“Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places it is the most sacred! Know that it is the heart of the world. It is truly Siva himself! It is his heart-abode, a secret kshetra. In that place the Lord ever abides the hill of light named Arunachala. “ Arunachala Mahatmyam
It is said that while Mahadeva dwells on Kailash: Arunachala IS Shiva. The holy hill stands as a complete manifestation, and though not often thought of as a Tantric pitha, it is uniquely so because of this complete expression (non differentiating the essence from manifestation) and also because the area is a Mandala. It is rare that a mandala can be wholly represented in physical terms, and in those cases, encountering the expression is to encounter the source. Moreover, to think of Arunachala in “material” terms, is to think of Arunachala (Shiva) as is. This principle is completely in resonance with the Vidya, and with the Guru tattva, since the encompassing understanding is one of compatibility/integrity.
“This hill is incomprehensible, being beyond speech and thought. It is unapproachable being a mass of fire. It is the Absolute and therefore called the Supreme.” Shiva speaking about Arunachala
Arunachala was manifested as a linga of pure light, and even Brahma and Vishnu could not find it’s beginning or end. (One’s own awareness is Shiva, and it is without beginning or end) Throughout the Yugas, the linga took various forms related to the states of consciousness. In the the Krita Yuga, the hill took the form of fire, while in the Treta and Dwapara Yugas, the great linga took the forms of gem and gold respectively. It is in the Kali Yuga that the form takes the shape of stone/rock, however, the essence of pure effulgence and fire remains inherent. It was the prayer of the Devatas, that the fiery one cool, so as to be approachable. And yet, in that approach, the various karmas and obscurations of the faithful burn, and the fire of truth is ignited in open hearts. Therefore, this sacred space spontaneously generates tapas (spiritual “heat”) which greatly hastens the inner development and evolution of those who approach. Ultimately though, Arunachala is not approachable in the common meaning, as to approach means two, and Mahadeva reveals just one; therefore, to approach is to dissolve. Unapproachable!
“Arunachala! Thou dost root out the ego of those who meditate on thee in the heart. Oh Arunachala!” Ramana Maharshi
The area of Arunachala also contains one of the panch bhuta (five element) lingas, which appropriately for this pitha is fire. The element of fire is uniquely important in the inner alchemical process of spiritual evolution. Not only does it “burn up”, but also transforms something “solid” into soft and mutable. When speaking about inner processes, it is easy to see how this principle works for the aspirant who is transmuting and working with energy. Fire is also the element that sadhaks “offer” into and serves as the elemental bridge for higher communication. Because of this, one who encounters Arunachala in the deepest surrender, may give their very vitality and life breath into this sacred fire as the most profound offering. In doing so, one may merge completely with Shiva. The form of Shakti (Devi) at this pitha is unique because it is a rupa which is completely merged, so verily, the holy hill is both Shakti and Shiva (as one). In seeing our “own” shakti as that Devi, we can unite it there in completion of union. To reach energetic accord and integrity with/as Arunachala, is the accord of the Awareness (shiva) and Energy (shakti) within our microcosm/”ourselves”. The assimilation of perfect surrender, is a radical gesture whereby one has to let go of even the notion of “knowing” That…can only Be it.
“We shall never be separated. Thou shall always abide here, and those who adore thee, shall have your darshan here always.” Shiva speaking to the Devi about Arunachala
Many saints, rishis, and devatas have spoken about the greatness of Arunachala, and many also spent time at this place for sadhana. Rishis like Gautam, Durvasa, and Agastya all spent time there, and there are temples and ashrams there to this day in the locations of their hermitages. It is an ideal location for sadhana, as the effects are much greater in such an environment. Indeed, it is such a powerful place, that even without knowledge, sentient life in the area is transformed. (There are many stories of even animals obtaining liberation at the adi linga.) Many have come to this place to do sadhana because of how profoundly karmic tendencies and residue are destroyed. It is related in the Arunachala Mahatmyam, that even the Devi came to Arunachala for sadhana after experiencing obscuration/karmic residue caused by certain action. Two episodes are told, and one should understand them based not upon some far off mythical “entity” (called devi/shakti), but rather within the framework of what animates and moves one’s own life (i.e. one’s “own” shakti which is not different from the supreme shakti/devi), At once it is told that the Devi went to do sadhana at Arunachala after playfully covering Shiva’s eyes which threw “the world” into darkness. It is also told that the Devi went to Arunachala after defeating the forces of Mahishasura (which are essentially the forces of ego and attachment). In both cases, the Devi ,through the grace of Arunachala, was relieved of any residue of those actions and merged in completion. It is interesting to note, when taken internally, that the actions of shakti correspond to the “beginning” and “end” of one’s journey . For the sadhak approaching Arunachala, it is the Shakti in us which is purified from those actions. The action of using our energy (in false identification) in a way that makes us ignorant of our true nature (i.e. covering Shiva’s eyes), and then later, in the process of sadhana, using energy (shakti) to destroy the hold of ego and ignorance. The later episode indicates, that even the residue from this righteous “battle” needs to be surrendered for complete liberation and merging. When understood in this way, one can begin to see the intensity and precision of all that can be offered up on the path of deep sadhana and surrender. Even the ultimate victory is offered up to the fire of truth.
“The holy Arunachala is the Adi (Primal) Linga, and the path around its base the sacred Yoni. Pradakshina of this hill is the pradakshina of all lingas (and the entire universe).”
Because Arunachala Is Shiva, and the whole area Is the Mandala, the prescribed sadhana/kriya for this pitha takes a very practical (physical) form. Giri Pradakshina, in simple terms, is walking around the sacred hill, and any able bodied person can do and benefit from this kriya. While the kriya is simple, there is no end to the depth that one may take in this action, as each step on the path offers a slightly different darshan of Arunachala which communicates a subtle empowerment. One who approaches the kriya in deep openness will have the depths of their heart pushed, and each step is an opportunity for greater surrender and wisdom. The path around the hill is studded with an assortment of temples and tirthas (sacred water pit), with primary lingas for each dikpala (directional lords) on the route. Also on the route, is the linga at Adi Annamalai temple which was established by Brahma. The kriya of giri pradakshina removes lifetimes of karmas and leads one swiftly to liberation. It is said that to circumambulate Arunachala is to circumambulate the entire Universe. It is stepping directly into a Divine mandala and it is entering the subtle chakras that dwell within also. Indeed, the cardinal directions of the pradakshina also directly relate to the main centers of the subtle body, and these are opened and purified in this process. If one is born and does nothing of use, but does the pradakshina of Arunachala just once, then it was a great birth. What more to say!!
The great Sage Gautam told Gauri, “Hear what Shiva told me. He said, “While I abide gloriously on earth as Arunachala all the Devatas and munis circumambulate Me. At every step that one takes on the path around me all the errors committed by one’s past lives are expiated…Merit acquired by bathing in all the tirthas, by performing all the sacrifices, by studying all the scriptures and following all the dharmas can be easily acquired by merely circumambulating Sonachala.”
(For those who’d like to read more, please check out the “Arunachala Mahatmyam” which gives much greater details about the sacred hill’s origin, greatness, and pradakshina. There is also a book called “Arunachala Holy Hill” by Skandananda, which has map and details of the various temples, tirthas, etc. along and around Arunachala and the Pradikshina route. )