Festival Travel

Tiruvannamalai: The fire on the mountain

View of the temple from Skandashramam  

The sun is punishing. Sweat rolls down my face. The rucksack feels like a boulder. I am climbing a 30-foot rock, painted with yellow arrows pointing the way up at Arunachala Hill, in Tiruvannamalai, a small temple town in Tamil Nadu and one of Hinduism’s most famous pilgrimage sites.

The Karthigai Deepam festival is when devotees from around the country make their way to Tiruvannamalai. For nine days, starting from November 23 this year, statues of deities will be taken on processions around the town. Some days, it will be on the fifty-foot-tall temple chariot.

On the final day of the festival, December 2 this year, a 10-foot-tall copper urn, preinstalled on the summit, filled with camphor, ghee and wicks of cloth will be lit. On a clear evening, the fire can be seen from miles away, making it look like a fluctuating star in the sky.

Located 180 kilometres from Chennai, the town’s population is 1,50,000. Sitting elegantly in the middle of the town is the 25-acre Arunachaleswara temple, one of the biggest in South India. Close to dawn, I walk past the huge eastern tower of the temple, before I start my climb. The tallest at 217 feet, it was built by Krishna Deva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire, in 1516.

The giant green door under the huge tower is opened by a man clad in a white dhoti, chanting mantras. He opens all the sanctums, clears the previous day’s garlands and lights lamps near the deities. While sitting on the hill, a couple of hundred metres above, I see people the size of ants inside the squared temple premises. The huge gopuras and the surrounding town look like a plastic model in a museum. The scent of eucalyptus flavours the air. The path is rocky and steep, and tall bushes and thorny plants stick out on the path. The heat increases. And I am slowly running out of water.

Tiruvannamalai: The fire on the mountain

The Geological Survey of India claims the hill to be 3.5 billion years old. But, obviously, the temple is much younger. Inscriptions on its walls date back to the 7th Century Pallava era. Later, it came under the Cholas in the 9th Century.

I continue up. My thighs start to burn. The sound of crickets never stops. An occasional breeze hits me. The summit is close, yet seems so far away. According to mythology, Shiva appeared as a flame to get rid of darkness in the world.

Pilgrims also walk around the hill; a practice called Girivalam. It is usually done on full moon days. And it is more auspicious during the full moon of Karthigai Deepam. Eight lingams are present on the small road around the hill. People usually walk bare foot, covering 14 kilometres, visiting all the eight temples on the way. The road elegantly curves around the hill, with trees bending over it. The reserve forest on either side makes the place serene. I continue until I reached the summit of the mountain of fire. There are vast luscious green fields around, as far as the eye can see. Small mountains are visible in the distance. The summit is blackened with burnt ghee and butter. It is slippery at the edges of the summit rock. I close my eyes in meditation. I realise my life is a journey that I should continue, literally and metaphorically, in search of new experiences.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 6:38:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/a-walk-through-tiruvannamalai-interspersed-with-vignettes-from-the-karthigai-deepam-festival/article20451135.ece

Next Story