Swamiji's pilgrimage through India has now begun and we have received the first short report from the pilgrims!
Jai Gurudev! Arrived in Arunachala! The Ashram is very nice, Swamiji arrived yesterday afternoon. We visited the huge temple (2nd biggest of India) for several different pujas with the high priest, today going to Ramana Maharshi ashram and to the caves on the foot of the Arunachala where he meditated. Much love
Arunachala refers to the holy hill at Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the five main shaivite holy places in South India. The Annamalaiyar Temple, a temple of Lord Shiva is located at the base of the hill. Every year in the Tamil month of Karthigai, the Karthigai Deepam (Light) is lit atop the hill in a great ceremony.
Annamalaiyar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as one of the temples associated with the five elements, the Pancha Bhoota Stalas, and specifically the element of fire, or Agni. Shiva is worshiped as Annamalaiyar or Arunachaleswarar, and is represented by the lingam, with his idol referred to as Agni lingam. His consort Parvati is depicted as Unnamulai Amman. The Karthigai Deepam festival is celebrated during the day of the full moon between November and December, and a huge beacon is lit atop the hill. It can be seen from miles around, and symbolizes the Shiva lingam of fire joining the sky. The event is witnessed by three million pilgrims.
The story goes that Parvati, wife of Shiva, once closed the eyes of her husband playfully in a flower garden at their abode atop Mount Kailash. Although only a moment for the gods, all light was taken from the universe, and the earth, in turn, was submerged in darkness for years. Parvati performed penance along with other devotees of Shiva. Then her husband appeared as a column of fire at the top of Annamalai hills, returning light to the world. He then merged with Parvati to form Ardhanarishvara, the half-female, half-male form of Shiva. For this reason the hill is sacred and considered a lingam, or iconic representation of Shiva, in itself.
(One can see the Annamalai Hills in the background)