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Temple Walkthrough

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 2½ 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 A.D.

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 consort.

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.