In a deeply religious and yet a modern country like India, time has presented us with certain masterpieces that are a treasure for us to behold and respect. Since time immemorial, man has strived to impress God and attain his or her blessings for the well-being of the humankind. And as a testament, the God has presented himself to the worthy. Several legends have led to the construction of Temples in his praise that is still standing and is amazing to learn about. One of the beloved Gods in Hinduism is Lord Shiva, the gentle God as well as the fierce one. He is believed to be the Lord of Lords by many and is revered in Hinduism. Listed below are some of the shrines that one must visit to experience the spirituality and wonder of both what God can do for us as well as what man has done for the God.KK
Sri Brihadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur, Tamilnadu
If one has to list down the iconic temples in India, the Brihadeeswarar will be undisputedly there among the top. The architectural wonder is a testament to love and devotion towards Lord Brihadeeswarar, a form of Lord Shiva. The shrine was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Temple is known as “Periya Kovil” in Tamil meaning “The Big Temple”. The Temple is famous not only among Indians but among foreigners as well. The massive and imposing shrine was built by Raja Raja Chola I, also known as King Arulmozhivarman in 1010 CE. The architecture of this shrine is so impressive that the architect by the name of Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perumthachan is known as the Father of Craftsmanship in Kerala
The Temple was constructed for the purpose of King Arulmozhivarman’s coronation. The features that make the Temple complex a must visit are many. The height of the Linga of Lord Shiva is 9 feet. The Nandi is huge, weighing about 20 tons and is 2m in height. Besides Lord Brihadeeswara, large sized idols of Dakshinamurthy, Surya and Chandra are also worshiped. The Temple uses the measurements defined by the Vaastu Shastras and Agamas. The whole temple complex is the only one in the world to be constructed completely with Granite. The Temple does not use any cement or sand mixture to hold the structure. The whole structure is held together by the interlocking of the individual stones. The Vimanam (tower over the sanctum) is 100 feet tall and is the largest in the world. The Vimanam is a 16-storied structure. The Kumbam (the pinnacle of the Vimanam) weighs 80 tons and is made of a single granite stone. It is believed that the Vimanam is constructed in such a manner that it does not cast a shadow at noon on the ground. The geometry and technology used to build the temple astound many till date.
The Temple’s inner sanctum also houses 1000 years old painting depicting the glorious devotion to Lord Shiva and his stories. Later painting by the Tanjore Nayaks (400 years old) can also be seen on the walls. The Temple is one of the few temples in the world where the “Ashta-Dikpalakas” are worshiped. These are the Guardians of the eight directions – Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirrti, Varuna, Vayu,Kubera and Isana. On the outer wall of the temple, one can see the 108 forms or Karanas depicting the joyous dance poses of dancers. They form an important part of the Natya Shastra and Bharatnatyam.
The Brihadeeswarar Temple is one of the most visited temples in Tamilnadu is the pride of Chola Dynasty. The Shiva temple is a gem and must be visited at least once in a lifetime.
Arunachaleshwar Temple, Thiruvannamalai, Tamilnadu
The city of Thiruvannamalai is one of the several cities in the state of Tamilnadu that are steeped in history and have great legends associated with it. The Temple is also known as the Annaimalaiyar Temple. The Temple complex covers more than ten hectares of land making it one of the largest temple complexes in India, rivaled by only the Meenakshi Sundareshwara Temple in Madurai and the Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi. The Temple is believed to have been constructed sometime in the seventh century during the reign of Chola Dynasty. The Temple and the city were ruled by several dynasties like the Pallavas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagara empire, and the Mughals. The presiding deity is Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati who are worshiped here as Arunachaleshwar or Annamalaiyar and as Abithagujambal or Unnamulayal respectively.
The shrine forms a part of a group of temples known as the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams of Lord Shiva. These are five places where Lord Shiva is believed to have manifested as the five elemental forms – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space. The Shrine represents the Agni Lingam or Fire. The Hill behind the Temple is considered highly sacred and circumambulating it is believed to provide spiritual fulfillment to the devotees. It is worshiped as a Linga itself. As per the legends, Lord Shiva appeared as a column of fire atop the hill returning the light to the world which has gone dark after Goddess Parvati had closed his eyes playfully. The shrine is also part of the Aathara Sthala temples of Lord Shiva. These six shrines represent the six Tantric Chakras of the human body. The Arunachaleshwar shrine represents the Manipooragam Chakra of the human body. Several Rishis like the famous Ramana Maharishi have attained salvation here. The temple and its significance have been praised in Tevaram, the 7th-century literary masterpiece by Thirugnana Sambandar. It is believed that worshiping Lord here will let go of the ego in a human mind.
The festivals of Karthigai Deepam, Mahashivaratri, Pongal, Aadi Pooram (Fire Walking), and Panguni Uttaram is celebrated with great religious fervor here. The towering Gopuram, the sacredness of the Girivalam and the expanse of the Temple complex transports the devotee to a parallel world of high spiritualism.
Kalahastheeshwara Temple, Srikalahasti, Andhra Pradesh
The majestic temple of Sri Kalahastheeshwara at Srikalahasti should be a must visit shrine of any devotee of Lord Shiva. This temple is one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams representing Air or Vayu. These five places represent the places where Lord Shiva is manifested as the five elements of nature. The deity is worshiped as Kalahastheeshwara along with the Goddess as Gnana Prasunamba. The nearness of the shrine to Tirupati Balaji Temple increases the spiritual value of the site by manifolds.
The inner sanctum of the shrine dates back to the 5th century Pallava dynasty while the later additions were made during the Vijayanagara reign in the 12th to 14th century. The Cholas, Pallavas, and the Hoysalas gave patronage to the great temple during their reign. The Paatala Ganapathi shrine resembles the original structure and features of the Linga. The original Linga is not open to public display.
The Temple and its surrounding areas are also known as the Dakshina Kasi and Rahu-Ketu Kshetra. The town of Srikalahasti is steeped in legends that extoll the importance of the region in Hindu mythology. As per the legends, a Spider named Sri, Serpent named Kala and an Elephant named Hasti were ardent devotees of Lord Shiva and performed rigorous penance. Happy with their devotion, Lord Shiva granted them all Moksha or salvation at the site that is today the Temple of Srikalahasti. Several other legends are associated with the Temple, prime being the one related to a hunter named Kanappa who donated his two eyes to Lord Shiva and in turn got salvation from the Lord. Some believe that Lord Kanappa was the incarnation of Arjuna. The Temple is one of the kinds in the fact that it remains to open to visitors on the day of eclipses. It is because of the fact that both Rahu and Ketu performed penance to Lord Shiva here to absolve their sin of impersonating Devas during the Samudra Manthan episode in Hindu mythology.
- Sri Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram, Tamilnadu
For many, life in the holy city of Chidambaram in Tamilnadu revolves around the magnanimous temple of Sri Thillai Nataraja situated in the heart of the city. The Temple is considered as one of the holiest shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and is revered with such dedication and love that the name Chidambaram is synonymous with Sri Nataraja. The Temple is first among the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams as well as one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams. The site of Chidambaram represents the Akasha or Aether aspect among the five elements of nature. The Temple is also an Aathara Sthalam representing the Anthaga Chakra (Third eye). The Temple is also a part of Pancha Sabha shrines. These are the shrines where Lord Shiva is said to have displayed the dance. Lord Shiva is the destroyer among the holy trinity of Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. Nataraja is the representation of the God in his cosmic dance form, Tandava. The Tandava dance is of two types – the Rudra Tandava (violent dance of Lord) and the Ananda Tandava (dance of delight and happiness). The bronze idol of the deity worshiped in Chidambaram represents the Ananda Tandava dance of Lord Shiva. The 108 poses of Lord Nataraja are exhibited in the Temple complex and are a delight to a devotee.
The inner sanctum of the temple houses the Lord in three forms – the anthropomorphic form of Nataraja, in the crystal Linga form and the formless empty space. Bharatanatyam is one of the most artistic classical dances of India. The dance features and poses are based on the different poses of Lord Nataraja. As per the legend, Lord Shiva was once passing through the forest of Thillai (Exocoeria sp.) when he heard some Rishis saying that Magic is supreme that God. He was accompanied by Lord Vishnu as Mohini. On seeing the Lord, the womenfolk were enchanted which enraged the Rishis. They invoked a demon named Muyalakan. Lord Shiva stepped on his back and performed the Ananda Tandava after which the Rishis surrendered to his devotion.
The roof of the temple known as the Vimana is covered with gold tiles. The temple and the town is the birthplace of sculpturing with bronze. The Temple has had some famous visitors in the past like Thirugnana Sambandar (7th century), Patanjali, the Nayanar Saints, emperors of kingdoms like the Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagara Empire, and Manickavasagar.
The architecture of the temple is awe-inspiring and is a delight to a devotee. Each of the five halls of the temple is huge and imbibes the intricacies of Hinduism. For example, the sanctum is supported by 28 pillars highlighting the 28 agamas of worship of Lord Shiva. Several finer features of the architecture must be observed and one is sure to be immersed in the exuberance of the place.
- Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Mylapore, Chennai
The bustling and the ever busy city of Chennai in Tamilnadu is home to Lord Kapaleeshwara and Goddess Karpagambal, forms of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati respectively. The vast temple complex is situated smack in the middle of the city in Mylapore which also happens to be one of the oldest parts of Chennai. The view of the Temple Gopuram from the banks of the Temple Tank on the west is mesmerizing and is often used to symbolize the origins of Chennai. The original temple is believed to have been constructed sometime in the seventh century by the rulers of the Pallava dynasty. However, later additions and renovations were carried out by the Tuluva dynasty of the famed Vijayanagara Empire.
The Temple has been mentioned and praised in Tevaram, a 7th-century work by the popular Saint Thirugnana Sambandar. Lord Shiva is worshiped as Kapaleeshwara. The name is derived from the word “Kapala” which represents one of the heads of Lord Brahma and “Eeshwara” means “God of”, giving the meaning of “Lord of Brahma’s Kapala”. Several mythological legends are associated with the Temple. This is believed to be the place where Lord Brahma installed the Linga to perform penance to Lord Shiva. Several say that this is also the place where Goddess Parvati who had been turned into a Peahen (as part of a curse by Lord Shiva) performed penance to Lord Shiva to regain her original posture. It is believed that Lord Murugan (Subrahmanya) received his weopen, the Sakthivel from Goddess Parvati at the site. The place has also been referred to as the Veda Puri and Shukra Puri as it is believed that the Vedas, as well as Shukran, worshiped Lord Shiva here.
Devotees perform prayers to Goddess Karpagambal for obtaining a child, wedding and for family welfare. The Panguni Uttaram Brahmotsavam in February-March, Thaipusam in January and the Arupathimoovar festival are the highlights of the Temple. The Temple is a must visit both for spiritual enlightenment as well as to immerse oneself in the glorious divinity of Lord Shiva.
- Kotilingeshwara Temple, Kolar, Karnataka
The unique temple of Sri Kotilingeshwara is one of the top attractions of the Kolar district of Karnataka. The expansive complex is situated in the village of Kammasandra, just 5 km from the world famous Kolar Gold Fields. The Temple is quite a recent addition to the long list of mesmerizing Shiva temples in India. The Temple complex covers an area of about 13 acres and was built by Swamy Sambha Shiva Murthy in 1980. The Temple is built over the site considered as one of the Mukti Kshetra or the Parasurama Kshetra in Karnataka.
The Temple’s main eye-catching attraction is the 108 feet (33m) Shiva Linga. The Linga is the largest Shiva Linga in the whole of Asia and one of the largest in the world. A 35 feet tall Nandi (bull) can be seen accompanying the Linga. The unique feature of the temple is that the devotees can install a Linga and pray for their wish fulfillment. Around one crore different sized Lingas have been installed by the devotees surrounding the main Shiva Linga.
Within the temple complex, one can visit eleven small temples dedicated to Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Lord Maheshwara, Lord Venkataramani Swamy, Goddess Annapoorneshwari, Panduranga Swamy, Panchamukha Ganapathi, Lord Rama, Anjaneya, Kannika Parameshwari, and Karumari Amman shrine. The “Shiva Panchayathi Linga” inside the Kannika Parameshwari Temple is worshiped for family welfare as the figures of Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesha, Lord Kumaraswamy and Nandi surround it. The serene surroundings of the Temple and the spiritual nature of the temple are bound to entrance the visitors.
- Kailasa Temple, Ellora, Maharashtra
One of the largest rock cut megalith cave Temple dedicated to Lord Kailasa is situated at Ellora, Maharashtra. The beautiful and artistic temple is marked as Cave 16 out of 34 caves that are collectively known as Ellora caves. It is believed by archaeologists that the temple might have been built during the reign of Rashtrakuta King Krishna in the 8th century. The marvelous craftsmanship of the workers is exemplified by the fact that the craftsmen worked their way down from the top of the rock. It is believed that the temple houses the largest cantilevered stone ceiling in the world. It is believed that the stone craftsman used deflecting mirror lights to work under the dark conditions in the interior of the Temple.
The architecture of the shrine is believed to have been influenced by the Pallavas. The temple has a U-shaped structure. The entrance of the structure is flanked by Saivites on one side and the Vaishnavites on the other side. Each column and panel are sculpted with hundreds of beautiful sculptures of several Gods and Goddesses. Several of the rocks cut shrines are two storied with solid rock bases. The Temple complex also has shrines dedicated to the River Goddesses – Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati. The central shrine is immense and awe-inspiring.
The love and respect for Lord Shiva are reflected in the grandeur and opulence depicted during the construction. It is imperative that one must visit this shrine as part of the pilgrimage.