The Five Elements Temples in South India dedicated to Mahadev reflect on the cartography geniuses of ancient Indians
The five elements (Panch Mahabhutas) have a special place in the Hindu philosophy. Even the western world has accepted these concepts. A popular writer like Dan Brown mentions this concept and writes a novel based on it. These five elements are water, air, ether (space), earth and fire. It is believed that our whole life cycle is woven around these five elements.How many of us know that there are grand and unique temples of these five elements in our country? Perhaps, just a few may know. The possibility of their knowing it increases if they are the devotees of Mahadev, because the temples of five elements are essentially Shiva temples. However, that is not a great singularity or mystery in it.
Sri Kalahasti Temple, Srikalahasti, Andhra Pradesh
The uniqueness or the mystery of these five temples of five elements is that three of them, which are hundreds of kilometres away from one another, are in a straight line...! These three temples are—Srikalhasti Temple, Sriekambareswarar Temple, Kanchipuram and Sri Thilai Natraja Temple, Tiruchirappalli (Trichanapalli).
The longitude of all the three temples is 79.41 E. It means that all of them are in a straight line. The Kalhasti and Ekambareswarar temples are 125 kilometres away from each other while Ekambareswarar and Thilai Natraja Temples are 175 kilometres away. No one can tell as to when these three were built. The references are found that Pallav, Chola etc. kings, who ruled this part of the country, renovated the temples. However, one can easily guess that these temples must be more than 3000 years old.
Mystery of Cartography Accuracy
Now, this is the real mystery. How could these temples be built in a straight line so far away from each other about 3000 years ago? Does it mean that the cartography was so advanced in those times that they had the knowledge of latitudes and longitudes? However, they must have needed the knowledge of contour map besides the perfect knowledge of latitudes and longitudes to build so lateral temples! Or did they utilise some other method in those times that has vanished in the flow of time..?
One of the Temples of Five Elements is in Andhra Pradesh while remaining four are in Tamil Nadu. Of these, Shri Kalhasti Temple, which represents the air element, is in the Chittoor district of AP, about 35 kms from Tirupati. This temple is situated on the bank of a small river, Swarnmukhi. Even though this temple is very ancient, the inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple was built in 5th century while the outer part, of the Gopuras, was built in 11th century. References are found that Pallava, Chola and later Vijayanagar kings repaired and did some constructions in the temple. Many literary references are found that Adi Shankaracharya visited this temple. Adi Shankaracharya himself mentions this temple and the Bhakt Kanappa from here in his Shivanand Lahari.
The statue at Shiva Temple (Old Airport Road, Bangalore)
This temple represents the air element of the five elements. Some significant references of the same are found/obtained—the Shivaling in the temple is white and it is considered to be swayambhu. This Shivaling can never be touched (as it is of air element). Even the priests of the temple never touch it. A separate Utsav Linga is kept there for abhisheka and worship. The amusing fact is that a lamp burns in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple forever and it is constantly flickering. One has to understand this a bit, because the sanctum sanctorum of the temple is very small and it has no place for the air to enter. The flickering of the lamp continues even when the priest closes the door...! Why does the lamp flicker when there is no air...? No scientific explanation has been found for this till date. However, the people here say that the lamp always flickers because the Shivaling is of air element.
About 125 kilometres to the south from here another of the Five ElementsTemples is situated in a lateral position—Shri Ekambareswarar Temple. It stands at the famous Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu and represents the Earth element.
Since it is of earth element, it is made of soil. It is believed that Parvati did penance below a mango tree to get Mahadev and that was before an earthen Shivaling. Thus, it is called Ekambareswarar as Ekambareswar means the god of mango tree in Tamil. Even today, an ancient mango tree stands in the premises of the temple. It is reported that carbon dating has shown the antiquity of this tree as 3000 years. This tree is considered as the symbol of four Vedas. It is said that the tree bears mangoes of four different tastes. The temple stands in the Kanchipuram city that is famous for Kanchipuram sarees.
There is a board in the temple having information in Tamil, Telugu, English and Hindi that this tree is 3500 years old. It is difficult to say exactly how old it is. References are found that Pallava, then Chola and later Vijayanagar kings carried out repaires in the temple. In the lateral position to these two temples to the south stands third of the five elements temple—Thilai Natraja Temple. This temple, representing the ether element, is in the Chidambaram city of Tamil Nadu.
This is a very ancient temple founded by Rishi Patanjali himself. It is difficult to say as to exactly when it was built. However, references are found that Pallava and Chola kings carried out repairs in the temple in 5th and 6th centuries. The 108 different facets of Bharat Natyam are carved on the stone pillars of the temples. This also means that an advanced dance form of Bharat Natyam existed even thousands of years ago...! However, not a single icon or facet of Natraja is carved anywhere on the pillar even though there are many facets of Mahadev. The idol is in the sanctum sanctorum.