Panchabhootha stalams are five ancient temples in india where Lord Shiva is represented in the form of five elements- earth, water, fire, air and ether. In these five temples, linga or lingam which symbolically represents Lord Shiva is in the form of elements. Ether is known as ‘akasha’ in Sanskrit and is occasionally referred as sky or space while referring to the Pancha Mahabhoothas.
The five temples that represent Shiva in the form of five elements are:
Ekambaranatha Temple or Ekambareswarar Temple in Kanchipuram-Shivalingam here is the element earth. The shiva Lingam here is believed to have been created by Goddess Parvati from sand or earth. The temple is one of the tallest emple towers inj south india, having a total of 11 stories which are adorned with beautiful sculptures. It is in this place that shiova is worshipped as prithvi or earth which is one of the five basic elemetns of the physical worls, its tall south Rajagopuram, which is at a height of 58 metres looms majestically into the sky, Another ancient temple, renovated by the Pallavas, the cholas and the vijaynagar kings.
Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram Shiva the Enchanting Mendicant, with sandals, unbound hair and carrying his few possessions on a staff , is shown as a youthful ascetic, being worshiped by the wives he seduced. A disenchanted husband raises his first in the upper left corner. The poise and gestural language of these figures (the flexion of shiva’s left leg and sandaled foot, his upward –pointing left hand, the outraged husband’s matrial stance, and the kneeling adoration of the seduced wives) lend vitality to the composition. Shiva’s upward-pointing left hand is echoed, a couple of centuries later, by the upward-pointing right hand of his disciple Sambandar(Sambandha).
Jambukeshwar Temple or Thiruvanaikaval Shiva Temple near Trichy-Jambukeshwara represents the element water. The deity is found under a Jambu tree over a small river. The small stream engulfs the idol during the rainy season. This temple, 2kms from srirangam is dedicated to Lord siva. It is also known as Jambukeswaram. This is the Appu Sthalam among the Pancha Bootha Sthalams. The Siva Linga(Appu Lingam) Under a holy jambu tree is submerged in water from a subterranean spring. There is a separate shrine for the Goddess, Akhilandeswari facing east, while the lord faces west. The temple is situated amidst a mango grove. There are 7 gopuramsand the temple is surrounded by 5 walls. The sculptures & carvings are of the chola period. In a pillar in the Mahamandapa of Akhilandeswari temple, there is a magnificent figure of Ekapadeswarar, with Brahma & Vishnu on either side with their vahanas. During the mid-day puja, the priest is dressed as a female while offering worship, signifying that Goddness Parvati herself is offering prayers to the Lord Legend an elephant and a spider were offering woship to the Lingam simultaneously.
The Spider would spin a web giving cover to the lord. The elephant would bring water in its trunk to do Abhishekam to the Lord. He found the web in the way & destroyed it. The spidr spun the web again & the elephant destroyed. This continued & one day the angered spider got into the elephants trunk to disturb him. The elephant struck his trunk against a rock. The Lord was pleased with their relentlessdevotion & both the spider and the elephant attained moksham. Since an elephant worshiped the Lord here, the place is known as Jambukeswaram. There was once a rishi who performed tapas in this region. The lord was pleased with his prayers & agreed to give darshan to devotees here as Jambukeswarar.
Arunachaleswara Temple or Annamalaiyar Temple at Thiruvannamalai – Arunachaleswara or Shiva represents the element fire here. Shiva here is in the form of Lingodabhava murti, the column of fire, which appeared before Vishnu and Brahma. Thirivannamalai is home to the Annamalaiyar Temple. Thiruvannamalai has long been associated with a many yogis and siddhars. Thriuvannamalai is on of the Pancha Bootha Sthalam representing the fire element. On the day of Karthigai Deepam, a huge lamp is lit in a cauldron with three tons of ghee at the top of the Anamalai hill. Every full moon night,tens of thousands of pilgrims worship shiva by circumambulating the Arunchala hill barefoot. Advaita Vedanta Guru Ramana Maharshi lived in Thiruvannamalai for 53 years until his death in 1950. Seshadri Swamigal and Yogi Ram Surat Kumar are other great gurus who lived in this city. There were many hundreds of saints guru and sidhargal lived in Thiruvannaamalai.
Sri Kalahasti Temple at Kalahasti in Andhra Pradesh- Vayu Linga represents the element air or wind here. The element air is evident by a continuous flame which flickers when there is no air sorce in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The temple for shiva in the form of a ‘Vayulinga’ lies 36km from Tirupati. According to legend, a spider (sri) spun a web over the Linga, kala, a,snake, placed a gem atop it and Hasti, an elephant, brought water in its trunk to wash the Linga. All placed were ardent worshippers of Siva. The flame (deepam) in the temple flickers frequently as air (Vayu) is said to be constantly emanating from the Sivalinga.
The Sailvaite temple of Si Kalahasthisvara and Gnana Prasannambika in Kalahasti, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Kalahasti, 38kms to the south of Tirupathi is revered as one of the Pancha Bhutha Sthalas. Here the Linga is ‘SWAYAMBU” and considered to be in the form of Vayu(wind). The remaining four Pancha Bhutha Sthalas are Tiruvannamalai(fire), Tiruvannaikaval(Water). Kancheepuram(Earth) and Chdambaram(Sky). In this temple, the lamp inside the sanctum keeps flickering inspite of lack of any inside.
It is also considered as a Nava Graha Sthala dedicated to ragu nad Kethu. This is the place where Rahu and Kethu are Tirunageswaram and Kizhaperampallam respectively. The Puranic version of the orgin of the temple is that spaider(Sri), a Snake(kala) and an elephant(Hast) worshpped the lord here and attained mukti. Hence the name of the Lingam was called as sri kalahasthiswara. His consort is Gnana Prasannambika. The deites of Balaganapathy, Annapoorni and Viswanatha are enshirined here.Patalaganapathy is an under ground cell. A river, the Swarnamukhi, flows by the temples, Sri kalasasti town has been famous for its manufacturers of “Kalamkari” or temple cloths and hangings.
Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram- Shiva is Represented as ether or sky in an empty space within the sanctum sanctorum. (In Nataraja Temple. Shiva is represented in three forms Nataraja, Crystal Linga form and as Nishkala (ether) in Chidambara Rahasyam.) Chidambaram is the seat of the cosmic dancer Nataraja (Anand Tandava Pose ; the cosmic Dance of bliss). The idol of Nataraja is enshtined in the chit sabha. Behind this idol, is a black screen, which is considered to cover the Akasa Lingam. There is no Lingam, but we are made to believe that there is an invisible Lingam, with golden vilva garlands, i.e stressing the belief that there is everything is nothing. There are five silver plated steps to reach he Chit Sabha, representing the Panchakshara mantram- Na ma si va ya. The embossed images of the saints Vyagrapada and Patanjali, are to be seen on the doors. Both these saints had been blessed with the sight of the cosmic dance of shiva. Lord Vishnu also is said to have witness this scene. The sanctum of Sivakama Sundari lies to the left of Natarajar Sannidhi. The image of Ratnasbhapati (Nataraja of Ruby ), the Spatika Lingam of Chandramaulesswara Swrnakarshana Bhairavar, Mukhalingam are aslo to be found in the Chitsabha.