Getty Images/Robert Harding World Imagery


There are temple towns, there are mountain towns, and then there are temple-mountain towns where God appears as a phallus of fire. Welcome to Tiruvannamalai, one of Tamil Nadu's holiest destinations.

Set below boulder-strewn Mt Arunachala, this is one of South India's five ‘elemental’ cities of Shiva; here the god is worshipped in his fire incarnation as Arunachaleshwar. At every full moon, 'Tiru' swells with thousands of pilgrims who circumnavigate Arunachala's base in a purifying ritual known as Girivalam; at any time you’ll see Shaivite priests, sadhus (spiritual men) and devotees gathered around the Arunachaleshwar Temple.

Tiru's reputation for strong spiritual energies has produced numerous ashrams, and the town now attracts ever-growing numbers of spiritual-minded travelers.

Explore Tiruvannamalai

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Tiruvannamalai.


Learn more about Tiruvannamalai

Uncover the heart of travel and be inspired to see new sights with one of Lonely Planet’s in-depth, award-winning guidebooks.