Another day, another walk: secret temples, an owl and more

View of Arthanarisvarar Temple from the viewing rock below Skandashram
View of Arthanarisvarar Temple from the viewing rock below Skandashram, very zoomed in. It’s the blue-grey building with the cream-colored tower, perched on the rock & surrounded by trees. Photo by Alan.

From the viewing rock on the way to Skandashram, we kept noticing a small temple to the east of the big Annamalaiyar temple in town. It’s located on top of a subhill on the southeast flank of Annamalai, and any approaches to it are mysteriously shrouded in dense foliage.

Picture of the back of a truck with decorative painting. The central image is of Arunachala with the sacred fire on the top, and the temple in front. Sound Horn is below.
The central image is of Arunachala with the sacred fire on the top, and the temple in front.

We decided to set out for that temple, and see if we could find a way up. No use trying to find it from the main road, so we walked through the dense residential neighborhoods south of the mountain, wending our way from one small street to the next, doing our best to avoid the main road completely (which is incredibly noisy, by the way. Have I mentioned yet that every commercial vehicle says “sound horn” on the back of it — and they all do?).

We very much enjoyed our meandering wander through all the little streets on our way to the temple site. As always, people were friendly and happy to greet us, and as we got closer, to keep directing us to the temple. We began to feel a little embarrassed because we were walking through lanes so narrow that we felt we were walking through people’s front or back yards. But we just kept greeting people in a friendly way (it’s amazing the smiles you get when you say “vanakkam” with hands folded, and people kindly directed us.

At last we got to an uphill street that dead-ended at a steep slope. There was a path laid, fortunately, with stone steps. The steps were rough, and covered in various kinds of building debris, but they worked nonetheless.

As we walked around to the front, we realized that this is a newly remodeled temple on the site of a much older one. Sure enough, once we got to the front, there was a placard on one wall noting that the temple, dedicated to Sri Arthanarisvarar, was remodeled by the Sri Ramanasramam in (I think) 2004.

It’s a pretty temple, with the same kind of restrained decoration that’s characteristic of the Ramana ashram (sculptures of gods and other beings on the tower aren’t painted in bright colors, just a cream-colored paint). We arrived as a Brahmin priest was making offerings. It was pleasant to stand and watch him, a breeze drying the sweat that had collected under our shirts (did I mention we are at about 88 percent humidity and it’s about 34ÂșC?).

The Arthanarisvarar temple, recently remodeled by the Ramana ashram.
The Sri Arthanarisvarar temple, recently remodeled by the Ramana ashram.

We exited the temple grounds via the official entrance, heading down stone stairs that wound around. There is a beautiful view from a rock platform, with the eastern and western gopurams of the Annamalaiyar temple rising above the rest of the town.

View of the eastern and western gopurams of the Annamalaiyar temple, viewed from below the Sri Arthanisvarar temple.
The two tall grey towers are the eastern and western gopurams of the Annamalaiyar temple. Photo by Alan.

I was admiring the view, and the huge old tree in front of us, when I suddenly spotted a small owl. Really small, at least compared to the size I expect an owl to be; maybe a little smaller than the pigeons we have in the Pacific Northwest. Using the zoom on Alan’s camera, I was finally able to get an image that wasn’t blurry. Thank you, owl, for not moving too much, or flying away too quickly.

Photo of a little owl (athene noctua)
I was so excited to spot this little owl hidden in a tree about 30 feet away (yes,”little owl” is its real name; also athene noctua). Alan gave me his camera with the good zoom, which is why I was able to identify it later on, with the help of Wikipedia.

There was still more to see as we continued to wind our way down the long steep hill. We spotted a tiny old brick temple on top of a huge boulder. We see these around a bit, including one in the neighborhood where we’re living. They tend to be perched on such steep and difficult-to-climb boulders, that we wonder how anyone managed to haul the bricks up to build them. This little temple has an additional wrinkle. Yes, there are steps carved into the huge boulder, but you have to crawl through a tunnel built right in front of the boulder to reach those steps. I considered it, but then thought about snakes and reconsidered.

There are more surprises as you continue to descend.

Now we know how to reach the temple from the main road, but I’m not sure we’d do it that way. It was more fun going the unofficial route.

We headed back towards the temple, enjoyed a snack and walked back to the Ramana ashram and then home. All in all, we spent about four hours wandering around. It never seems like that long, but there’s so much to look at and enjoy, and so many people to stop and (try to) chat with.

And then, this little boy.


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