The sweet scent of ghee and the sound of 'Om' being chanted greet devotees as they step into the premises of the Chengal Siva-Parvathy temple near Neyyattinkara in Thiruvananthapuram. The main attraction of the temple is a shivalinga that stands 111.2 feet tall. The India Book of Records attests that this is the world's tallest shivalinga.
"The temple and the shivalinga symbolize my prayers for the world," says Swamy Maheswarananda Saraswathy. It was the Swamy's vision that made all this a reality.
The interior of the shivalinga is arranged in eight storeys, each of which has facilities to conduct prayers. "Everything was created as per God's wish," says Swamy, who had accepted monkhood from Jayendra Saraswathy, who was the head of the Kanchi Kamakodi Math.
Old-timers say that the temple exists at a place once called Puttarakkal. The star sign related to the place is Thiruvathira, which is also Lord Siva's star. It is believed that the idols of Siva and Parvathy were first found here in the form of a 'Puttu' (anthill), earning the place its name.
Before the temple was built, a 'Thekkathu' existed here. It refers to single-room shrines in Travancore. "Astrologers have suggested that this temple is 5,000 years old. It later collapsed following some natural calamity. When the area was dug up as part of temple restoration, stone sculptures and other remnants of a shrine were found," says Arun, a temple office-bearer.
The Krishnasila stone is used in the construction of many areas of the Chengal temple which provides a cooling effect. Traditional architecture is adopted for the wood and stone work. Chera, Chola, and Pandya influence can be seen. The first deity from the entrance is Nandikesa, behind whom is the Rajagopuram (main tower) which is designed as a three-storey structure in wood and granite.
Interiors of the Shivalinga
The massive shivalinga is located on the North-East corner of the temple premises. Earth from various holy spots, Ayurveda drugs and water from Varanasi and Rameswaram have gone into the construction of the shivalinga.
When a devotee enters the interiors of the shivalinga, he or she gets the feeling of venturing into a cave. The topmost part symbolizes Kailasa, Siva’s abode. Under a lotus of thousand petals, Siva and Parvathy are consecrated there. There are six places for meditation in the shivalinga based on the six ‘aadhaaras’. In the main part, Ganapathy has been installed. Other major deities are Saraswathy and Brahma. Siva reflects all the 64 forms of the deity. Based on the belief that Parasurama installed 108 shivalingas, an equal number of idols are present in the Chengal temple.
The central portion on each floor has been left vacant for devotees to meditate. The chanting of ‘Om’ can be heard on each floor.
Idols of various sages too have been installed on the sides. That of Agastya, the expert medicine man, attracts many visitors.
Images of forests and wild creatures are depicted at many places based on the belief that Siva has absorbed all aspects of nature. There is a Shivalinga on the lowermost floor before which anyone can offer rituals, without the help of a priest.
From the Shivalinga, the path leads to the area where devotees circumambulate the temple. The 12 Jyothirlingas are installed here. Rituals are conducted based on those offered at the original shrines, located in various parts of India. "The concept of all 12 Jyothirlingas at one temple is so noble," says the temple's tanthri Ganesh Lakshmi Narayanan Potti of Therakaveli Math.
32 forms of Ganesha
The Ganapathy shrine is located on the western corner of the premises. Idols of Ganesha in 32 forms are installed under one roof. They include all 'bhavas' from Bala Ganapathy to Yoga Ganapathy.
"The Ganapathyhomam ritual conducted here is much auspicious. Each form of Ganesha is related to human life in many ways. The ritual offered to each idol is distinct," says the chief priest, Kumar Maheswaram.
Another highlight of the temple is that all the 108 shivalingas and 32 Ganapathy idols were sculpted at Mahapalipuram. "Not only that, even the main idol in the temple was created by the master sculptors of the Tamil Nadu town," says secretary of the temple trust Vishnu.
The temple recently conducted a second ‘Athirudra Mahayajnam.' It is aimed at bringing wisdom, wealth and prosperity to devotees. As many as 121 priests chant 'Sree Rudra mantra' 11 times during the ritual. 121 pots filled with liquids like honey, tender coconut water and sugarcane juice are used as offerings.
"Very few temples in Kerala have conducted two Athirudra Mahayajnams," points out M Nandakumar, a retired IAS officer who is also an astrologer and a member of the temple advisory committee.
"The temple is not just a spiritual centre, but is involved in several philanthropic activities. The marriage hall is given free of cost for holding the wedding of girls belonging to poor families. Books and study aids are donated to schoolkids, financial support for the poor to build houses is arranged and other activities are carried out," says S Rajasekharan Nair, vice-chairman of the temple trust.