Panchaiamann Koil is said to be an ancient temple, perhaps 1000 years old. the present temple, though is said to be only about 120 years old. pachaiamman is a form of Parvati. goddess to bring peace and harmony into the world (also the goddess of weddings). A bit on her story from Arunachala Grace Newsletter:
A legend of Pachaiamman (an aspect of Parvati) has it that after completing her penance at Kanchi, the Goddess started off for Arunachala. She travelled with 7 rishis and 7 virgins (Sapta Kanniyars) as part of a protective entourage. Halfway from Kanchi to Arunachala, the entourage stopped and made camp at the village Vazhapanthal. At that place the local king tried to molest the Goddess and the 7 rishis became as munishwaras (guardians) and killed the king. In the Pachaiamman Compound there are 14 statues of Pachaiamman’s warrior guardians set out in two lines, with two representations of each warrior. There are also statues of Lord Munishwara’s vahanas (vehicles) in the form of an elephant, a dog and five horses.
In 1905 for six months Ramana Maharshi went from Virupaksha Cave “far away” from the city to Pachaiamman Koil where he would be safe from the plague, which had infested Tiruvannamalai. This temple is familiar to those who walk Pradakshina (or “girivalam” in Tamil) on the Inner Path, since it’s near the end of the Inner Path before it joins the street. It is said to be over 1000 years old. For those who walk the Outer Path, they may have never seen this temple. In this post we approach like you would from the Outer Path.
Ramana would also come to this temple for oil baths. From Saranagathi, the Ramanasramam newsletter:
Around 1915 or 1916, one morning the Maharshi, Palaniswami, Vasudeva Sastri and others left the Virupaksha Cave and proceeded to
Pachaiamman Koil taking oil and soap-nut powder for an oil bath, as facilities for such a bath were ample at that place.
It was on the way back from such a trip than Ramana had his ‘second death experience’ at Turtle rock.
It was also at Pachaiamman Koil, where Ramana saw a leopard drinking from a tank as a devotee, Sri Iyengar, was bathing. Ramana first said to the leopard, “Go now and come later; he would be afraid,” and then Ramana gently advised Sri Iyengar that he should not bathe here at this time of day because wild animals came here, not telling him of the leopard, apparently not wanting to frighten him.
On the map below (double click it for an enlarged view), Pachaiamman Koil is in the upper right. It is on the Inner Path route, marked in red. The Outer Path is gold.
In this closeup view of the map, you can also see that from this temple are two paths up the hill (marked in yellow).
Before the turnoff, this view of Arunachala is said to show the five faces of Siva. These five faces make it certain that Arunachala is Siva, say the locals I have talked to.
The gateway at the end of the street shows a typical Saivite grouping, with Siva in the middle, Ganesh to the left and Murugan on the right. On the corner is a small Ganesh Temple.
As you proceed up the street, you can see the temple and a Gopuram at the end of the street.
Sometimes you will see monkeys as you walk to the temple.
Near the temple you pass this tank, which has year-round water. Usually in the morning you will see men bathing, and often taxis or rickshaws being washed.
The vertical red stripes announce that this is a temple, as if it were not obvious from the small tower over the gate. Some painted figures can be seen through the open doorway.
To one side is a small altar, with another two gods enclosed within.
Walking to it, you can open the door if you want.
Inside are the male and female gods.
On the other side is some kind of sheltered area.
As we enter, we can see a line of sitting figures, their backs turned to us.
On the top wall is a line of brightly painted figures.
In this closeup, it can be seen that this is a Siva temple, with Siva in the center, Ganesh to the left and Murugan to the right. Other figures can be seen in between them, and to both sides. If one knows the Vedas and Puranas, just who the various figures are would be clear.
We can see a small face of Arunachala above us. From this view, the summit is behind this rockface.
These statues are the seven fierce guardians, munishwaras, who protect the goddess Pachaiamman. Lord Munishwara’s vahanas are to one side of this entrance courtyard.
In the photo below, you can see that these munishwaras are really quite large.
Here is the other row of guardians, shown from the front. We noticed that though the swords look terrifying, they swayed in the wind.
Below, the entrance into the main part of the temple.
A kind of colonnade surrounds the temple on three sides.
Immediately to the left of the temple, and accessible through a doorway, is the ancient tank associated with Pachaiamman Koil.
At its entrance, Nandi sits attending those who need him.
As we walk around the colonnade, we can see, above the inner sanctum, the towers that rise above each of the major gods within. This is Ganesh.
In several places in the rear of the temple, there are small windows that allow darshan of the gods within.
Here is a mysterious peep inside. Some figures can be made out, but they are not too clear.
At the top of the columns are figures. Here is a lion, obviously a male.
Walking around the backside we can see more peepholes in the wall.
Here we can see a female and male god.
Carol looks in the next hole.
The god within seems blocked by a pillar. We can see arms extending diagonally from bodies, but no bodies. Didn’t they know that a pillar was there before they put this hole here?
Towers top the temple.
On the other side of the colonnade they are repairing several of their wooden statues. Here is a lion in pieces, with one leg misattached to the body which has been stripped of paint for refinishing.
This is some obviously very female statue. I don’t know what kind of figure this is. We haven’t seen this figure in any other temple we’ve visited.
Here is a family that was at the temple today. Many times families will bring a lunch, or even food to cook, and come spend the day at these temples. Today we think that this family is here for some kind of function, given that the woman is wearing her fanciest silk saree lined with gold thread.
We see the Vediyappan mounts to the side of the temple.
Carol stands by the Nandi at the entrance to the temple before we walk in.
There is no one inside, and though I should not take photos inside, I snap a few, without flash.
Here is the chamber outside the inner sanctum. A lamp can be seen from within the sanctum.
Ganesh is on the left side, the first idol you would get to going clockwise (the usual way to traverse these temples).
Here is the main goddess of this temple, Pachaiamman.
Murugan and his two lady escorts.
I am not sure who this is. Obviously a primary goddess. I can’t tell who she is, but she sure looks fabulous in her golden saree.
Back outside, we walk around the outside of the temple. Here again are the munishwaras mounts and attendants, waiting to ride off if Pachaiamman needs protection.
Another small shrine is located outside the right temple wall. I think some saint is buried here. I know not who. The cows like this spot.
At the rear of the temple there is a path that leads away. I think this is the way to get to one of the paths that goes up Arunachala from here. You can see it on the map. This is exploration for another day.
Looking back to the temple from the path.
The towers above the main gods can be seen better from here than inside the colonnade.
When we looked more closely at this shed, we could see many ‘stoves’ where a person can make a fire and heat a pot to cook.
And here was a group of people, alighting from a truckbed (a common form of group transport here).
As Carol talked to them, it turns out that they were here today for a special function, the ear-piercing for a girl child. She’s in the photo below in the arms of her mother. The next big function for this girl will be her coming of age celebration when she starts menstruation.
Pachaiamman Koil is one of the jewels around Arunachala, and made special due to its association with Ramana Maharshi. We pass by it each time we walk the Inner Path, and yet we hardly ever stop there. It is worth stopping, or walking up the hill to visit if on the Outer Path.