Girivalam – Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleshwar Parikrama


Girivalam is parikrama or pradakshina of Arunachaleshwara hill located in Tiruvannamalai town of Tamil Nadu. The town is also famous for Ramana Maharishi Ashram. In fact the sage was so fond of the hill that he saw it as embodiment of Shiva. He used to say that while Kashi and Ujjain are the abodes of Shiva, this hill is Shiva himself. So, living in its vicinity is living close to Shiva.

As we drove from Bangalore to Tiruvannamali, we saw several rocky outcrops in various shapes. All of them looked interesting and then we also saw the huge granite industry surrounding them.

What is Girivalam?

Girivalam is a parikrama or circumambulation of a hill. The hill in this case is Arunachaleshwar – the sacred hill at Tiruvannamali.

Indian pilgrimage places have a long standing tradition of Parikrama around sacred geographies. Remember I did the famous Panch Kroshi Yatra of Kashi Kshetra some time ago. Sacred hills and mountains are embodiments of the divine and hence it is a tradition to go around them on foot.

Arunachaleshwar or Annamalai Hill - Girivalam
Arunachaleshwar or Annamalai Hill

At Arunchaleshwar, the tradition is to go around the hill on foot, always keeping the hill on your right. It reminded me of the Govardhan Parikrama that I had done in Braj a few years ago.

General Rules

You are advised to walk on the left of the road as the rishis are supposed to be walking on the right side of the path.

Walk in silence while being focussed on the hill or Shiva. You can also chant a mantra.

They say walk like a heavily pregnant woman, slow and steady.

Is it tough?

It is a rather easy Parikrama though when you hear 14 kms, it sounds tough. The road is well laid out with a broad footpath to walk. It is a plain walk, with almost no incline anywhere, so if you can walk, you can easily do it.

Girivalam Map
Girivalam Map

There are shelters at regular intervals where you can take refuge in case it rains or if you need shade.

Benches are available throughout the path to sit and relax for some time. Tea stalls and soda vendors line the path. You will see people taking small breaks here and there. There are eateries as well, but they often open after 8 AM.

It is advisable to do the walk as early as possible in the morning, as it tends to get hot and humid after sunrise. Do carry something to cover you head.

Footpaths are dotted with sadhus and sanyasis, some of who are performing satsang, and some who are sleeping on the path.

Forest Path Vs the Road?

There are two paths that go around the hill. The main path is the one with a road all around. This is the path taken by most people. At any time of the day, you would see people walking on this path, mostly barefoot.

There is a small detour that you can take towards the hill, a path that goes through the forest, closer to the hill. However, when we visited this path was closed. You may need some permissions to take that path. It is also not advised to go alone on that path as there may be wild animals.

Where to Start Girivalam?

The recommended starting point is right outside the Arunchaleshwar or Annamaliyar temple in the city. You get out of the temple main door or Rajgopuram in the east, turn right and start walking. This way the sacred hill is always on your right.

Arunachaleshwar Temple Tiruvannamalai
Arunachaleshwar Temple Tiruvannamalai

Girivalam is very popular with Ramana Maharishi followers. So, many devotees start the parikrama from his ashram that is about 2 kms from the temple, but on the same path.

As a thumb rule, you can start a parikrama from any point as long as you end it at the same point. Add to it another thumb rule that east is generally a good direction to begin a sacred journey. So, I would generally recommend beginning from the temple which lies exactly to the east of the hill.

How long does it take?

If you do not take many breaks, you can do the whole Girivalam in about 3-4 hours.

If you stop at all the lovely temples in between, or take leisurely tea breaks, add that time up.

You always have an option to do the Parikrama on Auto or Car.

I recommend doing it on foot. You may do it over 2-3 days as your health and feet permit.

When to do Girivalam?

As a devotee, you can do whenever you want to do. There are people walking around the hill throughout the year.

Practically speaking, do it early morning to avoid the harsh sun.

From an auspicious time perspective, Purnima or full moon day is considered most auspicious to do this parikrama.

Sacred month of Kartik is famous for Arunachaleshwar Girivalam. The peak time is Kartik Purnima or the full moon day of Kartik month that typically falls in November.

What do you see on Girivalam?

An ancient Parikrama path is dotted with many big and small Tirthas and temples. Devotees stop at these either to take a dip in the tirtha, to pray at temples or to just take rest.

These temples are also the natural markers that tell the pilgrim about the path covered and the path remaining. To me, these are also the places where different pilgrims get to mingle with each other.

Ashta Lingams

On the Girivalam path the biggest markers are the eight lingas in eight cardinal directions. They are named after the presiding deities of these directions. When you start the Parikrama from the temple, this is how you meet them in order.

Indra Lingam – East

Agni Lingam – South East

Yama Lingam – South

Nairiti – South West

Varun – West

Vayu – North West

Kuber – North

Ishan – North East

Apart from these you have two Lingams dedicated to Surya and Chandra. Surya lingam comes after Niruthi lingam and Chandra after Vayu Lingam.

Ashta Lingam on Girivalam
Ashta Lingam on Girivalam

If you start from Ramana Maharishi Ashram, you start from Yama Lingam and end with Agni Lingam.

All these eight are small Shiva temples, more or less equidistant from each other. You can stop and pray here, or stop to take rest at these temples. I found most of these temples not so crowded. Most walkers simply bow their heads from outside and keep moving. First timers like me visited each temple and did the parikrama of each of them.

Besides this you will find many old pushkarnis or Tirthams or step wells. There are stone mandapams. I assume they would have been built for the people doing parikrama to take rest. Some of these are open, some closed. However, on the walking path there are new age mandapams for the pilgrims to rest.

There are many ashrams and hermitages, both old and new that are a part of the parikrama path. You would see their boards all through the path. Stop at the one who feel like.

There are Nandi statues that you would see at many places. I wonder if they were a part of a temple or they are a part of the Arunachaleshwar hill as Shiva.

Notable Temples on Girivalam

As this is a sacred land, you will find temples dedicated to Rishis who mediated here. Most important of these temples are:

Adi Annamalai Temple
Adi Annamalai Temple

Adi Annamalai Temple between Varun and Vayu Lingam. This is an ancient temple that lies exactly to the west of the hill. It is believed to be the one built by Brahma and pre-dates the temple of the east that is believed to be built by Vishnu. This is a fairly large temple, the largest after the big temple. Plan to spend some time here. When I visited, there were hardly any people, so we could easily spend time in the temple. There are paintings on the walls of the temple that you must not miss.

Rajrajeshwari Temple
Rajrajeshwari Temple

Raj Rajeshwari temple that comes between Niruti and Varun Lingam.

Agastya Lopamudra temple that you find after Vayu Linga. Agastya Rishi is the most prominent rishi whose footprints can be found all over South India. Lopamudra is his learned wife, a Rishika herself. So, do consider stopping at their temple.

Gautam Rishi temple after Niruthi lingam.

Vediyappan Shrine is located just after Vayu Lingam. You can easily spot the large horses outside the shrine. I think this is a local deity like Golu Devata in Kumaon.

Apart from this there are many Vinayaka and Mariamma temples, Narasimha temples including others.

The most important element on Girivalam is the sacred hill of Annamalai. It is the hill that you contemplate on and it is the hill that you meditate upon as you walk.

Changing Faces of Arunachaleshwar

At the beginning of the Parikrama, at the temple you see one big hill, that represents Shiva as the all pervading deity.

After Yama Linga, you see three peaks. The bigger one represents Annamalai or Shiva. The smaller one represents Unnamalai or Parvati or Uma. In between them lies the third hill that represents Skanda, their son. So, at this point, the hill takes the form of Somaskanda – Sa Uma Skanda or Shiva with Uma and Skanda.

After the Niruthi Lingam, if you keep facing the hill, at some point you can see a Nandi Mukh or the rock formation of a Nandi. A little further you will see just the two peaks, the Skanda one will disappear. Still further, only the Unnamalai or the Devi hill would be visible, representing the Maya Shakti.

Just before Varuna Lingam, you can see an elephant head formation on the hill.

Just after Varuna Lingam, all three peaks appear equal in size and they represent the Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

At Adi Annamali village, the hill appears in the shape of Chandrashekhara or Shiva with the crescent moon. Another 500 meters or so, it appears in the form of Anantashayana.

After Kubera Linga, you can see five peaks representing the five faces of Shiva – Purusha, Aghora, Ishana, Vamdeva and Sadashiva.

Disclaimer – We could not see any of these formations as the hill is obstructed by too much of construction. You only get glimpses of the hill from in between buildings.

You can pickup Guide to Giripradakshina from Ramana Ashram book store. It lists all possible temples on the pilgrimage route along with other guidelines. It was really helpful.



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