8 July 2007

The Mountain

Tiruvannnamalai, is most of all, the mountain, a conical peak, isolated and visible from more than a radius of 20 Kms. The mountain, represented as an emblem in the shape of a triangle, appears in relief on many sculptures of the Hoysala period.

Among the lingams of the 5 elements, earth at Kanchipuram, ether at Chidambaram, wind in Kalahasti, water in Tiruvanaikovil, the lingam of fire in Tiruvannamalai is the one which has the most interesting history, a legend which has the highest resonance and consistency for the faithful.

Tiruvannamalai with its lingam of fire has a particularly evident character. The legend is a re-make of an ancient theme in the Kenopanishad in which Brahman manifests as the Supreme Divinity in front of whom Agni and Vayu are obliged to bow down. In the Puranas, instead of Brahman, Shiva in the form of a column of fire dominates over Vishnu and Brahma. Tiruvannamalai is the place of this manifestation of which the religious anchorage is, compared to the four other Pancha Bhutas, much more solid in that Siva has been identified as Agni, fire.

The mountain itself is imposing like a mythical image of the Centre which every mountain represents in Hindu thought. Arunachala is the object of circumambulation and the linga of the temple. Shiva in the form of a great spontaneous lingam (Swayambhu Linga) fixed himself there in response to the prayers of his devotees in order to perpetuate the lingam fire mountain.

Lastly, the mountain plays a great role in religious life both physically and mythically. At a height of 800 metres the mountain receives enough water to feed the reservoirs and lakes which have facilitated the setting up of little ashrams and also fill up the numerous ponds (tirthams) around the pradakshina that the pilgrims make use of.

[By Francoise L’Hernault]

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