After depositing our baggage and a quick wash/change of clothes, we straightaway dashed off to the temple to have darsan of Arunachaleswara (Siva) & Unnamolai Amman. (Ambal). This is one of the "Pancha Bootham Sthalams" and the lingam here is Jyotir Lingam representing fire. We purchased a special darsan ticket of Rs.20/- which allowed us to have a long, comfortable & satisfying darsan of the deities. We witnessed Deeparathanai and received Vibhuti, Chandanam & Kumkumam. After this we wandered around the vast temple campus and visited the sub shrines of the other Pancha Bootham Sthalams - Kalatheeswarar, Chidambareswarar, Ekambareswarar & Jambukeswarar. As it was already dark and visibility was limited, we could not appreciate the grandness & architectural beauty of the various temple gopurams, the tirthams, the mandapams, and the various sub shrines.
We then went for dinner at Ramakrishna Hotel. It has nice reasonably priced rooms (A/c room available for Rs.600 + tax) & a good, clean reastaurant serving a range of South Indian dishes.
27 July'2008: Next morning we went early to the temple after quickly gulping some 'boiler tea' enroute. This time I was armed with my camera determined to shoot plenty of memorable pictures. We entered through a large long entrance mandapam ( a contemporary structure) on the East side before reaching the Rajagopuram & walking through it. This is indeed one of the tallest gopurams in existence in India. It is 217 ft high with 11 storeys and its base dimensions measure 135 ft by 98 ft. The other three towers are the Pey Gopuram on the West, Tirumanja Gopuram on the South & the Ammaniamma Gopuram on the North.
Inside the Rajagopuram passage are located the "Gopura Ganapathi" & several niche sculptures. Then you enter the fifth prakaram which is vast and magnificent. You first see the Kambathillayanar sannithi, the large Siva Gangai Tirtham with pillared pavilions (Tirumalpathi Mandapam) all around, Vilakappu Mandapam, Selva Siddhi Vinayakar shrine,the large Nandi Mandapam, a 4 kal mandapam (Rudraksha Mandapam), Teerthavari Mandapam, the Ayiram(1000) kal Mandapam, the underground shrine of Shri Patala Lingam where Ramana Maharshi's body was eaten by ants while he was in deep meditation. As you approach the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram to enter the 4th prakaram, you climb a flight of stairs & to your right side is the shrine of Gopurathillayanar (Murugar) who as per legend, saved the life of Saint Arunagirinathar. Adjoining this shrine is a dimly lit Dhyana Mandapam containing framed pictures of various Tandava poses of Siva & a large framed picture of Annamalaiyar & Unnamolai amman.
Today happens to be the festival of Adi Krittigai and there are hundreds of Muruga devotees in colourful attire carrying yellow Kavadis - men, women, boys & girls. There is a lot of din & noise and devotees are chanting Vel Vel Muruga, Vetri Vel Muruga !
Next we go through the Vallala Gopuram and enter the 4th prakaram. On the left is the shrine of Kala Bhairavar & the Brahma Tirtham with the Teerthavari Mandapam. To the right is the Puravi Mandapam & here we see shops peddling religious books, sthala puranas & framed pictures of gods & goddesses. We also see the temple elephant Rukku within this mandapam blessing devotees and collecting coins for her mahout. To the west of Brahma Teertham are sub shrines of Neeleswarar, Vigneswarar, Vidhyadhareswarar & Brahma lingam. In the North east corner are the Karunai Illam & dormitories for devotees. Next we move towards the Kili Gopuram where we see on either side shrines to Vinayagar & Subramaniar. We go through the Kili Gopuram (if you look carefully you will see a parrot on top of the kalasam) and enter the third prakaram and come across the Katchimantapam. To the North side are Vasanthamandapam (now used as devasthanam office), Yagasalai & the Panchabootha shrines which we visited the previous night. There are east facing sub shrines of Sambanda Vinayagar & Palaniandavar. We enter into the second prakaram & then directly into the inner pillared portico (in which we find tall cone shaped multi tiered brass vilakkus) which leads to the garbha griha of Sri Arunachaleswara. After offerring prayers we circumambulate the second prakaram. On the gostham we see idols of Vinayakar, Dakshinamoorthy, Lingodbhavar, Brahma, Sandikeswarar & Durgai. On the pillared pavilion all around we see: Southern side: 63 Nayanmars, Saptha Mathas, Ayyappan, Durvasar, Gowthaman. West: Kshetra Vinayakar, Somaskandar shrine, various lingams, Venugopal swamy shrine, Gajalakshmi, Subramaniar (Arumugham). North: 63 Nayanmars Utsava Murthies, Palli arai, shrine of Natarajar.
Next we circumambulate the third prakaram. We see the row of Mahila trees, the Tiru Kalyana Mandapam & Bhimeswarar & Vigneswarar shrines. On the South & West of this prakaram you see double storeyed pillared pavilions .Near the west gate connecting the third & fourth prakarams is the shrine of Arunagiri Yogeswarar.
You reach the North side and see the Ambal shrine on the western corner. Unnamulai Amman is east facing. In the front mandapam are situated the Navagrahas, the Dwaja Sthambam, Vinayakar, Chitraputrar, Iddukku Pillayar. Inside is a long pillared portico leading to the Amabal sannithi. The pillars carry exquisite sculptures of gods & goddesses - Rudra Durga, Mahasakthi, Saraswati, Asthalakshmi,Veerabhadrar etc. On goshtam you see Saptha Mathas & on the northern side Sandikeswari.
There were huge milling crowds in front of Subramaniar shrine in the third prakaram - carrying kavadis, in colorful attire, chanting and overall creating a very festive atmosphere. I clicked many nice & memorable pictures.
We then retraced back to the fourth & then into the fifth prakaram. We prayed to Gopurathillayanar & then to Patala Lingam. We finally reached the Rajagopuram as the crowds were gathering strength and hundreds were streaming in carrying kavadis and chanting Vel Vel Vetri Vel. There was a fast paced Theru Koothu performance in progress to the rapid beating of drums in front of the Kambathilayanar shrine. We finally exited the temple and proceeded for the next part of our program - breakfast and then the Girivalam.
For photo gallery log onto: http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/Arunachaleswara