The Legend of Arunācala

The Leela of Descent






History of Arunācala

Tiruvannamalai – My Birthplace

Tiruvannamalai is a temple town in South India, established by Paramaśiva Himself. Arunācala is the Hill-form of Paramaśiva around which the temple and settlement happened. 

Tiruvannamalai or Arunācala, my birthplace, is the only land carrying an unbroken lineage of enlightened beings.

Paramaśiva appears to resolve dispute between Brahma and Viṣṇu

In ancient Hindu Purāṇas, there is a story of an argument between Lord Brahma the Creator and Lord Viṣṇu the Sustainer, as to which of them was greater. (Brahma and Viṣṇu are two of the three Gods who comprise the Trinity of the Hindu pantheon of Divinity, Paramaśiva being the third.

Brahma declares, “I am greater, because only if I create, you even have a job to do!” Viṣṇu says, “No, I am greater because only if I protect, what you create will even be available. And I only created you!” Brahma incarnated from Viṣṇu’s navel. So Viṣṇu says, “I am your father. Think about that before you speak.” When the fight becomes too much, it is time to go to the Supreme Court – Paramaśiva!

Śiva (Paramaśiva) appeared before them in his Viśvarūpa – his cosmic form – as an endless shaft of light. The two ends of the shaft that were his head and his feet could not be seen. He looked at them and said, “Whoever can find either of my ends is the greater of the two of you.”

So Brahma took the form of a swan and flew up towards Śiva’s head, and Viṣṇu went downwards as a boar, burrowing into the earth to find Shiva’s feet. They searched for many yugas (ages).

Viṣṇu Surrenders; Brahma falls into non-acceptance

After much effort, Viṣṇu realized that he could not find what he sought and decided to surrender his ego to Śiva. He told Śiva to forgive his arrogance in trying to find the limits of the Divine form. Shiva blessed him for his honesty. Paramaśiva blessed Viṣṇu with enlightenment because his ego left him.

Brahma, however, could not accept his failure. On his way up, he saw a flower (screwpine or tazhampoo in Tamil) falling down and asked the flower where it was coming from. The flower said it had fallen from behind Śiva’s ear. Brahma asked, “How long have you been traveling?” The flower replied, “I have been falling for four ages (lifetimes) of Brahma!” Brahma was shocked and realized he had no hopes of finding Shiva’s head, but he still did not want to accept his failure.

The lie and Shiva’s lesson

Brahma decided that he would tell Śiva a lie about finding this flower on his ear. He then asked the flower to bear witness that he had brought it down from Śiva’s head. The flower, having little choice, and afraid to refuse Brahma, the Lord of all Creation, agreed. Returning to Śiva, who again assumed his normal form, Brahma announced that he had seen Shiva’s head and had brought back this flower as his witness.

 Śiva instantly knew what had happened and was angry at the lie told to him. He punished Brahma, saying, “For the lie that you have uttered, you will be never again be worshipped by the people.” He punished the screwpine flower saying, “You will never ever be used as an offering to me in worship.”

Brahma asks for forgiveness, Paramaśiva heeds

Brahma and the flower ask for forgiveness. Brahma takes a bath in the Brahmatīrtha, which is there in the temple in Tiruvannamalai, and offers pūjā to Annamalayar (presiding deity form of Paramaśiva in the temple). Paramaśiva’s curse on him dissolves. That is why you will find Brahma’s shrine in all Śiva temples facing the northern direction, exactly in the spot where the Paramaśiva deity’s abhiśeka water (holy bath water) flows out. It signifies the absolving of the curse. And to date, they don’t use the tāzhampoo for pūjā in any Śiva temple. In the Tiruvannamalai temple, they use it for pūjā only during Śivarātri – the day this incident happened. To this day, there are no major temples dedicated to Brahma, the Creator; and the screwpine flower is never offered to Śiva in worship. 

Both Viṣṇu and Brahma requested Śiva to retain his form as that shaft of light to bless the universe. At their request, Śiva, in that form of Divine Light, became Arunācala, the glowing mountain in Tiruvannamalai!

Arunācala Purāṇa – the epic history of Arunācala – reveals that at that point in time, Lord Śiva made a promise that He will always be available in Arunācala (or Tiruvannamalai) in three forms: as the hill Arunācala, as the jyotirlingam – the Arunācaleśvara Śivaliṅga deity in the temple, and in the form of living incarnations in this holy town of Tiruvannamalai. 

True to his promise, Paramaśiva retained his form as the Arunācala mountain, assumed the form of the Śivaliṅga called Arunācaleśvara, at the temple in Tiruvannamalai and is incarnating continuously keeping the unbroken lineage of enlightened beings in Tiruvannamalai till date.

Each incarnation is unique

As per the promise given by Paramaśiva, He continues to appear here as living incarnations from time immemorial. And it is not that one person trains the other. It is not that Ramana Maharshi trained Yogi Ramsuratkumar or Seshadri Swamigal trained Ramana Maharshi. All of them were svayambhūs – natural incarnations. But the chain never got cut. It is like in the Zen tradition. Only in the Zen tradition, enlightenment happens without training, and no two people will be alike. If you see, in Hinduism, if you take the Shankaracharya lineage, all of them wear the cloth in the same way and holding the staff in the same way. In all traditions, it is like they have been taken out of the same mould. In the Zen tradition, each flower is unique, but it is a fully blossomed flower! The Tiruvannamalai tradition is like the Zen tradition. Each incarnation is unique.

Significance of the History

There is a great significance in this History: You cannot attain nithyananda – eternal bliss – with either intellect or with money! Going upwards (like Brahma) is rajas (passion without value). Going downwards  (like Viṣṇu) is tamas (inertia or lethargy). You cannot attain enlightenment with those two attributes. Viṣṇu represents wealth. If you run in life thinking you can attain enlightenment with money, you will end up in depression of success after a certain age. That is Viṣṇu’s ego getting destroyed in the story. Brahma represents knowledge. These professional seekers who read any book they see and go to any Guru, are like Brahma. Not only will they not get enlightened, they will collect false evidences to support that! This is the teaching from the story.    

In the Arunācala Purāṇa, which is part of Skanda Purāṇa, Siva says, “In the mountain-form that will be visible to all your eyes, in the Arunācaleśvara linga-form which all of you can touch and offer pūjā and worship, and as a living Guru to give enlightenment to all of you, I will continue to exist.” That is why for the past 2000 years, the unbroken chain of enlightened Masters continues to exist here. 


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