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Pancha indicates five, Bootha means elements and Sthalam means place. Our Hindus belief holds life as a synthesis of the five basic elements (the pancha Boothams) -
Prithvi(Earth), Jala(Water), Agni(Fire), Vayu(Air) and Ether(Space).
The Pancha Bootha Sthalams dedicated to Lord Shiva constitute a set of five Saivite temples held in reverence for centuries. Lord Shiva is worshipped as the embodiment of each of the five elements in these vast temples. All these temples are located in South India with four in Tamilnadu and one in Andhra Pradesh.

EARTH - Ekambareshwarar - Kanchipuram (Tamilnadu)

WATER - Jambukeshwarar - Thiruvanaikaval (Tamilnadu)

FIRE - Arunachaleshwarar - Tiruvannamalai (Tamilnadu)

AIR - Kalahastheeswarar - Sri Kalahasthi (Andhra Pradesh)

SPACE - Natarajar - Chidambaram (Tamilnadu)

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EARTH - PANCHA BOOTHA STHALAMS - 1 of 5 - Ekambareshwarar - Kancheepuram

Ekambareshwarar temple is in Kancheepuram, at 72kms from Chennai in Tamilnadu. This temple represents the Prithvi (Earth) element among the Pancha Bootha Sthalams.
As per the legend, Goddess Parvati once playfully closed the eyes of Lord Shiva, and the entire universe went into darkness. Lord Shiva opened his third eye and gave light to the whole universe. To make her realise the folly of her action Lord Shiva renounced Goddess Parvathi. She then left her abode in 'Kailash' and came down to Kancheepuram.
Kamakshi (Goddess Parvati) worshipped Shiva in the form of a Prithivi Lingam (Lingam made out of sand), under a mango tree on the banks of River Kambai. Lord Shiva wanted to test her devotion and caused the river to swell. Kamakshi, embraced the Linga and saved it from getting eroded. Shiva touched by the gesture materialized in person and married her. He is therefore known here as Ekambra Nathar (Ekam + Amram= Lord from the Mango tree).
The sthala vriksha (sacred tree of the shrine) is, naturally, the mango tree. This tree is said to be 3500 years old and yields 4 different varieties of mangoes (representing 4 Vedas).
Inside this temple, there is also a Vishnu shrine called Nilaathunda Perumal. According to legend, Vishnu’s skin was scorched by the acidic breath of the serpent Vasuki. He came here and prayed to Lord Siva; the cool light of the moon on Siva’s head healed Vishnu’s wounds.
The temple is famous for its Kubera sculpture showing the Lord of Wealth on His Fish vehicle. This is installed in 12 spots in the temple representing the 12 zodiac signs. When viewed from an upper place, it is said that the idols combined together looks like OM letter shape. It is believed that devotees praying Kubera here will be blessed with all kinds of wealth.
This vast temple has some breathtaking sculptures of deities and characters from Hindu Puranas.
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WATER - PANCHA BOOTHA STHALAMS - 2 of 5 - Jambukeshwarar - Thiruvanaikaval

Thiruvanaikaval temple is near Trichy in Tamilnadu. This temple represents the Jala (Water) element among the Pancha Bootha Sthalams.
As per legend, once Goddess Parvati mocked Lord Shiva’s penance for betterment of the world. Shiva then banished her to earth to do penance, Parvathi in the form of Akilandeswari as per Shiva's wish found Jambu forest (Thiruvanaikoil) to conduct her penance. She made a lingam out of water of river Cauvery under the Venn Naaval tree and commenced her worship.
The lingam is known as Appu Lingam (Water Lingam). Later Shiva gave darshan to Akilandeswari and taught her "Shiva Gnana".
As Akilandeswari worshipped Lord Shiva in this temple, even today at noon the 'Archakar' (priest) dresses like a female and does Pooja to Jambukeswarar and 'Ko Maatha' (Cow). Annabhishekam to lingam (ablution with cooked rice) is a daily ritual performed in the temple.
As per another legend Sage 'Jambu Munivar' got a rare 'Venn Naaval' (Venn – White, White variety if Naaval fruit) and offered to Lord Shiva. The Lord after eating the fruit spitted the seed. Jambu Munivar took it and swallowed as its sacred since it came from the Lord’s mouth. Immediately a 'Naaval' tree began to grow in the Saint's head.
After many years Devi Akilandeswari worshiped Lord Shiva under that tree during her penance. Thus as he took abode under the tree on Jambu Munivar he was called as 'Jambukeshwara' and the place is called as 'Jambukeshwaram'. Also thus the 'Venn Naaval' became the 'Sthala Vriksham' (Temple’s Sacred tree).
As per yet another legend, there were two Siva Ganas (Siva’s disciples who live in Kailash) by name 'Malyavan' and 'Pushpadanta' but they always quarrel with each other. In one such occasions, 'Malyavan' cursed 'Pushpadanta' to become an elephant in earth and the latter cursed the former to become a spider.
Both the elephant and the spider came to Jambukeshwaram and continued their Shiva worship. The elephant collected water from river Cauvery and conducted Abhishekam to the tree. The spider constructed his web over the lingam to prevent dry leaves from dropping on it and prevent Sunlight directly falling on Shiva.
Whenever the elephant saw the web, it tore them and cleaned the Linga by pouring water. One day spider became angry and crawled into the trunk of the elephant and bit the elephant to death and killing itself. Lord Shiva, moved by the deep devotion of the two, blessed them here.
As elephant worshipped the Lord here, this place came to be known as 'Thiru Aanai Kaa' (Thiru – Holy, Aanai – Elephant, Kaa (Kaadu) – Forest). Later 'Thiruaanaikaa' became 'Thiruvanaikaval' and also 'Thiruvanaikoil'.
In the next birth the Spider was born (due to its sin of killing the elephant) as King Kotchengannan Chola and built 70 temples and Thiruvanaikoil is the one among them. Remembering his enmity with the elephant in his previous birth, he built the Lord Shiva 'Sannathi'(Sanctorum) such that not even a small elephant can enter. The entrance on the sanctorum of Lord Shiva is only 4 foot high and 2.5 foot wide.
This is also a vast temple having some breathtaking sculptures of deities and characters from Hindu Puranas.
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3 of 5 - Arunachaleshwarar - Tiruvannamalai

Arunachaleshwarar temple is in Tiruvannamalai in Tamilnadu. This temple represents the Agni (Fire) element among the Pancha Bootha Sthalams.
Aruna means red or fire and Achala means immovable mount. Since Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of fire in this place, he is known as Arunachaleshwarar.
As per legend, once Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma contested for superiority, Lord Shiva appeared as a column of fire and challenged them to find his source. Brahma took the form of a swan, and flew to the sky to see the top of the flame, while Vishnu became the boar Varaha, and sought its base. The scene is called Lingothbhava, and is represented in the western wall at the sanctum of most Shiva temples.
Neither Brahma nor Vishnu could find the source, Vishnu conceded his defeat. Unable to see the crown, Brahma saw a thazhambu flower which had decked Shiva's crown falling down. He asked the flower as to the distance of Shiva's crown whereby the flower replied that he had been falling for forty thousand years. Brahma realizing that he would not be able to reach the crown asked the flower to act as a false witness.
Thazhambu flower acting as a false witness declared that Brahma had seen the crown.
Shiva became angry at the deception and cursed that Brahma should have no temple on earth and that the thazhambu flower should not be used while praying to Lord Shiva. The place where Lord Shiva stood as a column of fire to eliminate the ego is Tiruvannamalai.
As per another legend, Mother Parvathi wanted to get equal half of Lord Shiva's body. She did penance at Pavalakundru in Tiruvannamalai as per the Lord's wish. A demon called Makidasuran disturbed the penance of the Mother.
She took the form of goddess Durga Devi and destroyed him on the full moon day of the Tamil Month of Karthigai (Mid-Nov to Mid-Dec) during the auspicious period of pradosham. Lord Shiva presented himself in the form of Fire atop the hill and merged Goddess Parvathi on the left half of his body.
To commemorate this event, Karthigai festival is celebrated every year during Karthigai month in Kiruthigai Star. Arthanareeswarar (half man - half woman form of the Lord) presents himself as Jyothi Swaroopa to his devotees on the 10th day of Karthigai Festival exactly at 6pm.
The Annamalai Hill was Agni (fire) during Krithayugam, was Manikkam (Emerald) during Threthayugam, was pon (Gold) during Dwaprayugam and rock during Kaliyugam as per the ancient legends.
Girivalam (circumbulation of the Arunachala Hill) is done every month on the full moon day by a large gathering of devotees. There are eight lingams around the hill, one in each direction. It is believed that one who does Girivalam gets a lot of spiritual strength and various health benefits.
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4 of 5 - Kalahastheeswarar - Sri Kalahasthi
Sri Kalahasthi temple is situated 36 kms away from Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. This temple represents the Vayu (Air) element among the Pancha Bootha Sthalams. It is also regarded as Rahu-Ketu kshetra and Dakshina Kasi.
As per legend, Lord Vayu performed penance for thousands of years to "Karpoora lingam" (Karpoora - Camphor). Pleased by his devotion the Lord granted the following boons as requested by Lord Vayu
Vayu will be spread throughout this world. Without Vayu there will be no life.
And this lingam will be known as Karpoora Vayu Lingam and will be worshipped by all.
The name 'Sri Kalahasthi' comes from the three unlikely but committed devotees who sacrificed their lives for Lord Shiva – ‘Sri’ for ‘Spider’, ‘Kala’ for ‘Serpent’ and ‘Hasthi’ for ‘Elephant’. Each of them prayed Lord Shiva in their own ways.
The Spider (Sri) used to weave his strong threads around the Linga to protect it from the natural elements. The Serpent (Kala) used to place his dear stone (Naga Manikyam) as a decoration for the Shiva Linga. And the Elephant (Hasthi) used to do Abhishek to the Linga with the water.
The elephant considered the action of the spider to be disrespectful to the Lord and at once splashed away the spider’s web with water. The spider and serpent were enraged by this and the serpent entered the elephant’s trunk and discharged its venom. The elephant in writhing-pain kills the serpent and spider and succumbs itself to poison.
The Lord Maheshwara mightily pleased with this self-sacrifice blessed all the three creatures. The spider takes birth as a great king who continued with his divine task while the elephant and the serpent reaches the Lord's abode.
Another important legend is that of Kannappa Nayanar, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Once he saw blood oozing out of the Lord Shiva’s eyes, in desperation Kannappa Nayanar plucked-out his own eyes and placed on the lingam. As he was about to tear down his other eye, Lord Shiva stopped him and gave divine darshan and blessed him.
The Uniqueness of the Lingam manifested at Sri Kalahasthi Temple is that the kavacham has all the 27 Nakshatras (stars) and 9 Rashis in it. This is the only temple which remains open during Grahanam (Solar and Lunar Eclipse). Thousands of devotees perform Rahu Ketu Sarpdosha Puja here in order to minimize the ill effects of this Dosha.
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5 of 5 - Natarajar - Chidambaram

Natarajar temple is at 78kms from Pondicherry in Chidambaram, Tamilnadu. This temple represents the Akasha (Space) element among the Pancha Bootha Sthalams.
The word Chidambaram is derived from chit, meaning "consciousness", and ambaram, meaning broad open space not measurable - "sky" (from aakasam or aakayam); it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness, which is the ultimate aim one should attain according to our scriptures.
Lord Shiva is in three forms here,
• as visible idol form,
• form and formless as a Spatika Linga and
• formless as Akasha or space.
As per legend, in the Thillai forests resided a group of rishis who believed in the supremacy of magic and that God can be controlled by rituals. The Lord strolls in the forest with resplendent beauty and brilliance, assuming the form of 'Pitchatanadar', a simple mendicant seeking alms. He is followed by his consort who is Lord Vishnu as Mohini.
The rishis and their wives are enchanted by the brilliance and the beauty of the handsome mendicant and his consort. On seeing their womenfolk enchanted, the rishis get enraged and invoke scores of 'serpents' (Nāga) by performing magical rituals. The Lord as the mendicant lifts the serpents and dons them as ornaments on his matted locks, neck and waist. Further enraged, the rishis invoke a fierce tiger, which the Lord skins and dons as a shawl around his waist.
Thoroughly frustrated, the rishis gather all their spiritual strength and invoke a powerful demon Muyalakan - a symbol of complete arrogance and ignorance. The Lord wearing a gentle smile, steps on the demon's back, immobilizes him and performs the Ánanda Thaandava (the dance of eternal bliss) and discloses his true form. The rishis surrender, realizing that this Lord is the truth and he is beyond magic and rituals.
Ananda Thaandava is witnessed by Goddess Parvathi, Vyagra paada Rishi (Tiger-footed) and Patanjali Muni. In Lalitha Sahasranama, Goddess Parvathi is called "Maheswara Mahakalpa Maha thandava sakshini" - She who will be the witness to the great dance to be performed by the Great Lord at the end of the worlds.
Some interesting facts about this temple's architecture :
The 9 gateways signify the 9 orifices in the human body.
The Chitsabai or Ponnambalam, the sanctum sanctorum represents the heart which is reached by a flight of 5 stairs called the Panchaatchara padi - pancha meaning 5, achhara – indestructible syllables – "SI VA YA NA MA", from a raised anterior dias - the Kanakasabai. The access to the Sabhai is through the sides of the stage (and not from the front as in most temples).
The Ponnambalam or the Sanctum sanctorum is held by 28 pillars – representing the 28 agamas or set methodologies for the worship of Lord Shiva. The roof is held by a set of 64 beams representing the 64 forms of art and is held by several cross-beams representing the innumerable blood vessels. The roof has been laid by 21600 golden tiles with the word SIVAYANAMA inscribed on them representing 21600 breaths. The golden tiles are fixed using 72000 golden nails which represents the no. of nadis exists in human body. The roof is topped by a set of 9 sacred pots or kalasas, representing the 9 forms of energy.
The temple is located at the lotus heart of the Universe, "Virat Hridaya Padma Sthalam"
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