Annamalaiyar Temple – Legends
Thiruvannamalai is one of the ‘Pancha Bootha’ Sthalangals representing the Fire element; the other four are Chidambaram (sky), Sri Kalahasti (air), Tiruvanaikovil (water) and Kanchipuram (earth). Near Kaatchi Mandapam inside the temple, one can see the shrines dedicated to Kalahasthiswarar (of Sri Kaalahasthi), Chidambareshwarar (of Chidambaram), Ekambareswarar (of Kancheepuram) and Jumbukeshwarar (of Thiruvanaikkal). Thus one can see all the panchabootha stala Shiva’s in the Annamalaiyar temple.
In Hindu mythology, the Creator Lord Bramha and Protector Lord Thirumal entered into a controversy among themselves so as to ascertain who was the greatest. Lord Shiva was asked to be the judge. Lord Siva told them that whoever was able to see his crown as well as his feet would be declared as the greatest. Then Lord Shiva transformed himself into a Jothi (a column of fire) touching the heaven and earth. Thirumal took the avatar of varaha (wild boar) and dug deep into the earth to find Siva’s feet but later accepted defeat. Bramha took the form of a swan and flew to see the crown of Siva.
Unable to reach the crown, Bramha saw a thazhambu flower which had decked Shiva’s crown falling down. He asked the flower on its way down, as to the distance of Shiva’s crown whereby the flower replied that he had been falling for forty thousand years! Bramha, realizing that he would not be able to reach the crown, asked the flower to act as a false witness to help him. The thazhambu flower, acting as a false witness, declared to Lord Shiva that Brahma had really ‘seen’ Shiva’s crown. Shiva became angry at the deception and cursed that Bramha should have no temple on earth and that the thazhambu flower should not be used while praying to Lord Shiva. The place where Lord Siva stood as a column of fire to eliminate Brahma’s ego is Thiruvannamalai.
Lord Shiva’s wife Goddess Umadevi (Parvathy) once playfully closed his eyes which plunged the world into darkness. All living beings suffered in the darkness. To absolve of this sin, Mother Umadevi created a Sivalingam out of sand and worshipped at Kancheepuram. At that instance, Lord Shiva ordered her to proceed to Thiruvannamalai and do penance so that she could get half of his body. Likewise she did penance at Pavalakundru with the help of Saint Gowthama. A demon called Makidasuran disturbed the penance of Mother Parvathi. The Mother took the form of goddess Durga Devi and destroyed him on the full moon day of the Tamil Month of Karthigai during the auspicious period of Pradosham. Lord Shiva presented himself in the form of Fire atop the hill and merged Goddess Parvathi into the left half of his body to form Ardhanareeswara (Sanskrit Ardha=half; nari=woman; Easwara=Shiva). To commemorate this event, every year during the Tamil month of Karthigai in Kiruthigai Star, exactly at 6.00 p.m. Arthanareeswaramurthi presents himself as Jyothi Swaroopa to his devotees at the time of Karthigai Festival on the 10th day.
Saving of Arunagirinathar by Lord Muruga:
Arunagirinathar is renowned as one of Tiruvannamalai's most famous saints. He was a Muruga Bhaktar who lived at the foot of Arunachala in the fourteenth century. The major turning point in his life occurred when he had spent his entire sister's money. Not knowing that she was destitute, he approached her again in the hope of getting another hand-out. His sister, who had nothing left except the clothes she was wearing, told him that her funds were exhausted. Since she still loved her brother and since she still wanted to be of assistance to him she offered him her own body, saying, 'If your lust is so insatiable, you can use my body for your sexual satisfaction'.
These words deeply affected and shamed Arunagirinathar. He mentally reviewed the wasted years of his life and came to the conclusion that he had been committing crimes against God. As his sense of shame deepened, he decided to commit suicide by jumping off one of the Gopurams in Arunachaleswarar Temple. He climbed the tower, but before he was able to jump, Lord Muruga manifested and held him back. In some versions of the story, Arunagirinathar actually jumped and Muruga had to catch him before he died on the paving stones below.
Muruga embraced him. Then, with his vel, (the spear he carries) he wrote a mantra on Arunagirinathar tongue, gave him a japamala and commanded him to sing songs in praise of him.
Appearance of Lord Muruga for Arunagirinathar:
In the court of King Devaraya there was a famous scholar, Sambandan, who had a tendency to boast both about his spiritual attainments and his religious knowledge. When Sambandan, who was a favourite to the King, heard of the reception accorded Arunagirinathar he felt that his position in court to be threatened.
His jealousy motivated him to hatch a plot against Arunagirinathar which he hoped would belittle his rival in the eyes of the King. Sambandan’s tapas had resulted in winning a boon from the Goddess Kali, his Ishta Devata (chosen deity). The boon was that for a period of twelve years she would appear before him whenever he summoned her. Knowing that he could call on Kali to appear at any time, Sambandan proposed to the King that he and Arunagirinathar should have a competition in which each would try to make their chosen deity manifest in a form that would be visible to everyone. The King agreed to the contest and also that the loser of the competition should leave the Kingdom and never return.
The competition was held in publically at Arunachaleswarar Temple. Sambandan, full of confidence, undertook to manifest his God first. To the accompaniment of great pomp and ceremony, he called on Goddess Kali to appear, but for some reason she refused to manifest. In some versions of the story it is said that the twelve-year period of the boon had expired the previous day, so she was no longer under any obligation to appear. Since Sambandan was still able to communicate with her, even though he could not make her appear, he got her promise that she would hold Muruga tightly in her arms so that He would be unable to manifest when Arunagirinathar called on him.
Arunagirinathar began his attempt by singing a song. After praising Muruga at length in verse form, he summoned him to appear. As Muruga was being restrained by his mother, Kali, Arunagirinathar devised a strategy to counter Kali’s influence. He thus sang a song that was so entrancing; Kali unconsciously began to loosen her grip on her son. When Arunagirinathar sensed that this was happening, he sang another song to summon Lord Muruga’s vahana (the peacock) to appear and dance before Muruga and Kali. The peacock promptly appeared and danced in such an enticing way, Kali momentarily forgot to hold on tightly to Muruga. At this crucial moment Muruga leapt out of her arms, mounted his peacock and entered the physical world through one of the pillars of a mandapam in the Arunachaleswarar Temple.
Legend has it that the Kambatthu Ilayanar Sannathi was built around the pillar to commemorate the great event. The manifestation of Lord Muruga was so dazzling; the light he emanated caused Pravuda Devaraya, the King, to lose his eyesight.
Sambandan was so angry that he hatched another scheme. By the glorious sight of Lord Muruga, the king lost his eye sight. Sambandan requested the king to send Arunagiri to Svargaloka and bring back a Parijata flower; a few drops of the nectar from the flower squeezed in to his eyes could resume his sight. Arunagirinathar persuaded by the king and in order to go to Svargaloka, had to enter in to the body of a parrot which had recently expired. He moved his life force into the body of the parrot and left his own body quietly in the gopura and then proceeded to collect the Parijata flower, Sambandan showing the lifeless body to the king announced that Arunagirinathar was dead and asked the king’s permission to cremate it according to custom.
When Arunagirinathar returned with the flower he found that his body had been burnt and he no longer had human body. Realizing that he had been tricked, Pravuda Deva Raya Maharaja was grief stricken knowing that it would be impossible for the saint to resume human form again. Arunagirinathar untroubled by these events, rested on the gopuram in the form of a parrot, composed his famous Kandar Anubhuti as well as other famous hymns.
Vallala Maharaja humbled by Lord Shiva:
According to a traditional story which is well-known in Thiruvannamalai, King Vallalan, after building what is now known as the Vallala Gopura, felt great pride in his achievement. Lord Arunachaleswarar noticing that the feeling ‘I have built this great Gopuram’, was strongly rooted inside him, decided to teach him a lesson.
There is a ten-day festival in which Arunachaleswarar is paraded each day through the streets of Thiruvannamalai. In the first festival after the Gopura was built the God initially refused to leave the Temple via the passage in the centre of the new Gopura. For the first nine days of the Festival Lord Arunachaleswarar always left the Temple via a different route. On the tenth and last day the King realised his mistake and became humble. He broke down and cried before the Lord, begging his forgiveness and pleading that He should use the new Gopura for just one day. Lord Arunachaleswarar seeing the King’s pride had abated granted his request.
Immediately the temple workers found it easier to go through the tower gate built by the King. This particular Festival is still celebrated at Thiruvannamalai. To commemorate King Vallalan’s attack of pride and his subsequent humility, Arunachaleswarar is only taken through the King’s Gopura on the tenth and final day of the Festival. On the rest of the days other routes are used.
Lord Arunachaleswarar himself performing the funeral rites of King Vallala:
Lord Siva wanting to test the King's dharma and devotion appeared with his Sivaganas in the guise of sannyasins. He sent all his followers to the houses of dancing girls in the city and then he himself went to the palace and asked the King for a dancing-girl. As all the dancing girls in the city were already engaged (with the Sivaganas the Lord already sent) the King could find no woman for him. Sallammadevi the King’s junior wife, asked the King to offer her as a suitable replacement.
In strict observance of the rules of dharma governing hospitality to visitors, the King agreed to his Queen’s offer and sent her to the sannyasin. The devotee lay on a cot pretending to sleep. When Queen Sallammadevi touched the sannyasin, he transformed into a child. She took the child to the King and as soon as she handed it to him, the child mysteriously disappeared. Pleased with the King, Lord Siva assured him that he himself would perform the King’s funeral rites as he had become as a child to the King.
In the Big Temple, the festival begins early in the morning with a grand Abhishekam to Lord Palani Andavar (i.e. Lord Murugan) in the PichaiIlayanar Shrine (4th Prakaram) and Kambattu Ilayanar Shrine (5th Prakaram). After which Lord Chandrasekhara and Goddess Ambal with the Trident deity perform circumambulation of Arunachaleswarar Temple on the Mada veedhis. After which the Gods are walked in procession to the Esanya Teertham, crematorium and burial grounds north-east of Thiruvannamalai. At that place, Lord Siva’s weapon the Trident is bathed and then placed beside the deities of Siva and Ambal who have meanwhile been installed in the Mourning Pavilion of the grounds.
Before returning to Arunachaleswarar Temple, near the statue of Harichandra (at the entrance of the burial grounds) a person dressed in black robes, the “Otran” (i.e. spy or secret messenger) halts the procession and gives a message to the Temple singer. The musicians accompanying the procession stop playing and the Temple singer reads out the announcement of King Vallala’s death. After which the procession returns homeward to the Temple with the musicians now playing a funeral dirge.
When the Gods arrive back at the Temple, the procession stops at the statue of King Vallala installed in the niche between the Fifth and Fourth Prakarams and a member of the Vallala community bathes and decorates the statue of the King.
The final commemoration of this historic event happens at the festival of Maasi Magam during which the last rites for the departed King are performed by Lord Siva himself (since it is traditional in India for the son to perform the last rites of his father). Even now in the month of Maasi (February) when the annual anniversary of King Vallala Deva's death occurs, at the instruction of Lord Arunachaleswarar, the Lord is taken in procession with great Ceremony to the village Pallikonda Pattu, where the funeral rites take place. This festival is known as 'Masi Maga Theerthavari' where Temple priests (acting as proxies of the Lord) annually perform the funeral rites of the King.
Yanai Thirai Konda Vinayagar:
A King from Andhra Pradesh having performed a great battle captured the region and allowed his troops to occupy the area. During the night while everyone slept, the King had a strange dream. He dreamt that an elephant of great strength charged after the troops and sent them scuttling away. When the King asked his advisors the meaning of the dream, the King was told that he had rested his troops on holy ground and the land was protected by Vinayagar, son of Lord Siva. The King upon hearing this gifted his elephants to the Temple asking for forgiveness. Hence the Vinayaka in the fourth prakaram came to be known as Yanai Thirai Konda Vinayakar (the Vinayaka who got ransom of elephants).