Tiruvannamalai Knowledge Guide


The history of Tiruvannamalai revolves around the Annamalaiyar Temple. The recorded history of the town dates back to the ninth century, as seen from a Chola inscriptions in the temple. Further inscriptions made before ninth century indicate the rule of Pallava kings, whose capital was Kanchipuram. The seventh century Nayanar saints Sambandar and Appar wrote of the temple in their poetic work, Tevaram. Sekkizhar, the author of the Periyapuranam records both Appar and Sambandar worshiped Annamalaiyar in the temple. The Chola Kings ruled over the region for more than four centuries, from 850 to 1280, and were temple patrons. The inscriptions from the Chola king record various gifts like land, sheep, cow and oil to the temple commemorating various victories of the dynasty. The Hoysala kings used Tiruvannamalai as their capital beginning in 1328. There are 48 inscriptions from the Sangama Dynasty (1336–1485), two inscriptions from Saluva Dynasty, and 55 inscriptions from Tuluva Dynasty (1491–1570) of the Vijayanagara Empire, reflecting gifts to the temple from their rulers. There are also inscriptions from the rule of Krishnadeva Raya (1509–1529), the most powerful Vijayanagara emperor,indicating further patronage. Most of the Vijayanagara inscriptions were written in Tamil, with some in Kannada and Sanskrit. The inscriptions in the temple from the Vijayanagara kings indicate emphasis on administrative matters and local concerns, which contrasts the inscriptions of the same rulers in other temples like Tirupathi. The majority of the gift related inscriptions are for land endowments, followed by goods, cash endowments, cows and oil for lighting lamps. The town of Tiruvannamalai was at a strategic crossroads during the Vijayanagara Empire, connecting sacred centers of pilgrimage and military routes. There are inscriptions that show the area as an urban center before the precolonial period, with the town developing around the temple, similar to the Nayak ruled cities like Madurai.During the 17th century, Tiruvannamalai came under the dominion of the Nawab of the Carnatic. As the Mughal empire came to an end, the Nawab lost control of the town, with confusion and chaos ensuing after 1753. Subsequently, there were periods of both Hindu and Muslim stewardship of the temple, with Muraru Raya, Krishna Raya, Mrithis Ali Khan, and Burkat Ullakhan besieging the temple in succession. As European incursions progressed, Tiruvannamalai was attacked by French Soupries, Sambrinet, and the English Captain Stephen Smith. While some were repelled, others were victorious. The French occupied the town in 1757 and it came under the control of the British in 1760. In 1790, Tiruvannamalai town was captured by Tippu Sultan, who ruled from 1750–99. During the first half of the 19th century, the town came under British rule.


The Annamalaiyar Temple is the most prominent landmark of Tiruvannamalai. The temple complex covers an area of 10 ha (25 acres), and is one of the largest temples in India. It houses four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the eastern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 66 m (217 ft), making it one of the tallest temple towers in India. The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Annamalaiyar and Unnamulai Amman being the most prominent. The temple complex houses many halls; the most notable is the thousand-pillared hall built during the Vijayanagar period.The Annamalaiyar temple is one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalas, or five Shiva temples, with each a manifestation of a natural element: land, water, air, sky or fire. In Annamalaiyar temple, Shiva is said to have manifested himself as a massive column of fire, whose crown and feet could not be found by the Hindu gods, Brahma and Vishnu. Aathara Stala are Shiva temples which are considered to be personifications of the Tantric chakras of human anatomy. The Annamalaiyar temple is called the Manipooraga stalam, and is associated with the Manipooraga chakra. The temple is revered in Tevaram, the Tamil Saiva canon and classified as Paadal Petra Sthalam, one of the 276 temples that find mention in the Saiva canon. The most important festival of the Annamalaiyar temple is celebrated during the Tamil month of Karthikai, between November and December, concluding with the celebration of Karthikai Deepam. A huge lamp is lit in a cauldron, containing three tons of ghee, at the top of the Annamalai hills during the Deepam. To mark the occasion, the festival deity of Annamalaiyar circumambulates the mountain. Inscriptions indicate that the festival was celebrated as early as the Chola period (850–1280) and was expanded to ten days in the twentieth century.Every full moon, tens of thousands of pilgrims worship Annamalaiyar by circumambulating the Annamalai hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a distance of 14 kilometres (8.7 mi), and is referred as Girivalam. According to Hindu legend, the walk removes sins, fulfils desires and helps achieve freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Offerings are made in a string of tanks, shrines, pillared meditation halls, springs and caves around the hill. Tirumalai is an ancient Jain temple complex in the outskirts of Tirvannamalai that houses three Jain caves, four Jain temples and a 16 feet (4.9 m) high sculpture of Neminatha dated from the 12th century and the tallest Jain image in Tamil Nadu.The Ramana Ashram and ashram of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, located around the Annamalai hill are popular visitor attractions of Tiruvannamalai. The Sathanur Dam over the Thenpennair river located 20 km (12 mi) southwest of the town is a prominent picnic spot. This 786.37 m Dam is 44.81m high and can store 7,321,000,000 cu ft or 207,300,000 cubic meters of water. A scenic park is also present adjacent to this dam. Ulagalantha Perumal Temple in Tirukoyilur and Thiruvarangam, situated 20 km (12 mi) south of Tiruvannamalai are prominent Vishnu temples that are located around Tiruvannamalai.