Updated: Aug 14
For thousands of years, a powerful deity in the Hindu mythology has been widely revered and worshiped. This deity is Shiva, the Destroyer, one of the three supreme divinities in the Hindu pantheon, along with Brahma, the Creator, and Vishnu, the Preserver. Although his title, the Destroyer, may suggest evil intentions, Shiva is actually a complex mythical being that takes on many roles and represents various qualities.
In Hinduism, it is believed that the life of the universe is divided into cycles. This is where Shiva’s role of the destroyer is essential: at the end of each cycle, he destroys the universe. It may sound apocalyptic and evil, but this destruction paves the way for the universe to be reborn and start anew. Shiva doesn’t destroy for destruction’s sake; he simply acts as a catalyst in the rebirth of the universe, which is his most important role.
In painting, sculpture, and other forms of visual art, Shiva is depicted in a yogi position, with his skin either blue or white, a snake wrapped around his neck. Many layers of symbolism are hiding behind such a small detail: as a snake sheds its old skin to get rid of something that doesn’t serve it anymore, Shiva destroys the old universe to make way for a new one.
Shiva also stands out among other gods by being modest and ascetic. He abstains from various pleasures and forms of indulgence, preferring to spend his life meditating, which he believes is the way to harmony and happiness.
With so many magical symbols and spiritual meanings that Shiva embodies (the ones mentioned above are only a small insight into his significance in the Hindu mythology), it is unsurprising that people have been worshiping him and turning to him for guidance for many centuries. Altars, statues, and temples have been built to commemorate Shiva’s greatness, and to offer a place of worship for those who need it. Here is a list of some prominent Shiva temples from different corners of the globe
Munneswaram Temple in Sri Lanka
One of the most prominent Hindu temples in Sri Lanka, the Munneswaram Temple actually consists of several temple buildings, with the central one being dedicated to Lord Shiva. The complex is believed to be over a thousand years old, and during this time it has been destroyed twice as the result of Portuguese occupation campaigns. Nevertheless, the temples have been restored with the help of locals, and their heritage has been preserved and lives on until this day.
Various Hindu festivals take place here, bringing joy and a sense of community not only to locals, but also to visitors. The Munneswaram Festival, a four-week-long event, is arguably the most popular festivity, attracting not just devotees of Hinduism, but also Buddhist, Catholics, and Muslims. Those who want to celebrate specifically Lord Shiva are welcome to the Munneswaram Temple during the annual Shivaratri festival, dedicated to the powerful Shiva.
Kauai’s Hindu Monastery in Hawaii, USA
On the garden island of Kauai, amidst tropical rainforests and cascading waterfalls, hides a beautiful temple, the Kauai’s Hindu Monastery. It is home to monks who dedicate their lives to selfless religious service, worshiping Shiva and two of his children, Ganesha and Muruga. Since the establishment of this spiritual sanctuary in 1970, the monks have lived an ascetic life there, growing organic food on the premises of the monastery and wearing self-made clothing.
However, a thousand-years-old philosophy does not stand in the way of doing meaningful work with the help of modern technology. The monks are equipped with laptops and other means to spread information about the sanctuary, maintain their official website, and even publish the Hinduism Today magazine.
This modernized approach to education brings many people from all paths of life on pilgrimages to this spiritual haven, where visitors are welcomed every day, from 9 AM until noon, to practice meditation and religious service in the very heart of wild nature
Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal
Located on both banks of the sacred Bagmati river in Nepal, Pashupatinath is one of the most important temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. Tourists as well as Shiva worshipers frequent here every year, but some come here with the most unique purpose: to meet their death. The temple is well-known for welcoming senior Hindu believers who come there in their sunset years in order to die in the temple. When someone passes away, they are cremated on the river bank, on a special funeral pyre, and are sent flowing down the river. The choice of such a particular destination for a rendezvous with death is the belief that dying in the Pashupatinath Temple guarantees reincarnation as a human regardless of the person’s actions in their previous life.
Pashupatinath is a complex of various structures, with the main temple located on the Western bank of the Bagmati river. It’s considered a masterpiece of Hindu architecture, with its gold-plated roof and a large statue of Shiva’s bull, Nandi, and it has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. Although only Hindu believers are allowed into the main temple, the whole landmark offers both spiritual enlightenment and esthetic beauty to those who venture out there either on a pilgrimage or just on a touristic journey
Katas Raj Temples in Punjab, Pakistan
The beautiful complex of the Katas Raj Temples, located in the Punjab province of Pakistan, combines appealing views of water pools, greens, and ancient architecture. It comprises several temples, the oldest of which dates back to the 6th century, while the remaining ones were built throughout the following centuries. The whole complex, therefore, is an embodiment of about 1.5 thousand years of history.
The Katas pond, surrounded by various temple structures and ruins, is regarded as sacred by Hindus. According to the legend, the pond was created from Shiva’s tears when he was mourning the death of his wife Sati. The crystal clear waters of the pond are believed to have purifying qualities, washing away one’s sins with the help of Lord Shiva’s powers.
This is truly a place where history, beauty, religion, and mythology come together in a powerful union.
Shiva Vishnu Temple in Melbourne, Australia
It’s impossible to talk about the Shiva Vishnu Temple without mentioning the Hindu Society of Victoria, whose united efforts back in 1986 made the construction of the temple happen. While the HSV’s current membership count is approximately 2000 members, the temple itself attracts many more visitors, with the highest number recorded as 15ooo guests at a time.
The HSV’s goal to spread knowledge about Hinduism went as far as establishing an extension to the temple, the Cultural Centre, that serves as a hub for those who seek cultural and spiritual enlightenment. A heritage museum, harboring over 40 years of history, sheds light on the temple’s development, and the library of the Cultural Centre offers sufficient education on many aspects of Hinduism. The temple also organizes yearly festival celebrations, bringing together thousands of devotees not only from around Australia, but also from abroad.
Mukti Gupteshwar Temple in Minto, Australia
This Hindu sanctuary stands out in a very unique way: by being the first and only man-made cave temple. Its construction began in 1997 with the initiative of Australia-based Hindu believers, and was finished in 1999, on which occasion the king of Nepal gifted a statue of Gupteshwar, the main deity in the temple, to be placed there as a token of respect and approval.
The fact that the temple takes the form of the shape carries more than one meaning. According to the Mukti Gupteshwar Society, the cave temple represents our cave of intellect, the inner self, but it also highlights the significance of humanity by referencing the fact that, at the dawn of times, caves used to serve as homes for people.
Nowadays, this cave temple serves as a spiritual refuge, a Hindu festival venue, and a jewel of Hinduism in Australia
Prambanan in Java, Indonesia
The largest temple complex in Indonesia, the Prambanan Temple Compound dates back to the 9th century, and consists of multiple temple structures, with the biggest of them dedicated to Shiva. The Shiva temple is 47 m high, its peak visible from afar, and it stands between a Brahma temple and a Vishnu temple. The whole compound presents a majestic architectural wonder, and is another one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Although the interior of most of the temples is closed for visitors for safety reasons (many structures have been rendered unstable by natural disasters common in Indonesia), Prambanan still has a lot to offer to its guests. The premises of the compound are wrapped in a magical atmosphere of ancient times, making it a wonderful place to walk around, meditate, and take in the rich details of the architecture.
The world is full of similar jewels of Hinduism. The above landmarks are only a small part of the long list of temples and monasteries built all over the world to worship Lord Shiva and promote the pillars of Hinduism, which makes various Hindu practices much more accessible.
All of them are worth discovering, as each has something unique to offer to those open to be enlightened in the Hindu ways, meet like-minded people, and enrich their minds spiritually