The Sacred Mountain Path or Girivala
At most holy places located on hills, the deity is found atop the hill. But here at Tiruvannamalai, the Arunachala Hill itself is the deity (Lord Annamalaiyar) and one of the ways in which it is propiated and worshipped is by its circumambulation.
The true significance of circumambulating Arunachala is said to be as effective as a circuit around the world. That means that the whole world is condensed into this Hill. The circuit round the temple of Arunachala is equally good;
The Arunachala Puranam (Scripture revealing the history of Arunachala) declares: ‘the holy Arunachala is the primal, Adi linga. The path around its base is the sacred Yoni or base of the Shivalinga. Circumambulating the Hill is therefore circumambulating the source of all lingas! So one goes round keeping to the left-edge of the path. A mere step taken, confers the benefit of a Yaga – powerful fire ritual; two steps, the fruit of Rajasuya Yaga (the fire ritual performed by great kings who are accepted as the Supreme Emperor by all other kings) and three that of Asvamedha Yaga (A horse sacrifice performed by a king declaring his paramountcy). Going round the hill one gains in health and vigour. The hill abounds in rare herbs sought by traditional herbalists and the breeze carries the salubrious wafts from these siddha herbs to the one doing the holy round. The dust from the feet of such a person, carried and deposited in towns far away effects immeasurable purification.’
The circumambulation path is 14 kilometres (8½ miles).
There are two pathways around the Hill: the outer pathway which is the most commonly travelled and which contains temples, the eight Lingas and the sacred water tanks called Tirthas, and the inner forest pathway right at the feet of Arunachala.
The eight lingas or Ashta Lingams:
“Arunachala is surrounded by eight lingas (Asta Lingas) each residing in one of the eight directions of the four cardinal points (South – Yama linga, West – Varuna linga, North – Kubera linga, and East – Indra linga) and four intercardinal points (South East – Agni linga, South West – Niruthi linga, North West – Vayu linga and North East – Esanya linga)
“The arrangement of the Asta Lingas around the octagonal perimeter of Arunachala reflect the geometry of a Cosmogram as shown in the picture. The eight small circles represent the eight lingas. At each of these eight points, is a temple dedicated to the Shiva linga.
Indra Linga (East) – Associated with the celestial Lord Indra. This Linga is situated on Car Street close to the eastern tower of Arunachaleswarar Temple. Devotees are blessed with long life and with prosperity, on worshipping Indra lingam.
Agni Linga (South East) – The Agni Linga has south-east as its direction. It is situated close to Seshadri Ashram on Chengam road and is the only Lingam located on the right side of the Girivalam Path. Worshipping this Lingam helps devotees get relief from disease, to maintain good health and also helps them face problems and difficulties in their lives.
Yama Linga (South) – This linga is associated with Yama the God of death. It is situated beside the cremation grounds on Chengam road. Devotees get rid of their financial constraints on worshipping the Yama lingam. This Lingam is also conducive for longevity of life span
Niruthi Linga (South West) – The Niruthi Linga is situated on the Girivalam pathway near the Shantimalai Compound. It is associated with Lord Rahu. This Linga is specially renowned to help people recover from the bad effects of black magic and other negative energies. Health, wealth and fame are the beneficial aspects of this lingam. It is also beneficial for couples to worship at this Lingam if they wish to have a child. Worshipping this Linga is believed to help devotees achieve detachment to worldly desire.
Varuna Lingam (West) – This lingam is situated on the outer girivalam pathway about one kilometre before the village of Adi Annamalai. Devotees are protected from illness, particularly water related diseases.
Vayu Lingam (North West) – It is situated on the girivalam pathway, about one kilometer after the village of Adi Annamalai. Vayu is the Hindu god of wind and he is often associated with Indra. He provides creatures with vital life-giving breath thus sustaining the entire Universe. Relief from heart diseases, stomach problems, lung problems and general illness are conferred to the devotees on worshipping this Lingam.
Kubera Lingam (North) – Kubera Lingam has the North as its direction. It is located on the girivalam pathway before entering the town and a few hundred metres before the Panchamukham. The Kubera Lingam has Lord Brihaspati (Guru or Jupiter) as its dominant graham. Kubera is the God of wealth and material possessions. He does not create wealth, but he is believed to be the one who distributes wealth amongst his devotees.
Esanya Lingam (North East) – It is located on the old girivalam road to town, beside the main cremation grounds.