When Arunachala drew me up to it, stilling my mind, and I came close, I saw it stand unmoving.
Tiruvannamalai means ‘holy mountain’ (from the Tamil words tiru, meaning ‘holy’, and Annamalai, which is the Tamil name for Arunachala). In 1901, a few years after Ramana’s arrival there, the town had a population of about 17,000. This has since grown to over 110,000.
The famous Arunachaleswara temple at the foot of the hill is 1,550 feet long and 750 feet wide and is, therefore, one of the largest temple complexes in Southern India. It dates back to the early Chola dynasty of Aditya I. and Parantaka I. (871-953 AD). It represents fire, one of the five elements, and is one of the most sacred places in Southern India.12 It is dedicated to Arunachaleswara, God (Iswara), who manifested himself as Shiva’s column of fire in the form of the hill Arunachala (see Chapter 7).
The temple complex has three compound walls with nine gate-towers (gopurams) and three inner courtyards. The eastern tower, which houses the main entrance, has eleven storeys and is 216 feet high and is the second highest temple tower in Southern India. Inside the temple compound there are numerous shrines to the various gods, the impressive thousand-pillared hall with exactly 1,000 richly decorated pillars, numerous open pillared halls (mantapas), gardens, inner courtyards and two temple ponds.
The oldest part of the temple, the inner sanctum (cella), lies inside the third wall, it is square in shape and is lit only with oil lamps. This room, which only Hindus are allowed to enter, contains the holy lingam of Arunachaleswara. The third courtyard also contains the sanctum of the mother-goddess Unnamalaiyamma, shortened to Uma, another name for Shiva’s consort Parvati.