ancient Shiva temples in Southeast Asia.

Ancient abodes of Shiva

Some ancient Shiva temples are thought to be auspicious, given their history and legends behind their birth.

He’s Bholenath–the innocent one. He’s Nataraj–the divine dancer. He’s Mahadev–the God of gods. He’s Loknath–the ruler of the world. It’s easy to see why many are fascinated by Lord Shiva. He isn’t the typical definition of ‘god’ as far as Hindu deities go. Not only is he a leader of the gods and an enchanting dancer, but also rather human in his temperament–gentle one minute, but ruthless when irked! And with Amish Tripathi’s Shiva trilogy novels painting the deity as a heroic man rather than as a god, Shiva has become all the more relatable.

He’s probably the most revered of all Hindu gods; the innumerable Shiva temples across South-East Asia are a testament to that. While Shiva may reside in all these temples, they say his presence can be strongly felt in the most ancient ones. Some believe it’s the architecture that incites such a spiritual experience, while others insist it’s their innate powerful energy that draws devotees. Whichever the case, certain ancient Shiva temples are thought to be auspicious given the special legends about their birth. They’re also considered unique for recording history by marking the rule of certain dynasties. Here’s Soulveda delving into the history and legends behind the birth of renowned ancient Shiva temples in Southeast Asia.

Prambanan Temple, Indonesia

Archaeologists believe that the Prambanan Temple in Indonesia was originally designed to look like Meru, the mountain home of Shiva, complete with the Hindu cosmological concept of Bhurloka (mortal world), Bhuvarloka (angel world) and Svarloka (godly world) in its architecture. The temple is said to mark the return of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty, back in 856 CE, going by the information available in the Shivagrha inscription housed within its premises. Historians believe that this temple signified the Medang court’s shift of patronage from Mahayana Buddhism to Shaivite Hinduism.

Lord Shiva in this temple is accompanied by his consort Durga. The statue of Durga within the complex is associated with the Javanese legend of Princess Rara Jonggrang. The story goes that Princess Rara was persistently pursued by Bandung Bondowoso, who had killed her father. Unwilling to marry him, she challenged that Bandung build a thousand temples for her overnight. Bandung accepted the challenge and conjured demons to do the work for him. Upon hearing of his remarkable progress, Rara attempted to thwart him. She had a fire lit in the eastern part of the temple, and got the villagers to pound rice. Thinking that dawn was rising, even cocks began to crow. This sent the demons scurrying to the underground, in fear of daylight. Furious that he had been tricked, Bandung cursed Rara into a stone, and this stone is now said to be worshipped as Durga.

It is said that there are 12 Jyotirlinga temples in India, which collectively represent the body of Shiva. These temples are considered auspicious as the deity is said to have appeared as a column of light near their premises.

Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

It is said that there are twelve Jyotirlinga temples in India, which collectively represent the body of Shiva. These temples are considered auspicious as the deity is said to have appeared as a column of light near their premises. The Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu is known to represent Shiva’s head. According to Nepal’s earliest chronicle Gopalraj Vamsavali, the Lichchhavi King Supuspa Deva built this temple.

Legend has it that Lord Shiva once turned himself into an antelope in the forest on the Bagmati river’s east bank. The gods later caught up with him, grabbed him by the horn and forced him to resume his divine form. This broke one of his horns, which then came to be worshipped as linga, but over time, it got buried and lost. Centuries later, a herdsman found one of his cows showering the earth with milk at a certain spot. Upon digging that site, he discovered the linga of Pashupatinath, the lord of all animals, thus founding the temple.

Lingaraj Mandir, Bhubaneshwar

The Lingaraj Mandir was supposedly built by the Somavamsi Dynasty King Yayati I, during the 11th century CE, with later alterations by the Ganga Dynasty in the 12th century CE. Here, Shiva is worshipped as Harihara, a combined form of Vishnu and Shiva. The temple also has images of Vishnu, given that the Ganga Dynasty had several Vaishnavites.

Interestingly, Ekamra Purana, a 13th century CE Sanskrit treatise, mentions that the presiding deity was not considered a lingam during the Satya and Treta Yuga. The linga in the temple is a naturally occurring crude stone that rests on a shakti (feminine energy). Such linga are known as krutibasa or swayambhu, and this one is among the 64 swayambhu found in India. It was only during the Dwapara Yuga (third Hindu era) and Kali Yuga (fourth Hindu era) that it was worshipped as a linga.

Kailash Temple, Ellora

The Kailash Temple in Ellora is one of the biggest rock-cut ancient Hindu temples known to mankind. The structure is remarkable not only for its megalithic quality, but also its sheer size and brilliant sculptural features uncommon in the architecture of the time.

According to a medieval Marathi legend, the Rashtrakuta ruler Krishna I (r. 756-773 CE) had this temple built upon his queen’s request. The story goes that the king suffered from a severe disease and his queen prayed to Lord Shiva at a temple in Elapura (now Ellora) to cure her husband. She vowed to have a temple built for the deity if her wish was granted. She even swore to fast until she could see the temple’s shikhara (top).

When the king was indeed cured, she bid him to carry out her promise. Many architects insisted that the temple would take months to build and that it was unlikely for the queen to honour her vow. However, one architect by the name of Kokasa assured them that the queen could indeed see the temple’s shikhara in a week. The clever architect chose a large monolith and began by carving the top of the temple. He was done with it within the week and the queen was able to honour her vow and break her fast.


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