Thiruvannamalai is one of the Panchabootha Stalas , and the temple represents Fire of the Five elements. This temple is one of the largest temple in India for Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva here , not only enshrined within the sanctum of the temple as Arunachaleshwara , but also appears as the mighty mistic hill called "Annamalai". The holy hill is said to have stood the passage of time rather yugas. It was a Mount of Fire in Krutha Yuga , Mount of Ruby in Thredha Yuga, Mount of Gold in Dwapar Yuga and the present rock hill during this Kali Yuga. Goddess Parvathi is worshipped as "Unnamalai Amman" or "Apeethakuchambal".
Temple Structure :
Arunachaleswarar temple consists of Six Prakarams. The sixth prakaram is the outer prakaram. Rajagopuram , Thirumanjana Gopuram, Pei Gopuram and Annamalai Gopuram are located between sixth and fifth prakarams. The Raja Gopuram, located on the eastern side between the sixth outer prakaram and fifth prakaram is the tallest of all the towers in this temple. It is the second tallest temple tower in south India.
Kambathu Elayanar Sannathi :
At the inner left side of the Raja Gopuram entrance stands this magnificient sannathi. This sannathi consists of seven steps which leads devotees to the innerr chambers. This sannathi marks the actual spot where according to legend , Lord Muruga appeared . (The legend is explained in detail in puranic history part)
One Thousand Pillarred Mandapam :
Parllel to Kambathu Elayanar Sannathi and to northern side of the fifth prakaram stands "One Thousand Pillared Mandapam". This mandapam is used for the deities to be seated for ablutions and worship on Aani Thirumanjanam and on the day of the star Thiruvaathirai. This mandapam consists of underground chamber which houses Sri Pathala Lingam.
Sri Pathala Lingam :
The sculptured vimanam of this shrine is at the floor level of themandapam.The stone lingam found in this shrine is at floor level of the mandapam. This was the shrine where saint Ramana Maharishi used to mediate during his early days.
The other sannathi and mandappam in this temple are Sivagangai Vinayagar Sannathi , Arunagirinathar Mandapam , Kalyana Sundareswara Sannathi, Vallala Maharaja Gopuram.
Legends related to this temple :
Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma approached a huge
Shiva linga and set out to find its beginning and end. Vishnu was appointed the end, and Brahma the beginning. Each took their journey, Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar and began digging downwards into the earth while Lord Brahma took on the shape of a swan began flying upwards. But neither could find their appointed destination. Vishnu, satisfied, came up to Shiva and bowed down to him as a swarupa of Brahman. Brahma did not give up so easily. As he was going up, he saw a kaitha(Thalamppu) flower. His ego forced him to ask the flower to bear false witness of Brahma's finding Shiva's beginning. When Lord Brahma told his tale, Lord Shiva, the all-knowing, was angered by the former's ego. Lord Shiva thus cursed him that no being in the three worlds will worship him. and that the thazhambu flower should not be used while praying to Lord Siva. The place where Lord Siva stood as a column of fire to eliminate the ego is Thiruvannamalai.
Lord Siva's wife Goddess Umadevi once playfully
closed His eyes which plunged the world into darkness. All living beings suffered in the dark. To absolve herse of this sin Mother Umadevi created a Sivalingam out of sand and worshipped at Kancheepuram. At that instance, Lord Siva ordered her to proceed to Thiruvannamalai and do penance so
that she could get half of His body. Likewise Mother Parvathi did penance at Pavalakundru with the help of Saint Gowthama. A demon called Makidasuran disturbed the penance of Mother Parvathi. The Mother took the form of goddess Durga Devi and destroyed him on the full moon day of the Tamil Month of Karthigai during the auspicious period of pradosham. Lord Siva presented himself in the form of Fire atop the hill and merged Goddess Parvathi on the left half of his body. To commemorate this event, every year during the Tamil month of Karthigai in Kiruthigai Star, exactly at 6.00 p.m. Arthanareeswaramurthi presents himself as Jyothi Swaroopa to his devotees at the time of Karthigai Festival 10th day.
Appearance of Lord Muruga :
Saint Arunagirinathar was the ardent devotee of Lord Muruga. Sambandan was a scholar in the king's court and had obtained many boons from goddess Kali. Afraid of Arunagirinathar's popularity, he proposed to the king a competition between him and Arunagirinathar, as to who could bring his chosen deity manifest in the form visible to everyone present.In the competition the devotion of Arunagirinathar brought the appearance of Lord Muruga through a stone pillar. Since then this has became one of the famous places of visit for the devotees of Lord Muruga.
Arunagirinathar saved by Lord Muruga :
In his earlier years Arunagirinathar climbed the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram and attempted to fall off. Lord Muruga appeared before him and saved his life. Since then Arunagirinathar became known as Gopurathilayanar.
Arunagirinathar's Life force entering into the body of a Parrot :
The Vijayanagar King Pravda Deva Maharaya, once lost his vision and was blind. Sambandar, a confidant to the king advised him to get the flower Parijatham to regain his sight and suggested that Arunagirinathar could do the job. The king was convinced and asked Arunagirinathar to bring Parijatha flower.As the Parijatha flower is in heaven, Arunagirinathar moved his life force into the body of parrot, after keeping his own body in the gopuram. Even before his return with Parijatha flower his body was cremated. As he could not get his human form back, Arunagirinathar remained as parrot and composed great songs including Kandaranubuti.
(To be continued in part two)
Source : http://www.arunachaleswarar.com/