(The Five Element Shiva Shrines)
By Swami Ayyappa Giri, Acharya, Yogini Ashram, Norwalk Ca.
Article Published on New Moon 11 November 2015
Shiva and the Five Elements
“The peerless Lord of the Siddhas, Maha Yogi Shiva, is rightly venerated as the quintessential master of the elemental energies. His five colossal Bhoota temples, though impressive, do not easily reveal their omnipotence as portals to other realms except to those who fully commit to the dharma. Sadhana, surrender and cultivation of unconditional love will reveal his elemental mysteries and lay the path before us. Each of these temples is an eternal monument to the element for which it was created. Spiritual aspirants who seek purification and absorption into the transcendent bliss of samadhi will discover the priceless gift that these temples hide their greatness in clear view.”
This is the story of five colossal Shiva temples, long acknowledged as vortex gateways into the great cosmic principle of oneness. This principle of Brahma consciousness has been expounded by sages, both ancient and modern. Each of these temples is a power center, or peetam which is saturated in the vibrations of that oneness. Each is particularly aligned with one of the five primary elements.(pancha bhoota) These temples exhude a dominant energy, majestic beauty, and magnificent symbolism which is eclipsed only by their mystical capacity for inner transformation.
The tantric text, Shiva Swarodaya, maintains that “Creation takes place out of five elements and it ultimately dissolves in the same elements…The five elements are the supreme power of manifestation, and the Brahman oneness alone is beyond the elements…One who knows the five-elemental universe made up of water, fire, wind, earth and either, is both respected and honored as a Sage wherever he may go.”
The sacred yet practical Mantra-mahodadhi text describes an important preliminary practice to the worship of any Divine entity (devata). It is a method powerfully effective in the process of purification of these elements within ones own body. Performing these purification practices at the great Shiva shrines has brought long sought inner awareness for generations of Yogis and Tantrics.
These elements, also known as “bhootas” or “tattvas”, are not those discussed in a chemistry class. They are, rather, electro-magnetic principles, each one carrying their own unique vibration and qualities. They are fundamental electrical energies of nature and are the primary forces underlying creation. Thus, they are present within mankind as well as every celestial system, and it is these electro-magnetic principles which are uniquely manifested in the chakras of the subtle body (pranamaya kosham), increasingly well known in yoga circles. As embodied souls, we inherent impurities from our own past actions which prevent us from understanding and being absorbed into our true Divine nature. These bhootas are purified by an ancient mental process of involution whereby these electrical impulses, using mantra, meditation, and breath, are incrementally dissolved into the source from whence they have come. In the practice, the earth element is mentally associated with the sense of smell. Water is visualized in its association with taste. The fire element is reflected upon with its natural link to sight, air is associated with touch, and ether with sound.
In this purification process, the primal energy at the base of the spine (kundalini devi) is led from the root, (muladhara), to the energetic sex center (svadhisthana). Here, the earth element, which has ascended from below through the power of will, breath and mantra, is amalgamated with the water element, and mentally formed into a sphere. The ancients understood the power of both visualization and breath, and its capacity to manipulate the manifested universe. Yogis too, intuitively understand this as they progress in their meditations. As this earth-water combination is risen further, this sphere is burnt to ashes as it rises into the fire above it. The ashes are then dissipated through the wind or air element at the heart region (anahata) where it is taken up into the etheral-void at the throat center (visuddhi). This progressive absorption continues until the source of self is reached. The yogi or tantric will, in turn, dissolve each of the gross elements (maha-bhootas), together with the subtle elements (tanmatra) from which they emerged.
In addition, the connected organs of the senses (jnana indriyas) are progressively absorbed, followed by integration with the last element, “ether”. Then, this is in turn absorbed into the tanmatra sound and further into self-hood (ahangkara). The latter is then merged into the great Self (jhiva or mahat), and that, again, into nature itself (prakriti), the collective primal matter, cosmic energy and material cause of the universe. In this way, like reverse engineering, the incarnated atman retraces the steps of soul evolution back to its cosmic source. Because of my Guru, I have always been in awe of the Siddhas who brought this process into existence, and I include training of Bhoota Shuddi whenever I conduct a Bhairavi Kriya initiation because it is both traditional and transformative.
Sri John Woodroffe, in his translation of the monumental text, Shakti and Shakta, states that “In accordance with the monistic teaching of the vedanta, Prakriti is herself thought of as the Brahman, of which she is the energy, and with which, therefore, she is already one. Thinking then of the black Papa Purusha which is the image of all sin, the body is purified by mantra, accompanied by breath retention (kumbhaka) and exhalation (rechaka), as the tantric practitioner (sadhaka) meditates upon the new celestial body (devata), which has thus been made and which is then strengthened by a “celestial gaze” from the third eye.
Bhoota Shuddi describes the five forms in which the primal material of the cosmos are present in the self and provides a mechanism for their transformation into higher consciousness, free finally of the dross of past karma and the influence of the ever present illusion (maya) that leads the soul to imagine that it is something other than the oneness of Godhead.
When the Elements Are Purified
The transformative energy, Kundalini Devi, resides at the base of the spine in the astral body, ordinarily asleep, but with a potential for dynamic, even violent, arousal when awake. In Kriya Tantra Yoga she is aroused in a controlled way and brought up through the five centers noted, absorbing, as she passes through each, the bhoota of that center, the subtle tanmatra from which it derives, as well as its connected organ of sense (indriya). Having absorbed all these, she is led to the sixth center (ajña) of the mind (manas) centered between the eyebrows.
The intellect (buddhi) and ego (aham) are absorbed in the cosmic Prakriti. At the last stage, still in the form of kundalini shakti, she then unites with Shiva, the representative godhead in the high center, called the thousand-petal lotus (sahasrara). The actual process, Kriya, is one which should be learned from a qualified teacher (adhikariguru),
Achieving Perfection (Siddhis)
Over many centuries, these techniques have led to miraculous powers (siddhis). Since the ultimate reality is Atman alone, the siddha displaying a “miracle” is just as much illusion as the individual who is observing the siddhi “miracle”. Therefore, even though these powers are a natural outcrop of spiritual expansion, the soul that is seeking realization of the self should avoid becoming enmeshed in the desire for such power.
The great sage, Ramana Maharishi, explained that “The occult powers (siddhis) are only in the mind (and do not reside in the inmost Self). They are not natural to the Self. That which is not natural, but acquired, cannot be permanent, and thus is not worth striving for.”
Siddhis, then, are not the goal, but purity brought about through yogic practice (sadhana) is the right royal pathway to the Self-knowledge. These five great Shiva temples which we have referred to are literally portals to a deeper reality of understanding of the true nature of the bhootas and the inner world. The chanting of mantras, use of mudras, Kriya Kundalini Pranayam, Bhairavi Breath of Ecstasy, Urdvamnaya, yantra vidya, and Bhoota Shuddi are particularly auspicious when performed in the high vibration of these temples and will inevitably lead to access of the higher centers and knowledge.
The Great Element Shiva Temples
These five massive temples in Andra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu which, although long sacred to yogis and tantrics, are vastly under-appreciated by the wider world as premier destinations of pilgrimage and transformation.
Pancha means five, a number holy to all Shiva devotees, as the great Mahadev is frequently aligned with that number. There are five syllables in his primary mantra, there are five faces to his sacred rudraksha seed, and he is often represented as a five pointed star, such as in the Shiva Mrityunjaya yantra. Bhuta is usually translated, however poorly, as element.Stala means place. These then, are the five great vortexes where energy doorways which exist for the optimal transformation of the elements, using techniques which include Bhuta Shuddi, Kundalini Chakra Kriyas, Puja, and other techniques. The value of these great and ancient places for purposes of purification simply cannot be overstated. Pilgrimage to sacred places transforms the locomotion tattva (padatattva) and has been understood by people throughout the world as a means of purification and growth. In ancient days, sadhus walked to these temples on foot and the massive effort made and resultant exhaustion left the pilgrim filled with humility, and ready to receive the descent of grace. The rains of grace do not collect on the barren mountaintops of pride but in the lush valleys of humility.
The information that follows provides a simple introduction to the five sacred Element Shiva Temples, which are vortex temples, the very asana or seat where the environment exists to transform the elements within.
Though each temple bears a different name, form, and set of qualities, they are all aspects of a one Supreme Being, Maha Shiva and while each has uniqueness, the essence of all are the same. Meditation with the five elements is significantly enhanced with the use of the bhuta mudras and specific bhuta mantras, given below. The bijas, or seed sounds, of these five bhutas, create alignment within us to the presiding intelligences of the elements. The elements with relation to their chakra and temple are as follows.
Element Mantras and Mudras in Sadhana
No one knows when the element mantras came into use. The sixth chapter of Jabala Darsana Upanishad, usually ascribed to the period around 100 bc, identifies the importance of using the five element mantras. They receive maximum force, it states, while meditating on the elements themselves. It recommends that Brahma be propitiated for the muladhara-earth mantra, Vishnu during the svatisthana-water mantra, and the Rudra form of Shiva during the manipura-fire mantra. The Shiva aspect, Iswara is propitiated during the anahata-air mantra and Sada-Shiva is propitiated for the Vishuddhi element mantra.
Bhuta Chakra Bija
Earth Muladhara Lam
Water Svatisthana Vam
Fire Manipura Ram
Air Anahata Yam
Either Visuddhi Ham
Mud means to please. Mudras are mystic symbols that please the Divine. The mudras described in the following pages will certainly please the great Yogi Shiva, as they are specifically related to mastery of the elements. They may be used in Sadhana to help purify the elemental energies. They are highly effective, to be included, especially in Shiva puja, bringing in Shiva consciousness to various degrees. All five can be practiced in silence during meditation. The focused practice results in experiences of deeper stillness and enhances the power of the Thokar and other Kriyas. That resultant stillness is the foundation for the divine qualities of light, love, power and consciousness which will follow it. May we never underestimate the capacity to be transformed by the ancient wisdom of Kriya Tantra Yoga.
Earth Element – Ekambareswarar Temple
Located in the city of Kanchipuram, this Shiva Temple helps the sadhak purify the earth current. Here, Goddess Parvati is worshiped as Kamakshi Devi. There is a mango tree inside the temple, thought to be 3500 years old. The temple was renovated during the reign of Krishna Devaraya (1509-1529). Ritual bathing of the Shiva lingam (abeshek) is not performed to avoid erosion due to its sandy composition. The main form of worship is flowers (pushpa). The temple gateway tower (gopuram) rises to 59 meters (194 ft). There are 1008 Shiva lingams within this temple. Here, the energy of the earth element helps one harmonize the energies of the root chakra. Thus the mantra Lam is appropriate for the divinization of the element.
This is an excellent location to address Issues of insecurity and psychological challenges, such as how grounded a person might be. Sadhana here helps with issues relating to the sense organs, physical discomfort and fears for lack of shelter. They can be resolved at this temple through sadhana and particularly sadhana around this element. However, acute psychological issues should be addressed professionally. The mudra and mantra for the earth element can transform the muladhara chakra. The earth element has a link to the specific throat and head prana, referred to as Udana and is an important factor in regeneration. It is said that complete mastery of the earth tattva results in the siddhis of levitation, freedom from disease, and creation of astral smells.
Salutations to the Lord of the Earth
Mudra – Thumb tip touches tip of ring finger
Water Element – Sri Jambukeshwara
The Puranas record that Parvati criticized Shiva’s sacrifices for the benefit of humanity. As a soul lesson, Shiva sent her from Deva Loka to the human sphere to do intensive yogic sadhana (tapas) in Trichy. Arriving by the shores of the Cauvery river, Parvati found a natural forest of Jambu trees. With her siddhis, she manifested a lingam out of water from the Cauvery river. She performed her Shiva sadhana under one of these trees. After many tests, Shiva gave her darshan and taught her the cosmic wisdom (siva jnana). Parvati received initiation (diksha) facing east and was bestowed the name of Akil Andeswari.
The lingam that Parvati fashioned for her sadhana remains at the temple and is perpetually moist, a fact daily demonstrated by any cloth which is offered returning wet. Just opposite the Shiva temple is the Shakti temple dedicated to Parvati in the form of Akil Andeswari. At this temple, there is no “marriage” as with many Shiva temples. That is due to the fact that this relationship was one of guru and chela.
This Shiva temple in the southern city of Tiruchirappalli, or Trichy was built by King Kochenga Chola around 200 ad, over the earlier sacred site. It seems that a small temple may have been at the spot of the inner sanctum for centuries, as many temples are built over preexisting lingams or jungle temples.
This temple has a fresh water spring under the central most sacred alter room (garbha griha). When I visited the temple on many occasions, the Brahmin priests were happy to show me the water pulsating under the sanctum. Here, the great monist, Adi Shankara, did tapas. The Sri Jambukeshwara Temple has five massive concentric walls, one within the other, and seven great towers (gopurams). It is built around a Siva lingam which is itself partially submerged in water. According to an ancient legend, there was once a forest of water apple growing around the site. These water apples (jambu), are known botanically as Syzygium samarangense. Nearby was a tank which was filled with water from the Cauvery river. Due to the Jambu trees, the lingam under the trees came to be called the Jambu Lingam. It is said that due to karma generated in a previous life, two of Shiva’s attendants, Pushpadanta and Malyava, were born in the forest as a white elephant and a spider, respectively. The spider had a natural sense of the lingam and sought to protect it from leaves by spinning out a web over it to prevent it being covered. The elephant sought to keep the lingam clean and did so using the water next to the lingam. The spider’s web was seen by the elephant as part of the dirt and so he destroyed the web. This led to a clash with the spider, whose poison sting ultimately killed the elephant, but not before the elephant crushed the spider. Due to their service to the Dharma, Lord Shiva granted human birth to both. The regional king, Ko Chenkannan, was said to be an incarnation of the spider. The king built the present temple of Jambukeshwara. The story reveals how our past actions entangle us in later events. While good actions are often their own reward, the best result occurs when actions are in accordance with Dharma.
The Shiva water temple has five prakarams, or courtyard enclosures, encompassing the central sanctum. The main sanctum sanctorum (the 5th prakaram) can be reached by entering a series of towers (gopurams). The shrine for Parvati in the form of Akil Andeswari is situated in the 4th enclosure (prakaram).
The temple is situated on the northern banks of the Kaveri river adjacent to Srirangam Island. As it primarily relates to the second chakra, it is an ideal temple to overcome limitations regarding sexual imbalance and emotional issues relating to sex and intimacy, including the byproducts of suppression. The water element is associated with the type of prana known as Vyana, functioning throughout ones body, and has the task of distribution of subtle energy. Complete mastery of the water tattva will equalize the prana vayu, leading to very high states and giving knowledge of unknown sciences, the power of astral travelling, and the ability to create various taste sensations.
Salutations to the Lord of the Water Element
Ap Mudra (Varun Mudra)
Thiruvanamalai (aka Thiruvanayur) is a Shiva temple renowned as a powerful vortex of the fire element. Arunachala, meaning mountain, has become famous as the location where the great sage, Ramana Maharshi, did sadhana for many decades in a cave on the mountain behind the temple, and then guided many souls into the depths of oneness.
The temple complex covers many acres and is one of the largest in India. It houses four mammoth gateway towers (gopurams), the tallest of which is the eleven story eastern tower, at a height of 66 metres (216 ft). It share fame with the Brihadeeswarar Shiva temple in Tanjavore as the tallest temple towers in India. The temple has many shrines, most prominently a powerful Shiva form, Annamalaiyar and Shakti, Unnamulai Amman. Both of the main deities face east, in harmony with the science of placement (vastu). The temple complex houses a thousand-pillared hall. The complex was built during the Vijayanagar period (1336-1646) although many yogis consider that the temple is much older. Very probably, it was a small temple that was rebuilt over the ruins of the more ancient site.
It is said that Parvati once playfully approached Shiva from behind and using her hands, she covered his three eyes. As the sport of Shiva, (lila) the world plunged into darkness.
This is a wonderful analogy displaying the universal principle of Yoga that, to the Yogi, everything which is inside is also outside, and everything that is outside is also inside.
As a penance, Parvati performed intensive yogic sadhana. Shiva appeared as a towering column of fire and light at the top of Arunachala Hill, and light returned to the world. Shiva then merged with Parvati to form Arthaneshvara, the half-female, half-male. This demonstrates the mystical principle that each of us is a mixture of male and female polarities. The male and female principle of every soul merges when the consciousness reaches beyond Ajna Chakra. Arthaneshvara shows the way for harmonious balance of these polarities, which, in the relative plane, is reflected as a balance between the internal nadis, ida and pingala. Ida nadi is the internal feminine energy and pingala the masculine. The balance of the two leads to awakening of Kundalini sparks which fly up the central nadi resulting in high consciousness. Today, the entire hill itself is considered a sacred lingam.
Brahma and Vishnu once argued with each other over their own relative greatness. When Shiva appeared as a pillar of light, Brahma and Vishnu were challenged to find the source of the light. Brahma, taking the form of a swan, flew into the sky to find the top of the pillar, while Vishnu manifested as his boar avatar (Varaha) and dug deep into the earth to reach its base.
The scene is called lingothbava, and is represented in the western wall at the sanctum of many Shiva temples. Neither Brahma nor Vishnu could find the source. Vishnu conceded defeat, and returned to the original spot. Brahma too, failed to reach the peak. However, he saw a Ketaki flower floating downwards from the unknown heights. Brahma, out of ego, decided to fool Shiva. He took the Ketaki flower as evidence and returned to the hilltop. On returning, he claimed to have reached the top of the column of light and produced the Ketaki flower as proof. The soul of the simple ketaki flower had foolishly agreed to support the lie. Their deception was immediately revealed by Shiva, who once again showed that he is both eternal and all knowing. The karmic penalty for Brahma, though he is the very creator of the universe, was that temples would not be built for him in India. The soul of the Ketaki flower also received a penalty, and was banned from being offered to God everywhere. To this day, although there are well more than 10,000 temples in India, only a handful are dedicated to Brahma and as for the Ketaki flower, it is still banned. It seems that Vishnu and particularly, the soul of the Petaki flower, made a supreme sacrifice to remind us all to be truthful and honest.
Ida Kadar, the Shepherd Siddha
Babaji revealed the site of Ida Kadar’s achievement of the golden body of light to Yogi S.A.A. Ramaiah, my guru. In a cave on this sacred mountain temple, Ida Kadar attained Soruba Samadhi, the light body of immortality. Ida Kadar was born and lived for some time in the village of Manamadurai, Tamil Nadu. He was initiated by two great Siddhas, Boganathar and Karuvoorar. Ida Kadar had great knowledge due to yogic sadhana. He was a powerful astrologer with direct understanding of the planets and their influences. He also tended to a herd of cattle. Ida Kadar demonstrated foreknowledge of things to come. He once anticipated a massive drought, warned others, and prepared a means of survival not only for himself, but for his cattle. The townspeople were impressed. They could see clearly that he had mysterious premonition of events. Like the Snake Siddha, Pambati, who in his poems addressed the serpent, Ida Kadar addressed his cow, a symbol for Jiva, the individual soul. His poems of wisdom thus spoke directly to the soul (atman). He advised that the individual soul meditate on the omnipresent to achieve the supreme state. Many feel that his body was ultimately interred at his birth village. Even today, the great siddha can be accessed psychically and his vibrations remain strong at Thiruvanamalai.
The fire element is the storehouse of illusions relating to name and fame, issues related to power, authority and control over others, wealth and longevity vs poverty and death. In Aryurvedic and Siddha Vaidya medicine, the fire element is linked to the Apana form of Prana, associated with the pelvis and elimination. Mastery of the fire tattva gives material wealth, detachment, even the ability of transforming base metals into gold. With its mastery, one can discover hitherto unknown medicines and enter into another persons body.
Salutations to the Lord of fire principle
Air Element – Sri Kalahasti Temple
This temple, in which Shiva resides as Kalahasteswara, is located in the township Sri Kalahasti, Andhra Pradesh. It is one of the most famous Shiva temples in South India, and is said to be the site where Kannappa, one of the 63 Saivite Saints (Nayanars) was ready to offer both his eyes to replace the damaged third eye of the lingam, which had been covered over with blood. The merciful Lord Shiva stopped him before the saint removed his own eyes and granted him eternal bliss salvation. (mukti) Sri Kalahasti temple is famous for its wind diety (vayu deva) temple, which is the only shrine dedicated to the God of wind in India.
The temple is also associated with Rahu and Ketu. These are astrological influences that are usually seen as malefic. They are properly understood by those who seek higher truth as the very embodiment of grace. The temple is famous for seeking relief from troubled astrological placements.
The current temple was constructed by the Pallava dynasty in the 5th century. Additional construction occurred in the 12th century by the Chola king, Rajendra Chola. The temple carries the essence of the air element (vayu bhuta), who was incarnated here as Lord Shiva and worshipped as Kalahasteswara. Although the sanctum lies deep within multiple walls, there is a lamp inside the inner sanctum that inexplicably flickers despite the lack of air movement in the sanctum. It is said that the air-light can be observed to move even when the priests close off the entrance to the main deity room, which does not have any windows or other ventilation. During darshan, one can see the flames on several ghee lamps flickering as if blown by moving air. The linga is white and self-manifested (Swayambhu). There are very few Shiva Temples which are self-manifested (not produced by human hands).
The method of worship is somewhat different than at other great temples. For instance, the main linga remains untouched by human hands, even by those of the priest. Abhisheka (bathing) is done by pouring water, milk, camphor and a mixture of 5 fruits (panchamrita) over the subsidiary image (utsava-murti). Sandal paste, flowers and the sacred thread are also offered, not to the main linga, but to the subsidiary image.
Interestingly, a celebrated Shaivite Saint, Markandeya, had a vision of Lord Shiva, who appeared to him in the temple. Shiva revealed to him that since an enlightened soul could offer esoteric teachings, that soul is none other than Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara. Inspired by his lofty experiences at Kalahasteswara, he wrote great texts on puja, used in as methods of worship to this day.
This great Shiva temple, being linked to the air bhuta, is an ideal place to cultivate through sankalpa and kriyas a sense of sharing, human love, devotion to God, selflessness, compassion, and spiritual or transcendental love (hridaya). In Siddha medicine, the air element is linked to prana of the thoracic area of the body and assigned the metabolic role of appropriation.
Mastery of the air tattva gives knowledge of the past, present and future. It also brings about fulfillment of any desire, contact with astral entities, ability of psychic healing, inner peace, harmony, and compassion.
Ether Element – Chidambaram Shiva Temple
The Shiva temple at Chidambaram is considered one of the most holy temples in India. It is the original home of dancing Shiva, and this main image is an inspired masterpiece of art familiar to yogis worldwide. It is probably the most well known yogic image ever produced and its mystical significance is profound.
Here at this temple lies a vast vortex which reaches deeply into the ether or sky element. Within the sacred sanctum of the temple, dancing Shiva, (Nataraj) generates such energy that his reach and power must be experienced and cannot be expressed. Parvati stands at his left and to his right there is a void, representing space, his primary element. On the background wall, beside and slightly behind Nataraja, there is a curtain of golden vilva leaves in the void space. Thus, there is literally a golden wall of vilva leaves, the very leaf most sacred in the worship of Shiva.
I have had the grace to do sadhana at Chidambaram, the temple of dancing Shiva for nearly 50 years. This photo was taken in the 1980’s during one such pilgrimage.
The current temple complex covers many acres and was built in the 2nd century over the existing site where one of the greatest siddhas, Tirumular, lived. Tirumular mastered tantra, Vedanta, and Siddhanta, and ultimately attained the golden body of physical immortality (soruba samadhi). His magnus opus, Tirumandhiram, is one of the most important yogic-tantric works of all time. The siddha Patanjali, author of the Raja Yoga Sutras, also did sadhana in this great temple of Chidambaram.
The nature of the ether electricity is knowledge and wisdom (jnana). Mastering this energy is said to permit every miracle (siddhi).
When the throat center begins to be purified, the results include magnificent communication skills. The related prana is Samana, associated with the naval and assimilation of all things, including knowledge. Mastery of the ether tattva reveals knowledge of the Vedas, the mysteries of the golden body, capacity to live without food or water, and psychic projection faster than the speed of light.
Salutations to the Lord of ether principle
The peerless Lord of the Siddhas, Maha Yogi Shiva, is rightly venerated as the quintessential master of the elemental energies. His five colossal Bhoota temples, though impressive, do not easily reveal their omnipotence as portals to other realms except to those who fully commit to the dharma. Sadhana, surrender and cultivation of unconditional love will reveal his elemental mysteries and lay the path before us. Each of these temples is an eternal monument to the element for which it was created. Spiritual aspirants who seek purification and absorption into the transcendent bliss of samadhi will discover the priceless gift that these temples hide their greatness in clear view.
Swami Ayyappa Giri
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