A short time back I visited the area east of the Temple specifically to take photographs of the gutted spot left by the devasting December 2013 fire which occurred very close to the main Raja Gopuram entrance. A compilation of various reports reads thus:
“Late in the evening on Thursday, December 13, 2013, a major fire broke out in a metal shop located a few yards away from the Rajagopuram of Sri Arunachaleshwarar Temple in Tiruvannamalai, on Sannathi Street. Goods worth about 70 lakh was destroyed in nine metal shops. It has been suggested by officials that the shops greatly exceeded the limit of their storage capacity.
|Local metal shop untouched by fire|
|Front of gutted area now boarded up|
Sanyasis sleeping in front of the metal shops noticed thick smoke emanating from M Veeratalingam’s Gandhimathi Metal Store around 11.45 pm on Friday. The sanyasis informed a group of shop owners and workers, who were working nearby.
The fire quickly engulfed nearby shops. A distress call was received by the District Fire and Rescue Station, located 7 km out of town, at 12.05 am and it took the fire service personnel 16 minutes to reach the spot. However, the fire had spread and fire personnel found it difficult to bring the blaze under control as each of the shops locked with two or three locks. An official said, “It took over 6 hours for the fire to be brought under control and 47 personnel were engaged in the operation. Electric short-circuit is suspected to be the cause of the fire.
|9 metal shops razed to the ground|
Two fire tenders from Tiruvannamalai, one each from Polur, Chengam, Keelpennathur, and Thandrampet fire station were engaged in the dousing operation.”
|Gutted shops east of Raja Gopuram|
|Raja Gopuram East Gate, Big Temple|
While spending time in the area around the East Gopuram, I checked to find out whether flower and archana stalls have been allowed back into the area. Previous to the 2013 Deepam Festival, very stringent regulations were enforced limiting the presence of stalls in and around the major entrance to the Big Temple. Locals and pilgrims were surprised that the most important Shiva Temple in India should effectively be banning the sale of puja requirements near the main entrance to Arunachaleswarar Temple.
|Car park in front of Temple main entrance|
It was even more puzzling that the area previously dedicated to the service and assistance of visiting pilgrims, should have been transformed into a carpark for shop owners and V.I.Ps.
The shops and stalls have not returned to the area previously dedicated to the sale of archana items, but happily some tradespeople have set up mobile shopping areas were pilgrims can purchase flowers, coconuts, camphor, agarbatti and other archana necessities.
|Flower garlands again available outside Big Temple|
|Hope things return to normal|
|Beads, Rudrakshas and Threads for sale|
|In front of Main Temple Gate|
The December 2013 fire outside the big Temple was not an anomaly. There had been in fact another recent fire, which took place in 1996 and destroyed the then 16 pillared mandapam (which is meant for Murtis during processions). That mandapam has been replaced by the now current 44 pillared mandapam.
|New Mandapam in front of Temple East Gate|
|Mandapam with a variety of uses|
|Resting and chatting being a most important use|
|Many sadhus and saints have slept in and around the Big Temple|
|Some things have remained the same from days of yore|