Surviving original Shiva temples.

There are plenty of Shiva temples scattered around the country. So what are the original ones i am talking about? Most later shaivite temples depict either little or too much. For eg. Shiva temples at belur and halebid depict the entire pantheon of Gods, vaishnavite included on the over ornate walls of their temples, while some others restrict imagery to very few forms of Lord Shiva, line the later south indian temples in Tamil Nadu. They dont go beyond the depiction of Nataraja, Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava and if you get lucky a form of trimurti. Of course you do have Parvati, ganesh, karthikeyan and chandikeshwara in all of them.

Original temples of Shiva had sprawling panels of mythological stories on Shiva and his exploits in all his various forms counting upto 26. Today we have few standing examples that depict all these forms and much more, some still unidentified, in few temples built from the period of the Vakatakas to the Cholas.

Here are some of the most authentic Shiva temples still standing:

Elephanta caves Mumbai coast:
Off the coast line of Mumbai stand Shiva caves on the island of Elephanta which have fantastic depictions from Shiva mythology arcoss their their dark walls. The sculptures take their influence from the art styles of the Guptas and the caves of Ajanta. Mammoth life size sculptures, exquisitely carved, depict Shiva in various poses. These include Ardhanarishwara, kalyanasundaramurti, yogishwara, nataraja, andhakasura, vrishabhavana, ravanaanugraha to name a few. The most striking of course is that of Trimurti, whose prototype goes way back to Indus valley. The caves of Elephanta are styled exactly like buddhist caves and were excavated well before structural architecture took shape in india.

Kailashnatha temple Ellora:
Another completely amazing temple and grand at the same time is that of Kailashnatha temple. The interesting part of this tempe is that it is right in the middle of brahmanical, buddhist and jaina caves. Tp top it all it is a museum of architecture that displays the sculptural supremacy of three dynasties that ruled the indian sub continent parallely - the chalukyas, pallavas and the rashtrakutas. there is cultural warfare written all across the walls of this temple. Apart from depicting various forms of Shiva, this temple shows stark examples of sculptors from all dynasties working together in the same place. eg. saptamatrika panel in a cave near the main temple shows few of the goddesses in pallava style, few others in rashtrakuta style and the remaining in chalukyan style. How do we figure that out? A rashtrakuta sculpture knows no proportion, heads are BIG and legs are SMALL. if the figure had to stand up, it would not be able to balance itself. A chalukyan sculpture always has a waist band and a Pallava sculpture is always slender and not intricately carved, very simplistic. Kailashnatha temple is also the first temple in India to be built multi storeyed, and monolithic at the same time. Truely fantastic.

Shore temple Mahabalipuram:
Almost completely eroded but salt and sea breeze over the centuries, we see traces of Shiva mythology on the walls of this temple. More than Shiva iconography this temple yells out the presence of strong naga cults and mother goddess worship. The reclining Vishnu is made of the bed rock, and existed well before this temple was built. Strangely, this is the first temple that hosts two shiva shrines back to back, one facing east and the other facing west. Nandi vahana does not stand in front of any of these shrines but seems to occupy the walls instead.

Kailashnatha Kanchipuram:
A truely well preserved and amazing structure, this temple gives us a complete account of shiva iconography ,so complete that we have not been able to identify all of them yet! Its a store house of all the possible forms one can think of. The sculptures are on the temple walls as well as on the walls that enclose it. Interestingly somaskanda panel seems to have been the most popular panel of the time. This temple also has the only example of a shrine chamber well within the gopuram.

Brihadheswara tempe Tanjore:
Truely magneficient archetecture and amazing sculptural depiction of Lord Shiva scatter its walls. This time with more plan and structure. All the walls of this temple depict Shiva or other Gods from his troop counting upto almost 10 per wall and that would be 30 allover. Interesting elements of this temple is that it redefines how a temple of Shiva should be built, with a series of Shiva lingas planted into the ground along the boundary walls of the temple. The yoni pitha of all these temples point northwards for the exit of the libation fluids. Interesting sculpture here is to see Shiva standing near the entrance with Vishnu bowing to him on his kneels. Shows the celebration of shaivite supremacy over vaishnavites. Of course vishnavite temples give it back equally well!!!

Brihadeshwara Gangaikondacholapuram:
Like father like son, but with a difference. This temple is definitely smaller but bursting with architectural creativity more than its older couterpart which is the personification of symmetry. The tower is not all that squarish anymore but more rounded! Shiva iconography covers all its walls as well with repetitions at certain places.

Interestingly all these temples display the various mythologies on the exterior walls except for elephanta cave which is completely on the inside! But its onlyin later stages that the 108 lingas came into temple architecture.

Other temples propbably are subsets of these temples. They house fewer forms of Shiva himself and concentrate more on the Gods and demi gods who accompany him. The outer walls are a little more bare and attention is given to elaborate architecture as compare to elaborate sculptural depictions.

All in all a true shiva temple contained concepts all about HIM and not about people around HIM!
But interestingly it seems to also have a lot to do with the magic of "Kailasa".


JC Joshi said...

The effort in collecting information and related photographs made available by Ms Kavitha on ancient ‘original’ temples devoted to ‘Shiva’, made by ‘Hindus’ in the Christian Era is worth appreciation.

Speaking on ‘Shiva’, one also reads in the ‘Hindu’ mythological stories etc that the ancient ‘Siddhas’, after realization of ‘self’, reportedly exclaimed, “Shivoham!” Or, “Aham Brahmasmi!” That is, “I am the Creator!” However, there is an indication that householders after active life,on their retirement, used to withdraw into isolation to seek the meaning of life...

It is also understood that when one wishes to perceive reasons for a certain happening in the past, one must seek guidance from the facts on that subject available in the present. Famous Historian, EH Carr, to the question 'What is History?' also said that it is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.

Now, in the Eighties, a famous scientist, Sir Fred Hoyle, said, to the effect, that looking at the complicated chemical composition of ‘life’ on earth, it has to be a result of design by an intelligent being… He however didn't agree it as the work of a Divine Person…

With the above background in mind, the following extract - based on work in the 'West' - from the Internet could provide an insight into the functioning of human body, or Shiva in human form. The human body would perhaps rather be realized as a wonderfully designed mobile chemical laboratory, confirming it as the ‘superior most creation of God’ as believed by the ancients. Also, all those innumerable microorganism, or souls or ‘bhootas’, as also the chemicals that work every second to keep our body or ‘bhootnath’ functioning for a possible life span of 100 years or even more - as long as 'creative forces' remained dominant over 'destructive forces- could be visualized as the 'essence of the external universe' and man as a model of the universe (Shiva) or an image of God as believed by the ancients!

“Inside your body there is an amazing protection mechanism called the immune system. It is designed to defend you against millions of bacteria, microbes, viruses, toxins and parasites that would love to invade your body. To understand the power of the immune system, all that you have to do is look at what happens to anything once it dies. That sounds gross, but it does show you something very important about your immune system.
When something dies, its immune system (along with everything else) shuts down. In a matter of hours, the body is invaded by all sorts of bacteria, microbes, parasites... None of these things are able to get in when your immune system is working, but the moment your immune system stops the door is wide open. Once you die it only takes a few weeks for these organisms to completely dismantle your body and carry it away, until all that's left is a skeleton. Obviously your immune system is doing something amazing to keep all of that dismantling from happening when you are alive.
The immune system is complex, intricate and interesting. And there are at least two good reasons for you to know more about it. First, it is just plain fascinating to understand where things like fevers, hives, inflammation, etc., come from when they happen inside your own body. You also hear a lot about the immune system in the news as new parts of it are understood and new drugs come on the market -- knowing about the immune system makes these news stories understandable…”
“An antigen is any substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies against it… Antibodies are a type of protein… (Proteins are complex organic compounds. The basic structure of protein is a chain ofamino acids)… They are produced by the immune system in response to foreign substances that may be a threat to the body -- such as chemicals, virus particles, spores, or bacterial toxins. These foreign substances are called antigens… An antigen may be a foreign substance from the environment such as chemicals, bacteria, viruses, or pollen. An antigen may also be formed within the body, as with bacterial toxins or tissue cells… Toxins are substances created by plants and animals that are poisonous to humans. Most toxins that cause problems in humans are released by microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses… Each type of antibody is unique and defends the body against one specific type of antigen…”

kavitha said...

Hi Joshi Uncle,

that was an interesting comment. thank you

abhilash warrier said...


Someday, would love to visit all these temples... without any fear or tension.

With a lot of time in hand. Nowhere to rush to. Nowhere else to go.

Just a long pilgrimage.

JC Joshi said...

Hi Kavitha,
You are welcome!

Once someone really wants to ‘seek’ today, thanks particularly to the web, there is relevant information available virtually on one’s fingertips!

However, as the ancients apparently explained for the benefit of the layman, ‘one gets channeled according to his inclination’, and that man was only an ‘instrument’. (I give also an extract in this regard from the foreword of ‘Know your body’, a publication brought out by the Reader’s Digest, in the last paragraph.)

At the inception of the thought, the ‘wise Hindus’, based on an in-depth knowledge of ‘Nature’, accordingly categorized the community into four broad classes - specifying functions under each to be performed under strict discipline - to cover basic requirements for a healthy life of an individual as well as the community as one unit. In the present also, wisdom dawning on the 'West' after the event, Rafael Bras, MIT professor also reportedly recently said on Hurrican Katrina, "You'll never be able to control nature. The best way is to understand how nature works and make it work in our favour."

The ancients had also realized the ever changing nature of the universe and its constituents, and predicted 'natural' deterioration in human efficiency with time (as everyone complains about 'indiscipline', 'corruption' and so on and knows today also as it is applicable to the material component of the universe). They went into the depth and developed relationship between man and nature with respect to time... However, the fundamentals of Astrology and Palmistry, and so on, are lost in the sands of time and need to be revived...

“Your body is, undoubtedly, the grandest and most complex machine ever built. It is also the most familiar – each one of us lives with his model every moment of his life. Yet most of take our bodies far too much for granted – we don’t think twice about them unless something goes wrong. Naturally, we pay a price for such ignorance: by remaining unaware of the marvels of the human body, we fail to appreciate our own magnificence…”

premalatha said...


Hi Kavita,

I am visiting your site for the first time. haven't read all of your posts yet. my first impression is, "very good". It needs lot of effort to do such a research and post it. There was some discussion on Mammallapuram sometime ago in that site www.hallofmaat.com, so, I compiled some of my observations there.


Mamallapuram is a very interesting and important place for few reasons. go through my post and reply in that site (you can open a new topic http://www.hallofmaat.com/post.php?1 or you can mail me as well. (premalatha_balan (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk

I will have to come back to your site at a later time to read all of your posts. :)
Good one. thanks.


JC Joshi said...

When I attempt seeing in my mind’s eye from a distance, considering whatever facts that are made available to me about advancement made by humans starting from caves to reach the present or ‘Instant coffee age’, I find that the question that primarily needs to be answered, by the ‘present generation’ particularly, is: Whether man, or ‘Nature’, expressed as ‘Panchabhootas’ (representing the formless Creator) by the ancient ‘Hindus’, is the superior of the two?

The situatiion is perhaps comparable to the current hot discussion among a large majority of Indians pending decision of the concerned committee in regard to the supremacy between the leader, or the Captain of the apparently in-disciplined Indian Cricket Team, and their Coach.

However, in my view it is doubtful that one can reach at the right conclusion as indiscipline pervades all walks of life today, of course, due to the characteristic property of ‘Time’ as known to the 'wise' ancients in the long lost 'past'.

Badhri said...

Hi Kavitha,
Though the contents in your web-log are too deep and wide for the first time visitor (like me) to get done in one such visit, it is way too interesting for such visit to be only once.

I have long harboured a dream to travel around the country to know its past better. May be your log will be a good reference as to where I should go. I am curious to know if you have actually vistied all or some of the places that you have covered in your posts.


kavitha said...

Hi badhri,

i have visited most of the places i have spoken about. though there is a long list of places still pending of which i have not yet made a mention!!!

Online Poker said...

We have a huge choice of real money tables so you don't have to hang around for hours waiting to get a game. Online Poker Tables like PartyPoker PacificPoker TitanPoker FultitPoker and so on