The non anthropomorphic Lingam form of Shiva is what is held in reverence in temples all over the sub continent. The Lingam is a symbol. It is a symbol of that which is invisible yet omnipresent. It is hence a visible symbol of the Ultimate Reality which is present in us (and in all objects of creation).
The Shiva lingam denotes the primeval energy of the Creator. It is believed that at the end of all creation, during the great deluge, all of the different aspects of God find a resting place in the Lingam; Brahma is absorbed into the right, Vishnu to the left and Gayatri into the heart. The Shiva lingam is also a representation of the infinite Cosmic Column of fire, whose origins, Vishnu and Brahma were unable to trace.
Legend has it that Parvati fashioned a Shiva lingam with a fistful of sand at Kanchipuram and worshipped Shiva; this lingam is known as the Prithvilingam, denoting the primordial element earth. Shiva lingams in several temples are swayambus, or that which appeared on their own, or that which is untouched by a chisel. On the other hand, there are temples where the Shivalingam is carved out of stone and installed. The highly polished Shivalingams of the Pallava period bear several stripes, as in the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram.
The Shiva lingam is generally mounted on a circular or quadrangular receptacle called the Avudaiyar. This pedestal is designed so as to drain off the water offered during ablution ceremonies. In temples such as Kanchipuram, abhishekam is offered only to the pedestal and not to the Shiva lingam made of sand. The bottom of the pedestal represents Brahma, the octagonal middle represents Vishnu and the upper circular portion represents Shiva. The upper portion of the Shiva lingam may be of various shapes, cylindrical, elliptical, umbrella shaped. Images may also be (rarely) carved on a Shiva lingam.
Nandi, the bull is depicted facing the sanctum in all Saivite temples, symbolizing the human soul Jeevatma yearning for realizing its oneness with Paramatma, the ultimate reality.
Typically, the processional bronze images of Shiva are those of Somaskanda, Chandrasekhara, Bhikshatana and Nataraja. Although in most Shiva temples, the central shrine enshrining the Shiva lingam is of the greatest importance, the Nataraja shrine is of greater importance at Chidambaram, the Somaskandar - Tyagarajar shrine is of greater significance at Tiruvarur.
Aum Namah Shiva
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