Went on a weekend trip to Tiruvannamalai which is located about 185 kms from Chennai. The route we took was Chennai – Tambaram – Melmaruvathur – Tindivanam – Senji (Gingee) – Tiruvannamalai. While traveling on the highway from Chennai to Tindivanam, one has to take a right turn about 4 km before reaching Tindivanam and proceed towards Senji. There are a lot of sign boards and it is difficult to get lost if one is following them properly. We reached Tiruvannamalai in about 3.5 hours (including the time for breakfast).
1. Arunachaleswarar Temple:
It is considered to be one of the most important Shaivite shrines and is located in a huge campus with the Annamalai hill in the backdrop. The temple is beautifully constructed with 9 gopurams. There are 4 gopurams on the external walls, one in each direction. The main Rajagopuram faces the east.
Many greats have worshipped in this temple. Sri Ramana Maharishi did penance in a cave in this temple that houses the pAtALa lingam. Manickavasagar and Arunagirinathar worshipped here. Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar sang “aruNAcalanAtham” in sArangA on the Lord of this temple. rA refers to agni and there is a lot of usage of “rA” throughout this song as this kshetram is linked to agni, one of the five elements (The raga itself is sArangA which has rA in it)
This is the ashram where Ramana Maharishi lived and is located a couple of kms to the south of the temple. The Maharishi left his home when he was 16 and had a unique experience then. The fear of death took over him and he started dramatizing what would happen if he died. Upon doing that he realized that he is actually the soul within the body and not the body itself. He left home, went to the Tiruvannamalai temple and started doing penance there.
The ashram is a very calm place sought by people from around the world. I could spot many peacocks here which added to the place’s beauty. Free food is given everyday to people who visit the ashram. We stayed in the ashram’s guest house located across the road from the ashram. We were not charged for our stay and it was left to us to donate whatever we wanted to. The ashram has a library where one can read about Ramana Maharishi and his thoughts.
3. Seshadri Swamigal Ashramam:
This is the ashram of another great ascetic – Sri Seshadri Swamigal. He was the one who identified Ramana Maharishi doing penance inside a cave in the Tiruvannamalai temple, brought him out and spoke about his greatness. This ashram is also a calm place very similar to Ramanashramam and is located near it (about 2 kms to the south of the Tiruvannamalai temple). One can book rooms and stay here.
Girivalam refers to circumambulation of the Annamalai hill. One is supposed to do this barefoot. People normally start doing this from the Rajagopuram of the Tiruvannamalai temple, travel clockwise around the hill and complete it by coming back to the Rajagopuram. However some locals opined that one can start from any place around the hill and should complete girivalam by coming back to the starting point. The total distance is about 14 km and is supposed to be covered barefoot. The roads were nice for most part of the trip, except for the portions within the city where there was a lot of traffic and had a lot of pebbles. We started at about 5.30 AM in the morning and covered this in about 3 hours.
There is a huge crowd during pournami days and the roads will be full of people. Since we didn’t do girivalam on a pournami day, we found the roads a bit deserted and were advised not to begin it before 5AM in the morning.