Annamalaiyar Temple – History
The present masonry and towers date back to the 9th century CE, as seen from an inscription in the structure made by Chola kings who ruled at that time. Further inscriptions indicate that before the 9th century, Thiruvannamalai was under the Pallava Kings, who ruled from Kanchipuram. The 7th century Nayanar saints Sambandar and Appar wrote of the temple in their poetic work, Tevaram. Sekkizhar, the author of the Periyapuranam wrote that both Appar and Sambandar worshiped Annamalaiyar in the temple.
The Chola Kings ruled over the region for more than four centuries, from 850 CE to 1280 CE, and were temple patrons. The inscriptions from the Chola king record various gifts like land, sheep, cow and oil to the temple commemorating various victories of the dynasty. The Hoysala kings used Thiruvannamalai as their capital beginning in 1328 CE.
Ellappa Nayanar, Tamil scholar, recorded extensively about Thiruvannamalai town in his ‘Arunachala Puranam’ and has recorded the City architecture and the legendary stories about King Vallalan of the Hoysala Empire. This work is based on the ‘Arunachala Mahathmiyam’, written several centuries before in Sanskrit, but the chapters dealing with King Vallalan and his exploits in Thiruvannamalai are found only in the Tamil version. King Vallalan’s devotion and piety are described in the 7th chapter of the Arunachala Puranam. King Vallala is credited with spreading the benefit of Girivalam and Arunachaleswara temple.
The Hoysala King Vallala succeeded his father Narasimha; later, he expanded his territory up to Thiruvannamalai by taking over his uncle’s kingdom in1292. King Vallala was ruling the entire South India with Dwarasamdura (now, Halebidu) as capital. The richness of Hoysala architecture and its unique style, distinguished by finer details and embellishments, can be seen in the remains of the city of Halebidu even today. He was thirty years old when he was crowned as the King. Later he lost most of his ruling territory to Delhi Sultan Ala-u-din Khilji; he moved south and made Thiruvannamalai as his capital. Since then the Grace of Arunachala spread all over India and Thiruvannamalai become a vital spot for spiritual pilgrimage. King Vallalan founded the present Thiruvannamalai Town.
There are 48 inscriptions from the Sangama Dynasty (1336–1485 CE), 2 inscriptions from Saluva Dynasty, and 55 inscriptions from Tuluva Dynasty (1491–1570 CE) of the Vijayanagara Empire reflecting gifts to the temple from their rulers. There are also inscriptions from the rule of Krishnadevaraya (1509–1529 CE), the most powerful Vijayanagara king indicating further patronage. Most of the Vijayanagara inscriptions were written in Tamil, with some in Kannada and Sanskrit. The inscriptions in temple from the Vijayanagara kings indicate emphasis on administrative matters and local concerns, which contrasts the inscriptions of the same rulers in other temples like Tirupathi. The majority of the gift related inscriptions are for land endowments, followed by goods, cash endowments, cows and oil for lighting lamps.
The town of Thiruvannamalai was at a strategic crossroads during the Vijayanagara Empire, connecting sacred centers of pilgrimage and military routes. There are inscriptions that show the area as an urban center before the pre-colonial period, with the city developing around the temple, similar to the Nayak ruled cities like Madurai.
During the 17th century CE, the temple along with the Thiruvannamalai town came under the dominion of the Nawab of the Carnatic. As the Mughal Empire came to an end, the Nawab lost control of the town, with confusion and chaos ensuing after 1753. Subsequently, there were periods of both Hindu and Muslim stewardship of the temple, with Muraru Raya, Krishna Raya, Mrithis Ali Khan, and Burkat Ullakhan besieging the temple in succession. As European incursions progressed, Thiruvannamalai was attacked by French Soupries, Sambrinet, and the English Captain Stephen Smith. While some were repelled, others were victorious. The French occupied the town in 1757, and the temple along with the town came under control of the British in 1760.
In 1790 CE, Thiruvannamalai town was captured by Tippu Sultan, who ruled from 1750–99 CE. During the first half of the 19th century, the town along with the temple came under British rule. From 1951, under the provision of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, the temple has been maintained by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board (HR &CE) of the Government of Tamil Nadu. In 2002, the Archaeological Survey of India declared the temple a national heritage monument and took over its stewardship. Widespread protests and litigation with the Supreme Court of India, however, led the Archaeological Survey to cede the temple back to the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board.
The Rajagopuram which adorns the East Gateway is 217 feet high with 11 storeys, its base measure 135 feet by 98 feet. This tower was built by King Krishna Devaraya of Vijayanagar and completed by Sevappa Nayaka of Thanjavur. Krishna Devaraya also constructed the Thousand Pillared Mantapam and dug the tank opposite to it. Ammani Ammal a Sanyasin built the North Gopuram which is called after her name.