After he had left Madurai, Sri Ramana Maharshi took a train to Viluppuram (not knowing that he could take one all the way to Tiruvannamalai). The next day he took a train to Mambalappattu, using the rest of the 2 1/2 annas he had left. He arrived at Mambalappattu about 3 PM, and then started walking towards Tiruvannamalai, intending to walk the rest of the way, about 30 miles.
During his journey he spent two days in Tirukkoyilur (or Tirukkovilur, or Tirukkoilur) ), an ancient temple city. (In fact the Tamil words, ‘Tiru’ + ‘Kovil + ‘oor’ mean ‘holy temple village/place’.) That the city is ancient is clear, since they have discovered many small copper Roman coins here, that date back from around 400 AD.
Throughout most of its long history it was ruled by the Cholas. From the Viluppuram district website:
The Cholas were the early rulers. Among these rulers, Karikala Chola was the most famous and powerful.
For a short period, the Cholas were overthrown by Simha Vishnu Pallava and the region came under the Pallava rule for some time. Vijayalaya Chola again revived Chola rule. This was the beginning of great Chola Empire. The later Chola rulers were weak and the power passed on to the hands of Eastern Chalukyas.
Cholas regained their lost position, but with the rise of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya-1 (1251 A.D), Chola supremacy came to an end. The sway of Pandyas lasted for over 50 years, followed by Muslim domination from 1334 to 1378 A.D. By 1378, the region came under the rule of Vijayanagar Kingdom and Nayaks were appointed as the rulers of the region.
In 1677 Shivaji took the Ginjee area with the assistance of Golkonda forces. Then came the Mughals. During the Mughal regime, both the English and French acquired settlements in South Arcot. During the Anglo-French rivalry, the entire district was turned into a war land. After some time, the entire area came under the control of East India Company. It remained under British authority until 1947 when India became independent.
The map below shows these cities in the area involved in Ramana’s yatra to Arunachala. .
After about 10 miles, in Tirukkayilur, he first came to an ancient Siva temple, built on a rock. This was the Arankandanallur Shivastalam (or Arayaninallur Temple) near Tirukkovilur, next to the Pennar River.
What happened next is well described at bhagavan-ramana.org:
After he had walked about ten miles, he reached the temple of c. Night had fallen and he sat down outside the temple to rest. When the priest opened the temple for puja, Venkataraman entered and sat in the pillared hall. A brilliant light pervaded the entire temple which he first thought must have been emanating from the image of God in the inner sanctorum. He searched for the source, but found it was not a physical light. When it disappeared, he sat in deep meditation until the temple priests who needed to lock up the temple roused him. He asked them for food and was refused, though they suggested he might get food at the temple in Kilur where they were headed for service. Venkataraman followed, and sank again into samadhi in the temple. Late in the evening when the puja ended, he asked for food and was refused again. The temple drummer who had been watching this exchange asked the priests to give his share to the boy.
We recently took a trip to Tirukkoyilur, and in this series of three postings will show the Arayaninallur and Dhabovanam temples, where Ramana visited during the trip. Also we will show some of the many roadside shrines between Tiruvannamalai and Tirukkoyilur. The two temples are shown in the map below.
We saw a small road that leads to the temple.
We parked our two wheelers and walked up the rock face. The entrance is on the other side, so we needed to walk around the rock. This temple is VERY old. It is dated to 700 AD, 1300 years ago. I bet it is even older, given how the Tamils seem to revere the natural spiritual power of these rocks that protrude through the ground.
A bit on the history, from IndianTemples.com:
The 160 feet high Gopuram in this shrine (dating back to the 7th century) with three prakarams is visible from a distance, across the Pennar river. Rich in inscriptions, it received Royal patronage from local chieftains, the later Cholas and the later Pandyas; Such a historical monument bears a desolate appearance today with hardly any visitors.
The innermost temple consists of the sanctum with two mandapams in front, surrounded by a compound wall with a pillared raised verandah. The second prakaram houses the Utsava Mandapam and the Ambal shrine. Inscriptions from the days of Rajaraja Chola I (early 11th century) are seen here. This temple was renovated in the 13th century during the reign of Kulottunga Chola III. The Navaratri Mandapam (one of the Mandapams in front of the sanctum) dates back to the period of Kulottunga Chola I (1075-1120). The Nritta Mandapam was built during the period of Kulottunga III. The Utsava Mandapam dates back to the 14th century, and the eastern gopuram dates back to the 15th century.
Walking up the rock with Carol is Saran, our trusty guide from Tiruvannamalai. It is always great to have someone with us who knows something, and can speak Tamil and ask questions of the locals.
Looking across from the rock into the town, over the Pennar River, several temple towers, gopurams, extend into the sky. Saran told us that it is a Vishnu temple. We did not visit this big temple today, but we will do so on another trip.
As we approach the gate, we get a good view of the gopuram, with its seven levels above the entrance. This gopuram was built more ‘recently’ than those in Arunachaleswara Temple in Tiruvannamalai. These date from the 1500s, whereas Arunachaleswara’s main gopurams date from the 1300s.
Looking across from the entrance, we see a natural tank split between the rocks and another shine. More about these later in the post.
Entering through the gate, we notice a BIG bee’s nest.
Lining the gates are columns rising to the top, with carved figures at the base. These carvings are about 500 years old.
Here is one of the inner shrines, or prakarams. For more on the meaning of symbolism of the Hindu temple, go to this page.
From the back.
Inside this shrine are Nandi, and a lingam, well dressed for the day.
The entrance into the main prakaram.
You can see that it is a Siva temple from the figures over the door, with Siva and Parvati sitting on Nandi in the center.
Here is the rear of the main shrine, with its tower over the sanctum sanctorum.
A closeup look at this tower. It must be Durga at the top, with two lions as her vahanas.
By the entrance is a plaque showing the renovation work done here by Sri Ramanasramam.
Through the entrance there is a big picture of Ramana. (It is foreshortened due to the camera angle.)
In the entry hall is also Nandi.
Once inside there is an inner shrine (where we will not be able to take photos), surrounded by a pillared hall on all four sides. Lining the halls are many murtis, many gods.
By the entrance is another shrine to Sri Ramana, with his photo …
And a murti of young Ramana, as he might have been when visiting this temple. I have not seen this form of Ramana before.
Next to this are a group of Tamil murtis. There names are above: THIRUNAVUKARASAR, THIRUJNANA SAMBANDAR, SUNDARAR, and MANICKAVASAGAR. These are four of the 63 Temail saints. It is near these murtis that Ramana experienced the light, also seen by SAMBANDAR in the seventh century. .
Below, Dakshinamurti, nicely clothed in a yellow dhoti.
To the rear of the temple are several gods, as bas reliefs on flat stones. This is not a usual form. I wonder if they are real old?
What is the Tamil name?
Another god on the rear wall. I sure wish I knew more, so that I could recognize just what it is that we are seeing. I appreciate the care with which this god is dressed and decorated.
This seems very old, the last one on the rear wall.
The Nine Planets. A usual feature of Siva temples.
On the other wall are a set of chambers, each with its idol.
Goddess with her lovely saree. This is a very good saree, with gold thread on the green border. Very expensive.
Another old (?) god, as bas relief almost entirely covered by her saree. Is she holding a bird? Who does that mean she is?
I think this is Lakshmi, with two elephants.
Another god, I think ancient, in front of a blank wall.
And another, in front of a nicely decorated chamber.
We left the main shrine and circumambulated it. From the rear of the main gopuram, in the center, are neon lights that say (in Tamil) Siva, Siva, with a lingam in between.
We see again the expanse of water and temple on the other side.
One more view towards the eastern gate and the two buildings before the main shrine. Usually there is a big tree in a temple, used for some of the holy rituals. This is not the case here, since this temple is built on solid rock. There are some small bushes growing in soil that was brought here.
Walking down the steps, we see a shrine to one side. It is a goddess with a trident. Durga?
Then we see, at the base of the rock, what looks like chambers carved into it. The most ancient history of this rock is from the period of the Mahābhārata. It is believed that the Pandavas visited Arankandanallur, and that the temple tank close to the cave in which they stayed was created with Bhima’s mace. We were told by a local woman that he used the water to brush his teeth and that the shrine on the rock on the other side of the tank is for Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandava warriors (including Arjuna who won her hand by his fantastic skill with a bow).
Entering into the chamber.
Though there are five entrances, they move into two rows of long chambers, with stone pillars carved out of the rock.
These are as primitive as any carved caves that we have seen. They seem very old.
Here is Draupadi’s shrine. We did not go here this trip.
The next part of this series will show the other temple visited by Sri Ramana during his yatra, Viratteswara.
The drive from Tiruvannamalai was about 35 KM, maybe 45 minutes on our two-wheeler. Tirukkoyilur is a place I know we will come back to again and again.