The object of all this devotional fervour is and has been the local mountain - called ANNAMALAI in Tamil and ARUNACHALA in Sanskrit - and the temple dedicated to it on its eastern side. The image of God in the temple and the mountain which rises up behind it are held to be one and the same entity: Siva, the Supreme Deity for millions of Hindus.
Circling by foot the mountain takes a few hours and is reccommended for travelers. You don't have to be a religious person to enjoy the views. You meet very friendly villagers in your way.
I took this photo around 7 in the morning when there was already a lot of activity around the great Arunachaleswar Temple walls and in general in the town of Tiruvannamalai. The feel was great. We had to take off our sandals and leave them with a lady who at a stall across the road from the temple. As this temple is some 10 hectares, one of the largest in India, it took us over 2 hours to see everything and take it all in, it was awesome and interesting, among others we saw a wedding, a procession, and much more, but strictly no cameras inside, so I cannot share visually what I saw but just to say, it was amazing!
The website of the Temple will give you good information and more photos.
The tower of the eastern entrance gopuram, located in the outer wall, dominates the eight other ones that crown the gates made in the walls at the four cardinal points.
With its massive stone base and its pyramid-shaped tower of STACCU-coated bricks, this gopuram is 54 m high.
In ordinary circumstances the sacred temple elephant stays with his MAHOUT under a pavillion supported by columns near the hundred-pillared hall.
He gives his blessings by placing his trunk over the heads of the devotees who, in return, give him an offering of a small coin.
The innermost shrine, called the 'garbha graha', houses a small square room, cramped and dark, wherein resides the 'Sellai', the image of Lord Shiva, almost always in the symbolic form of a 'lingam'. This is an upright stone, square at the bottom, octagonal in the middle, then cylindrical with a rounded top. The base is embedded in a circular or oval plinth. Only the officiating Brahmin priests may enter the Sellai. The devotees watch the worship from the hall in front of it. They line up near the portal in a row, one behind the other, reverntly observing the progress of the rites.
The location of the shrines dedicated to the deities and the buildings used for rituals are strictly laid out so that they are oriented to the east. In the corner of a courtyard , and always on the south-eastern side, are the kitchens where Brahmins prepare the offerings consisting of cooked food.
Trees, one of which is sacred and is 'the tree of the place', are always present as are tanks and wells which contain the water used for purification rituals.
The construction of a Hindu temple is governed by very strict rules which determine the introduction and orientation of the various architectural elements. The innermost shrine opens to the east and accommodates the principal deity of the place, in this case Lord Shiva. The courtyards are counted, starting from the center. In Tiruvannamalai there are said to be seven of them: five were constructed, but the first one disappeared in the course of the nine centuries of extensions and alterations; the sixth is represented by the four 'Charriot streets' around the temple and the seventh by the road surrounding the hill.
6:45 AM Milk offering to Sri Bhagavan at His Samadhi Shrine.
7:45 AM Breakfast
8:00 AM Chanting of the Vedas in front of Sri Bhagavan's Shrine.
11:00 AM Narayana Seva (Poor Feeding)
11:30 AM Lunch
4:00 PM Reading from works by or on Sri Bhagavan [Tamil], [English].
5:00 PM Chanting of the Vedas.
6:00 PM Sri Chakra Puja at the Shrine.
6:30 PM Tamil Parayana.
7:30 PM Dinner
Ashram Book Depot
Sri Ramana Centenary Library.
Skandasramam and Virupaksha Cave on the Hill/