One of the world’s most sought after destination in the category of spiritual tourism, Arunachala mountain holds a special relevance and significance to millions of visitors and devotees all over the earth. From very ancient times Arunachala hill has been called by various other names as Arunagiri, Annamalai Hill, Arunachalam, Arunai, Sonagiri and Sonachalam.But the most popular and widely accepted name for the hill is Arunachala and here Shiva himself known as Arunachala Shiva resides in the form of Arunachala Hill and graces one and all.The meaning for Arunachala is – “Aruna which means ‘red, bright like fire signifies agni ( one of the five elements ) which burns one’s ego and enlightens the soul. Hence it is Jnana agni, the fire of wisdom. Achala signifies the hill. Thus, Aruna – Achala combined is “Arunachala” and means ‘Hill of Wisdom’ or Hill of Jnana- Hill Of Enlightenment.
According to the the vedas and puranas associated with the legend of Arunachala hill, they describe that a dispute occurred between Brahma the creator, and Vishnu the preserver, over which of them was superior god. As per the vedas there are 5 Divine functionalities also known as ‘Panchakritya karmas’ or Panchakritya karmas’ and they are –
1) Srishti or Creation would be performed by Brahma
2) Sthithi or protection by Vishnu
3) Laya or destruction by Rudra
4) the fourth task, viz. Tirobhav would be performed by Mahesa (After destruction millions of souls will be protected which is Concealment and Revival)
5. Sadha Shiva will give ‘Anugraha’(Providing Salvation) which is finally the most significant task of Anugraha that is exclusive dispensation by Himself.( Note –In this story Rudra the destroyer or Mahesa in charge of Tirubhav are not inlvoled ) In this intensity of the battle both Brahma and Vishnu forgot their due responsibilities and in that process forgot the holy and supreme power and were engulfed in their ego as to who among them were higher and powerful.
Lord Shiva in a effort to arbitrate their discord and make them come to their senses declared that, “Whosoever should find either the beginning or the end of this light of mine shall be considered, now and forever more, the superior of you two.” Lo and Behold ! Lord Shiva assumed the form of a flaming light ( some say the light was in a lingam form – also called sthanu or lingodbhavamurti ) and challenged both of them by asking them to reach the source of the light at any one of the end.
Both Brahma and Vishnu filled with ego were sure they could find the source of the light easily and hence Lord Brahma took the form of a swan and went upwards while Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a boar (also called Varaha) and went into the earth towards nether land. Both searched for thousands of miles but neither could find the end.It was then that Vishnu admitted his failure and turned to Lord Shiva in praise and prayer: “You are Self-knowledge. You are OM. You are the beginning and the middle and the end of everything. You are everything and illuminate everything.”On the other hand Brahma in his journey upward became exhausted and bewildered with his search to find the uppermost limit of fiery column.On the way he came across Ketaki (screw pine (pandanus odoratissimus) the flower which used to reside on top of shiva’s head. Brahma made Ketaki assent to lie that he had seen the top of the column where the flower had previously resided. Accompanied by his accomplice, Brahma confronted Vishnu and asserted that he had indeed discovered the origin of the cosmic column. At this point, the central part of the pillar split open and Lord Shiva revealed himself in his full glory.Now Brahma was exposed and confessed to his fault. Upon hearing this lie Lord Shiva declared that henceforth Lord Brahma, would not be worshipped in temples, and the Ketaki flower( screw pine- pandanus odoratissimus) would not be used in worship.
Upon the request of the gods Vishnu and Brahma, Shiva manifested himself as Arunachala Hill. Lord Shiva is said to have manifested as a column of light, and then the form of Arunachala Hill.
In Skanda Puran,Shiva declares, “I truly abide here on earth in the form of the named Aruncahala, for bestowing the attainment of liberation.”
“All Jivas live, move and have their being in Me. I am latent in you just as fire in wood, ghee in milk and so on. You cannot perceive such latency with the aid of your senses, or by learning either from books or from scholars, but you can know me only by meditating on me alone, I am now here as the Arunachala hill and also as a lingam.
The moon gets its light from the sun, even so other holy places will henceforth get their sanctity from Arunachala. This is the only place where I have taken this form for the benefit of those people who desire to worship me and obtain illumination. Arunachala is Omkara-swarupa or AUM itself. I will appear on the top of this hill every year on the Karthikai deepam day in the form of a peace giving beacon. Those who see that flame and meditate on it will realize the ‘Great Flame’ or the ‘Luminous Self’ in themselves.”
In this legend, Vishnu represents the intellect and Brahma the ego, while Siva is Atma, the spirit. Ego and intellect realize the futility of knowing Atman because the latter is beyond the senses and transcends both ego and intellect. The ego and intellect, therefore, surrender themselves completely to the Atman and obtain illumination (Self-knowledge). This refers not only to the sanctity of Arunachala itself but also to the pre-eminence of the doctrine of Advaita and the path of Self-enquiry of which Arunachala is the center. One can understand this meaning in Sri Bhagavan’s saying, “In the end everyone must come to Arunachala.”
The Arunachala hill is an imposing landmark with an elevation of 2634 feet. Geologists claim the rocks of the mountain are almost as old as Earth itself. Like flowers attract bees, Arunachala has been drawing mystics, masters, yogis, truth seekers and enlightened beings from time immemorial. The evidence gathered from geological studies made in Tiruvannamalai during the 1970’s throws light on the formation of the charnockite and related assemblages of rocks older than 3000-3500 million years. The world’s famous mountain ranges like the Alps, the Rockies, the Andes, the Himalayan and Appalachian ranges contain high peaks at very high altitudes, but geo-chronologically they do not come under the Archaeon period and they belong to younger ages. The upheaval of the Himalayas was not a continuous process but took place in four phases. Himalayan ranges are less than 50 million years old, whereas the upheaval was in one single phase for the holy hill of Arunachala and 3000 – 3500 year old.
From the above inferences, it is clear that the holy hill of Arunachala is older than the Himalayas (mount Everest or Kailash) and hence the oldest natural shrine in the world. And so, Manickavasagar, one of the ancient 63 Tamil saints hails Lord Arunachala as “older than the oldest” and “later than the latest”.
The route of 14 kilometers around the mountain and centered on its vertical axis, is oriented to the cardinal points by the distribution of shrines consecrated to the eight lingams of the directions.
This rocky mass of granite may be dated back to the earliest epoch of the history of our planet’s crust, that epoch which long preceded the vast sedimentary formations in which fossil records of plants and animals have been preserved. It existed long before the gigantic saurians of the pre-historic world moved their ungainly forms through the primeval forest that covered our early earth. It was contemporaneous with the formation of the very crust of earth itself. Arunachala was almost as hoary and as ancient as our planetary home itself.”
Arunachala is the physical embodiment of Sat, the reality, and hence to have contact with it in any manner is Sat-sang. Ramana Maharishi used to say that the benefits which can be gained by meditation and various other forms of mind-control only after great struggle and effort, will be effortlessly gained by those who go round the Hill and that the power of Arunachala is such that even if one does Pradakshina / Parikrama / Girivalam (perform circumambulation of the 14 km pathway around Arunachala) with no faith, it will still have its effect and surely purify the mind.
Because Arunachala is the Fire of Knowledge ( Jnana Agni) in the form of a Hill, the out-going tendencies (vasanas) of the mind are automatically scorched when one goes round it. When damp wood is brought close to a fire, it will gradually be dried, and at a certain point it will itself catch fire. Similarly, when the mind which is soaked with worldly tendencies goes round the Hill, the tendencies will gradually dry up and at a certain point the mind will become fit to be burnt by the fire of jnana. Ramana Maharishi said of pradakshina / Girivalam (circumambulation.) “This Hill is the storehouse of all spiritual power. Going round It benefits you in all ways”
Arunachala Mahatmyam says –
“By seeing Chidambaram, by being born in Tiruvarur, by dying in Kasi, or by merely thinking of Arunachala, one will surely attain Liberation.”
Another verse in the Arunachala Mahatmyam, translated from Sanskrit into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi says – “Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places it is the most sacred! Know that it is the heart of the world. It is truly Siva himself! It is his heart-abode, a secret kshetra. In that place the Lord ever abides in the hill of light named Arunachala