‘Shiva,’ meaning ‘the auspicious one,’ is considered the supreme god in Shivaism, which is the oldest and the biggest of the four traditions of Hinduism; including Shivaism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, and Smartism. The followers of Shivasim, the Shivas, believe that Shiva is all in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer, and concealer of all that exists. He is considered the god of paradoxes. He is perceived as an eternal being with no birth or death and is depicted as a deity sitting in a concentrating posture at his abode in the Himalayas. His head crest is the crescent, and he wears a garland and a cobra snake around his blue throat caused by drinking the Halahal Poison which was, however, checked and was not allowed to continue the onward flow. He holds a Trisula in his hand, and his body, which originally is as white as camphor, is smeared with ash which symbolizes the destined end of human beings. He has three eyes, the third one being on his forehead. The presence of a deer nearby indicates his control over the mind, and the bull is meant for his movement. He wears a tiger skin wrapped around his chest which indicates that he has overpowered all sorts of lust.
1. Brihadeeswara Temple
Brihadeeswara Temple, also known as Peruvudaiyar Kovil, RajaRajeshwara and Rajarajeswaram, is located at Thanjavur in the Tamil Nadu state of India. It is of a typical, Tamil architecture, and the site known as one of the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most valuable sites of architectural and historical importance. The temple is positioned within fortified walls and was built in 1010 A.D. by Raja Chola I and has reached 1,000 years old in 2010. In the 16th century its tower was 216 feet high and was considered the tallest in temples of its type. Its dome has been carved out of a single stone. To celebrate the 1,000th year of the temple’s existence, the Reserve Bank of India issued a 1,000 Rupees currency note and commemorative coins while the postal department issued commemorative stamps bearing beautiful pictures of the temple.
‘Somnath’ literally means ‘the protector of the moon god.’ Being the prime abode of Lord Shiva, Somnath is considered the most sacred of the Jyotirlingas Shiva temples. It is located in Prabhas Patan in Saurashtra in Gujarat. It had been destroyed and reconstructed 16 times. A 13th century Arab geographer Zakriya al-Qazwnini had given a strange description of the temple as ‘Somnath: celebrated city of India, situated on the shore of the sea, and washed by its waves.’ Among the wonders of that place was the temple in which was placed the idol called Somnath. This idol was in the middle of the temple without anything to support it from below or to suspend it from above. It was held in highest honor among the Hindus, and whoever beheld it floating in the air was struck with amazement whether he was a Musulman or an infidel.
3. Mahakal Temple
Mahakal Temple is located on the banks of the Rudra Sagar Lake in Ujain, State of Madhya Pradesh, India. It is 1 of the 12 most sacred abodes of Shiva. The chief deity of the temple of Shiva is represented in the form of Lingam, a cylindrical column symbolizing the male organ of creativity. It is said that the Lingam present in this temple has not been crafted but appeared there by itself. Including the basement, the temple is a five-story building. ‘Dakshina murti,’ literally meaning ‘the south-facing deity,’ is a distinguishing feature of this temple. Images of Ganesh, Parvati, and Kartikeya are positioned in the west, north and east, while the image of Nandi, the Shiva’s riding bull, is located in the south.
4. Srikalahasti Temple
Srikalahasti Temple, also known as Tirukkaatti Temple, is situated at 36 km. from Tirupati in the State of Andhra Pradesh, India. The temple was constructed in two phases. The inner temple was built in the 5th century while the external temple was built in the 12th century by the Chola and Vijayanagara kings. It is said that Kanappa, the staunch devotee of Shiva, offered both his eyes to check the blood oozing out of Shiva Lingam. Shiva stopped him from sacrificing his eyes and granted him salvation.
5. Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located on the western bank of the River Ganges in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India and is considered the most sacred shrine in India. The town accommodating the temple is considered the oldest city in the world with 3,500 years of recorded history. Since the city is also known as Kashi, the temple is also at times called Kashi Vishwanath Temple. All Hindus are required to go to a pilgrimage here, and traditionally Hindus pour the remains of their ancestors into the River Ganges. It is considered the most favorite abode of Lord Shiva.
6. Trimbakeshwar Temple
Trimbakeshwar Temple is located in the town of Trimbak near Nasik in the Maharashtra State of India. It is considered the original source of the Godavari, the longest river in India, originating from the Bramhagiri mountains and falling into the sea near Rajahmudry. The river is considered by Hindus as a sacred place for bathing. It is one of the 12 sacred Jyotirlngas, the temples where Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of Jyotirligum or the pillar of light. The temple, as seen today, was built by Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao.
7. Ramanathaswamy Temple
Ramanathaswamy Temple is a famous Shiva temple located on the Island of Rameswaram in the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu. The temple was built in the 12th century by the Pandya Dynasty. In addition to the Shiavites, the Shiva devotees, it is also considered a holy place for pilgrimages by the Vaishnavites and Smarthas. It is one of the 12 famous Jyotirlingam temples wherein Shiva is worshipped in form of Lingam, the male organ, or the pillar of light. According to the Hindu’s holy book to Ramayana, the god Vishnu, having fought the demon king Ravana of Sri lanka, prayed to Shiva in this temple to absolve him of his sins, if any, that he might have committed during the great conflict.
8. Meenakshi Amman Temple
Meenakshi Amman Temple, also known as Meenakshi Sundareswarar, is located on the southern bank of the River Vaigai in the city of Mudarai, Tamil Nadu, India. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and his spouse Parvati who is known as Meenakshi. The temple has been mentioned in the ancient Tamil literature. There are 14 gateway towers which are 45-50 meters high. There are two golden-sculptured deities in the temple. It was listed as 1 of the top 30 nominees of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The temple is a tourist attraction, and about 1,500 people visit the temple daily.
9. Chakresvara Shiva Temple
The Chakresvara Shiva Temple is an ancient but functional Shiva temple. It was built in 10 A.D. and is located at Bhubaneswar in Orissa, India. The temple is surrounded by residential buildings on the northern and eastern sides while it is surrounded by a tank in the west. Images of Parvati and Kartikeya are positioned in front of the temple. The temple is built on a low platform. The deity Lingam is placed in the center of the sacred chamber. An unusual feature of this Shiva temple is the presence of the four-armed deities Ganesh and Saraswati.
10. Kailash Mansarovar
Kailash Mansarovaris, situated on the Tibetan plateau in the north of the Himalayas and being the abode of Shiva, is considered one the most sacred Shiva temples. The holy mountain Kailash is 6,714 m. high and is visited by the devotees of many different religions including Hindus, Buddhists, Janis, and Bonpos. Shiva devotees believe that walking around the 32-mile circumference of the Kailash Mountain removes all their sins; therefore, they are very keen to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. Kailash is the source of four important rivers including: Satluj, Karnalies, Brahmaputra, and the River Indus.
A Shiva temple is the place of worship for Shiva followers. It is usually constructed as a profuse complex over a raised platform with some stairs all around it. The center of the temple is the most sacred place being the place of the Shiva deity. Hoysala temples are typical Shiva temples. They are characterized by a covered entrance porch supported by smooth and round pillars. Profuse sculptures chiseled out of soapstone decorate all parts of a typical, Shiva temple.
August 3, 2013 6:20 am
More information on temples of Shiva on Places of Peace and Power web site of National Geographic photographer Martin Gray