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Madurai’s Meenakshi – Sundaresvara Temple, The Gem of Indian Temples

The temple town of Madurai is most famous for the Meenakshi – Sundaresvara temple. This temple dates back to the early centuries of the first millennium, but the intricate and magnificent temple complex that exists today was built between 1623 and 1655 CE. The vast temple complex is home to fourteen monumental towers, or gopurams, as well as some 40,000 individual sculptures chronicling scenes from Hindu mythology. Entering through the east gopura, visitors are greeted by the eight forms of the goddess in the Ashta Sakti mandapa. Passing the the intricately carved pillars donning the goddess in eight beautiful forms, you arrive at the Muthupillai mandapa named after its donor. This is a wide and dark hall filled with sculptures of Shiva in his various forms. The small rays of light that seep through openings in the granite ceiling make for an enchanting and ethereal experience. Exiting this hall, you are immediately greeted by the bright sunlight and the open courtyard containing the Golden Lotus Pond.

Murals surrounding the temple pond
Murals surrounding the temple pond

In the middle of this quaint tank, there is a beautiful hundred petal lotus covered in gold. Along the portico, on the way to the main shrine, are beautifully painted murals narrating 64 glorious exploits of Shiva as referenced in the Tamil magnum opus Tiruvilayadal (divine game). The most famous of these is one depicting the celestial marriage of Meenakshi, a form of Parvathi, with the beautiful Siva, or Sundaresvara. The next stop is the Killikoondu mandapa, or the corridor of bird cages. Up until a few decades ago, this hall was filled with hundreds of parrots, considered very dear to the goddess. North of this corridor is the altar of Ganesha. Just beyond this altar resides Goddess Meenakshi in all her regal splendor.

The famous stone carving of the divine marriage
The famous stone carving of the divine marriage

The entire corridor around her sanctum sanctorum is richly decorated with intricate stone carvings and beautiful gold relief work. Inside the Garbha Gruha, literally the womb-house, stands the Goddess Meenakshi, carved from a single large emerald stone. Her left hand hangs gracefully by her side, while her right hand holds a golden lotus upon which a gold parrot stands. North of her chamber resides her consort Sundaresvara, surrounded by a hall containing gargantuan pillars embellished with carvings of his various forms. The most famous of these is the depiction of the marriage of Meenakshi-Sundaresvara, facilitated by Meenakshi’s brother, Lord Vishnu. Just before exiting the temple, you meet the thousand pillared hall, boasting a beautiful statue of Nataraja and his consort Sivakamasundari, as well as numerous carved pillars depicting the Hindu epics like the Mahabharata.

The famous scene of the sacred marriage is described in the Saiva Karanagama as follows: The Lord Shiva shines beautifully like bright saffron. He has three eyes, and fours hands. He is adorned with fresh flower garlands and exquisite gold ornaments. His entire body is draped with fine silk garments.

Amazing wood carving made by our artists from mango wood that came from Madurai, and received special worship in the Meenakshi temple
Amazing wood carving in mango wood that came from Madurai, and received special worship in the Meenakshi temple

His hands are decorated by jeweled bangles and gold lotuses. He holds the hand of Parvathi with one hand and the axe and deer in his other two. The Lord gleams with the effulgence of a thousand bright suns. He has matted dreadlocks and a diamond studded crown, embellished by the moon. The Goddess stands next to Shiva, holding his hand. She is decked with the most elegant red silk. Her chest bends slightly due to the weight of her many pearl, gold, ruby, emerald, sapphire, and diamond necklaces. She is adorned with champa and jasmine flowers in her dark hair. She gleams like the dawn. Her brother, Lord Vishnu, pours the holy water on their joined hands to consecrate the divine matrimony. The three stand beautifully under the golden kadamba tree, in the forest of kadamba (Madurai).

-Svasti-

Bhairava, Lord Shiva as “The Protector”

When you visit any temple dedicated to the god Shiva, you are bound to see the peculiar form of Lord Bhairava. He is a very auspicious form of Shiva, and represents protection and security. The word Bhairava literally means one who shouts the sound “bai.”  “Bai” is an onomatopoeia; it’s basically the Indian equivalent for the “ruff” sound used in common parlance, which we associate with a dog barking.  This is an appropriate name for this form of Shiva, since he is either represented as a dog or as accompanied by a dog. In order to enter a temple dedicated to Shiva, you need to have the permission of Bhairava.

Kala Bhairava at Varanasi
Kala Bhairava at Varanasi

He functions as a protector deity and as a temple guardian. In fact, there is a popular belief that the city of Varanasi (also known as Benares and Kashi) is a temple in and of itself, and Bhairava in his form as Kalabhairava is the gatekeeper. Entering the city of Varanasi is considered to be very difficult, so those pilgrims who do enter the city offer flowers, oil, and food to Lord Kalabhairava as a token of appreciation. Kala means both time as well as the color black. In many popular folktales, Kalabhairava roams the city of Varanasi as a black dog. There are various forms of Bhairava, 64 to be exact. Of these 64 Bhairavas, there are eight distinct forms and eight Bhairava who fall under each of these categories. This Thai Brass statue of Bhairava represents the group of Bhairavas known as Vatuka Bhairava.

Vatuka Bhairava
Vatuka Bhairava

The popular formula for meditation of this form describes this deity as red in complexion with scattered, matted red dreadlocks. He has three eyes and carries a skull cap, trident, drum, and noose. In a temple, this form of Bhairava would be placed in a niche on the outer wall, surrounded by carvings of different forms of Shiva’s attendants. This form of the god is nude and his vehicle is a dog. While many people believe that Bhairava is a violent form of Shiva, he is indeed a benevolent form to the sincere devotee. The noose in his upper left hand signifies the bonds we have in the world. Family, wealth, desires, and material objects are all things that bind a man to the world. As such, men and all other creatures bound to these objects and relationships are known as “pashu” or literally those bound by the noose.

Kala Bhairava
Granite Bhairava with Dog

Being unclad, and having no possessions, Bhairava is known as “Pashupathi” or the Lord of those bound by the noose. Devotees who invoke Bhairava in their lives are blessed by him and receive his protection.In some households across India, a statue of either a dog or of Bhairava is installed in the garden or near the front door. Just as he protects the temple, he also protects the house from evil spirits and bad energy.

 

Kala Samahara – Shiva, Destroyer of Death

Shiva emerging from the Linga
Shiva emerging from the Linga

The vast corpus of Vedic literature refers to various sportive forms, or leela murtis, of Lord Shiva. One of the most important of these forms is that of Shiva as the destroyer of death. Kalasamhara Murti or Kalantaka Murti is the form of Shiva in the act of vanquishing the god of death and righteousness, Yama-Dharma Raja.

The Puranas tell the story of Saint Mrikandu and his virtuous wife Niyati who yearned for a child. They performed austere penances to Lord Shiva to bless them with issue. Pleased with their devotion, Shiva appeared to the couple and asked them whether they wanted a wicked son who would live till old age, or a pious son who would live until 16 years of age. They requested the latter, and thus Markandeya was born.

On the eve of his 16th birthday, Markandeya embarked on a vigil to Lord Shiva. Yama – endeavoring to take Markandeya’s life away – entered the altar, as he was deep in meditation to Lord Shiva. Yama took his noose and threw it around Markandeya’s neck. Aghast, Markandeya grabbed the Shiva Lingam and began singing to his protector.

“Oh Shiva, adorning the moon as your crown, protect me! Save me!”

With the noose tight around his neck, Markandeya hugged the Shiva Lingam. Consequently Yama’s noose touched the Lingam, and enraged Parvathi. Immediately the Lingam split and Shiva emerged. Parvathi, who resides in the left side of Shiva, kicked Yama to the ground to protect her devotee. Shiva lifted his trident and pierced Yama’s chest, leaving the God of death for dead.

Afterwards, Shiva picked Markandeya up and placed him in his lap. He asked Markandeya to request a boon. Markandeya, from the kindness of his heart asked Shiva to resuscitate Yama.

Sculpture of Kala Samhara Shiva from Tanjore Temple, resembling the bronze icon at Thirukkadaiyur
Sculpture of Kala Samhara Shiva from Tanjore Temple, resembling the bronze icon at Thirukkadaiyur

After being revived, Yama – the king of righteousness – innocently asked what he had done wrong to warrant such a gruesome death. Shiva responded that Yama’s only fault was misunderstanding Shiva’s boon to Saint Mrikandu. Markandeya was to live only till age 16, and thereafter remain immortal and ever youthful as a 16 year old.

This event is said to have occurred in Thirukkadaiyur, Tamil Nadu, where the entire story is captured magnificently in bronze. The statue of Kalasamhara Murti in Thirukkadaiyur is the reference for South Indian bronze artists who wish to capture this beautiful form of Shiva.

Since the depiction of death is deemed inauspicious within the Vedic temple, in Thirukkadaiyur the body of Yama is covered with a silk cloth and removed only occasionally. Thus most idols meant for home worship do not actually depict Yama’s death, but rather the moments leading up to it. As is the case with any powerful form of Shiva, a statue of Parvathi is often kept to the left of it to bring peace to his power.

~Svasti~

Hindu God Shiva: Destroyer & Creator

Hindu God Shiva as Lord of Dance Nataraja
Shiva destroys and creates the world anew as the Lord of Dance, Nataraja!

When many first hear of the Hindu God of Destruction, Shiva, they automatically think of something evil or alarming.  They think him something to be feared.    Yet, his powers are constructive, not just destructive.   He brings about necessary and beneficial transformation.   It can be said that the world is in a constant state of flux.   Just as life is given at birth, so too must it eventually cease to exist.   In that same regard, the world is constantly evolving and partaking in birth, deaths, and rebirths.

Hindus believe that Hindu God Shiva is responsible for the destruction of the universe in order that he may then re-create it into a more perfect form.  They believe that even now he infiltrates the world in order to shed illusion and destroy the worlds many imperfections.  Not only is he the Destroyer, he can also be thought of as a god of change or formation, causing a constant cycle of destruction and creation in order to bring about necessary good.

There is no doubt that the world as we know it houses many flaws.    In order to bring about real change, Hindus look to Shiva to re-create the world in a better image.  Worshipers look to him for guidance in ridding their troubles.  They may pray upon a Shiva statue so that he may bring about renewal in the world.  Many worship Shiva as their primary God.   Join Hindu’s around the world in worshiping Hindu God Shiva for both his destructive and constructive qualities.

Bring a Shiva or other Hindu statues into your home or place of worship from Lotus Sculpture.

Shiva, Lord Nataraja Quotes

Bronze Shiva Nataraja statue

“Because You love the Burning -ground, I have made a Burning-ground of
my heart – That You, Dark One, hunter of the Burning-ground, May dance
Your eternal dance.”
~ Bengali Hymn~
Nataraja in Puja ceremony
Bronze Nataraja statue in puja ceremony

“The source of all movement,
Shiva’s dance,
Gives rhythm to the universe.
He dances in evil places,
In sacred,
He creates and preserves,
Destroys and releases.
We are part of this dance
This eternal rhythm,
And woe to us if, blinded
By illusions,
We detach ourselves
From the dancing cosmos,
This universal harmony…”
Ruth Peel

“O my Lord, Thy hand holding the sacred drum has made and ordered the heavens and earth and other worlds and innumerable souls.  Thy lifted hand protects both the conscious and unconscious order of thy creation.  All these worlds are transformed by Thy hand bearing fire.  Thy sacred foot, planted on the ground, gives an abode to the tired soul struggling in the toils of causality.  It is Thy lifted foot that grants eternal bliss to those that approach Thee.  These Five-Actions are indeed Thy Handiwork..”
~ Chidambara Mummani Kovai~
Hindu God Shiva Nataraja statue
4 Foot tall Dancing Shiva as Lord Nataraja

O Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram,
King Dancer of Thillai Ambalam,
Beloved consort of Sivakami Sundari,
Bhuvanesvari, Rajarajesvari,
Destroyer of sin, bestower of prosperity,
Remover of suffering, giver of Immortality,
Sivaya Nama Om Sivaya Namah,
Sivaya Nama Om Namah Sivaya.

Holder of Trident, drinker of poison,
Master of Yogis, ruler in the Sun,
Dweller in Kailas, rider of Nandi
Destroyer of Cupid, Lord of Siddhi,
The three-eyed Lord, the five-faced God,
The blue-necked God, the God of gods,
Sivaya Nama Om Sivaya Namah,
Sivaya Nama Om Namah Sivaya.

Thou art my Guru and sole-refuge,
Salutations unto Thee O Lord of Mercy,
Bless me with Thy shower of Grace,
Let me behold Thy benign face,
Let me merge in Thee for ever,
This is my real fervent prayer.
Sivaya Nama Om Sivaya Namah,
Sivaya Nama Om Namah Sivaya.

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