“Whether it is the individual human body or the larger cosmic body, essentially, they are made of five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and space. In this, the first four elements are the active participants—space is the catalytic force. It is in the lap of this boundless space that these four elements play the game,” writes Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a spiritual leader, on his personal blog. In Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva is worshipped as the embodiment of these elements of nature. The Chola Kings of South India hence built five Shiva temples, known as Pancha Bhoota Stalam, deifying the five elements. Each shrine of Pancha Bhoota Stalam houses a lingam that represents Lord Shiva as the manifestation of each element.
The Pancha Bhoota Stalam are spread across the regions of South India—four in Tamil Nadu and one in Andhra Pradesh. In this feature, Soulveda explores the legends behind the five temples.
Ekambareswarar—The Earth Lingam
Located in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, Ekambareswarar is one of the oldest Pancha Bhoota Stalam in India, and also one of the oldest shrines. Built by the Cholas and the Pandavas, the Ekambareswarar temple is famous for its intricately sculpted gopuram (a tower present at the entrance of Hindu temples). Apart from being a photographer’s haven for its mesmerising architecture, Ekambareswarar temple also draws millions of devotees every year for its legendary earthen lingam.
According to a legend, once Goddess Parvati was performing penance for Lord Shiva under a mango tree near Ekambareswarar. She constructed an earthen lingam there to conduct her rituals. To test her devotion, Lord Shiva showered a rain of fire upon her. But she was saved by Lord Vishnu. In another attempt, Lord Shiva directed the Ganges to disrupt her penance. But Parvati convinced goddess Ganga to spare her. Eventually, Lord Shiva was moved by Parvati’s devotion and married her there.
The earthen lingam and the tree mentioned in the legend still exist. The tree, especially, is said to yield four varieties of mango. With Eka meaning ‘one’ and Amra meaning ‘Mango’, the name Ekambra refers to Shiva as the Lord of the Mango Tree.
Jambukeswarar—The Water Lingam
The Jumbukeswara temple, located in Thiruvanaikoil, represents the element water. Built by the Chola kings around 1st – 2nd Century CE, the Pancha Bhoota is believed to be over 1500 years old. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is a small dark place lit only with oil lamps. What is fascinating is that the base of this lingam is constantly submerged in water, and hence the idol is called Appu Lingam (water lingam).
According to a local legend, Lord Shiva sent Parvati to Earth to do penance after she mocked him. Parvati took on the avatar of Goddess Akilandeswari and came to the Jambu forest. She made a Shiva lingam out of the waters of river Cauvery and worshipped it. Moved by her penance, it is said that Lord Shiva finally came down himself and taught Akilandeswari the Siva Gnana. Akilandeswari took her lessons facing East whereas her tutor, Lord Shiva, faced west. Incidentally, in the temple, the idols of Lord Shiva and Parvati are installed opposite to each other in accordance with the legend.