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Arunachala (India)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Arunachala (Sanskrit) or Tiruvanamalai (Tamil) is a sacred mountain in southern India approximately 100 miles southwest of Madras. At its base is a large temple dedicated to the god Shiva, whose complex ranges over 25 acres. Believers consider the mountain itself to be the largest Shiva linga in the world (the god’s male sexual organ being a major representation of him). The temple dates to the early years of the Common Era, and its massive towers were erected in stages from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries. At the beginning of winter each year, for a ten-day period during the Hindu month of Kartikai, Arunachala hosts the Deepam festival to celebrate Shiva’s light. The festival climaxes with a huge bonfire that is lit on top of the mountain.

Through the year, pilgrims engage in a practice called Arunachala giri valam (circling Arunachala), considered to be a simple and effective form of yoga. The walking is done barefoot, as wearing shoes on the mountain is considered a sacrilege.

Arunachala became well known in the West during the last half of the twentieth century as the popular guru Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950) received visitors at his home on the mountain. Maharshi’s first Western disciple was Frank Humphreys, who wrote articles about him in the International Psychic Gazette. These attracted Western teacher Paul Brunton (1898–1981), who visited Arunachala in 1931. He later authored two widely circulated books, A Search in Secret India and A Message from Arunachala, about his encounters. These helped to make Maharshi and the mountain globally famous, and through the last half of the twentieth century, visiting the mountain was the goal of numerous Western spiritual seekers. Among the most famous seekers who found their way to Arunchala was Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux; 1910–1973), a Roman Catholic priest who emerged as a leading voice in Christian-Hindu dialogue in the mid-twentieth century.


Abhishiktananda. The Secret of Arunachala: A ChristianHermit on Shiva’s Holy Mountain. New Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1997.

Brunton, Paul. A Message from Arunachala. London: Rider and Company, 1936.

____. A Search in Secret India. London: Rider and Company, 1934.
Skandananda. Arunachala: Holy Hill. Madras, India: Weldun Press, 1980.
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The Madurai Meenakshi temple, the Brihadeeshwarar temple in Thanjavur, Srirangam in Tiruchi, the Arunachala temple in Tiruvannamalai and the shore temple at Kanyakumari organised cultural programmes, special prayers, holy dipping in the nearby waters, taking the deities on heritage wooden chariots and finally immersing idols in the waters.
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