Sambanda Vinayagar Palani Andavar Shrine Swamy Sannathi Mugappu Flag staff

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Arunachaleswarar Temple Outline

Sri Sambanda Vinayagar Shrine
The Sambanda Vinayagar Shrine is located south of the Flagstaff and Bali Peeta. It is told that Vinayagar killed a demon and smeared his body with the demon’s blood—hence this Vinayagar appears red and is thus called Sennira Vinayagar (Red Vinayagar). The large idol, which is in sitting pose, is considered to be one of the biggest images of Ganapati in Tamil Nadu.

Sri Sambanda Vinayagar Shrine

At this place can be found an inscription dated 1340 A.D. of the region of Veera Vallala Deva. From this epigraphy we learn that one Sambandan lived in Tiruvannamalai and was President of a popular Mutt. It was he that built the shrine for Vinayagar; hence it is called Sambandan Vinayagar.

Sri Sambanda Vinayagar Shrine 1913

The above photograph of 1913 shows the Vinayagar Shrine separate from the Central Shrine. In this photograph the Kodi Kampathu Nandi (3rd Temple Nandi) was in its own mandapam with Vimana. Subsequently this outside area was remodelled and covered with roofing.

Dhwaja Stambh (Flagstaff)
Next to the Dhwaja Stambh is a large sacrificial altar (Bali Peeta) and Kodi Kampathu Nandi (third Nandi of the Temple from east to west) facing the Garbagriha.  This Nandi no longer is set in its own Mandapam with Vimana.

Kodi Kampathu Nandi

The Dhwaja Stambh which is fashioned in teak and covered with gold was installed at this Shrine in time for the 2002 Arunachaleswarar Mahakumbhabhiskeham. To read about that function go to this link here.

Flagstaff and Balipeetam

The Dhwajastamba was originally erected by Krishnadevaraya, but it is now difficult to say when (or even whether) it was replaced as it does not tally with the description given in Krishnadevaraya’s inscription.

A small Gopuram called the “Rishi Gopura” is situated next to the flagstaff. This Gopura was originally the gateway to the Temple at an earlier time. In a niche in the wall of the entrance on one side is a small image of Lord Ganesha and on the other side an image of Lord Subramanya.  Nearby is a large statue of Adikara Nandi and those of the Dwarapalakas (Temple gatekeepers).

Subramanya Shrine

Right to the Flagstaff at the entrance to the second prakaram is a shrine dedicated to Lord Subramanya. This shrine is also supposed to have been built around the same time as the Sri Sambanda Vinayagar Shrine i.e. the 13th century. 


Saint Sivaprakasa Swamigal in his Thiruveedhi Ula has called Arunachaleswarar Temple a poem wrought by seers. This great Arunachaleswarar Temple is spread over 25 acres and has like all other Temples, garbagrihas, maha mandapams, prakarams, Gopurams and sacred tanks.

The Siva Temple is the outcome of a millennium of building and extension. The original enclosure containing the main shrine was enlarged eastwards, and gained the name of "second enclosure". What is now known, as the "first enclosure" is in fact the platform around the shrine. This is a theoretical enclosure for ritual purpose, the enclosure being considered as the inner circle of Siva's Divine Court, where the sub-shrine of Chandikeshvara (one who maintains accounts), receives the leftovers from Siva's puja, is located.

The second enclosure, originally without a roof but covered in the nineteenth century, is entered through a gateway know as the Rishi Gopura. It is believed that the entrance used to be on the southern side, but the Nattukottai Chettiars (renowned religious philanthropists) raised a wall of the prakaram and covered it with stone roofing and shifted the entrance from the southern side to the eastern side in line with other entrances. Around the perimeter of this prakaram there are several details, either free-standing or in small shrines.

Entering the second prakaram one crosses a threshold with two large doors, on other side of which are two large bells which are rung during the time of arati. Walking around this prakaram are a large number of idols. Some of these Shrine and images are not original—for rich Temples frequently undergo renovations. Thus the original tenth-century “Seven Mothers” have been replaced by more modern representations; and Jyeshtha, the Goddess of misfortune, also an ancient statue, now stands near a shop in the town of Tiruvannamalai, ousted from the Temple in favour of Gajalakshmi, as has happened in many other Temples in Tamil Nadu.

The statues currently in the second prakaram of Arunachaleswarar Temple include; Asta Lingas (similar to those on the girivalam roadway), the four great Nalwars: Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manikkavacakar, the four sons of Brahma, the 63 Nayanars (Saivite saints), an idol of Ayappan and the Sthala Vinayagar which was erected by Sembiyan Mahadevi the Queen of Kandaraitha Chola and dates from the 10th Century. Before functions and Festivals celebrated at Arunachaleswarar Temple, puja is first done to this aspect of Lord Ganesha.

Next to the Sthala Vinayagar at the back of the prakaram, are the Periyaudar Uttsavars, Ardhanarishvara, Venugopal Shrine, Lingams, Gajalakshmi and Lord Murugan with Valli. There is an interesting story attached to the Venugopal Shrine. It seems the statues of Krishna and His two wives was originally in a small Vaisnava Village of Agraharam near Samudram Eri located some two miles south of Arunachaleswarar Temple. Legend has it that the people of Agraharam, during certain festivals, carried the Utsava Moorthies from their village Shrine to Tirukoilur (a Vaisnava centre with a large Vishnu temple), about 20 miles away.

The Vaisnava inhabitants of Agraharam were very devoted to their Vaisnava God and whenever Saiva idols from Arunachaleswarar Temple passed during circumambulation of Arunachala, the incensed Vaisnava villagers would attack the procession. Repeated complaints of this disturbance were made to the King (probably Kulottunga I). It is said that the King himself visited the area to satisfy himself of the complaint. 

Once satisfied of the situation, the King ordered that during a particular festival all the villagers should go in procession to Tirukoilur. When they had gone, he had the images of Venugopal and his Devis removed from the Village Shrine, brought to Arunachaleswarar Temple and thereupon installed at the back of the Siva Sannidhi.

On the Northern verandah are the Utsava-Murthis of the 63 Saiva saints, a shrine of Bhairava (aspect of Siva) and the Vaikunta Vail.

Vaikunta Vail
The doorway known as the Vaikunta Vail, (the Gates of Heaven) opens to the third prakaram and opposite to the Devi’s Shrine. Vaikunta Ekadasi (Ekadasi is synonymous with fasting and abstinence) is an auspicious day dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It occurs in the month of Margashirsha (between December and January). In Tamil Nadu the festival is known as Mukkoti Ekadasi or Sorgavasal Thirappu.

On this day, the Vaikunta Dwaram or the Swarga Vaasal, ‘The Gates of Heaven’ are believed to be kept open. The area encircling the Arunachaleswarar Sanctum is referred to as Swarga Vaasal and devotees throng to gain entry into the Temple, to seek the Lord. To find out the significance of Vaikunta Vail at Arunachaleswarar Temple go to this link here.

Vaikunta Vail

Adjacent to this doorway is the retiring room for Sri Arunachala and every night a ceremony of taking the Lord to that room for rest is observed. To read a narrative about this ceremony go to this link here.

Next to the doorway is the tank that supplies water for worship in the Central Shrine and thereafter a Nataraja Shrine, where the image of the Dancing Lord is made of brass. It is said that below the site where Nataraja is installed, an underground cellar was found from which many valuable articles were recovered and handed over to Temple authorities. There is a similar story of a cellar in the Kili Gopura from which jewellery was recovered and given to the Temple.


The first prakaram encloses the Sanctum Sanctorum, Ardha Mandapam and the Maha Mandapam.


The Central shrine is enclosed by a high wall right round. The eastern third is an extension built later than the western two-thirds of the wall. There are many inscriptions on the wall. The western two-thirds of the wall 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 one passes through on the 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, a 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 may have been added by Vena Odeyan in 1230 A.D.

On entering the quadrangle, which is covered by a stone roofing there is a Bali Peeta and a Nandi. This fourth Nandi is known as Ratha Vilaku Nandi and is smaller than the previous three.
Ratha Vilaku Nandi

In front of the fourth Nandi (Ratha Vilaku Nandi), on a raised platform, are the Maha Mandapam 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.

Maha Mandapam
This is also known as the Eastern Great Hall. In front of the central shrine and over the steps is a platform. The central shrine itself consists of a large and a small room. The large room, which is the eastern portion, is called the Maha Mandapam. 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.

Surya is installed in the north-eastern direction facing Arunachala. It is thought that the reason that Lord Surya is positioned so close to the Central Shrine at Arunachaleswarar Temple is because during Karthigai Deepam, Surya as representative of the Sun and Light, has a particular connection with the mythology of the Festival. To find out more about the connection with Surya to Arunachala go to this link here.

In the centre of this mandapam is the Pradosha Nandi, the first Nandi of the Temple – as is so with the other four Nandis, abhishekam is performed to Pradosha Nandi during bi-monthly Pradoshams. 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 is believed to have been built quite recently by the Chettiars. The thick lime-wash in many places has obliterated inscriptions. 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 and on the right there is a figure of a clean-shaven man.

The first prakaram goes all around the inner shrine. On the outside wall of the inner shrine there are the following murtis: Ganapati and Dakshinamurti to the south, Lingodbhavamurti in the west with Brahma and Durga in the north. To read about the Lingodbhavamurti abhishekam performed during Mahasivaratri, go to this link here.

After Goddess Durga, there is a small shrine dedicated to Chandikeswara. The statue dates from the mid 19th Century. There are two Dwarapalakas (Celestial Gate Keepers) guarding entrance to the Central Shrine – they have matted hear, wear crowns and carry dandham sticks as weapons.

The main shrine, made up of a cella and a vestibule, bears tenth-century inscriptions on its base, but above there has been extensive remodelling. The Sanctum Sanctorum or Garbhagriha has only one door to the east, opposite the door of the Mahamantap. These two structures are estimated to be over 1350 years old. On entering the Garbhagriha one finds it has two divisions, the eastern portion is for accommodating devotees to perform Puja 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.

In the ante chamber of the Lord, there is to the left Vallabha Ganapathy and next a small silver canopy covering the Chakra of Annamalaiyar—a representation of Mount Meru made out of the five precious metals (panchalohas) with an imprint of Lord Siva’s footprints on top. It is this Chakra that is taken to the retiring Chamber at night to meet with Goddess Ambal Iccha Shakti who arrives from the Inner Shrine of Unnamulai Amman where she is permanently housed during the daytime.

The Shrine of Arunachala marks the centre of the Temple. It is square and access is from the east. At the centre the Annamalaiyar Lingam is enthroned on a circular platform (Aavudayaar). The bottom portion of the Linga where it meets the Aavudayaar is encircled by a gold band.

There is a small aberration on the Lingam, which has an origin connected to its original discovery. This aberration is in the form of a slight depression believed to be due from contact with a utensil such as a pick-axe when the Lingam was originally unearthed. As a result of centuries of abhishekams performed on the Linga, the Linga appears different in this spot than elsewhere.

Renovation and Gilding of the Temple
Renovation work was done in the Garbagriha by Aditya Chola III in 750 A.D. and Parandkaka Chola I in the 10th Century A.D. In 1216 during the reign of a Banachief  named  Ponparapinan Magadesan (also known as Vanakovaraiyan), the central Shrine of the Arunachaleswarar Temple was gilded. The chieftain also gave three villages to the Temple, and donated 96 cows and 3 bulls for the purpose of burning three perpetual lamps (Nanda Villakku) to the Lord.