About Arunachala

The mountain Arunachala (termed the “Holy Hill” by many, since it is only 2682 feet high) in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu state, South India, is one of the oldest and most sacred holy places associated with Lord Shiva in India. It has been attracting seekers of truth from time immemorial due to its deep mystical quality and timeless spiritual resplendence. This mountain represents a fairly unique phenomenon in spirituality; that of people worshipping a mountain.

Arunachala Introduction Video
Spiritual significance of Arunachala

The following summarizes some of the points that establish the spiritual significance of Arunachala:

  • The Puranas say that the primal gods Brahma and Vishnu had their ego sense destroyed by Shiva in this place.
  • The Upanishads claim that the five elements were enlightened at this place and the eight guardian angels of the eight cardinal points (dikpalakas) were absolved of their original sins.
  • The Puranas further say that all sages converge on Arunachala for consummation of their penance.
  • Parvathi, consort of Shiva, took over the left half of Shiva at this place.
  • Since this Hill was the original lingam, the worship of Shiva originated from this place.
  • The formless Supreme Being first assumed form at this place.
  • All the major Hindu Festivals (Navaratri, Shivaratri, Aridhra) originated from this place.
  • There are about 96 shrines around the Hill.
  • There are more than 52 ancient texts on Arunachala.
  • In all major foreign languages, literature exists on Arunachala.
  • Annually, over a million devotees come to this place from all five continents.
  • While on their first flight to the moon, the astronauts saw a brilliant glow emanating from this place during Karthigai Deepam festival.
  • Arunachala is considered to be the very embodiment of compassion and knowledge among saints, sages, and devotees.
  • Other Saivite holy places such as Kailas, Kasi and Chidambaram are said to be sacred because they are the abodes of Lord Shiva, whereas Arunachala is Lord Shiva himself.

Over the centuries, many sages and saints have been attracted to Arunachala and have sung or written poetry about it. Saivite saints who either lived on or publicly revered the Hill include:

  • Appar Tirunavukkarasar Nayanar (aka “Appar”) - 7th century poet-saint, one of the most prominent of the 63 Tamil Saivite saints (Nayanars) Sambandar - 7th century young poet-saint
  • Sundarar (aka Tampiran Toozhan - “Comrade of the Master Shiva”) - 8th century, also a prominent Nayanar, and composer of parts of the Tirumurai, a Tamil Saivite scripture.
  • Manikkavacakar - 9th century poet-saint who who wrote Tiruvasakam, a book of Saivite hymns
  • Guhai NamaShivaya - 15th century guru who lived in a cave still known by his name.
  • Virupaksha Deva - 15th century came from Karnataka who lived in a cave still known by his name, which was used by Ramana Maharshi for some time.
  • Seshadri Swamigal – Colorful 19th and 20th century sage who has an ashram next to Ramana Maharshi
  • Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi - 20th century saint whose ashram sits at the base of the Hill

The inspired compositions about Arunachala by the above sages are ecstatic outpourings from the spiritual hearts of fully illumined sages. More information about some of these sages can be found on David Godman’s website.

The first record of the glory of Arunachala is in the Rig Veda, which is regarded as the most ancient scripture in the world. The greatness of Arunachala can perhaps best be summarized most authoritatively by these passages from another ancient Hindu scripture, the Skanda Purana:

There is no greater holy spot than Aruna,
There is no greater Lord than Arunachaleshwara
There is no greater penance than circumbulation of Arunachala
That is the holy place. Of all, Arunachala is the most sacred.
It is the heart of the world.

Know it to be the secret and sacred Heart-centre of Shiva.

The Skanda Purana describes the following legend of the origin of the Holy Hill as Lords Brahma and Vishnu becoming egoistic, and, forgetting their true source, claiming supremacy over the other. 

Lord Shiva decided to settle the matter. He created an endless column of light and challenged them both to find the top or bottom of it. Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug down to find the bottom, Lord Brahma took the form of a swan and flew up to find the top. Lord Vishnu failed in his search and returned. But Lord Brahma, encountering a screw pine flower floating down, arranged for the flower to bear false witness that he had seen the top. Lord Shiva declared him a liar and pronounced that there would henceforth never be a temple for Lord Brahma (which is true to this day). He also forbade the use of the screw pine flower in his worship (which also remains true). Lord Shiva’s column of light is represented by the flame at the top of Arunachala during Karthagai Deepam.

Because the world was being scorched by the blazing effulgence of the divine form of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu prayed to Him to abide in a less brilliant form. Entreated by Brahma and Vishnu thus, Lord Shiva manifested as Arunachala the Holy Hill for the welfare of the world. For the purpose of ritualistic worship, He manifested as the deity Arunachaleshwara in the form of a lingam in the sanctum sanctorum of the Arunachaleshwara Temple, on the eastern side of the Holy Hill.

This effulgent lingam in the form of a Hill was then worshipped by the 96 Brahmas (creators of the world). The implication is that 96 dissolutions or pralayas (dissolutions of the world) have taken place. This coincides with the geological finding by the Geological Survey of India of the core age of Arunachala as 3.8 billion years old, qualifying it as one of the oldest rock formations on earth and reinforcing the ancient tradition that holds the Hill to be sacred. Hence, the Holy Hill of Arunachala is the oldest natural shrine in the world.

Aruanchala’s appearance reflects the age, as defined by the concept of yugas in Hindu cosmology. The Arunachala Puranas say that in Satya Yuga, the Hill was a column of light. In Krita Yuga, the Hill was made of Fire, hence it became the Fire Mountain (“Aruna” means fire). In Tretha Yuga, it was a Mountain of precious gems. In Dvapara Yuga, it was a bronze mountain, and now in Kali Yuga it has become a stone hill.

Ramana Maharshi was quite certain about the existence of a corresponding holy hill exactly on the side opposite Arunachala, on the other side of the globe. As indicated by Sri Ramana, there is indeed a sacred mountain at the other end of the axis in Peru. The Inca Indians worshipped this mountain and established a very sacred spiritual city there called Machu Picchu. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. While it may not be geographically exactly opposite Arunachala, it is worth adding that such expectation would be unreasonable, since the earth is not a precise sphere.

For more detailed information about Arunachala and its mystic allure and history, see the book Ramana’s Arunachala: Ocean of Divine Grace available in the Sri Ramanasramam bookstore.

There is also a YouTube video in Tamil and English explaining the specialness of Arunachala.