Tiruvannamalai and the Gingee Fort

Another day trip from Pondicherry takes us to Ramana Maharshi's Ashram and Mahasamadhi Shrine in the pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai, also in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It was about a three hour drive from Pondicherry. On the way we stopped at the Arunachala Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was built between the 16th and 17th centuries by the kings of the Vijayanagara empire. This sprawling Temple complex is known for its massive gopurams or towers, all intricately carved. (This by the way, is very much like how Chidambaram would appear from an aerial view, with four massive outer gates and a surrounding wall).

aerial of tiruvannamalai

And a beautiful detail of the carving...
We were most delighted by this huge elephant that greeted us inside of the Temple gates. His handler sat next to him and after the elephant had collected many coins from the crowd in exchange for the bonk of his trunk on their heads, known as darshan, he turned to the handler and snorted out the coins into his waiting hand along with about one cup of trunk "liquid". It was good to see that the elephant wasn't chained and has been a happy resident of the Temple for many years.

Like the Shiva temple at Chidambaram, this temple too held a central water area...
Indian families always like to ask us to be in a photo with them that we will take with our camera. So here is Evelyn with this very nice Indian family that asked to have their photo taken with her. They delighted in seeing it played back on our camera, but they'll be happy having a copy only in their memory while we'll always have this one.
This wonderful man had so many rudraksha bead necklaces on that we couldn't see how he could hold his head up. He was incredibly sweet and loved it when we joked with him in sign language about the difficulty and pain of keeping his head up. Shiva is also known as Rudra, and the rudraksha beads are known to be sacred to Lord Shiva, and are used to call on his grace.

We next went to Ramana Maharshi's ashram (as you'll see on the next blog page). After our trip around the mountain of Arunachala, we made one more stop on our way home: Gingee Fort – an amazing fortress cut from the mountains. It was known as the most impregnable fortress in India. It was originally built by the Chola dynasty in the 9th century AD, but was later modified in the 13th century by the Vijayanagar empire. It was an unbreachable fortress designed to protect the small town of Gingee. There are three hills connected by walls. It is 800 feet tall and protected by an 80 foot wide moat. Very remarkable!

gingee fort

Standing at the entrance to the path up to Gingee, we looked out over fields of rice - beautiful reflections on the water as the sun set...
rice fields

rice fields
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