Here is a military map of the era, drawn up by a British military engineer, around 1760. In those days Tiruvannamalai was a British garrison town that was used to provision troops who were engaged in the First Maratha War.  The British called it 'Trinomalee' rather than Tiruvannamalai. Three years earlier the French had occupied the town, but by the early 1760s it was firmly in British hands.

The map clearly shows that these were turbulent times. The temple is mentioned as being both a fort and a ‘pagoda’. Surrounding the town there is an earthen rampart that functioned as a first line of defence when the town was attacked. This primitive and seemingly incomplete barricade was located about half way between Ramanasramam and the Arunachaleswarar Temple. The area outside the pagoda-fort is classified on the map as ‘pettah’. Pettahs are those  portions of a town that lie outside the main defences. In Tiruvannamalai's case the inner defensive line would have been the walls of the Arunachaleswarar Temple. When an invading army approaches, the pettah population retreats into the most highly defended part of the town until the danger has passed. The town was repeatedly attacked in the 18th century, so there must have been many occasions when the entire population of Tiruvannamalai had to find shelter behind the massive wall of the Arunachaleswara Temple, which reached their current height and state in the 1600s.

 

The map shows the traditional pradakshina route around the hill. That route was fixed centuries earlier by a proclamation of one of the Pandian emperors. When I first came to Tiruvannamalai in the 1970s there were still a few stones containing the emperor's edict on the outer side of the pradakshina route between the Bangalore and Kanji roads, but I think they have all now disappeared. It is interesting to note that the traditional route to the summit of the hill has also been marked out. This was unchanged for centuries, but in recent decades alternative routes have sprung up and the one marked on this map is not now used as much as the others. It is also interesting to note that there was a significant path from the Pavalakundru outcrop (situated to the north of the main temple on this map) to the summit of Arunachala.

The legend in the top corner of the old map mentions 'two small pagodas on the mountain [that are held] in high veneration'. It is not possible to see them on this shrunken, low-resolution version of the map, but the orignal located them in the region of Mulaipal Tirtham. One may be Guhai Namasivaya Temple, where Bhagavan stayed in 1901, since it was already at least two hundred years old when the map was drawn.

On the left is a photo of me, taken about ten years ago, standing next to one of the last remaining official markers on the giri-pradakshina road. It notes which segment of the route the pilgrims are on.

 

On the right is the imperial emblem of the Pandian kings: two vertical carp. Two carved carp, similar to the ones on this emblem, feature on all the old giri-pradakshina route markers.

David Godman Books

 

Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings