The Asta Lingams of Arunachala, the eight special Siva lingams that encircle the holy hill, are old features, dating back hundreds of years. It is said that visiting and worshiping these lingams brings great spiritual benefit. For the millions of people who, each year during the full moon nights, perform Arunachala Girivalam (also called Pradakshina, spiritual circumambulation), praying at these Asta Lingams is a major element of their experience.
Each of these eight lingams has a presiding star and is named for a God or Rishi that worshiped Siva (from this very location, it is often said). Each has a specific spiritual attribute. Each can provide assistance with some kind of major life issue, or illness. You can find out a lot about them by Googling “asta lingam.”
Recently Carol and I were given a tour of these lingams by Saran, a local man who we think is the best of the Arunachala guides. He grew up living on the side of Arunachala, deeply loves this holy hill, and is steeped in local knowledge and traditions. He gave us a way of approaching the Asta Lingams that I don’t find on the web or in books. This is a deep local tradition about how to use worship and prayer at these sacred lingams for and in your life.
Below is a map of the Asta Lingams (double click to enlarge):
History of the Asta Lingams of Arunachala
The Giripradakshina route for Arunachala was set a few hundred years ago, by a Pandyan king, Vikkirama Pandya, I think a bit before 1200 CE. The creation of the Asta Lingams is shrouded by time and myth. Saran told us a story of their creation that we had never heard.
Saran said that the locations were set on a specific astrological day, based on positions of the planets known as the Navagrahas, the Nine Planets, around Arunachala. There is a belief that one’s life is controlled by the Nine Planets. Each of the lingams stands for one of these planets, all surrounding (and worshipping) the “ninth planet,” Arunachala itself. In your life you are said to pass through each of the Navagrahas to the next. Worship of the Asta Lingams helps you move through the planetary cycles of your life.
The placement was done by a famous siddhar of Tiruvannamalai, about 500 years ago. The story goes that all of the planets, to worship Lord Siva, came around Arunachala. The siddhar could feel the energy from the planets, and located each lingam where their energy was the greatest.
It is sometimes said that these lingams are located at the eight cardinal compass points around Arunachala, but if you look at the map, above, you can see that this is not so. For example, if you look directly north, south, east or west, in no case is there a lingam located exactly there.
Using the Asta Lingams in your cycle of life
Each lingam is for one stage of your life, from birth and childhood (the Indra Lingam), to nearing the end of life when you give up all material things to prepare for Mukti (the Easanya Lingam).
To visit these lingams, you should start at the Indra Lingam and visit them in turn until the Easanya Lingam. The first time, pray to all the lingams. After that, just thank each lingam though whose life stage you have passed, focus your prayers on the lingam that affects you the most now, then complete your visits to the other lingams. During this process, you can just go to the lingam whose help you need. Since I am an old man, I would just go to the Easanya Lingam.
Finally when one has completed the eight lingams in their life, the focus is on the ninth lingam, Arunachala, Siva. Siva has been looking down on you during the whole process, waiting for you to be ready for him.
Visiting the Asta Lingams
We will show the visit to the lingams in the usual order, starting with Indra Lingam. I will first detail the meaning of this lingam for one’s life cycle, and then detail some of the traditional situations for which the lingam’s assistance can be requested.
Planet: Surya (Sun), Direction: East
The Indra Lingam is the most difficult to find. It is on Car Street, very near to the Vegetable Market.
Here is its entrance, amidst the various storefronts.
A long hallway takes you to the lingam.
Here is the Indra Lingam.
Cycle of Life meaning for Indra Lingam
Indra is important in heaven and is the ruler of creation. All beings, before they come to this world, are in Kailash. Before they come, they are wondering about this Earth. Lord Indra tells them that once they go there, they cannot come back that easily. When a person is born here, they lose all their higher energy and memories of what was before. So the people live on a lower level. Suffering and pain is a big part of their life. Ancient teachings, like the Siva Puranas, say that the purpose of life is to attain Mukti, enlightenment, liberation. But people don’t want Mukti, they want this life. So people should experience this world and their life. After this they will be ready for Mukti. These same ancient teachings say that Mukti is brought by doing Arunachala Pradakshina. These lingams were put in place to help people get Mukti. You start Pradakshina with the Indra Lingam because it stands for your birth (and the knowledge that you had before your were born).
If you watch closely, you will notice that there is always a path into the lingam (or moorthi) that is kept open from the outside. The reason for this is that the god does not always occupy the lingam. When you pray to the lingam, the spirit of the god rushes into the lingam, and the open path allows this to happen. The energy rises in the lingam, then comes back to you to respond to your prayers or devotion.
Traditional meaning for the Indra Lingam
Indra manifests seated on his elephant, wielding in his hand the weapon Vajra with which he destroys ignorance and bestows the light of knowledge on his deserving devotees. He offers the sweet nectar of spiritual knowledge to those who are fitting and ripe. Indra brings long life and fame.
This lingam has a tower above it. This was added when it was renewed, so it was not original. The tower has Saivite figures around it. In front are Siva and Parvati. Parvati is in her green-skinned Pachaiamman form.
Here is a close-up.
Next is Murugan (or Skanda), with his spear, Val.
In back of the lingam is a well. When first constructed, each lingam had a tank for bathing. Before the lingam is worshiped, one should bathe and clean oneself. Now since the lingam is in the midst of the city, the tank has been built over, and to bathe, water from this well would be used.
An ancient Tiruvannamalai king built 365 bathing tanks in Tiruvannamalai and around Arunachala. One could bathe in a different tank each day of the year. This was another thing said to bring Mukti. Now many of the tanks have been destroyed, and fewer than 100 still exist.
The rope to pull up the bucket from the well.
On the back of the temple tower is a Lingodbhava, illustrating Siva creating the endless column of light that became Arunachala.
Atop the tower is a brass Kalasa (spiritual pot). Its conical top piece reflects the spiritual energy around the area of the lingam, so to be able to absorb it, you need to walk Pradakshina around the temple. This is why, in all Siva temples, one walks around the primary god after worship of it.
In front of the lingam is Siva’s mount, Nandi.
Planet: Chandran (Moon), Direction: South East
Agni Lingam is next. It is near Ramana Ashram, located on a side street. There is a big sign over the street to announce its presence.
Agni Lingam is down a narrow alley, to the right after entering the street.
For your cycle of life, the first time you approach Agni Lingam, you should approach directly, head on.
This way the fire lingam can burn up all the karma of your past lives. This would be something that would be done in the stage of your life where you are learning.
There is a standard form of a prayer to say to each of the lingams, Om Sri Agni lingamai namo namaha. Use this chant at each, substituting the correct name of that lingam.
As you leave and walk away, you should feel how now you have a blank slate, your karma from now on is what you make it.
After this first time, then Agni Lingam should be approached with thanks, for the gifts that have been given.
Agni Lingam provides relief from diseases and fear, worshipping here relieves us from all diseases and to face challenges of life.
Here the the sadhu who officiates at Agni Lingam.
On the wall of the entrance to this lingam is a painted sign that gives the names of each of the lingams, and the name of the ruling planet for that lingam.
Planet: Mangala (Mars), Direction: South
Yama Lingam is on the left side of the street (like all other lingams from this one onward), about 1 km from Agni Lingam. It is situated most appropriately (since Yama is the god of death) beside the cremation grounds on Chengam road.
Above it is a sculpture showing Yama worshiping Siva and Parvati. He stands by his mount, the buffalo Mahishan.
Yama lingam shows the worshiper that all that is born will someday die, and since one is the immortal spirit and not the body, one does not need to fear death.
Worship at Yama Lingam is for longevity of life span. When humans, believing in Maya, get carried away by sensual pleasures, Yama serves as a check to them by reminding them of the endless cycle of birth and death in which they are getting enmeshed.
On the wall above Yama Lingam (and other of the Asta Lingams as well) are verses about this lingam by the famous ninth century Saivite Nayanar, Manikkavasakar. Manikkavasakar lived, said Saran, for a time at Adi Annamalai and wrote a series of verses about each of the lingams. This is a part of the ancient history that is behind each of them. It would be great to have an English translation of these verses. does anyone know of them?
Below, people worshiping Yama Lingam. Any time you go to these lingams, day or night, you are likely see see Indian people there, worshiping them.
Behind Yama Lingam is this tank, so you can take your bath before worship.
We come to Yama Lingam for worship.
Planet: Raghu (“Dragon’s Head” or “North Lunar Node”), Direction: South West
Nirudhi Lingam is set back from the road. It is about 1 km from Yama Lingam, after Pradakshina Road turns right and separates from Chengam Road.
In the entrance is Ganesh and attendants, very well dressed for the day.
Here is the building that houses Nirudhi Lingam.
On the sala gopura is a typical image for these lingams, this time showing Nirudhi worshiping Siva and Parvati.
Saran said that Nirudhi was the son of a local king that had great devotion for Siva.
Next to the lingam is this beautiful tank, still very much in use.
A sadhu performing his morning ablutions in the tank.
We come to the lingam to worship.
In the next stage of your life, now as an adult, you need to be straightforward and honest, to follow your dharma. Now the days of childhood and as a student are over, and you need to make the right start of your life. Worship of this lingam helps you do this.
Nirudhi Lingam helps with health, wealth and fame. Couples who want children are helped to get them.
Nirudhi is also said to be the king of the Asuras (demons), and he jointly rules the southern realm along with his friend, Yama. He is known to be the governor of the emotions and sentiments which create worldly desires in humans and enchain them to the cycle of birth and death. Nevertheless, by worshiping Nirudhi lingam in Arunachala, it is believed that he will actually help in getting renunciation or detachment which is the way to liberation.
Here is another diagram of the eight Asta Lingams, surrounding Arunachala, the central lingam.
Below is Ganesh, wearing a bright flower mala.
On the side of the temple people have drawn Hindu swastikas with white vibhuti (sacred ash). The swastika is a symbol for shakti, the feminine energy that drives all creation.
There is a small shrine to the rear of the lingam.
In it is a very old depiction of Siva and Parvati, riding the bull Nandi.
In this lingam, as well as others of the Asta LIngams, is a picture of I.S.V. Arunachala Moopanar (referred to as Moopanar Swamigal). He is now known as the caretaker of the Asta Lingams.
Moopanar Swami came to Arunachala from Tiruveneli around 1968 and became known throughout the Arunachala area. He was a devout man who placed emphasis on spiritual service. When he arrived at Arunachala, things were different from how they are now and what particularly distressed Moopanar Swami was the dreadful, neglected condition of the Asta Lingams. Moopanar Swami used to spend much time meditating at the big temple and he eventually came to believe that his mission, directly imposed by Arunachaleswarar, was to renovate the Asta Lingams.
He was convinced that the restoration of the lingam shrines was essential to the revitalization of fields of energy and influence surrounding the Hill. Through a combination of various reasons, over the last few centuries temples and shrines all over India had fallen into disuse and decay. This had occurred at Tiruvannamalai, where the situation had become so bad that the Asta Lingams were even taken over by squatters and homesteaders.
Moopanar approached the temple authorities, as all these shrines belong to the temple. The officer asked, "How are you going to carry out your renovation?" He replied, "There will be no committee. Siva is the boss, and I am the servant." The officer told him to carry on, if he had that much faith in himself. The temple would not interfere as long as he did not seek financial assistance from them. Thus began the arduous task of restoration. He first started on a small scale, doing minor repairs.
Later, as more money came in, he undertook restoration on a grander scale–providing electricity, drilling bore wells and building tanks for water storage. Moopanar told devotees, "I am not doing this out of desire. I am a sivanadiyar, slave of Siva, born a human and a Saivite, and doing Siva pooja for more than 25 years. If I do not carry out the repairs and restoration, there is no point in having taken birth. I have come for that purpose."
Toward the end of 1998 he had to discontinue his elaborate Siva pooja due to ill health–diabetes, high blood pressure and a heart attack–brought on by stress caused by opposition from certain quarters that stood to lose when Moopanar went to court to repossess property that rightfully belonged to the Asta Lingams. Over the years he had successfully gone to court more than once to reclaim Asta Lingams’ property. At the time of his death, there was a court case pending for Easanya Lingam. He died in 1999. He is revered now for his service. Some say his service is why Arunachala Giripradakshina is now so popular.
Planet: Sani (Saturn), Direction: West
Varuna Lingam is about one more km from Nirudhi Lingam, before Adi Annamalai village.
Above the entrance is Siva and Parvati being worshiped by Varuna on the left.
The life cycle that Varuna handles is really growth and fertility. Varuna is the god of rain, and water brings life.
To access the power of Varuna, go to the rear of the lingam to the niche. Place your hands in the position shown below, and open yourself up so that you can take in the energy of the rain.
Relief from illness, especially water-related diseases. Varuna governs the whole world because he is the god of rain, and all the waters, rivers, lakes and oceans in all the three worlds. He surveys the deeds of people according to their karma and keeps them under his control.
More swastikas on the shrine that encloses the lingam. Saran does not like these, he feels that they deface something sacred, and that the sign does not have anything to do with the lingam.
Carol accesses the power of the lingam.
More of Manikkavasagar’s verses.
Planet: Kedhu (“Dragon’s Tail” or “South Lunar Node”), Direction: North West
Vayu Lingam is about one more km, after Adi Annamalai village.
The entrance to the lingam.
Another depiction of Siva and Parvati is above the entrance.
An old entrance remains to this day. You have to stoop to enter through it. You should feel the wind as you enter.
Carol is in front of the lingam now.
With Vayu Lingam bringing life energy (prana), this is what is needed to make the growth that started at Varuna Lingam complete.
Vayu Lingam provides relief from illness, especially heart disease, breathing, and stomach problems. Vayu is the god of wind and provides creatures with vital life-giving breath and thereby sustaining the entire universe. In the Vayu Lingam one is always greeted by a rush of wind as if to prove that Sri Vayu is present and making his respects to Arunachala.
This swami serves at the Vayu Lingam.
Across the street, hidden behind some bushes, is the old tank, in disrepair and not in use.
Planet: Guru (Jupiter), Direction: North
Kubera Lingam is about one more km down the road.
Here is the entrance.
Praying to Kubera Lingam. The part of the life cycle it represents is the prosperity and abundance after your life has born fruit, from the growth made possible from the Varuna and Vayu lingams.
Nandi is wonderfully decorated.
Kubera Lingam brings wealth and improvement in life status. Kubera is the god of wealth and prosperity and so is greatly sought by most worshipers. He is also the chief of the yakshas who safeguard the riches of the devas. He is very friendly with Siva. Legend has it that Lord Kubera himself is beholden to Arunachala for the continued strength of his wealth and thus he worships Him from his ordained direction.
Here is the lingam.
Easanya (Isanya) Lingam
Planet: Budhan (Mercury), Direction: North East
This lingam is the stage of letting go of everything–material life, family, possessions. What you are waiting for now is liberation, mukti. “The body is going to fall at any time. Before that, give me mukti” is the typical prayer here. “Give me the power to not be afraid, and the power to reach you, Siva.” You ask yourself, “Do you want liberation, or do you want to incarnate again?” for many Indians it is at this stage of life where they really start to meditate, and go to temple with a deeper intent.
The Easanya Lingam is like a cemetery.
This and the Indra Lingam are the two most important lingams, the beginning and the ending. Between these two are your life’s lessons.
While this is the eighth of eight lingams, and most people end their lives here, one more lingam exists –Arunachala Siva, the lingam of liberation, the lingam of mukti. The last lingam is invisible.
The actual lingam is below the ground, so you have to sit to worship it.
And this is the place where you should sit and meditate, “I must surrender. My life is ending, what is important now?”
Om Sri Easanya lingamai namo namaha.
Easanya Lingam brings peace of mind. Isanyar is one of the seven Rudras of Siva. He is covered with ashes and surrounded by ghosts. Like Siva, he has matted locks and fierce eyes and is seated on a tiger skin. He holds the crescent moon and the river Ganga in his locks. His body is adorned by coiled serpents. In his hands he holds the mortal drum and the trident of Siva.
These Asta Lingams show you life’s lessons. All the time Siva has been there, silent and unmoving, waiting for you to come to Him. The Asta Lingams are really about mukti and preparation for it.
Here is Saran, giving us our last talk of the day. What a good day!
This tour of the famous eight lingams of Arunachala gives us a new way to approach and appreciate them. I hope that it can do the same for you.
Saran is the best of the Arunachala guides. If you are ever able to join him to climb or tour Arunachala, visit any of the holy places, or see the places where Ramana lived, you would think it was most worthwhile. Contact him through is web page: www.mountainsarantours.com