Of what use is the body that never walked around the temple of Śiva, offering Him flowers in the worship rite? Of what use is this body?
Tirumurai 4.9.8. ps, 44
What Is the Nature of the Śiva Temple?
The Śiva temple is the abode of God Śiva and Gods and the precinct in which the three worlds consciously commune. It is specially sanctified, possessing a ray of spiritual energy connecting it to the celestial worlds. Aum.
The three pillars of Śaivism are the temples, the scriptures and the satgurus. These we revere, for they sustain and preserve the ancient wisdom.
Śiva temples, whether they be small village sanctuaries or towering citadels, are esteemed as God’s home and consecrated abode.
In the Śiva temple we draw close to God Śiva and find a refuge from the world. His grace, permeating everywhere, is most easily known within the precincts of the Śiva temple.
It is in the purified milieu of the temple that the three worlds commune most perfectly, that devotees can establish harmony with inner-plane spiritual beings.
When the spiritual energy, śakti, invoked by the pūjā permeates the sanctum sanctorum and floods out to the world, Śaivites know they are in a most holy place where God and the Gods commune with them.
Within most Śiva temples are private rooms, sanctums, for Lord Gaṇeśa and Lord Kārtikeya, and shrines for the many Gods and saints.
The Vedas explain:
“Even as the radiance of the sun enlightens all regions, above, below, and slantwise, so that only God, glorious and worthy of worship, rules over all His creation." Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
How Are Temples Founded and Built?
Śiva temples are founded by God Himself, often designated in a vision or dream of a devout Śaivite, then erected by temple craftsmen usually following Āgamic law. In such a holy place, holiness itself can reside. Aum.
Because of its holiness, a Śiva temple is most often and properly established by God Śiva through His devotees and not founded by men.
Once the site is known, hereditary temple architects, known as sthapatis, are commissioned to design and construct the temple. By tradition, every stone is set in place according to the sacred architecture found in the Āgamic scriptures.
When properly consecrated, the temple becomes a place upon the Earth in which the three worlds can communicate for the upliftment of mankind and the fulfilment of Śiva’s dharmic law.
Śiva has deliberately established many temples to communicate His love to His children throughout the world, who live in every country of the world and long for their Lord’s ever-present love.
They build temples in His name and install His image, chant His praises and thus invoke His presence. Lord Śiva accepts all these temples as His own and sends a divine ray to vivify and vitalize them.
Śiva’s Vedas annunciate:
“Brāhman is the priest, Brāhman the sacrifice; by Brāhman the posts are erected. From Brāhman the officiating priest was born; in Brāhman is concealed the oblation." Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
When Should One Attend the Temple?
We attend the temple to commune with God Śiva, Kārtikeya or Gaṇeśa at least once each week and additionally on auspicious days of the month, yearly festival days and on the holiest day of the year, Mahā Śivarātri. Aum.
Śaivites consider it most important to live near a Śiva temple, and we build one wherever we find ourselves in the world. This is a most meritorious act, earning blessings in this life and the next.
Religious life centers around the temple. It is here, in God’s home, that we nurture our relationship with the Divine. Not wanting to stay away too long, we visit the temple weekly, though women never go during their monthly period.
We strive to attend each major festival, when the śakti of the Deity is most powerful, and pilgrimage to a far-off temple annually. Devout Śiva bhaktas attend daily pūjā in the temple. All Śaivites visit the temple on Śiva’s most sacred day of the year, Mahā Śivarātri.
Śaivite temples are the most ancient of all. Being the homes of the Gods and God, they are approached with great reverence and humility.
Draw near the temple as you would approach a king, a governor, a president of a great realm, anticipating with a little trepidation your audience with him.
The Vedas say:
“May the Lord find pleasure in our song of praise! Priest among men, may he offer due homage to the heavenly beings! Great, O Lord, is your renown." Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
How Does One Attend a Śiva Temple?
Approaching with deep reverence, we begin our worship with Gaṇeśa, circumambulate the temple and proceed to the main sanctum for pūjā. After receiving the sacraments, we sit quietly before taking our leave. Aum.
With offerings in hand, leaving our shoes outside, we enter through the gopura, or temple tower, wash hands, feet and mouth, and seek blessings at Lord Gaṇeśa’s shrine.
Next we follow the outer prakara, or hallway, clockwise around the mahāmaṇḍapa, central chambers.
Inside we leave our worldly thoughts at the balipīṭha, or offering place, then prostrate before the dhvajastambha, temple flagpole, and worship Nandi, the sacred bull.
Next we circumambulate the central sanctum, garbhagṛiha, usually three times, returning to its entrance for worship.
During pūjā, we stand with hands folded or in añjali mudrā, though according to temple custom, it may be proper to sit quietly or sing devotional hymns.
After the āratī, or waving of the camphor light before the Deity, we prostrate (aṣṭāṅga praṇāma for men, and pañchāṅga praṇāma for women) and rise to receive the prasāda, accepting them in the right hand.
We walk around the garbhagṛiha one final time before taking our leave.
The Vedas affirm:
“If a man first takes firm hold on faith and then offers his sacrifice, then in that man’s sacrifice both Gods and men place confidence." Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
With Śiva watching, devotees approach a temple. Leaving shoes and possessions at the gate, they bring offerings of flowers, water and an āratī tray. The man prostrates at the flagpole. Mother and child seek blessings by touching Nandi, Śiva’s bull.
What Occurs Within the Śiva Temple?
Activities within a Śiva temple vary from the daily round of pūjās to the elaborate celebrations on annual festival days. Even amid large crowds, our worship is personal and individual, not congregational. Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
Besides the daily round of pūjās, many other events take place within the temple:
pilgrims offering vows, priests chanting the Vedas, processions, elephants giving blessings, garlands being woven, weddings or philosophical discourses in pillared halls,
devotional singing, feedings for the impoverished, dance and cultural performances, ritual bath in the stone tank, meditation, religious instruction, and many festival-related events.
Generally, there are seven times when pūjās are held:
at five, six and nine in the morning, at noon, and at six, eight and ten in the evening.
The outer worship is approaching God properly, presenting ourselves acceptably. It is to offer our love, our adoration and then to speak out our prayer, our petition.
The inner worship is to enjoy God’s presence and not rush away, to stay, to sit, to meditate awhile and bask in the śakti, endeavoring to realize the Self within.
The Vedas say:
“‘Come, come!’, these radiant offerings invite the worshiper, conveying him thither on the rays of the sun, addressing him pleasantly with words of praise: ‘This world of Brāhman is yours in its purity, gained by your own good works.’ " Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
Having purified himself and pilgrimaged to the temple, which in itself is regarded as worshipful, a pilgrim stands at last before Śiva Naṭarāja, Lord of Dance. Hands held reverently in Añjali mudra, he humbly offers prayers, thanks and adoration.
You who are worthy of men’s prayers, our leader, our God, rich in heroes—may we install you glowing and glistening! Shine forth at night and at morn! Your favor has kindled our hearths! By your favor we shall be great!
Rig Veda 7.15.7-8. ve, 846
Of lords the Lord Supreme, of kings the King, of Gods the God, Him let us worship—transcendent, Lord of all worlds and wholly worthy of worship.
Krishna Yajur Veda, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.7. ve, 156
A man comes to Thee in fearful wonder and says:
“Thou art God who never was born. Let thy face, Rudra, shine upon me, and let thy love be my eternal protection."
Krishna Yajur Veda, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 4.21. upm, 93
For the purpose of protection of all, a Linga is variously caused to be built in villages by Gods, by seers and by ordinary men.
Kāraṇa Āgama 10. mt, 66
Cutting all the stones to be cut, carving all the stones to be carved, boring all the stones to be bored, such are the three aspects of the śilpi’s art. The architect and the Sūtragrāhin build the temples and craft the images, but it is with the Takṣak that the architect effects the opening of the eyes of these images, and similar rites.
Suprabheda Āgama 21.28-29. sa, 180
Having worshiped Nandi in the Southeast—two-eyed, two-armed, black in color, having the formidable three-pointed trident of Śiva, with a crest and twisted locks of hair—in the Southwest, he should especially worship Mahakala, black in color, two-eyed, two-armed, with white garment, two-legged, having an awesome form, equipped with a noose and a tusk, and endowed with all ornaments.
Kāraṇa Āgama 323-325. mt, 200
He should repeat the Śiva mantra according to his ability, and (there should be) circumambulation, obeisance and surrender of the self.
Kāraṇa Āgama 446. bo mt, 226
I bow before that Sadāśiva liṅga which is worshiped by the multitude of Gods with genuine thoughts, full of faith and devotion, and whose splendor is like that of a million suns.
Liṅgāshṭakam. sw, 8
The Pati is the blessed Śiva linga. The paśu is the mighty bull standing in front. The pāśa is the altar. Thus, in the temple, the Lord stands for those who, searching, see.
Tirumantiram 2411. tm
When in Śiva’s temple worship ceases, harm befalls the ruler, scanty are the rains, theft and robbery abound in the land. Thus did my holy Nandīnātha declare.
Tirumantiram 518. tm
The unholy town where no temple stands, the town where men do not wear the holy ash, the town which does not resound with sacred song, the town which is not resplendent with many shrines,
the town where the white conch is not reverently blown, the town where festive canopies and white flags are not seen, the town where devotees do not gather flowers for the worship rite, that town is no town. It is a mere wilderness.
Tirumurai 6.309.5. ps, 149
He approached and entered the temple where the Lord who has the golden mountain for His bow dwells in delight. He circumambulated it, prostrated himself at the sacred courtyard, entered the presence of the three-eyed God, the bull-rider crowned with matted, red hair.
Periyapuranam 5.21.252. ps, 49
Gather flowers and carry water pure; bathe Him and lay the flowers at His radiant Feet; stand and pray and adore Him in unfailing piety. Forever prosperous you shall be.
Subdue the senses, hasten towards Him; surrender in totality and worship the Lord daily, offering water and flowers. He will surely accept your heart’s offering.
Tirumantiram 1840-1841. tm
For the bounteous Lord, this heart is the sanctum holy, the fleshy body is temple vast, the mouth is the tower gate. To them that discern, Jīva is Śivaliṅga; the deceptive senses are but lights that illume.
Tirumantiram 1823. tm