Humanity, from the very beginning, has been preoccupied with trying to understand puzzling natural phenomena – nightfall, eclipses, earthquakes, and so on. One of the themes to which ancient philosophers devoted a lot of thought was the universe and its constituent elements.
Several ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, the Chinese, the Persians and the Indians, postulated that the universe is made up of a small number of building blocks, or “elements,” which cannot be broken down further.
According to ancient Hindu scripture, all creation begins from the Pancha bhootas, or the five elements. Every form of creation is a combination of one or more of these five basic elements, which are akasha (space), vayu (wind), agni (fire), jalam (water) and prithvi (earth). These Five Elements are also the building blocks of all living beings, including humans.
Akasha, the first element, represents the space in which all creations take place. According to ancient Indian philosophers, it signifies the sensation of sound, and accounts for the emergence of the organ of hearing – the ear.
Vayu, the second element, which represents the gaseous state of matter, signifies the sensation of touch. It accounts for the emergence of the skin and respiratory system.
Agni, the third element, represents heat, or the form without substance. It signifies the sensation of sight. It accounts for the eyes, digestive system and perception.
Jalam, the fourth element, which represents the liquid state of matter, signifies sensation of taste and faculty of speech. It accounts for the tongue and the fluid metabolism in the body.
Prithvi, the fifth element, is said to represent the solid state of matter and signifies the sensation of smell and physical constitution of the body. It accounts for the nose, bones and teeth.
It is interesting to note the perception of senses of each element. It is said that the Prithvi element can perceive all the five senses (hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell); whereas the next higher element – Jalam – has no smell but can be heard, felt, seen and tasted. The next higher element, Agni, can be heard, felt and seen. Vayu can be heard and felt, whereas the highest element, Akash, can only be heard.
All the sense organs, namely the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose, which enable us to interact with the external material objects of the universe are known as Jnanendriyas, whereas the Karmendriyas are organs like mouth, respiratory system, hands, and legs, which carry out actions.
To represent the manifestation of these five elements, ancient Indians built five temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. These temples are known as Pancha Bhoota Sthalas (Pancha means five, Bhoota means elements and Sthala means place). All these temples are located in South India – four in Tamil Nadu and one in Andhra Pradesh. The five elements are believed to be enshrined in the five lingams, and each of the lingams representing Shiva has a distinct name, based on the element it represents. The Hindu system of belief also worships the divine as a manifestation of these basic elements. Hence, Shiva is worshipped as a manifestation of these elements in these five sthalas.
There is a lot in common between these five temples. These are among the holiest Shaivite shrines in India, and have been glorified by the poems of the Nayanmar Saints of Tamil Nadu. References to these five temples in various literary works place them in as early as a time as the Sangam period in the very early 1st century CE.
The main deity at Chidambaram temple is the Nataraja, or Shiva in Ananda Tandava, the cosmic dance of bliss. The three eyes of the deity represent the sun, the moon and fire. Lord Nataraja has four arms. In his rear right hand, he holds a drum or a damaru. The damaru is the symbol of sound and creation, as it is said to have generated the sounds that were precursors to music. The palm of Nataraja's front right hand is raised in a gesture of protection and blessing. The rear left hand holds a pot of fire, which signifies destruction. The front left hand points downwards to the left foot raised in a dance pose. This hand is the source of divine grace and bliss, while the raised foot represents salvation. The right foot represses mauyalka, which is embodiment of human cruelty and ignorance. Surrounding the figure of the dancing God is an aura of flames, which represents wisdom, truth and the forces of creation, which are sustained by the cosmic energy generated by the divine dancer. And thus, the dance becomes a metaphor of life, wherein good and evil are balanced, as are creation and destruction.
The garland of sacred bilva leaves hanging in the sanctum actually represents the invisible ‘chakra’, the symbol of the divine union of Shiva and Parvati as Nataraja and Sivakami, and is known as Chidambaram’s Rahasyam. Leaves of the bilva or bel tree, (Indian wood apple) are always offered to Shiva, in a tradition begun by Vishnu himself. Legend tells us that once, when Vishnu ran out of offerings while worshipping Shiva, the goddess Lakshmi came to his rescue. She created the bel tree using her powers, after which Vishnu used its leaves to complete his pooja.
The Srikalahasti Temple is situated in Chittoor district, in Andhra Pradesh. Located on the banks of the Swarnamukhi, this temple is called Dakshina Kailasam. The defining feature of this temple is its huge mandapam, which has a hundred pillars. The temple houses Sri Kalahasteeswara and Sri Gnanaprasunambika Devi.
This legend associated with this temple says that a devotee, Kannappa, plucked out both his eyes and placed them on the Shiva lingam to stop the blood flowing from it. For this heroic act, Shiva granted him moksha and included him as one of the 63 Shaivite Nayanars.
The main deities at Annamalaiyar are Arunachaleswarar and ApeethaKuchalambal (Unnamalayal). On full moon days and on the occasion of Karthigai, many devotees circle the mountain along a path (called the girivalam) as a show of their faith.
This temple is the central point for devotees who worship in Tiruvannamalai.
The Annamalaiyar temple owes its grandeur to four lofty towers. The Eastern one, which is the tallest, is called the Rajagopuram and measures 217 feet. It is the second largest gopuram in South India. The Western one is called the Pey gopuram, the Southern one is the Tirumanjana gopuram and Northern one is the Ammani Amma gopuram. The temple has five prakarams, or enclosures; and the walls are broad and high, resembling the rampart walls of a fort. In each of the prakaras, there are tanks and many smaller shrines. Entering through the Rajagopuram, devotees worship Gopura Ganapathi. In this prakaram, lies the thousand-pillared mandapam and an underground temple enshrining the Patala Linga. It is said that Bhagavan Ramana did penance here in his Purvasramam. From here, devotees enter the fourth prakaram, passing through the Vallaha Maharaja Tower. The Brahma Theertham (temple tank) is situated here, and a dip or bath in its holy waters is said to purge one of all his sins. Next, they cross the Kili Gopuram to step into the third prakaram.
Here, the main feature is the sixteen-pillared Deepa Darshana Mandapam (hall of light). The temple tree, Magizha is considered sacred in Hindu mythology – childless couples tie small cradles in the branches as a form of worship. Vedic texts say that the temple mast separated the earth and the sky during the creation of the universe. The Kalyana Mandapam (marriage hall) is in the South-West of the prakaram and built in Vijayanagara style. A stone trident is present in the outer shrine of the temple in open air and has protective railings.
In the fourth prakaram, lies an image of large Nandi, the Brahma Theertham (temple tank), the Yanai Thirai Konda Vinayaga shrine, and a hall with a 6-foot tall Nandi, erected by Vallaha Maharaja.
Arunagirinathar is said to have entered the body of a parrot in order to fetch the parijata flower. His enemy, Sambandan burnt his body, and hence Arunagirinathar settled himself on the temple tower in the form of the parrot and sang his famous Kanthar Anubhuthi.
The first prakaram encloses the garbha griha of Sri Arunachaleswarar (the Tejo Lingam) – the presiding deity of this glorious temple. It is recorded that there are as many as 360 theerthas and 400 lingams in the eight-mile circuit of this sacred hill.
Sri Jambukeswarar is the name of the form of Lord Shiva worshipped at Thiruvanaikaval. It is one of the Panchabhoota Sthalams, which represents water. The goddess of this temple is Akilandeswari, or Amman. The Amman is also called as Akilandanyaki. Akilandeswari is pronounced as 'Akilam - Aanda – Eswari' (Akilam – Universe, Aanda – Ruler, Eswari – Goddess).
This ancient temple is dedicated to Shiva (Jambukeswara) and Parvati (Akilandeswari). It is one of the foremost Saivite shrines in Tamil Nadu. Sri Jambukeswara is an embodiment of the element water and is referred to as Apu sthalam. There is a source of water near the Shivalinga idol in the temple. The Shivalinga here is called Apu Linga.
The Sri Jambukeshwara Temple is dedicated to Lord Siva and has five concentric walls and seven gopurams. It is built around a Siva lingam partly submerged in water that comes from a spring in the sanctum sanctorum. The complex was built in the same period as the Sri Ranganatha swamy temple.
According to the legend, there was once a forest of Jambu trees in the place of modern Thiruvanaikaval. Near this was a tank called Chandratheertha, which was filled by water from the river Kaveri. Lord Shiva appeared as a lingam under one of the trees, and it came to be called the Jambulingam. Due to a curse, two of Lord Shiva's attendants, Pushpadanta and Malyava, were born in the forest as a white elephant and a spider. The elephant worshipped the lingam with flowers, and with water brought in its trunk, performed abhishekam daily. The spider too worshipped the lingam, spinning a web over it to prevent sunlight and the dry leaves of the tree from falling on it. One day, the elephant saw the web. Thinking that it was a layer of dust on Lord Shiva, the elephant tore it and cleaned the lingam by pouring water. After that, the elephant continued to tear down the web daily. The spider became angry at this and crawled into the trunk of the elephant, biting the elephant to death and killing itself. Lord Shiva, moved by the deep devotion of the two, relieved them from the curse. As an elephant worshiped the Lord here, this place came to be known as 'Thiru Aanai Kaa' (Thiru – Holy, Aanai – Elephant, Kaa or Kaadu – Forest). Later the actual name 'Thiruaanaikaa' becomes 'Thiruvanaikaval' and 'Thiruvanaikoil'. It is said that in the next birth, the spider was born as the King Ko Chengot Chola and built 70 temples and Thiruvanaikoil is the one among them. Remembering his enmity with the elephant in his previous birth, he built the Lord Shiva sannidhi such that not even a small elephant can enter. The entrance is only 4 feet high and 2.5 feet wide.
Legend also says that in this temple, Adi Shankara has offered Sri Chakram as ear rings for the Devi.
Another legend says that once, Parvati mocked Shiva’s penance for the betterment of the world. Lord Shiva wanted to condemn her act and directed her to go to the earth and do penance. As per Shiva's wish, she found the jambu forest at Thiruvanaikaval to conduct her penance. She made a lingam out of the water of river Kaveri (also called river Ponni) under the Venn Naaval (a kind of white fruit) tree and commenced her worship. So, the lingam is known as Apu (water) lingam. After a lot of penance, Lord Shiva gave darshan to Akilandeswari and taught her Shiva Gnana. She Parvati took Upadesa (lessons) facing East from Shiva, who stood facing West. So, the temple's idols are also installed in the same direction. This place is known as an Upadesa Sthalam. As the Devi was like a student and the Lord like a Guru in this temple, there is no Thiru Kalyanam conducted in this temple for Shiva and Parvati, unlike the other Shiva temples.
Another legend sheds light on why Thiruvanaikaval is also called Jambukeswaram, and the lord as Jambukeswara, Jambunathan and Jambulingam. Once there was a sage by name Jambu munivar. He once got a rare and sacred Venn Naaval fruit and he offered that fruit to Lord Shiva. The Lord, after eating the fruit, spat out the seed. Jambu munivar took the seed and swallowed it, since he considered it to be sacred. Immediately a Naaval tree began to grow in the munivar's head. The munivar prayed to Lord Shiva that He should take his abode under that tree. Lord Shiva accepted and asked him to continue his penance in the forest on the banks of river Kaveri, and said that he will one day come there and make his abode under that tree. After many years, Akilandeswari worshiped Shiva under that tree during her penance. Thus, as he made his abode under the tree on Jambu munivar's head, he was called Jambukeshwara, and the place became Jambukeshwaram. Also the Venn Naaval became the Sthala Vriksham, or the temple’s sacred tree. The Shiva lingam is placed under the Venn Naaval tree in this temple. Even today one can see the Venn Naaval tree at the temple, which is said to be many hundred years old.
The temple has 5 prakarams. The shrine for Akilandeswari is situated in the 4th prakaram Legend goes on that when the king Thiruneetru Sundara Pandiyan was constructing the 5th prakaram wall on the East, he realized that he had no money to pay to the workers for the next day of work. On that night, he dreamt that Lord Shiva asked him to continue the work. As per the Lord's wish, the King continued the construction and at the end of that day, a sanyasi came there and he gave the workers pinches of sacred ash, which turned into gold equivalent to the work done by them. It turned out that the sanyasi was none other than the Lord himself. Because of this incident, the East Side prakaram is known as the vibhoothi prakaram.
Ekambareswarar temple is one of the most revered Shiva temples; it is one of the Panchabhoota Sthalams. This is the 1st of the 32 Tevara Sthalams in the Tondai region of South India. There are several Shiva temples scattered all over Kanchipuram, and it is to be noted that there is no separate shrine for Parvati in any of them. The Kamakshi amman temple is the only Ambal shrine in Kanchipuram.
This vast temple with high rising Gopurams dominates the skyline of Kanchipuram, the historic capital of the Pallavas. The Raja Gopuram or the entrance tower to the temple which rises to a height of 172 feet was built by the Vijayanagar king Krishnadevaraya. The pillared hall in front of the sanctum was also built by the Vijayanagar kings.
The presiding deity here is Ekambareswarar or Shiva, worshipped as the Prithivi Lingam. A Somaskanda panel featuring Shiva, Parvati and Skanda adorns the rear of the main shrine, which has been held in worship for centuries together. It is believed that Parvati, the consort of Shiva, worshipped him in the form of a Prithvi lingam, or a lingam improvised out of sand, under a mango tree. Legend says that the neighboring Vegavathi river overflowed and threatened to engulf the Shiva lingam and that Parvati or Kamakshi, embraced the lingam, and Shiva, touched by the gesture materialized in person and married her. In this context he is referred to as Tazhuvakkuzhainthaar in Tamil. There is no separate shrine for the Goddess in the temple as she is worshipped along with Shiva. There is another shrine of Shiva and Kamakshi under the Sthala Vruksham, which is a mango tree said to be 3500 years old. The mango tree is said to be the embodiment of the four Vedas and the tree is said to bear fruits of four different tastes each season here. The saint poet Sundaramoorthy Nayanar is said to have recovered his eyesight (left eye) after offering worship here.
The Sthala Purana says that when Lord Shiva was deeply immersed in the task of creating, protecting and destroying the Universe, Parvati, his consort, in a jocular mood, closed his eyes. This resulted in staying the process of creation and destruction as well as obstruction to the natural law of things. It was a serious matter and Shiva became angry and cursed Parvati to go to the Earth and expiate her misdeed. Accordingly Parvati came to the banks of the river Kampa under a single mango tree at Kanchi and made a Shivalinga out of sand and worshipped it. To test her sincerity Shiva placed various obstacles and hindrances in the way of Parvati's penance. But with the help of Lord Vishnu she could tide over all the difficulties. At last Shiva hurled a deluge by taking out the River Ganges from his matted hair, to wash away the Linga worshipped by Parvati. She clasped it with all veneration to her bosom and this pleased Shiva, who took her again as his consort.
Muthuswami Dikshitar has composed songs on all the five elements enshrined in these linga temples. They are as follows:
- Ananda natana prakasham- Kedaram represents Akasha
- Sri kalahasti- Huseni represents Vayu
- Arunachala natham- Saranga represents Agni
- Jambupathe - Yamuna kalyani represents Jalam
- Chintayama - Bhairavi represents Prithvi