the east gate i.e.
the Raja Gopura. The Gopura was built by Krishnadevaraya in 1516 A.D.,
and completed by the King of Tanjore, Sevappa Naicken in 1590. The Raja
Gopura is 11 stories in height (217 feet) and is the tallest Gopura in
this Temple. The Gopura of the Tanjore Temple built by Chola Rajaraja is
216 feet in height and it is believed that King Krishnadevaraya
intentionally built the Raja Gopura at Arunachaleswarar Temple one foot
higher so as to eclipse the big tower in Tanjore Temple. The Raja Gopura
provides the main entrance to Arunachaleswarar Temple.
On the northern wall of the entrance there are two figures. The upper one is believed to represent King Krishnadevaraya.
King Krishnadevaraya in niche Raja Gopuram
In the Temple to the left of the main Gopura, is also a statue of the Gopura Ganapati.
The Raja Gopura’s base is 135 x 98 feet and believed to be later than
the southern base of Thirumanjana Gopura. The spire is said to have been
completed by Sevappa Nayak of Tanjore about 1690 A.D. Although the
spire seems to have little pilaster, only a small amount of brick work
is actually exposed.
8 Gopurams from top storey of the ninth - Raja Gopuram
The southern tower of the outermost court is the Thirumanjana Gopura. It
has nine storeys and is 157 feet in height. The meaning of Thirumanjana
is “holy water for bathing a deity”. In this respect each day in the
early morning, holy water is brought through this Gopura and poured on
the ground near the flagpost.
Thirumanjana Gopura left, Kattai South to right
The base of the Thirumanjana Gopura is later than that of the Pey Gopura
(West Gopura). It also differs from the Western Gopura in that it has a
“yali” above the frontal lotus projection of the corbel clusters of its
upper course, more prominent lotus centres and wider niches. The
Thirumanjana Gopura is the most modern of all the four Temple Gopurams
because of the heaviness of the plastering and changes introduced during
an earlier restoration of its pilaster—which indicates that it is in
fact probably older than both Pey and Ammani Amman Gopuram spires.
One belief is that name of this Gopura is a corruption of Melgopura
(i.e. West Tower). However others speculate that the name of the Gopura
i.e. Pey (demon, ghost) has occurred not by mistake or
misrepresentation. That in fact the Tower’s name is significant in that
it represents the wild, uncultivated aspects of the Mountain’s west side
as opposed to the cultivated area.
The Pey Gopura has seven storeys and is 144 feet in height. According to
an inscription dated 1388 A.D., the base of the tower was constructed
by King Ballala III and the spire around 1516 A.D., by King
Krishnadevaraya. Previously this tower used to be called the Periya
Gopura (big tower) before the later and larger Gopurams were built—but
as years passed, the original name got corrupted into Pey Gopuram (i.e.
Right Pey Gopura, Kattai West to left
Its base is similar to that of the Raja Gopura on the east. The bases of
all the four outer Gopurams are ascribed to Krishnadevaraya. All the
niches of this base are narrow and empty. The spire is said to have been
built in 1740 A.D. The Dvarapalakas are taller than the windows they
stand beside and are present on each storey from bottom to top.
Ammani Amman Gopura
The northern Gopura known as the Ammani Amman Gopura
has nine storeys and is 171 feet in height. The base of this Gopura is
believed to be later than that of the Raja Gopura to the east.
Ammani Amman right, Kattai North to left
It is the spire that is attributed to Ammani Amman and the date is
approximately around 1810 A.D. There is a mutt in her name on northern
Orravadai street and a statue of her installed nearby. Her samadhi is
located next to the Isanya Mutt in another part of town.