Tiruvannamalai, one of the panchabhuta kshetras represents agni (fire). Arunachala, or Annamalai as it is called in Tamil, is a hill about 2800 ft in height. The hill has been certified by geologists to be one of the oldest rock formations in the world, thus testifying to its attributed ancientness in the puranas. Lord Siva, in order to humble the pride of Vishnu and Brahma, rose as a column of light, the top and bottom of which the two Gods went in search of. But in vain and hence humbled, they surrendered to Siva who, after blessing them, promised that He would abide as a hill in place of the column of light as also as a Linga representing fire at the base of the hill. The Arunachala hill is therefore supposed to be Lord Siva Himself and for this reason is believed to be more sacred than Mount Kailash which is only Siva’s abode.
This hallowed place is the repository of the highest spiritual wisdom and therefore, over the ages, was sought by jnanis and spiritual seekers. Arunagirinatha, Guhai Namasivaya, Guru Namasivaya, Seshadri Swami and Sri Ramana Maharshi were some of the saints and sages who made Tiruvannamalai their abode. Thousands of seekers from all over the world flock to Arunachala in search of the Supreme Truth that is represented in its most potent form by the Arunachala hill. Going round the hill (pradakshina) is considered very sacred and is said to confer untold spiritual benefits.
The Arunachaleswarar temple that houses the Tejolingam is one of the largest in India. The temple attracts a large number of devotees who testify to the powerful nature of the Arunachala Lingam. The 20th century witnessed three kumbhabhishekams at the Arunachaleswara temple, the last performed in 1976. The kumbhabhishekam of 2002 is the first of the 21st century. Tiruvannamalai began preparing itself in a big way for the Maha kumbhabhishekam which was being held after twenty-six years. Repair, reconstruction and restoration works had begun in right earnest three years ago and during the past year one could discern the intense fervour with which works were being executed. Thousands of religious minded people contributed their mite towards the cost of renovation of the temple.
It was decided to replace the old dvajasthambam and install a new one. An influential person in the town took it upon himself to donate wood for the purpose. In his wisdom he decided to procure wood from Kerala. When the wood arrived, it was found that it did not meet the Agama specifications. The temple priests and many devotees objected to using the Kerala wood for the dvajasthambam. But there were others who supported the influential man. It looked as if there would be a stalemate. Sri Jayendra Saraswati who played an important role in the kumbhabhishekam was also in favour of procuring wood afresh and starting the dvajashtambam work all over again. A few Chennai based devotees went to court over the matter. The court ruled that it would not interfere in Agama matters and that it was left to the temple authorities to arrive at an amicable solution. In the meantime, a leading corporate house of Chennai offered to donate wood according to the specifications of the Agamas. Amidst all this controversy played out by big men, the devotees of Arunachala kept their fingers crossed. The corporate house kept their promise. Well, at last the dvajasthambam was completed and installed.
All the works were completed in time and the grand temple of Arunachaleswara presented an imposing and majestic sight. The whole town of Tiruvannamalai and the surrounding areas enthusiastically and worshipfully looked forward to the great day. Thursday, the 27th June, was fixed for the kumbhabhishekam. The very air in Tiruvannamalai and many miles around the Arunachala hill was surcharged with religious and spiritual fervour. The remarkably vibrant divine power was felt by all. The sense of overwhelming joy and pride among the residents of Tiruvannamalai and the devotees of Arunachala, who had gathered for the occasion, was palpable.
Devotees of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi contributed over 2 million rupees for the renovation of the 1000 pillared hall in the temple. This hall houses the Patala Lingam where the Maharshi spent a few weeks soon after he came to Tiruvannamalai from Madurai in 1896. Captivating photographs projecting the life of the Maharshi adorn the walls of the Patala Lingam. Ramachandra Stapati, son of the famous Vaidyanatha Stapati did the renovation of the 1000 pillared hall. Two artistic and tastefully decorated yagashalas were put up near the northern tower. The principle one was for the kalashas and homa kundas for Lord Arunachaleswara and His Consort Goddess Apitakuchamba. The second one was for other deities like Vinayaka, Subramanya, etc. A total of 102 yagakundas were set up, one each for every kalasha. Pujas were performed to the main copper kalashas to be installed on the nine main towers. On Friday, the 21st June, at 8 in the morning, the preliminary rituals began with Vigneswara puja, Lakshmi puja, Gopuja, Ganapati homa and Navagraha
The kumbhabhishekam of the Durgamba temple was conducted first. Goddess Durga is given the premier position at Tiruvannamalai and She is worshipped before the commencement of important festivals at the Arunachaleswara temple. Waters of the sacred rivers and oceans, brought from all over the country, were poured into the special pots. The Sivacharyas then took their sankalpas. This authorised them to conduct the kumbhabhishekam rituals and signified their commitment to perform and complete the yagnas faithfully. The kalashas were then taken to the respective shrines for puja. The spiritual powers of the deities were transferred to the holy waters in the kalashas. This is called kala akarshanam. The Sivacharyas bearing the kalashas were taken in ritualistic procession to the yagashala where the rituals began in right earnest. The sacred fire was lit.
Rituals like Avahana, Archana, Naivedya and Deeparadhana were performed twice a day. While the yagnas were being performed, there was simultaneous chanting of the four Vedas and other sacred texts like Thevaram, Thiruvachakam and Devi Mahatmyam. The oblations to the Gods through the medium of fire included numerous offerings like sacred twigs, ghee, honey, fruits, flowers, sandalwood, clothes, coconuts, silver and precious stones among others. The Purnahuti and the Deeparadhana at the end of each session was conducted amidst a large gathering of devotees. An interesting feature was a rythmic dance offering by one of the priests. This is an essential part of the upacharas or offerings to the Lord. A variety of cultural programmes including classical music and dance were also organised as part of the celebrations.
Came the great day - 27th of June. The Sankaracharyas of the Kanchi Kamakoti mutt and heads of various other mutts were amongst the many thousands that were present to witness the kumbhabhishekam. True to the tradition that Arunachala Siva resides here in the form of the mountain, kumbhabhishekam was performed to the mountain first at 9.15 am. for which a sacred kumbha from the yagashala was carried to the peak of the hill early in the morning. A few devotees of Bhagavan Ramana who knew very well how dear to his heart was Arunachala, had climbed to the peak to witness the abhishekam on the hill. From a height of about 3000 feet, they later watched the kumbhabhishekam of the temple. After the Maha Purnahuti, the kalashas were taken to the respective vimanas, the shrines of the Lord and the Goddess and other deities, to the accompaniment of Panchavadyam music, the percussion art that is so special to Kerala, Nagaswaram music and the chanting of the Vedas and the Tamil
Several days before the kumbhabhishekam, speculation was rife on whether the Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa would attend the event. But, unprecedented security was mounted in Tiruvannamalai about a week before the event. The police estimated that about 30 lakh people would attend the kumbhabhishekam. This exaggerated estimate itself deterred many a devotee from visiting Tiruvannamalai on the 27th. Ultimately, about a couple of lakhs came to witness the event. The priests waited for about 10 minutes, their eyes glued to the sky for signs of the chief ministerial helicopter. Instead, they espied three garudas which circled the gopuras signalling divine approval and also perhaps indicating that it was time for performing the kumbhabhishekam. With the modern garuda nowhere in sight, the priests decided to go ahead.
At 9.40 am., came the grand finale, the actual kumbhabhishekam. Abhishekam was performed to all the kalashas simultaneously. The garudas circumambulated the towers. The Lord’s Name reverberated in the sky. The fervent chorus of “Annamalaikku Arohara” by thousands and thousands of devotees rent the air. The entire atmosphere was mystical and transcendental. After the abhishekam to the Lord and the Goddess, regular pujas recommenced at all the shrines in the temple. The marriage of the Divine Couple was also celebrated that evening. Early next morning the tastefully decorated and flower bedecked panchamurtis (the five principal deities) were taken in procession on the four streets around the temple. This signalled the end of the kumbhabhishekam festivities. For devotees it marked the beginning of a renewed ardour of intense devotion towards Lord Arunachaleswara.