“Where there is no Maheshwara Seva and Mahajnana Seva, need will increase; when need increases, vision will change; when vision changes, approach will vary; when approach varies, aliens will get into the mind; when aliens get into mind, the mind will get confused and that confusion will lead to change. Thus to fulfil real necessities and avoid artificial needs, seva must increase. When seva increases, Dharma will be established. The established Dharma will save the nation, its people, its religion and civilization.” – B. R. Haran
The Vedic civilization evolved on the banks of Sindhu and Saraswati with Dharma as the basis of evolution. Though it got the name “Hinduism” in later times, it is still denoted as Sanatana Dharma. The Itihasas and Puranas have vividly described the crushing of Adharma by different avatars of almighty Bhagwan, whenever it raises its head and attempts to rule over this world. In the Kaliyuga, though Bhagwan doesn’t descend as an avatar, he establishes the reign of Dharma through His Blessed Avatara Purushas such as Adi Sankara, Ramanuja, Ramana Maharishi and Ragavendra, et al. Such mahatmas bless and guide people through their immortal dharmopadesas.
In the Kaliyuga, as Adharma raises its head quite often, we would be able to protect our land and safeguard ourselves only when we adhere to the dharmopadesas of our Dharmacharyas and act accordingly. It becomes imperative for us to follow the path of Dharma to establish the truth of the age-old maxim, “Adharma will engulf Dharma; ultimately Dharma will prevail”. “If we protect Dharma, Dharma will protect us” is the code of this land.
A huge threat is looming large over this bhumi known for punya and Dharma, surrounded by Adharmic alien forces. It is essential for us to stick to Dharma to destroy the alien forces and safeguard our motherland. Though many Dharmic concepts have been described in our Vedic religion, for us, the two most important are Maheshwara Seva and Mahajana Seva.
Maheshwara Seva caters to (i) protection of temples and continuation of worship rituals flawlessly, (ii) construction of temples in places where there are none and daily rituals of worship, (iii) renovation of dilapidated temples and resumption of worship, and (iv) organising temple related festivals involving the local populace across castes and communities. Mahajana Seva caters to donating food, clothing, houses, education and medicines for the poor, downtrodden and incapacitated people, apart from social and community services.
The Vedic faith has identified specific auspicious days for specific worship for specific Devas and Devis. It is only during these special days, festivals and utsavams, that the entire place, village or town, comes together to worship and celebrate. So, if at all the people are to remain united and if at all the alien forces causing division among the people are to be defeated, frequent celebrations of festivals and utsavams is essential.
During these common celebrations, the “haves” must take care of the “have-nots”. The well off and capable must help the poor, downtrodden and incapacitated by establishing a system whereby the poor can be helped permanently. This will act as an impediment to the evil designs of alien forces and stop religious conversions as well.
The sacred town of Tiruvannamalai stands testimony to the fact that mahatmas reside permanently in places where Maheshwaram Seva and Mahajana Seva are carried out perennially without hindrance. The thought that my recent experience in Tiruvannamalai would be meaningless and become useless if it is not shared with others, has resulted in this column.
Tiruvannamalai, the Theyu Sthal or Agni Sthal, is one of the Pancha Bhuta Sthals where Shiva shows his Jyoti Swarup as Lingabhava to Brahma and Vishnu, who made futile attempts to find his head and feet respectively. As the bhumi could not withstand the power of His Jyoti Swarup going beyond the universe (prapancha), Maheshwara compressed himself and became a mountain, Annamalai. This puranic incident is observed as Kartigai festival, and people observe the Jyoti Swarup by lighting the huge deepa on the peak of Annamalai in the month of Kartigai on Kartigai nakshatram day (December 5, 2014).
Tiruvannamalai has another significance in the Puranas: Bhagwan Shiva gave his left part to Shakti (Devi Parvati) and appeared as Ardhanarishwara. During the Kartigai festival, at the exact time of lighting the Deepam on the mountain peak, the utsavamurthi blesses devotees as Ardhanarishwara inside the temple premises. Apart from being a Pancha Bhuta Sthal, the five peaks of Annamalai denote the pancha bhuta concept, as Shiva himself is a personification of a mountain comprising the pancha bhutas of earth, water, fire, air and ether.
Tiruvannamalai is considered a Siddha Bhumi, that is, a land of Siddhas. Siddhas are considered representatives of God with complete mastery over the powers of nature. They are believed to have conquered death and live anywhere and everywhere without being seen, recognized or identified by ordinary humans, and other living beings. Certain places in general and mountain ranges in particular are considered permanent seats of Siddhas; Tiruvannamalai is one such sacred place.
Gautama Rishi, Arunagiri Yogi, Namachivayar, Namachivayam (author of Annamalai Venba), Viroobatcha Devar, Arunagiri Nathar (author of Thiruppugazh), Kondappa Desikar, Jadini Shanmuga Yogini Ammal, Ammani Ammal, Seshadri Swamigal, Ramana Maharishi, Yogi Ramsuratkumar are some of the great mahaans of later times, who lived and attained siddhi in Tiruvannamalai, apart from the countless Siddhas who are believed to be permanently seated in Annamalai.
Ramana Maharshi Ashram, Seshadri Swamigal Ashram, Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram, the mathams established by the disciples of Namachivayar, are some of the organisations which have been rendering great service to the people. In the recent times, in order to arrest the illegal and immoral evangelical and conversion activities by the Church and Christian missionaries and also to take care of the needs of the Hindu masses, many Hindu organizations have opened branches in Tiruvannamalai. Kanchi Matham opened a branch recently.
Stone temples came into being only during the Pallava Dynasty. Tiruvannamalai Temple is one of the earliest stone temples built by the Pallava kings. Later, the Cholas, Vijayanagar Kings, Thanjavur Nayaks and others built many sanctums, mandapams and towers. The kings of the Tulu dynasty also made some edifices.
The Chola period inscriptions found in this temple start from Vijayalaya Chola’s time (849 CE – 9th century inscriptions) and go for about 400 years of Chola Samrajya up to 13th century CE, giving us a lot of historical information.
Then, from 13th century CE to 16th century CE, kings like Kadavarkon Kopperu Singan, Posala king Veera Vallaalan, Vijayanagara kings (Krishnadevaraya & others), Thanjavur Nayaks (Sevappa Nayak & others) marked their inscriptions with vivid details of their times. The inscriptions found in this temple are in Tamil, Sanskrit and Kannada.
Sage Meikkandaar, who blessed us with the divine treatise Sivagnana Botham donated a lot to this temple on 22 May 1232 CE. Even kings from far off places (Ganges and nearby kingdoms) donated wealth for this temple.
Annamalai has found place in all kinds of literatures such as Puranas, Anthathis, Venbas, Prabandhams, Pathikams, Vannam, Sathakam, Kovai, Maalai, Viruththam, Keertanas, Sthothras, Kummi and plays.
As far as Sangam literatures is concerned, Tiruvannamalai is mentioned in Akanaanuru and Natrinai. Thirugnana Sambandar (Thevaram), Thirunavukkarasar (Thevaram), Sekkizhar (Periyapuranam) and Ramalinga Swamigal (Thiruvarutpa) sung hymns on Tiruvannamalai. More than 60 Sthal Purans are available in Tamil, and in Sanskrit we have Arunachala Stotras and Arunachala Ashtakam. Tiruvannamalai is mentioned even in Keno Upanishad.
Although many festivals are celebrated in Tiruvannamalai every month, Karthikai Deepam and Chithirai Thiruvizha are quite famous and both culminate on or close to Pournami (full moon day). Pournami is a very important day for Hindus, and apart from Karthikai Deepam and Chithra Pournami, we have festivals like Thai Pusam, Vaikasi Visakam, Avani Avittam, Masi Magam (Ganga Snan in Prayag) and Panguni Uthram (Holi in northern and western India) being grandly celebrated on Pournami.
Satyanarayana Puja is commonly performed on Pournami Day by people across the country. Pournami vrat has been observed by Hindus since ancient times. People observe fast right from morning and end their fast only after sighting the moon and performing puja in the evening.
Dana and Dharma go together and we normally say “Dana Dharma” whenever we talk about seva. Dana refers only to annadana as denoted by the term dharmashala. Hindu Dharma says one should even sacrifice one’s life to save another life. While helping a person, we should not look into his/her caste or religion and we should not bother whether he/she is good or bad. Talking about annadana, Thirumoolar’s Thirumanthiram says, “Yaarkum idumin; avar ivar ennanmin”, or, “Give to anyone; don’t look into antecedents”. The most significant aspect of annadana is that it is the only service in which the acceptor will say “enough” and “I don’t want anymore”. Such words would not come from the acceptor if any other thing is given.
In our Vedic civilisation, the essence of Dharma lies in the concept Pancha Maha Yagna comprising, “Brahma Yagna” (reciting & teaching Vedas), “Pitru Yagna” (sradda and tarpana, etc.), “Deva Yagna” (puja & arati for Ishwara), “Bhuta Yagna” (feeding animals and birds) and “Nru Yagna” (serving atithis, guests). This concept of Pancha Maha Yagna caring and protecting all of creation is postulated only in the Vedic Religion.
Apart from this, social services have also been defined under Poortha Dharma in the Dharma Sastras. Various social services undertaken by a community as a whole belong to this category of Dharma – temple cleaning, temple renovation, road laying, constructing wells and tanks, annadana for locals and outsiders during temple festivals.
The uniting of Maheshwara Seva and Mahajana Seva is Dharma. The most important aspect of Maheshwara Seva is Pradhakshana Namaskaram, doing namaskaram after performing circumambulation. Circumambulation can be performed for a particular sannithi, or, for the whole temple, or, for the whole hillock or mountain if the temple is located on top. Circumambulation of a mountain is called “Giri Valam” or “Giri Pradhakshanam”.
Our whole body is engaged in the ritual of Pradhakshana Namaskaram. The mouth recites slokas, namavalis or sings bhajans. Hands play musical instruments; do archanas, ring bells or merely claps to the tune of bhajans. Legs perform the main task of circumambulation; head bows down in reverence and bhakti. When we do namaskaram, the entire body from head to toe worships Bhagwan. Anga pradhakshanam is unique in the sense that it is a combination of both pradhakshanam and namaskaram.
Tiruvannamalai is a place where Bhagwan Shiva himself stands as Annamalai (mountain). That is why it attracts millions of devotees from world over for every Paurnami Day!
» B.R. Haran is a senior journalist in Chennai. This article has been extracted from the original called “Tiruvannamalai: Moon, Mountain & Mysticism” published in 2012.
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