6 February 2015

Life of Ammani Amman (Arunachaleswarar North Gopuram)

I have received a number of enquiries asking for information about women saints and sadhakas of this place. I earlier made a posting of the renowned and mysterious Sufi Saint Syedini Bibi whose Darghar (burial site) is located on Car Street. 

The below posting is of Ammani Amman, the great sadhaka responsible for the construction of the North Gopuram of Arunachaleswarar Temple. The information and legends have come from several Tamil sources. It is my belief that the below narrative is the first time information and legends of this sadhaka have appeared in English. 

Ammani Amman 

Ammani Amman was born in the small village of Chennasamutharam, which is located at the foot of Javadhi Hills (near Chengam). She is famous for building the North Gopuram of Tiruvannamalai Temple (Arunachaleswarar Kovil). She was born to Gopala Pillai and Alu Ammal and had a brother named Thandavan Pillai. Her parents planned to marry off their daughter and although Ammani Amman was not interested in marriage, she did not oppose the wish of her parents. Her parents selected a boy, who was related to her family and fixed the date for the marriage. 

On the first day of her marriage Ammani Amman told her husband about her devotion to Lord Shiva, and that she wanted to live a life dedicated to her chosen God. Her husband was irate and told his wife of his own wishes for their marriage. The discussion between the two led to strong words and Ammani Amman spoke harshly to her husband. After their argument, she left the house and went and stood in a nearby pond. She remained in the pond throughout the night and when she left the pond the next morning, was able to chant many mantras. Still in a trance-like condition, she wandered about near her village until she reached a small waterfall. At that place she remained motionless for two days. On the third day, in response to the unceasing prayers of her relatives, Ammani Amman left the waterfall and gave handfuls of sandy earth to her awaiting relatives (who had remained fasting in that place throughout on a vigil). The sand was transformed into fried rice, which amazed her family—who then questioned Ammani Amman about who she was and the nature of the powers she had acquired. 

Ammani Amman responded to their questioning:- 

It is reported that she claimed she was Parashakthi, consort of Lord Shiva. She continued with her narrative relating that when she was living with the Lord, one day she asked Him to answer her doubt as what was the sun and the moon. The Lord replied that, “the sun and moon are my two eyes – the right is the sun, and the left is the moon.” In play Parashakti moved to the back of the Lord and put her hands over His eyes, closing them. All became dark. The Lord angrily told her that although she was His wife, that she had to atone for the mistake of closing His eyes by taking birth for two jenmas (lives) on earth. Both those two births were ordained to take place at the village of Chennasamutharam. 

In the first jenma (birth), Ammani Amman related to her relatives (who were listening to her narrative), that she was brought up as an adopted daughter to a farmer and his wife of Chennasamutharam. Her adopted parents were Aadhyan and Godvari. They were devotees of Lord Shiva and did not themselves have a child. One day local villagers summoned them to a big stone at the village. On the stone the couple saw a small female child. Believing the child to be prasad from the Lord, they adopted the baby and gave it the name of Chennama (which was told by Lord Shiva in a dream to Aadhyan). Even to this day the villagers worship a big rock at that place (where the baby was believed to have been discovered) in the name of Ammani Amman i.e. Chennama Rock. 

As Chennama was growing up, she daily performed meditation and puja to Lord Shiva. A Muslim King Nawab, who was ruler in the area of Chengam, came to hear about the God-gifted child and came to see her. He asked Aadhyan and Godvari to give the child to his care, vowing that he would adopt the girl and eventually make her Queen of his Kingdom. 

The parents told their adopted daughter what the King proposed. The child asked the King to return on the eighth day. Before the King arrived on the eighth day (as related by Chennama) villagers and parents sent her away on a small boat, travelling throughout the night. In the morning she reached Neepathurai. On reaching that place, a person came to her – it was Velliyappa Chittar (a saint living in that village). On seeing the young girl he intuited who she was and showed her to a cave where the Saptha Kannigals (seven guardian deities) would protect her from all adversity. She went into the cave and sat surrendered to the protection of the Saptha Kannigals. 

Nawab, the King, on hearing the news that Chennama was at Neepathurai Village arrived there with his army to see the child. He met the saint Velliyappa Chittar who told the King that the child had been born to save devotees, that she was an incarnation of Parvati and did not belong in the worldly realm even as a Queen. Velliyappa Chittar showed the king the cave the child had entered and was now living under the protection of the Saptha Kannigals. On hearing the words of the saint the King was shocked and realised the mistake of his previously trying to take the child. Thereafter the King spent the remainder of his life as watchman and guardian to Chennama. 

The saint, Velliyappa Chittar soon after attained jivan samadhi. Above the rock of Velliyappa Chittar’s jivan samadhi, there is today a Temple at Neepathurai Village known as Sri Prasana Venktatesha Perumal Temple. 

Sri Prasana Venkatesha Perumal Temple

Thus the first jenma (birth) of Ammani Amman as Chennama ended.

In the second jenma (as she relates in her narrative to her friends and relatives by the waterfall) she took birth as Ammani Amman in order that she could perform tapas and service in atonement for the mistake she had previously made of closing the eyes of Lord Shiva. The service ordained to her was to complete the construction of the North Gopuram of Arunachaleswarar Temple (Tiruvannamalai) which had been started by King Vallala Maharaja. The King was responsible for the development of many parts of Arunachaleswarar Temple but had left the North Gopuram unfinished. When the King’s wives Malla and Salla had asked the King about the unfinished North Gopuram of the Temple; the King told them that a lady would come and finish the work. 

Ammani Amman Gopuram, Arunachaleswarar Temple

Ammani Amman started to raise money for the North Gopuram. One way she financed the work was by visiting the homes of Lord Annamalaiyar’s devotees and asking them for money towards the cost of the Temple tower. If they refused she would make them vow to give a cash donation if she was able to tell them exactly how much money they had in their homes. She would always guess correctly, and the devotees believing Ammani Amman had Divine grace for the work, would invariably donate towards the development of the North Gopuram. 

Later with a group of devotees Ammani Amman went to the King at Mysore seeking a donation towards the Temple work. The Mysore King agreed to help and gave her money laden on seven camels and a valuable pearl necklace. Returning with the treasure to Tiruvannamalai on the forested mountain path of Manjavadi Kaanavai a group of thieves attacked her encampment in order to steal her treasure. Ammani Amman allowed the thieves to take the money saying that it belonged to Lord Shiva. As the robbers touched the riches they became blind. In great remorse and realising their mistake they fell down before Ammani Amman in worship and asked her to restore their vision. As their sight returned, the band of reformed thieves accompanied her to her village Chennasamutharam where they made a pond for forest animals and planted many trees brought from Mysore. They then accompanied her to Tiruvannamalai and continued with the work on the North Gopuram. 

North Gopuram at left

Ammani Amman built up the seventh stage of the Gopuram by using specialist masons (spathis) but by the eighth stage (of the Gopuram) money had once again run out and thus she worshipped Lord Shiva by performing japa and begged for His support. Lord Shiva told her in a dream to continue and to give vibhutti to the workers. On giving vibhutti to the builders, it was transformed into gold and the work continued until the Gopuram was completed. 


The North Gopuram of Arunachaleswarar Temple is known as Ammani Amman Gopuram and comprises one of the four major Gopurams of the Temple; Raja Gopuram (east), Thirumanja Gopuram (south), Pey Gopuram (west) and Amman Amman Gopuram (north). 
Ammani Amman Compound, next to Esanya Mutt

The samadhi of this great sadhaka is next to the Esanya Mutt across from Esanya Lingam in Tiruvannamalai. 

Samadhi of Ammani Amman


Anonymous said...

This is so much very good information that I have seen nowhere else. Thanks for your service with this Blog. It is very inspirational.

Itinerant Yogi said...

Wow. Only just saw this now. Please share more about the mysterious world of the sadhinis of Tiruvannamalai! Thanks so much!

Meenakshi Ammal said...

Unfortunately we don't have that many Arunachala yoginis to write about. Currently I am trying to gather information about Jatini Sanmukha Yogini. So will see how that goes.


Gods grace be with you to enlighten the world more about such adiyars. Thankyou!

Anonymous said...

is there a naga temple near this chennamma temple (walkable distance)
pls inform.

Meenakshi Ammal said...

There are roadway Naga Shrines dotted around the Hill. But there is no dedicated Naga Temple at Tiruvannamalai. However you might like to visit the Lord Venkateshwara Temple (near Kubera Lingam off the Girivalam Road) because there are several Shakti Shrines there with Nagas that are very beautiful and powerful.

Anonymous said...

towards right side of the chennamma temple, there are two more temples away from big rock, apart from the venkateswara temple on the road side. what are these temples who is the deity. because when i visited these temples were closed. pls inform.

Meenakshi Ammal said...

Sorry don't have that information. If anyone knows please leave a comment here with details.