Tiruvannamalai hill spread over an extent of 24 acres is regarded as a sacred mountain. In fact the mountain is so sacred that nobody may walk on the hill, nor build on the hill nor even cut a tree. Of course, this rule is broken easily nowadays. On a physical level, the hill symbolises height or potential energy, and is the basis for retention and efficient distribution of life-giving water to the levels below. Tiruvannamalai is a very dry area totally dependent on very sparse rainfall. This hill becomes a barrier for the on-coming rains and is the only major watershed for the area. That is why the mountain is regarded as sacred and in many literary works is known as the lingam of Shiva.

The mountain also catches sunlight, which is the source of both fire and energy, and of all life. Tiruvannamalai stands in infertile plains surrounded by hills and rocks, with little or no vegetation. However, it was the crossroad connecting Kanchipuram to Karur and the east to the west. The water draining from all the rocks was collected in tanks and used for irrigation. Thus the settlement has grown up at the foot of the hill. The primary local crop is groundnut and lentils, which are not very water dependent. Thus the hill collects the water used for irrigation.


The Arunachala Puranam devotes a whole chapter to describing the tanks and springs surrounding the hill. The major Tirthas were in the eight cardinal directions, with minor ones in between. Charged by underground springs, these Tirthas were also the catchment area for the many streams from the water-sheds of the broad-based hill. Sri, Seyar, Punya and Sona were rivers flowing respectively to the North, North-west, West and South of the Hill. The presence of forest cover ensured the stability of these water-systems. The Puranam also speaks of the residents of Arunachala taking pride and initiative in maintaining the wealth given gratis by the thickly forested hill.


There are as many as 360 holy water sources in the hills, the most important among them being Brahma Teertham and Sivagangai Teertham in the temple, and Agni and Indra Teerthams on the hills The uncultivated wasteland around the foot of the hill is the path for the parikrama or ritual circumambulation which takes place during full moon. It is a 14 kilometer circuit demarcated in the 13th century by milestones in the name of the Pandya dynasty, bearing their insignia of the scepter and two fishes.


The lowlands immediately surrounding the mountain provide testimony to the high value ancient inhabitants held for water, by the deep rock-lined tanks hand built adjacent to the hill-round-roadway surrounding Arunachala. Such ancient water conservation strategies need to be re-established with the reforestation of the mountain and surrounding flat lands in order to effectively manage the water resources for the monumentally larger population of today. source: www.arunachalasamudra.org

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