Shiva Temples in South India

I wanted to share some of my thoughts and findings on Siva temples particularly in South India. Siva temples are commonly found all over India and most of the Siva temples have Siva in lingam form. Even when other deities are present in the temple, the Siva lingam is generally the principal deity. Guess, the deep respect for Siva among the many Hindu gods is in display here.
I have visited many Siva temples while in India. And a weekly visit to the neighborhood temple would be the norm. But it never occurred to me to question why we pray Lord Siva in lingam form and not in human form as other deities. While writing this blog, I started wondering about why this one form of god is preferred by people. I was not able to derive any conclusions from my web research but hope to find answers someday.  I have observed that praying to Siva in this different form adorned with just flowers and leaves provides a feeling of strength and peace.
I want to share my thoughts about some of the Siva temples. The write up is based on my memories from visits to these great temples many years ago. I did some additional web research as I was trying to collect my thoughts from those trips.
Rameswaram Temple:
The first temple that comes to mind is the Rameshwaram temple. Even though I went there 25 years ago, I can still remember the long corridors in the temple. The legend says that Rama and Sita installed the Siva linga and did puja here after their return from Lanka. Rama had just defeated Ravana in the epic battle one of the belief is Rama wanted to absolve himself of any sins committed on the battlefield. An interesting tidbit is that Sita created a smaller linga while waiting for Anjaneya to get a bigger linga from Himalayas. So, now both lingas are present in the temple, and the bigger lingam, called the Vishwalingam is prayed to first. Another memorable aspect of the temple was the showers we took with water from 22 wells in the temple. The wells are supposed to have erupted from Rama’s arrows into ground. The water in each of those wells is supposed to have different characteristic and curative powers too.

Brihadeeswaran Temple in Thanjavur:

The next temple I want to mention is the 1000 year old Brihadeeswaran temple in Thanjavur. I am used to seeing temple towers dominate the skyline of South Indian towns. But Brihadeeswaran temple is altogether on a different scale. As soon as you walk into the temple you realize that you are in front of a monument that’s comparable to some of the biggest man-made structures anywhere. You are amazed at the skill and ability of humans a thousand years ago. One of the claims is that the temple is designed such that the shadow from the temple tower never touches the ground. I can still remember the massive stone carving of the big bull Nandi. It’s amazing to pray in such grand structures built by people to show their love for divine. I visited this temple only once but I noticed fewer people than usually seen in other Siva temples. But this minor observation made me wonder about a larger question: why do some temples with great past are not as popular with devotees while some other temples gain a big following in a short span. Is it just people running behind popular beliefs? This is something for readers to think about and share any insights.
Sri Kalahasti temple:

Sri Kalahasti temple is also a famous Siva temple and Siva is referred to as Kalahasteeswara here. The pilgrims here pray to the Siva associated with Vayu (wind) element. The legend of Bhakta Kannappa is supposed to have been enacted here. Bhakta Kannappa was a hunter and was as an ardent devotee of Siva. He was not well versed with the rituals but offered his one eye when he saw blood oozing out of an eye on Siva linga. And then he was ready to offer his second eye also as the second eye on Siva linga started oozing blood. Bhakta Kannappa represents the best example of devotion and love towards god. On a personal note, I visited Sri Kalahasti along with my grandfather and we got a Rahu Ketu puja done there. It was a long bus trip to Sri Kalahasti town, lasting many hours but was never a dull moment with my grandfather regaling us with stories.

Chidambaram Temple:

Now I want to talk about the Siva temple in Chidambaram. The main deity is Siva but in a special form, Nataraja form. Nataraja is the Lord of Dance, and he does his divine dance to destroy the universe and initiate the process of creation. The Chidambaram temple is considered one of the holiest sites by Saivites. When I visited the temple, it was a beehive of activity. The temple has lots of symbolism. The temple has been laid out and constructed to convey many divine ideas. The Chidambaram Rahasya (secret) is revealed to people when a certain curtain is pulled away and enlightened people can see Siva and Parvati there. Apparently there is an inner meaning to this that we can remove the curtain of ignorance and move towards self-realization, of course with God’s help.
Someshwara temple in Ulsoor (Bangalore):
All the four Siva temples mentioned so far are very famous and disciples consider themselves to be blessed after visiting them once. I hope I could revisit these temples. But now I want to share my experience from visiting a neighborhood temple i.e. Someshwara temple in Ulsoor, Bangalore. I grew up in Bangalore and my parents would take me to this temple almost every week.  My parents do the same even now when I visit them in Bangalore. The main deity is Siva lingam addressed as Lord Someshwara. As a kid, I have pretty vivid memories of the temple. After praying to all the deities, we would rest for a few minutes on the temple steps and feed the monkeys with coconut pulp. Festivals such as Sivaratri are celebrated with religiosity and fanfare here. But the most opulent would be the Ulsoor “Pushpa pallaki”. On this occasion, Kamakshamma (consort of Lord Someshwara) is taken around town in a chariot decked with flowers. Similarly decked chariots with other deities from other temples in Ulsoor join the procession. The procession is an all-night affair with crowds thronging from all over Bangalore to watch this event. The sweet smell of flower fills the air; the chariots are decked with lights and camphor lighted at every step of the way. The atmosphere is amazing with such an outpouring of love and respect for the divine.
I hoped you enjoyed reading about the Siva temples. Praying in a temple gives me peace and motivation. Going to temple rejuvenates the soul. There are so many stories associated with a temple and these stories guide you to a better path in your daily life. The stories are simpler to understand and easier to remember than just principles. The stories show how gods were able to balance the seemingly contradictory rules of Dharma. In addition to being inspirational, I feel the temples are also places for humans to connect with the divine, not only in a spiritual sense but also in a historical sense. When you go to Rameshwaram, you are praying to the same idols that were prayed to by Lord Rama. He has probably stepped on places where you are walking. Lord Rama is not just the God in your imagination, but someone you are in contact with, of course separated by centuries of time.  Apart from that, the old temples are also repository of history and traditions which should guide the communities in facing new challenges. There are stories of how people saved the temples against marauding armies, ensured that traditions are followed and thus leaving a legacy for future generations to carry forward.
Om Namah Sivaya!
-Nanda

4 Responses to “Shiva Temples in South India”

  1. Darshan2Divinity Says:

    Nanda,

    It’s a good article about Shiva Temples with your personal experience.Nice!

    I want to take the opportunity to try and answer some of your questions:

    1. why we pray Lord Siva in lingam form and not in human form as other deities?

    Lingam represents the male aspect and yoni represents the female aspect. Shiva is nothing but the union of male and female aspect. Only when we unite the male and female aspects, divine nature arises. Lingam symbolises that.

    2. I visited this temple only once but I noticed fewer people than usually seen in other Siva temples. But this minor observation made me wonder about a larger question: why do some temples with great past are not as popular with devotees while some other temples gain a big following in a short span.

    It’s all about energy. Some people cannot stand certain energy and hence are not attracted towards it. People who are attracted towards Cinema Heroes & run behind them, may not be attracted towards a Saint and vice versa. So its all about what you want and if the person (or) place provides what you want.

    Shiva’s energy is very high energy, sometimes it’s difficult to even understand this energy for ordinary people. It’s like this: in the bachelor’s degree you have 100 students, in the masters level you have 50 students and in the phd level you have 10 students. So as you go deeper and deeper, only few people have the ability to do that kind of deep research. Shiva is like Phd and only few people have the time and effort to do the reach him. Others are happy with their Bachelors and Master’s degrees.

  2. Sanjai Says:

    Dear Nanda,
    Thanks for this wonderful article. Though I have heard about Kannappan story, I did not know the temple associated with this story. It is nice to know that you remember these temples which you had visited during your childhood days. Great is the history behind these temples which are often time forgotten.
    Thanks Vijay for explaining the significance of Lingam form. Thanks Nanda for bringing up the question. Let us work todwards bringing out our Divine nature.

    Thanks
    Sanjai

  3. Sriram Says:

    Dear Nanda,
    Very nice article. I haven’t been to these temples. Reading your experiences of visiting these temples along with the history associated with the temple, it interests me to visit them soon. Thanks for sharing this article. As sanjai said, thanks to Guru for explaining about Lingam and thanks to you for asking the question.

    Thanking you,
    Sriram

  4. Venugopal Says:

    Dear Nanda,

    Thank you so much for writing this wonderful blog. I’ve visited only one place you have talked about here – Kalahasthi. Thanks to you for writing your thoughts about the other temples. I’ve got an opportunity to read & know about them too.

    A very special Thank you to Guru for providing answers in detail to the two specific questions that were thought in this blog. It was really nice to know the esoteric meaning.

    Thank you,
    -Venu

Leave a Reply

*