To the east of the Raja Gopura is the Alankara Mandapam meant for darshan of the Panchamoorties during processions.
By the side of the Raja Gopura is an entrance known as the Thittivasal
which is used as an departure and access point for the deities during
Festivals. The Murtis are taken to represent sukshma sarira (i.e. the
subtle body) and therefore are not taken through the Eastern Gopura as
that represents the sthoola sarira (i.e. the gross body). In earlier
times the Thittivasal was also used by royalty and important personages.
The main entrance to Arunachaleswarar Temple is via the east entrance
Raja Gopura. The Gopura built by Krishna Deva Raya in 1516 A.D. is 11
stories in height (217 feet) and is the tallest Gopura in this Temple.
The Gopura’s base is 135 x 98 feet. On the northern wall of the
entrance there are two figures. The upper one is believed to represent
the King Krishna Deva Raya. In the Temple to the left of the main
Gopura, is the Gopura Ganapati.
Inside the first quadrangle, on the right is the 1000 pillar mandapam
built by King Krishna Deva Raya. In the southwest corner of this hall is
the Pathala Lingam in a small underground shrine. There is an extension
to the 1000 pillar mandapam, which is now used for storage of vahanas
and is known as the Vahana Mandapam.
Opposite the 1000 pillar mandapam there is a Shrine built by Vena
Odeyan. This shrine is called Kambathu Ilayanar and Lord Subramanya is
carved on its north-eastern pillar. It was probably built in 1421 A.D.,
by Proudha Deva Raya or Deva Raya II of Vijayanar to commemorate the
vision of King Deva Raya of Lord Subramanya emerging out of the pillar
which occurred when Saint Arunagirinathar sang in praise of Subramanya
at that place. It is believed that Saint Arunagirinathar was responsible
for this construction.
A hall runs as an extension of this shrine and is called Valaikappu Mandapam where Ambal is worshipped once a year.
To the south of this shrine is a tank, repaired and renamed in 1902 A.D.
as the Sivaganga Tank by the Natukottai Chettiars. On the walls
surrounding this tank are seen two figures of helmeted soldiers in
uniform with dogs at their feet. This tank was originally dug by King
Krishna Deva Raya in 1516 A.D., and was intended for Theppotsavam. He
named it ‘Vasanta Kolam’ and to get water to it (it is said in his
epigraph), he dug Tirumalai Devi Amman Samudram and connected it to the
former with an underground conduit. Sivaganga Theertham has stone steps
and Thirumalapathi Mantaps on all four sides.
On the southwest of this tank are a number of Illupu trees and the
Thirthavari Mandapam is near it. South of these trees, behind the
Kambathu Ilaynar there is a small shrine for Lord Ganesha. It is said
that on that spot stood a big Peepal tree and this was cut down to make
room for the shrine. Farther up and in front of the second Gopura
(called the Ballala Gopura) is a large Nandi in a mandapam. This was
installed by King Deva Raya II and on the pillars of the mandapam are
statuettes of that King and his Queen. This Nandi has round it a
framework of iron on which are arranged lamps which when lighted form
the outline of a Lingam.
In front of the Nandi there is a flight of steps leading to the
five-storey Ballala Gopura. Facing the Gopura, on the right is the
Gopurathu Ilayanar Shrine (also known as the Arunagirinathar Mandapam)
and on the left is the shrine of Kalyana Sundareswarar Sannidhi. Both
these shrines must have been extended by Deva Raya II around the year
1421 A.D. The Vijayaganar insignia, the ‘Boar and Dagger’ is seen on one
of the extensions at its junction with the Gopura. His statuette is
seen on the south wall of the shrine and also in many places, on the
basement of the Sundareswarar Shrine.
In the Subramanya Shrine there is a statue of Saint Arunagirinathar
which was installed quite recently. In the passage of the Ballala
Gopura, on the south wall high up in a nice, is a small statue of King
Ballala about 2˝ feet high.
From this Gopura extends the second enclosure walls to form the second
quadrangle. The Gopura and their enclosure walls appear to have been
built and completed by King Ballala just before he came to reside in
this town for three years from 1328 to 1331 A.D. There is a local story
which says that when the Gopura was completed and when King Ballala came
to see it, he was informed of the cost of construction. When he heard
about it, he seems to have exclaimed, “What did it cost so much as
that?” This story shows that King Ballala was alive when the Gopura and
the enclosure walls were completed.
On the southern wall of the second enclosure are panels on which are
figures of a fish and two men seated on a bench. One man is touching the
crown the other man is wearing. There is an additional figure of a
dasi (servant girl) with chamar (whisk) in her hand. These panels show
that the walls and the connected Kattai (small) Gopuras were built by a
Pandya Feudatory whose crown was restored by King Ballala or his
representative after defeating him. The other insignia seen on these
walls are: Ganda-bherunda, the Hoysala insignia, and the Tiger, the
Chola insignia. On the cornice of the Ballala Gopura the Hoysala and the
Chola insignias are seen. From this it can be determined that the
Gopuras and enclosure walls were built by Chola, Pandya and the Western
Chalukya Feudatories along with the Hoysalas.
On entering the second quadrangle, one sees a tank on the left, now
called Brahma Theertha and a Bhairava Shrine next to the Gopura. This
tank was originally dug by Vena Odeyan, son of Perunjinga, about the
year of 1230 A.D. It was then called Perumal Thatakam and around it was a
large flower garden. To the north Vena Odeyan built the Perumal
Mandapam now called Puravi Mandapam. To the southeast of that garden he
built another mandapam presently known as the Thithavari Mandapam. (The
second enclosure walls came to be built a century after the construction
of the tank and the Thirthavari Mandapam, and this mandapam is now
outside the second enclosure). In the mandapam, which forms a part of
Puravi, there are two pillars with a statuette on each, facing North.
These statuettes represent perhaps Vena Odeyan and his father
Perunjinga. On the ceiling of this mandapam are fresco paintings,
depicting stories from the Ramayana. The pillars inside the Puravi hall
have very fine carvings on them, and those on the platform contain
statuettes of Vena Odeyan, his father and his two brothers.
The Perumal Mandapam must have been used for the Utsava Moortis of
Venugopal and his Devis during certain festivals. Opposite the Puravi,
and by the side of the tank is another small mandapam. This perhaps is
the Mani Mandapam built by Thandava Venan (Thandavan) in 1572 A.D.
To the West of Brahma Theertham, there are four shrines, one for Siva
who fought an elephant, one for Ganesha and one for Vidyeshwara Linga.
Another contains a Brahma Linga, a Linga on which are carved four
beautiful human faces, each facing a cardinal point. These four faces
represent Fire, Air, Earth and Water. Their Linga is Pancha Mukhi or
five faced; the fifth face is Akasha or Ether and this is represented by
the top or dome of the Linga.
From here to the extreme south-west corner of the prakara (or
quadrangle) we see the Amavasya Mandapam, a small shrine for Paduka or
footprints, a shrine and mandapam for Karthikeya. Who built these are is
not know but they are believed to be modern and built with material
from mandapams that had fallen down.
Proceeding towards the third eastern Gopura, one reaches the Kili
Gopura. In front of this Gopura there is the second Nandi. This was
installed by King Ballala. Both his figure and the Ganda-bherunda sign
are found on this structure. The six-storey Kili Gopura is beautiful
with its stucco-work. There is a flight of steps leading into the
Gopura. On the right are shrines for Bhairava and Subrahmanya. On
reaching the entrance, on the left, is a panel containing two figures,
and these seem to represent Bhaskaramantri and his wife. An inscription
records that he built the Gopura.
The Kili Gopura was built by Veera Rajendra Chola around 1053 A.D. He is
referred to as Maharaja Tribuvana Chakravarthigal. This Gopura forms
the third entrance and the enclosure walls (departing from it) form the
boundaries of the third quadrangle. There are no additional Gopuras in
these walls, but in the western wall there is an opening into the
quadrangle. The Kili Gopura seems to have been built in the 11th century
When the courtyard is reached the first thing seen is a mandapam. This
was built by Mangayakkarasi and her brother in 1202 A.D. During the
Karthigai Festival the image of Sri Arunachala and those of other
deities are placed in this mandapam to witness the Deepam Light on the
top of the Hill. On the right of the Mandapam and the Gopura are four
shrines; Chidambareswarar Shrine, Kalatheeswarar Shrine, Ekambareswarar
Shrine, Jalakandeswarar Shrine and the Pidari Shrine.
The architecture of the Chidambareshwar shrine appears older than that
of the others and it must have been built in the 9th century. Whereas,
the other three Shrines appear to have been built in the 10th century
A.D. On the back of the Ekambareshwar shrine there is a beautiful
representation of Lingodhava or Adimudi.
In front of the Pidari shrine, which faces North, there is a stone
trident and two Bali peethas or sacrificial altars. Inside the Pidari
shrine are found Ganesha, Sapta Kanyas or seven ‘Matris’ and a severed
head of a Goddess with a crown. This severed head represents ‘Renuka’
the Goddess worshipped at Padaiveedu, a town about 30 miles from
Tiruvannamalai. Renuka represents the ‘Formidable’ the ‘Fearful’ aspect
of Kali, the consort of Siva.
To the west of the Pidari is the Kolu Mandapam, built by Vena Odeyan in
1230 A.D. To the left of the Kili Gopura is a Mandapam which probably
was built by Sevvappa Nayak—next to it is the kitchen.
In front of the kitchen and some distance away from it, is the Sthala
Vriksha, or Temple tree, of the species Mimosops Elengi (Magadam Pu in
Tamil). There are three such trees, and one of these may be about a
couple of centuries old. Between these three and the wall of the fourth
enclosure there are about four stones in the pavement with inscriptions
on them. One among them bears on it the insignia of the Vijaynagar
kingdom, via., Boar and Dagger. These stones may have found their way
here during the extensive repairs funded by the Nattukottai.
On the wall opposite, about 10 feet from the ground, there is a panel
containing the statuette of a Thambiran; other panels in a line depict
the occasion of the Thambiran reviving the dead horse of the then Chola
king, which evidently died of snake bite. The snake is also shown in the
panel. Below these there is another statuette, in a niche, and it may
be the representation of the disciple of Thambiran.
In those days Thambirans managed the Temple properties. The tomb of the
first Thambiran, Devasignamony, is found near Kinnathur two miles east
of Arunachaleswarar Temple and is called Gurumurtam. This tomb has a
garden adjacent to it. The Thambirans had their original Mutt in this
town and the one that is represented on the wall referred to, was a
contemporary of King Manuneethi Chola at Thiruvarur. It would appear
therefore, that this king was Uttama Chola, as his name suggests. He
ruled from 969 to 983 A.D.
On the southern and western side of the quadrangle, there are verandahs
and balconies on top evidently for seating people to witness the
festivals held in the quadrangle below. In the southwest corner of this
quadrangle is the Makara-sankranti mantap built by Krishna Deva Raya and
in this is found Bhimeswara Linga. This building was renovated by the
Chettiars and renamed Kalyana Mandapam. In the west, opposite the
entrance in the enclosure wall, is a mantap or seat dedicated to
Arunagiri Yogi, who is represented by a figure on a stone slap facing
east. This seat is dedicated to the Siddha Purusha on Arunachala Hill.
Tradition has it that from underneath this seat, there is an underground
passage leading to the other side of the Arunachala Hill, where Adi
Annamalai Temple exists.
Continuing clockwise one comes passed the southern wall of Unnamulai
Devi Amma’s Shrine. On this wall, about 12 feet from the ground, is a
panel on which is carved the Ganda-bherunda insignia and by its side
stands a man with folded hands in supplication. The Devi temple and the
mandapam in front of it are quite modern, remodelled by the Chettiars in
the last century. It seems the Devi’s temple was on a lower level than
that of the Siva temple and there existed a flight of steps leading down
into the shrine. Now the shrine is on the same level as that of the
other shrines. Inside this shrine, is a colonnade of carved pillars and
the prakara is covered with stone roofing. The image of the Devi is
believed to originate from the 11th century. When the whole of this
shrine was remodelled, many stones bearing inscriptions were lost. There
are no epigraphs anywhere in this shrine nor in the new mandapam in
front of it.
The Devi’s shrine is said to have been built by Kulottunga I, who was a
staunch Saiva king. In the mandapam in front of the Devi’s shrine is the
Navagraha mantap which is held in great veneration by devotees, who
light lamps to it and go round the mantap to propitiate the evil
influence of planets. To the east of the Devi’s shrine and facing it are
the Yaga Sala and a shrine for Kalatheshwar. In this quadrangle we find
four shrines to represent the five elements viz; Chidambareshwar for
Akash (Ether), Kalatheshwar for Vayu (Air), Jambukeshwar for Water;
Ekamabareshwar representing Earth and the fifth representation of the
elements is our own Arunachaleswar, as Fire.
We now face the front of the main shrine of Siva. In front of it there
is a bali-peetah, a Dhwajastamba and a Nandi. The Dhwajastamba was
originally erected by Krishna Deva Raya, but it is now difficult to say
whether it has been replaced since or not as it does not tally with the
description given in Krishna Deva Raya’s inscription. To our left is a
beautiful edifice for Ganesha. This red Ganesh is very large and the
shrine over him must have been built or remodelled in the 13th century.
To our right is another shrine and it is for Subramanya which is
supposed to have been built at around the same time.
The Central shrine is enclosed by the fourth enclosure, a high wall
right round. It has on it many inscriptions. If we examine this wall
from the outside, we find that the eastern third is an extension built
later than the western two-thirds. The western two-thirds may have been
built in the later half of the 9th century by Aditya I or early in the
10th century by Parantaka I. The eastern extension was perhaps built by
Uttama Chola. The second door which we have to pass through on our way
to the interior, is referred to as the Uttama Chola door. The first door
and the Gopura on top of it is referred to as Vena Odeyan’s door and
Gopura. On the left of the second door, there is a panel containing
figures representing King Uttama Chola and his Queen. On the door frame,
is a figure of the Thambiran, the contemporary of Uttama Chola. This
and the second door is believed to have been built in the second half of
the 10th century A.D. The first door and the small Gopura on top must
have been added by Vena Odeyan in 1230 A.D.
On entering the quadrangle, which is covered by stone roofing there is a
bali peetah and a Nandi. This is the fourth Nandi and is smaller than
the previous three. In front of the fourth Nandi, on a raised platform,
are the Mahamantap and the central shrine. The platform is wide enough
around the shrine for circumambulation. Along the walls of the enclosure
there is a raised verandah all round. The roof is supported by
colonnades of stone pillars in two rows. The pathway between these two
raised portions is also for circumambulating the central shrine. On the
south verandah there are 63 stone images of Saiva saints, Lingas and
Ganesha. On the west is a shrine for the Utsava Murthis of Siva and his
Next to the Venugopal shrine, in the north-west corner there is the
Karthikeya Shrine. On the Northern verandah are found Utsava-Murthis of
the Saiva saints, and a shrine of Bhairava (an aspect of Siva). Adjacent
to this is the retiring room for Sri Arunachala and every night the
ceremony of taking him to that room for rest is observed. Then comes a
doorway which opens in the third quadrangle and to the Devi’s Shrine.
Next to the doorway is the shrine for Nataraja and this beautiful image
is of brass. It is said that below the site, where Nataraja is
installed, there was an underground cellar from which some valuable
articles were recovered and handed over to the temple authorities. There
is a similar story of a cellar in the Kili Gopura from which some
jewellery was recovered and given to the temple.
In front of the central shrine and over the steps is a platform which
forms the fifth round around the central shrine. The central shrine
itself consists of a large and a small room. The large room, which is
the eastern portion, is called the Mahamantap. It has two doors, one on
the east, the other in the west. The western door opens into a passage
running from north to south, which separates this room from the Sanctum
Sanctorum. The Sanctum Sanctorum or Garbhagriha has only one door to the
east, opposite the door of the Mahamantap. These two structures must be
over 1100 years old.
On the base of the Garbhagriha are found epigraphs of Vijayalaya and
Parantaka I; but the base of the Mahamantap is completely hidden by the
platform which must have been built quite recently by the Chettiars. The
thick lime-wash in many places has obliterated inscriptions. On
entering the Mahamantap from the eastern door, a small Nandi called the
Pradosha Nandi is seen. This is the fifth and the smallest of the five
Nandis. In this hall there are some inscriptions on the walls. In the
passage, between this hall and the Garbhagriha on the western wall of
the Mahamantap; on the left is the figure of a man with a beard, on the
right there is a figure of a clean-shaven man.
On the south wall of the Garbhagriha are statuettes of Ganesha and
Dakshinamurti. On the west wall is the representation of Lingodbhava. On
the north wall, Parvati and Trimurtis are represented. On entering the
Garbhagriha one find it has two divisions, the eastern portion is for
accommodating devotees who go there to perform Pooja through the agency
of Gurukals while the western hall contains the Lingam representing
‘Aroopa Nishkala Arunachala.’ This ancient Lingam has been worshipped by
devotees for over 2000 years.