Tanjore, Tamil Nadu:
Sembiyan Mahadevi: A chola queen, widowed but enterprising, wanted to make the temple a prime center in everyone's life even with the rising pro-brahmin drift in the society. The chola period witnessed a vast change in temple architecture, for the good or bad is still debatable. But the change indeed was brought about for political reasons and by that time, the dilution in cult principles had already set in.
The two earlier temples were built purely for Shiva, with no hint of the mother goddess except for her presence in outer niches. She was not depicted on her own, but always in the presence of Shiva as Ardhanarishwara. Through this period, the shiva cult was flaunted with building the Brihadeshwara temple at Tanjore and Gangai konda cholapuram. It also witnessed the initial move towards building the Chidambaram temple where the focus shifted.
The flaw at chidambaram
For the first time in the Shiva cult history, Chidambaram temple witnessed the construction of a seperate shrine for the Mother Goddess. This was to give the Mother Goddess worshippers a fair share of the pie, and perform their rituals within the temple, therefore keeping the attention centered around the temple.
In which case the arguement can run that they could have housed all the deities of other cults in the temple, to make it a single place of worship; this doesnt seem to have happened. This shows that there was definitely a rift between vaishnavites and shaivites. Politics has played a role in india, not in kingdoms alone but in religion as well. Vishnu never found a place of honour in Shiva temples. This seems to be evident from the Pallava period itself. The shore temple in Mahabalipuram itself shows that a Vishnu shrine had already existed, with a Shiva temple built around it. With this we conclude that there was enough diplomacy between the two cults to retain the reclining Vishnu in the shore temple.
Where the focus should have remained
Lets leave Vishnu out of this for now. The root concept of Shiva, that he is incomplete without Parvati (Mother goddess) seems to have escaped everyone's eyes. The Shiva linga itself is composed of the linga pitha which is the yoni housed in every Shiva temple establishes the presence of the female form in Shiva temples well within the garbha griha. The building of the Mother goddess shrine in big temples should not have been encouraged in the first place as she is already part of the Shiva temple. Although this move may have been feministic on Sembiyan Mahadevi's part, it was also to keep the focus on the temple.
Well, that makes us think of another thing. Obviously, Sembiyan Mahadevi didn't go about building temples without the advice of the court astrologers and architects who followed the shastras to every word. Which would mean that in the entire ritual, for the worship of Lord Shiva, the shlokas recited worship Ganesha(Lord of the Ganas) first and then Lord Shiva. The Shiva mantras are very Shiva centric with no reference to the Yoni, which is a depiction of the Mother Goddess.
Why has it been eliminated? Why build a temple for Parvati next to shiva? What then, is the true meaning of Ardhanrishwara? We have forgotten the potent female form which has always accompanied shiva everywhere.
Why has the Mother goddess cult been supressed through the centuries? For that matter why have women been supressed through the ages? I do not plan to end this post in the feminist tone stating that women are superior or otherwise. I will stick to the temple.
The temple seems to have been the seat of all learning, community activities and ritual. Yet, the main point that Shiva is incomplete without Parvati was lost somewhere along the way. The temples added to the dillution by eliminating Parvati from the mantra recitals as well as from the niches of the main temple. Later, She was brought back as a seperate identity, with a niche exclusively for Her apart from Ganesha, Karthikeya and Lingodhbhava. This is not consistent.
In staunch shiva temples, the niches are occupied by Dakshinamurti, someone who looks perhaps like Trimurti or Brahma among other Shiva forms. Shiva in his various forms might be flaunted around, but the elimination of the Mother Goddess from prime worship in the garbha griha is a serious offence to the root principles of Shaivism.
Courtesy: Original photos©2002 Michael D. Gunther.