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Pancha Bhoota Stalams

December 1998

Indian belief associates the origin of life with the five basic elements (Pancha – five, Bhootam – Element) of Wind, Water, Fire, Earth and Space (ether). In Sanskrit, these elements are referred to as Vayu, Jalam (Apah), Agni, Prithvi and Aakasam. The Indian system of belief in Divinity also worships the divine as a manifestation of these basic elements. Accordingly, Shiva is worshipped as a manifestation of these elements in five ancient temples in India.

These five temples are

  1. The Sri Kalahastiswarar temple at Sri Kalahasti near Tirupati – Vayu Stalam (Wind)
  2. The Jambukeswarar temple at Tiruvanaikka near Tiruchirappalli – Apustalam (Water)
  3. The Annamalaiyaar (Arunachaleswarar) temple at Tiruvannamalai – Agni Stalam (Fire)
  4. The Ekambranathar Temple at Kanchipuram – Prithvi Stalam (Earth)
  5. The Natarajar Temple at Chidambaram – Akasa Stalam (Space )

There is much in common between these five temples. These are among the holiest Saivite shrines in India, and have been glorified by the poems of the Nayanmar Saints of Tamilnadu. Reference to these five temples in various literary works place them in history, in as early as a period as the Sangam period in the very early Christian era.

A flickering lamp in the Sree Kalahasti temple shows the play of wind, the water spring in the innermost sanctum of the Tiruvanaikka temple shows the temple’s relationship to the element water, the annual Kartikai Deepam festival at Tiruvannamalai where a giant lamp is lighted atop the Annamalai hill shows the Annamalaiyaar’s manifestation as fire, the swayambhu lingam of sand at Kanchipuram signifies the deitie’s association with the earth while the formless space at Chidambaram shows the association of the Supreme being with formlessness or nothingness.

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