On the west side of Tiruvannamalai, past Ramanasramam, there is a small hill on the Pradakshina route, behind the graveyard and cremation ground, known as Virukkal Hill. On the top of this hill is a small shrine for one of the most popular Tamil God, Murugan, also known as Skanda. We had visited this three years ago, and I noticed some recent improvements, so we walked up this hill again to investigate, and also to take the pictures for this post.
Virukkal means “Hero Stone” in Tamil. No one I can find knows why this hill has this name, other than the fact that the hill is made of stone, and has, at its very top, one big stone that stands vertically, visible from all directions.
Here is a map to the Virukkal Murugan Shrine
We started walking from our house, just west of the area in this map. Virukkal Hill is in the distance.
In the center of the photo below you can see a tall stone on the ridge of the hill, with a tree to the right. This is the shrine.
We walked along Bangalore Road to get to the burning grounds. We passed this big Nandi, which has recently been painted, that sits by the road facing Arunachala.
We look into the burning ground/graveyard towards the hill. The big rock next to the shrine can be see in the left center of the photo.
There are a few unmarked graves in the midst of the cement ones. These are where poor people are buried, whose family and friends cannot afford the Rs 6000 for fuel for a cremation.
A recent cremation left these ashes.
Carol walks ahead of me towards the hill. Ahead, to the right, is a roofed structure sometimes used during cremations.
As we walk up the hill, we notice something to our left. We walk over to investigate.
It is another small shrine, Vediappan, I think, a protector figure who will ride out on the horses to right wrongs. These are common village shrines in Tamil Nadu.
Looking through a Trishul, Siva’s trident, to the main figure in the shrine. This shrine does not seem well cared for.
The horses and attendant. These figures are made of terra cotta, painted. The paint is now old and discolored.
There is a good path up the hill.
The Tamil sign reminds visitors to remove their shoes at the shrine.
Looking east from the hill.
Looking north, towards Arunachala, which is covered in low clouds this morning.
Stairs have been added to this path since the last time we were here. This is a sign of work being done to upgrade this shrine.
At the top of the stairs there are a few more blocks that have been used to construct the stair risers. Maybe there will be a few more stairs in the future?
Looking east towards Ramanasramam. It is about 7:30 in the morning, and the sun shines through a hole in the fog over Ramanasramam. The small hill peak in the center of the photo is a hill that you walk by on the way up the path to Skandashramam from Ramanasramam.
Looking down at the burning grounds and graveyard from the hill, with the cloud-enshrouded Arunachala behind.
Looking down the hill at the path we just walked up.
Arunachala again, looking north. Clouds hide the top of the holy mountain.
Looking south, Samuthiram Lake can be seen. In front, reddish colored lines denote a new housing development area, where many plots are now for sale. The area out on Perumbakkam Road is now one of the major development areas for housing for Westerners living here.
Looking into Samuthiram Village. This village is next to Tiruvannamalai, adjacent to the Government Arts College.
We arrive at the Murugan shrine. In front of it is a tree that is a favorite perch for crows. I must see at least 50 of them here today.
In front of the shrine is a small cement water tank.
Here is the shrine. Murugan’s spear, Val, is in front.
On a set of rocks to the south I see some creatures, sitting on top of it.
It is a monkey and some crows. The monkey has been sitting there for some time. Do monkeys meditate? Maybe they do around Arunachala.
Another view of the shrine. Right next to the shrine is a tall rock. I understand from villagers that this is called ‘Train Rock’. In the time that there was still train service to Tiruvannamalai, when the boys heard a train whistle across the town, they would scramble up this rock, and could see the train coming into town.
The shrine, with Val in the foreground.
A close up of the altar. Presently pooja is offered every day.
Carol is in front of Train Rock. Maybe it is 30 feet high. I would not want to try to climb it, but the boys do!
Looking down from Train Rock you can see a row of holes in the adjoining rock. These were made by someone getting ready to split a big piece of the rock off the hill. This was never done in this case.
I have examined Train Rock for such marks and cannot find any, so maybe it is a naturally carved rock?
Looking again towards Ramanasramam.
Between Virukkal Hill and Ramanasramam is Idichi Mantapam, perched on top of a small rock hill.
The other story I was told by the villagers was of a cave on Virukkal Hill, with a year-round spring (unusual in these parts) near it. The cave, they say, was lived in by a Swami about 200 years ago, Swami Agathiyar. I tried to find out about this swami on the Internet, and found instead a reference to a Guru Agathiyar, from about 9000 years ago, who is said to be one of the sources to the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas. Hopefully our local friends will take me to this cave, so I can show it to you readers.
This was an enjoyable and easy walk, that can certainly be done by those who visit Tiruvannamalai. It is but one of many places here that is worth visiting.