I visited Jambukeswarar Temple (Thiruvanaikovil), in Srirangam (Trichy/ Tiruchirapally) on 29th & 30th October ( last month).
This completed my visit to the five Shiva Temples (Panchabhuthashtalams) dedicated to the five elements Air, Earth, Fire, Ether and Water, in the form of the deities Kalahasteeswarar (Srikalahasti), Ekambaranathar (Kanchipuram), Arunachaleswarar (Tiruvannamalai) , Thillai Natarajar(Chidambaram) and Jambukeswarar (Tiruvanaikovil) respectively. These are key Shiva temples in the South Indian tradition of Shaiva Siddhanta, and are held much in reverence by the Hindu community, especially in Tamil Nadu , Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
I had started the journey subconsciously in my agnostic college days circa Jan 2000 , with Kanchipuram and Chidambaram, when I did not know what Panchabhutahashtalams were, much less believe in them.As it turns out, Shiva had it all sorted back then, and in this year, 18 years down the line, I completed the other three.
This temple, built by Raja Kochenga Chola (the red eyed Chola king) more than 1800 years back , and then expanded, renovated by the Pandyas, Cheras and Vijayanagara rulers , is a masterpiece of temple architecture . With five concentric enclosures, it’s a city in itself. The outermost periphery is more than 1.5 km long. There are lovely motifs and sculptures all around, including a 796 pillared hall. Shiva resides at the heart of the temple , in the sanctum sanatorium as the Appu Lingam/ Lord Jambukeswarar (Shivalingam with water element) below which there is a steady stream of water.
His consort Akhilandeswari (Parvati) resides nearby, facing Him, and Her shrine is no less magnificent than the main shrine. In fact, it is larger than the main shrine. What bigger example of equality of the genders in the Shaivite tradition can one give? In fact, in Shiva temples, especially in the South, the Parvati element is indispensible.
The story goes that Parvati once made a mockery of Shiva’s tapas (meditation) for the betterment of the world, and He sent Her to Jambukeswarar forest as a penance. Here, she did tapasya ,at the site where Jambukeswar muni ( a form of Shiva) meditated, from whose hairlock the river Kavery flew, and as His student, attained punya.
Hence, Jambukeswarar- Akilandeswari. As per this legend, Parvati is Shiva’s student, hence no divine marriage ( Shiva Parvati) ceremonies are held here, unlike other Shiva temples. The Devi’s shrine faces Shiva’s shrine ; a position of instruction- upadesham, hence it is called a Upadesha shtalam.Taking things further, the priest worships Shiva wearing a Sari, upholding Parvati’s tradition!
A later legend goes that Malyavan and Pushpadanta, two devoted attendants of Shiva, had a quarrel and were banished as a spider and an elephant, to the same spot, much antiquity later. They viewed with each other for worship of the lingam, the spider building a web over it to prevent leaves from falling on to it, and the elephant pouring water of the Kavery, flowing nearby , on it. Naturally, they had a quarrel, and the spider climbed into the trunk of the elephant and bit it, both dying as a result.Shiva took pity on both of them and gave them salvation.
Indeed , the name “ Tiruvanaikovil” means “ Thiru ( exalted) Anai ( elephant) Kovil ( temple)” , thus the elephant is important here, manifested today as the temple elephant Akila, who is friendly and will bless you ( well, this was the first elephant blessing for me!).
And as if to complicate things further, Kochenga Chola ,was as per legend the reincarnation of the spider, who remembered his rivalry with the elephant, and built the garvagriha ( inner sanctum) of the shivalingam much smaller than that an elephant could enter! Indeed, the garvagriha can only be reached by bending down low, and can accommodate only 6-7 people at the most. Others view the lingam from a window which is opposite the lingam.
There was extensive renovation work going on, thus proving that the ancient temples of the South are indeed living structures which are actually cities in themselves !!
I met Mr. Sankaran, a retired bank official, at the temple, with whom I had an engaging discussions on Tamil culture, temples, the Sangam period, and yes, even LTTE and V. Prabhakaran! He came out as a passionate upholder of Dravidian culture, who has written several books on the subject. I will write about him in a separate post.
I gave a brief Puja , which I had not been able to do for the other four Panchabhutalingams. The best is always saved for the last 🙂 This was incidentally the first time I spent an entire day in a temple !
Our ancestors knew it all. We come from the five elements and go back to them. Shiva is in these five elements, and therefore in all of us. We are actually Shiva, metaphysically speaking. This is, in a way, also Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, that the Supreme Soul is there in all of us; we don’t have to look outside.Sure enough, in Tamil,Shiva is called “Chiva” , i.e. Jiva, the Soul, omnipotent and omnipresent.
Coming this far was tough, physically and otherwise, and I had my doubts even four days earlier, given my tough physical issues ,but Shiva made it possible, like He always does.
It was soul- lifting listening to the Tamil classic “Tiruvachagam” (sacred utterances of the Lord) by the great poet devotee Manickavasagar , on my mobile, and reading the English translation, inside the sanctum, facing Jambukeswarar.
Namah Shivaya Vaazhgha, Nadan Thal Vaazhgha , Imaipodum Inninjel Ningan Than Thal Vaazgha (Praise be to Shiva, Praise be to His Feet, Praise be to the feet of he who does not leave my mind even for a single moment).
Om Namah Shivaya.
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