Updated: Aug 24
Om Namah Shivaya is a foundational mantra in Hinduism and Shaivism for meditation and devotion to Lord Shiva. The mantra is known as Shiva Panchakshara, meaning composed of the five syllables Na Ma Shi Va Ya. Each syllable is believed to represent one of the five fundamental elements of nature: earth, water, fire, air, and space.
Knowledge and control over these five elements in the body are believed to help humans attain eternal wisdom, knowledge, power, and peace. Yogis use their advanced knowledge in yoga and meditation to control and balance these five elements in their body.
However, a commoner engaged in his daily activities would find it challenging to achieve the harmony of these five elements in his body. For this reason, it is believed, that Lord Shiva manifested himself in these forms across five lingams so that people could worship them and reap the benefit of living a harmonious and spiritual life by being aware of oneself from within.
All the five Pancha Bhoota Stalangal are located in a straight line across the 79th meridian east. The 79th meridian east is the Madhya Rekha (middle line) of ancient India based on Mount Meru (sacred 5 peaked mountain in Hinduism considered the centre of physical, metaphysical and spiritual universe) alignment towards the north pole star (Kundalini Chakra) used primarily in the construction of ancient Hindu temples.
Ekambareswarar Temple - Earth Element
The Ekambareshwar Temple, located in Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, covers an extensive area of 23 acres and is thought to have been built by the Pallavas in 600 AD. Later, it underwent renovations by the Chola dynasty and other subsequent dynasties that ruled Kancheepuram. The Raja Gopuram, a nine-story tower, and the 1000-pillar hallway were built by Krishna Deva Raya, the third emperor of the Tuluva dynasty.
The temple has a fascinating legend associated with it. Once, while Lord Shiva was meditating deeply, his consort, Parvathi, playfully closed his eyes, causing the universe to fall into darkness. This angered lord shiva and to seek redemption for the sins caused by her action, Parvathi left her heavenly abode and was reborn as Goddess Kamakshi on earth. To repent for her sin and win back Lord Shiva, Parvathi performed severe penance and austerities under a mango tree, where she made a Shiva lingam out of the earth. To test Parvathi's devotion, Lord Shiva released the Ganga River from his hair and made it flow through her place of prayer.
Despite being caught in the rush of water, Parvathi instead of trying to save herself hugged the Shiva lingam to save it. Lord Shiva was pleased with her devotion and appeared on earth to marry her. It is believed that the indentations caused by Parvathi's embrace can still be seen on the lingam.
The temple in Kancheepuram is located near the mango tree where lord Parvati performed her penance and the temple is named Ekambareshwar meaning lord of mangoes. The mango tree 3500 years old still stands in the Ekambareshwar Temple, and its four branches are said to represent the four Vedas. Fruits from each of these branches are believed to have different tastes, and eating the leaves of this mango tree is thought to help couples struggling with infertility conceive a child.
Since the lingam is made of earth, the ritual of abhisheka is not performed. It is called Devi Linga as it was manifested by Parvathi, and since it's made of earth, it is also known as Prithvi Linga
Interesting facts about the temple.
According to legend, Sundarar one of 63 Narayana’s, once lost his eyesight due to a curse and he performed intense penance to please Lord Shiva at the Ekambareshwarar temple. Lord Shiva blessed him with eyesight and Sundarar regained his vision.
Kanchiyappa Shiva Achariyar, the priest of the Ekambareshwar temple, composed the Kandha Puranam, which is the Tamil version of the Skanda Puranam. It is believed that Lord Shiva guided him in his dreams to draft the religious text.
The three maestros of Carnatic music, Thyagaraja, Shyama Sastri, and Muthuswami Dikshadar, have visited the Ekambareshwar temple and performed sangkirthanas (devotional songs) here.
The temple corridor houses 108 Shiva lingams and a Sahasra lingam. The Sahasra lingam consists of 1000 small lingams attached to the body of one lingam.
Jambukeswarar Temple - Water Element
The Jambukeswarar Temple, located in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, is believed to have been built by Kochenga Cholan, one of the earliest kings of the Chola dynasty, around 1800 years ago. The temple has 4 gateways in each direction and a total of five enclosures.
According to the legend, a Saint named Jambu once performed intense penance to please Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva appeared in front of him and gifted him with a Venn Naaval fruit. After eating the fruit, considering its sacredness the saint ate the seed. The seed is believed to have sprouted into a tree inside him, and the saint merged with the tree, achieving Mukti, liberation from the cycle of life and death.
As directed by Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvathi, using her strength from penance and worship to Lord Shiva, converted the water flowing in the Kaveri River, near the Venn naval tree, into a Shiva linga and placed it under the tree. Since the lingam gave liberation to Saint Jambu, it was named Jambakeshwara Lingam, and since it is made of water, it was also named Appu Lingam.
Later, two Shiva ganas, Malyavan and Pushpadanta, who live in Kailash, were reborn as an elephant and a spider in the forest where the lingam was situated. Seeing the Shiva lingam made by Goddess Parvati deteriorating due to rain and sun, the spider spun its web over it to protect it, and the elephant protected it by pouring water and flowers on it.
Thinking that the spider was destroying the lingam, the elephant destroyed the web each time with water. This repeated, and the spider weaved its web again. Later, a fight broke out between them, and the spider went inside the elephant's trunk, eventually killing both.
Pleased by the devotion, Shiva gave Mukhi to the elephant and gave the spider a rebirth as Kochenga Cholan, who remembered his past life and built 70 Shiva temples with steps so that elephants couldn't enter (Maada Koil). The first of these temples was the Jambukeswarar Temple.
Interesting facts about the temple.
The spring under the lingam never dries, even in the hottest seasons when the water levels of Kaveri significantly fall or when the government authorities try to pump it out during monsoon season.
Devotees can only see the lingam through 9 holes in a stone wall around it as there are no open windows or doors. It is believed that while visiting the lingam a devotee should have control over the 9 openings in his body.
It is believed Lord Brahma prayed to Appu lingam in Jambukeswarar to temple relieve himself from Stri Dosha.
According to legend when the then king of the Chola Dynasty was building the fifth enclosure, he had to leave for a war to defend his kingdom. However, his mind remained preoccupied with the construction of the temple. It is said that Lord Shiva then appeared as Vibhuti Chittar and assisted in completing the construction of the fifth enclosure. As a tribute to this divine intervention, the fifth enclosure was named Vibhuti Praharam.
During the midday pooja (Ucha Kaal Pooja), the priest dresses up as Goddess Parvati to perform the ritual on the lingam so as it appears that goddess Parvathi herself is performing the pooja for the Appu lingam.
Since Goddess Parvati performed her penance in Adi month (July-August) it is believed during the Adi Thiruvila, she appears as Lakshmi in the morning, Parvati in the afternoon, and Saraswathi at night at the temple
Arunachalesvara Temple: Fire Element
The Arunachalesvara Temple, located in Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, is one of the four holy places according to Shiva Purana, for achieving liberation. The temple covers an area of 25 acres, and it is believed that the very thought of Lord Arunachala brings salvation to the devotee. The temple was constructed during the Chola Dynasty by king Raja Raja Chola 1 in the 9 th century but also has contributions from subsequent Dynasties that ruled like Tuluva and Sangam.
According to legend, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma once had a discussion about who was the greatest among them. Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of a towering column of fire and challenged them to find the beginning and end of the column.
After a long search, Lord Brahma returned and falsely claimed to have reached the top, while Lord Vishnu admitted defeat. Lord Shiva then revealed their deceit and cursed Brahma that he will not be worshipped in temples because of his dishonesty.
Once calmed down, Lord Shiva emerged from his fiery form as the Arunachala hill and chose to reside there. Subsequently, he self-manifested as the Agni Linga on the foothills of the hill, providing devotees with a place to perform their rituals.
Even today, it is believed that circulating the hill brings more blessings than encircling the temple.
Interesting Facts about the temple
There are eight lingams located around the eight directions of the Arunachaleshwara temple. They are Indra, Agni, Yama, Niruthi, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera, and Esanya Lingam.
According to legend, goddess Parvati playfully closed Lord Shiva's eyes and as a part of seeking redemption for this sin, Parvathi was asked to encircle the Anna malai, at the end of which Lord Shiva tied Parvati to him, forming the Arda Nareeshwarar.
During Kartigadeepam, the festival of lights in Tamil Nadu, a huge light is lit in the Tiruvannamalai temple at 5 pm. It is believed that worshiping the light brings devotees closer to Lord Shiva and they receive blessings from him.
In the Arunachaleshwara temple, sindoor is applied to Lord Ganesha which is rarely seen in other temples to signify the blood of the demon killed by Lord Ganesha.
Sri Kalahasteeswara Temple - Air Element
The Srikalahasteeswara temple, located in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh is the only Pancha Bootha Stalam situated outside Tamilnadu. It is widely believed that visiting Kalahasti temple can lead to mukti for devotees. The inner temple is believed to be built in the 5th century AD and the outer temple in 11 th century by the Chola kings. The temple is famous for its Rahu - Kethu pooja.
The fascinating legend behind the temple is that, Lord Vayu, the god of wind once underwent intense penance to please Lord Shiva through a self-manifested Karpoora Lingam (made of camphor).
Lord Shiva was impressed by Vayu's devotion and steadfastness, despite his dynamic nature. And as a result, Lord Shiva bestowed him with three boons. Vayu requested the first boon to be present everywhere in the world, the second to be an integral part of everyone's life, and the third for the Shiva Lingam to be known by his name. Lord Shiva granted all three wishes, and the Lingam came to be known as Vayu Lingam.
Interesting Facts about the temple
Kannapa was a hunter and a devotee of the Vayu Lingam. One day, he noticed that the Vayu lingam had lost its eyes, and he plucked out his own eyes to offer them to the Lord. Touched by his devotion, Lord Shiva made him the 10th of the 63 Nayanars or Shaivite saints, and he was referred to as Kannapa Nayanar.
Water from well inside the temple is know as Saraswati Theertham and it’s believed to cure stammering in devotees that drink it.
It is believed that under the advice of Lord Krishna, Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, visited the Vayu Lingam during the Mahabharata war to seek blessings and strength from Lord Shiva.
It is believed that the name "Srikalahasti" is derived from three ardent devotees of Lord Shiva: a spider named Sri, a serpent named Kala, and an elephant named Hasti.
Thillai Nataraja Temple - Space Element
The Thillai Nataraja Temple, located in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, was constructed by the Chola kings during the 10th century AD. The temple's architecture is intricately connected to the human body and is the first of 276 Paadal Petra Shiva Stalam, which are the 276 shiva temples mentioned in Tevaram, a collection of devotional verses sung praising Lord Shiva.
According to legend, Apasmara performed intense penance and austerities to please the gods, who granted him the power to cause seizures and epilepsy in people. With this power, Apasmara wreaked havoc on the world, causing chaos and terror by inflicting people with epilepsy during everyday events of their lives. People affected by epilepsy became forgetful, and fights and arguments became commonplace.
One day, Apasmara attempted to use his powers on Goddess Parvathi. Parvathi brought the matter to Lord Shiva's attention, who uncovered Apasmara's doings and decided to defeat him to restore balance and harmony on earth.
However, Apasmara's immortality prevented him from being killed, as his death meant attaining knowledge without any effort, disturbing the balance of knowledge and ignorance on earth. Therefore, Lord Shiva took the form of Nataraja and performed the cosmic dance "Thandava" to crush Apasmara under his right foot.
As Apasmara had to remain immortal, Lord Shiva, as Nataraja, decided to remain in the position of crushing Apasmara eternally.
It is believed that this eternal stillness of Lord Shiva's form refers to as Chidambaram. And since lord shiva appeared and manifested here as the cosmic dancer, the lingam is called the Indra lingam or akasha lingam
Interesting facts about the temple
The roof of the temple is covered with 21,600 gold tiles, this is said to represent the 21,600 breaths a human being takes in a day.
The temple has 72,000 nails, which are said to represent the 72,000 nadis (nerves) in the human body
The temple has 9 entrances or gopurams, each representing one of the nine openings in the human body.
The temple has 5 main steps, which represent the five elements, The temple has 64 trees, which represent the 64 arts and sciences. And 96 windows which represent the Tattvas or principles
The four ardent devotees of Lord Shiva, namely Sambandar, Sundarar, Thirunavukkarasu, and Manickavasagar, visited the Chidambaram temple to have the divine darshan of the Lord. Each of these devotees approached the temple from a different direction, as per their unique way of devotion to Lord Shiva. These four paths are collectively known as "Naalvar Vandha Vazhi" in the Chidambaram temple.
All of the Thevaram Padalgal, which are hymns dedicated to Lord Shiva, were retrieved from the Chidambaram Temple.
In essence, the temples of Lord Shiva serve as a bridge between our physical and spiritual selves, helping us to transcend the mundane and connect with the divine irrespective of our daily conduct. Visiting these sacred spaces, not only balances the 5 elements in us but ultimately help us experience the divine presence of Lord Shiva and guide us in our spiritual journey.