Tiruvannamalai (Tamil: Tiruvaṇṇāmalai IPA: [ˈtiɾɯʋaɳːaːmalɛi̯], also Thiruvannamalai or Trinomali and Trinomalee[1] during British times) is a town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The town is administered by a special grade municipality that covers an area of 16.33 km2 (6.31 sq mi) and had a population of 144,278 in 2011. It is the administrative headquarters of Tiruvannamalai District.  Roadways are the major mode of transport in Tiruvannamalai, while the town also has rail connectivity. Chennai International Airport is the nearest domestic and international airport to the town.

 

Tiruvannamalai is named after the central deity of the Annamalaiyar Temple, Annamalaiyar. The Karthigai Deepam festival is celebrated during the day of the full moon between November and December, and a huge beacon is lit atop the Annamalai hill. The event is witnessed by three million pilgrims. On the day preceding each full moon, pilgrims circumnavigate the temple base and the Annamalai hills in a worship called Girivalam, a practice carried out by one million pilgrims yearly.

 

Located on the foothills of Annamalai hills, Tiruvannamalai has been ruled by the Pallavas, the Medieval Cholas, the Later Cholas, Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Carnatic kingdom, Tipu Sultan, and the British. It served as the capital city of the Hoysalas. The town is built around the Annamalaiyar Temple like other Nayak capitals. Tiruvannamalai is administered by a special-grade a municipality constituted in 1886. Tiruvannamalai has an average elevation of 200 metres (660 ft) and experiences a hot and humid climate. Being a pilgrimage town, most of the people are employed in the tertiary sector. There are 25 elementary schools, nine high schools, 18 higher secondary schools, four arts & science colleges, one government medical college and four engineering colleges in the town.

 

Etymology and legend

In Hindu mythology, Parvati, wife of Shiva, once closed the eyes of her husband playfully in a flower garden at their abode atop Mount Kailash. Although only a moment for the gods, all light was taken from the universe, and the earth, in turn, was submerged in darkness for years. Parvati performed penance with other devotees of Shiva, and her husband appeared as a column of fire at the top of Annamalai hills, returning light to the world. He then merged with Parvati to form Ardhanarishvara, the half-female, half-male form of Shiva.

 

The Annamalai, or red mountain, lies behind the Annamalaiyar temple, and is associated with the temple of its namesake. The hill is sacred and considered a lingam, or iconic representation of Shiva, in itself. Another legend is that once, while Vishnu and Brahma contested for superiority, Shiva appeared as a flame, and challenged them to find his source. Brahma took the form of a swan, and flew to the sky to see the top of the flame, while Vishnu became the boar Varaha, and sought its base. The scene is called lingothbava, and is represented in the western wall at the sanctum of most Shiva temples. Neither Brahma nor Vishnu could find the source, and while Vishnu conceded his defeat, Brahma lied and said he had found the pinnacle. In punishment, Shiva ordained that Brahma would never have temples on earth in his worship.

 

In Tamil, the word Arunam means red or fire and Asalam means hill. Since Shiva manifested himself in the form of fire in this place, this name Arunachalam came to be associated with Annamalai hill and the town.The first mention of Annamalai is found in Tevaram, the seventh century Tamil Saiva canonical work by Appar and Tirugnanasambandar.

 

Culture

The Annamalaiyar Temple is the most prominent landmark of Tiruvannamalai. The temple complex covers an area of 10 ha (25 acres), and is one of the largest temples in India. It houses four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the eastern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 66 m (217 ft), making it one of the tallest temple towers in India. The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Annamalaiyar and Unnamulai Amman being the most prominent. The temple complex houses many halls; the most notable is the thousand-pillared hall built during the Vijayanagar period.

 

The Annamalaiyar temple is one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalas, or five Shiva temples, with each a manifestation of a natural element: land, water, air, sky or fire. In Annamalaiyar temple, Shiva is said to have manifested himself as a massive column of fire, whose crown and feet could not be found by the Hindu gods, Brahma and Vishnu. Aathara Stala are Shiva temples which are considered to be personifications of the Tantric chakras of human anatomy. The Annamalaiyar temple is called the Manipooraga stalam, and is associated with the Manipooraga chakra. The temple is revered in Tevaram, the Tamil Saiva canon and classified as Paadal Petra Sthalam, one of the 276 temples that find mention in the Saiva canon.

 

The most important festival of the Annamalaiyar temple is celebrated during the Tamil month of Karthikai, between November and December, concluding with the celebration of Karthikai Deepam. A huge lamp is lit in a cauldron, containing three tons of ghee, at the top of the Annamalai hills during the Deepam. To mark the occasion, the festival deity of Annamalaiyar circumambulates the mountain. Inscriptions indicate that the festival was celebrated as early as the Chola period (850–1280) and was expanded to ten days in the twentieth century.

 

Every full moon, tens of thousands of pilgrims worship Annamalaiyar by circumambulating the Annamalai hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a distance of 14 kilometres (8.7 mi), and is referred as Girivalam. According to Hindu legend, the walk removes sins, fulfils desires and helps achieve freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Offerings are made in a string of tanks, shrines, pillared meditation halls, springs and caves around the hill.

Tirumalai is an ancient Jain temple complex in the outskirts of Tirvannamalai that houses three Jain caves, four Jain temples and a 16 feet (4.9 m) high sculpture of Neminatha dated from the 12th century and the tallest Jain image in Tamil Nadu.

 

The Ramana Ashram and ashram of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, located around the Annamalai hill are popular visitor attractions of Tiruvannamalai. The Sathanur Dam over the Thenpennair river located 20 km (12 mi) southwest of the town is a prominent picnic spot. This 786.37 m Dam is 44.81m high and can store 7,321,000,000 cu ft or 207,300,000 cubic meters of water. A scenic park is also present adjacent to this dam.  Ulagalantha Perumal Temple in Tirukoyilur and Thiruvarangam, situated 20 km (12 mi) south of Tiruvannamalai are prominent Vishnu temples that are located around Tiruvannamalai.

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