The five elements or panchabhutas
; earth, air, water, fire and space, are represented by five Shiva lingams
, which are famous temple and pilgrimage centres. Earth is represented by the prithvi linga
made of mud at the Ekamreshwara temple in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. Due to its fragile composition, the ritual washing (abhishekha
) is done with the oil of the champaka
flower, not water or milk or sandalwood. The lingam
at Sri Kalahasti, near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, houses the vayu lingam
. The oil lamps flicker away in the wind, so puja
is offered to the utsavamurti
(festival bronze) alone. At Tiruvanaikaval (Jambukeshwara) near Tiruchy in Tamil Nadu, the lingam
stands inside a small shrine beneath ground level, submerged under a perennial underground spring. This is the lingam
The fourth lingam
, of fire is situated on top of Tiruvannamalai hill. Shiva appears as the jyoti
or light on Kartika Poornima
day, when a massive ghee cauldron is lit on the hill. For the rest, the hill itself is regarded as Shiva's lingam
, making it a sacred natural feature. The fifth lingam
is the akasha lingam
of Chidambaram. Space is represented as the vast emptiness in which Shiva danced his ananda tandava
of creation. There is nothing to be seen in the small shrine.
While the lingams
within are mentioned in early Tamil literature, dating back 2,000
years, the present temples are magnificent structures that were rebuilt
in the Chola, Vijayanagara and Nayaka periods, and are important centres
of pilgrimage. However, one wonders how many know the unique symbolism
of the temples.
There are twelve jyotirlingams
dedicated to Shiva which celebrate various aspects of nature. Kedarnath (Garhwal, UP) has a natural lingam
an irregular-shaped rock, in a temple surrounded by the five sacred
peaks of Rudra Himalaya. Vishwanath at Kashi is washed by the sacred
river Ganga. At Nageswar near Dwaraka, the snake is celebrated as a
protector. Mahakala at Ujjain represents the unrelenting march of time,
the Destroyer. Omkareswar is situated on an island in the river Narmada.
The temple of Somnath in Saurashtra is a dyke along the Arabian sea.
of Tryambakeshwar in Nasik has a crack from which
there is a continuous drip of water, with occasional flashes of fire and
sound. Grishmeshwar in Aurangabad is the Lord of the torrid summer.
Bhimashankar in the Sahayadri hills is ritually washed by an exquisite
lotus pond. Vaidyanatha in Parli, Maharashtra, was once surrounded by
forests of medicinal plants. Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh
was situated in a garden of white jasmine
plants. The twelfth jyotirlingam
at Rameshwaram is sacred for the 22 fresh water springs situated within the sea.
Other temples of Shiva are equally representative of nature. The lingam
at Amarnath is made of ice, and waxes and wanes with the moon. The
ancient Mauryan-Sunga temple at Gudimallam near Tirupati contains a lingam
with an emerging Shiva carved in relief. The God stands on a yaksha
a spirit of nature, surrounded by a stone fence. Most importantly, the
statue once stood beneath a tree, out in the open, as did most ancient
The forms of Shiva are
also eco-friendly. Dakshinamurti is the teacher seated beneath the pipal
tree. Bhairava is always followed by his companion the dog. Bhikshtanar is the free spirit living in the wild open spaces. Lingodbhava
comes out of the linga of fire. Ardhanarishvara combines the male and
female in a single figure, like the simplest forms of creation where
male and female are not distinct. Shiva is also the doctor Vaidyanatha,
symbolised by the sacred bilva
tree which has multitudinous medicinal properties.
The Hindu religion,
like all ancient religions, celebrated nature and used religion as a
means of protecting the environment. Unfortunately, many of these
symbols are forgotten today. We have discarded old traditions without
replacing them with anything equally good or better. The loser is the
environment, as well as humanity.