Theerthamalai Temple refers to the Theerthagiriswarar Shiva Temple. This is a hill shrine situated in the Aroor circle of Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu, about 50 km from Dharmapuri Town near the South Pennar River.  

This ancient Shiva Temple is located in Theerthamalai, at a height of about 1200 feet up the hill. As the name of the hill is Theerthagiri (a mountain or hill is called ‘Giri’ in Sanskrit and ‘Malai’ in Tamil), Lord Shiva, who has taken abode on this hill, goes by the name Theerthagiriswarar, the Lord of Theertha Giri mountains.

Theerthamalai Temple Legend

Mythology associates the Theerthamalai Temple with the epic Ramayana and claims that Theerthamalai was one of the 2 places where Rama had paid obeisance to Shiva, the other being the famous Rameshwaram. According to the Temple legend, Rama was returning from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya after slaying Ravana in the battle when he wanted to do Shiva Pooja here and sent Hanuman to fetch the Sacred Ganges water from the holy Kashi for offering it as oblation and worship Shiva. But as Hanuman didn’t return within the time scheduled for the worship, Rama shot an arrow at a rocky slope of this hill, and water started flowing from there, with which he completed the Shiva worship. This stream created by Rama is called Rama Theertham, which remains as a small, perennial waterfall falling from a height of about 50 feet. People believe that taking a holy dip in these waters can get rid of their sins. There are also 4 more ‘Theerthams,’ the streams originating at different points of the rocky surface; these are Agni Theertham, Kumara Theertham, Gowri Theertham, and Agastya Theertham. With so many Theerthams, the holy waters flowing in his hill, it is no surprise that the mountain itself became Theertha Malai, the hill of the sacred waters, whose presiding deity is Shiva as Theerthagiriswarar, enshrined in his abode, the Theerthamalai Temple.

People also believe that Siddhars, the spiritually evolved beings, have lived on this hill for thousands of years and are still around in the form of insects and other tiny living beings like beetles.       

But the legend about the place continues. When Hanuman returned with the Ganges water, he was upset that Rama had already completed the Pooja with the water he had generated himself. Frustrated, Hanuman threw away the vessel containing the Ganges water he had brought, which fell on the river bank. That became the Hanuman Theertham, located on the South Pennar River bank, about 16 km from the Theerthamalai Temple.     

Theerthamalai Temple History and Structure

The Temple is believed to have been built around the 7th century CE. While people give the credit for constructing this Temple to the Chola and Pandya kings, the inscriptions available in the Temple show that the Chola kings, including the famous emperor Rajendra Chola, visited this hill Temple regularly and offered prayers. We can also find inscriptions of the Vijayanagara rulers here.      

This Theerthamalai Temple, constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, is square in shape, and a defensive wall runs around the Temple like the ramparts of a fort. There is a hall in front supported by 12 pillars; they have sculpted beautiful images of Gods and Goddesses on the pillars and the Temple walls. We also find scenes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata carved on the walls. Inside, we can worship Lord Theerthagiriswarar, whose image is said to be Swayambhu, the self-manifested. There is also a Siddhi Vinaya shrine in the Temple complex.

The Department of Archaeology of Tamil Nadu state is preserving this Temple. People must climb steeply for about 1 km on the hillock to reach the Temple. Other water bodies like Vayu Theertham, Varuna Theertham, Indra Theertham, Yama Theertham, and Vasishta Theertham are also there in and around the hill.  

Theerthamlai Temple Festivals

They conduct the annual Brahmotsavam of the Temple during the Tamil month Masi (February-March), which includes the chariot festival and hydration ceremonies. They also celebrate Tamil New Year Day, Navaratri, the Sacred Aadi month, and Pradosham here. Devotees also perform Girivalam, that is, they circumambulate the hill on foot. This place serves as a pilgrimage center and a picnic spot, which many visit during weekends with their families for Divine grace and rest.      

Benefits of Theerthamalai Temple Worship

The waters of the streams flowing across the Theerthamalai hills carry a lot of significance. While the waters are said to contain many medicinal properties, people believe that taking a holy dip here and worshiping Theerthagiriswarar can absolve them of their sins and bless them with good health, long life, wealth, child boon, and peace of mind. Many pray in the Theerthamalai Temple, particularly for relief from debt burden; people also perform rituals for removing marriage obstacles and for progeny blessing.