Shiva – Lord of the Five Elements by Nayantara Chakravarthi

Maha Shivratri, which literally translates to “Great Night of Shiva” is a Hindu festival largely celebrated in India as well as in Nepal to note the convergence of Shakti, the seen or manifested world, and Shiva, the formless unseen world.   Shiva is consciousness and Shakti is the activating power of energy in motion- universally, and in each and every individual. Though one is manifested and the other unmanifested, they are in the ultimate sense… one and the same.


Celebrating Maha Shivratri –The Night of Shiva  

Written by Nayantara Chakravarthi on this unique day which fell on March 7th last winter.

Sadhguru explains Maha Shivaratri scientifically as the day before the new moon, in the months of Feb – March. This is of special significance as ‘on this night, the northern hemisphere of the planet is positioned in such a way that there is a natural upsurge of energy in a human being.  In order to allow this natural upsurge of energies to find their way – one remains with one’s spine vertical – and therefore stays awake!

I was at the Chinmaya Mission temple this evening and listened to some great songs on Shiva – composed by the great spiritual composers of the Bhakti tradition – Saint Thyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar.

Sung by Mr Sriram these songs hailed Shiva as the Lord of the 5 Bhuthas or elements and rooted in ‘Non Duality’!

What are the pancha bhutas (five elements)?

All of life can be explained as constituted of the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth—known in various Indian languages as akasham, vayu, agni, jalam, and prithvi respectively.

This model applies to human beings as well as any form of creation. We human beings are nurtured by fire that regulates our body temperatures; two thirds of our bodies are nothing but water; the air we breathe is the prana of existence; our material is nothing but the earth; and above all—much “space” or “nothingness” pervades our bodies.

Deep in South India, Shiva is worshipped in the form of each of these elements. Muthuswamy Dikshitar (1775—1835) travelled to five shrines dedicated to these five elements, perhaps on foot or on bullock cart.  His visit to these temples was not marked by selfies or photo-ops,  but by compositions that serve as brilliant testimonials to his musical skills and his scholarship. The ancient temples he composed about are :


etherChidambaram is one of India’s most venerated Shiva temples and is the seat of Akasha lingam where Shiva is worshipped both as the cosmic dancer and as the embodiment of Space. The song composed here by Muthuswamy Dikshitar is “Ananda natana prakasam” in praise of Shiva in a 7 beat cycle is set to the Raga Kedaram and is a description of Shiva the cosmic dancer.




Air :

A mysterious draft of air is said to aerate Sri Kalahasti temple located near Tirupati. This composition is in the folk Raga Huseni or Ushani, probably signifying the folk origins of the Kannappa Nayanar story of a hunter worshipping Shiva at Kalahasti and attaining spiritual liberation. The song is ‘Sri Kalahastishaa’



Fire :

Tiruvannamalai, an ancient center of Saivite worship regards the Arunachala or the red hill as the column of fire whose limits could not be traced by Vishnu and Brahma. The rock of Thiruvannamalai is an ancient rock formation, born out of a volcanic eruption and is a site filled with energy! The song dedicated to Shiva in this element is ‘Arunachala natham’ .


The second syllable in most of the words occurring in this kriti (arunachala, smarami, aravindam) is ‘RA’ signifying the element fire as well as the Sun God RA.



A perennial water spring flows through the Shivalingam in the sanctum at the Jambunatha temple in Jambukesvaram near Tiruchirappalli. The composition “Jambupate” in the Raga Yamuna kalyani, is the longest of the five kritis and has references to several rivers – Ganga, Yamuna, Kaveri..



An anthill symbolizing a Prithvi lingam or earth phallus, adorns the sacred sanctum of the Ekamresvara temple in Kanchipuram. The song sung in praise of Shiva here is the most noteworthy of these compositions “chintaya ma kanda mula kandam” where he again describes Shiva as a form of bliss.




The five compositions are a treasured collection of hymns/songs which also bring out the underlying philosophy of advaita where all there is, is sat chit ananda (eternal, bliss, consciousness).

Thanks to inputs and research of Kanniks Kannikeswaran and Isha foundation.


Adi Shankara propagated this philosophy of Advaitha or ‘non duality’ The Atma Shatakam or Nirvana Shatakam is mesmerising!

This is a one hour japa (chant) called the Nirvana Shatakam.  It is chanted and performed by the Sounds of Isha. Isha Yoga is the tradition that this performance comes from. The teacher in this tradition is Sadhguru Jaggi Vasi Dev.  Nirvana means ‘formless’.



Nayantara Chakravarthi


Nayantara Chakravarthi lives in Bangalore, South India.

She is a consumer behaviour researcher and strategist by profession, and a history explorer, by passion. She speaks 6 of the Indian languages and loves to explore sites of deep antiquity in India. She is currently researching the iconography and symbolism of Indian architecture. Coming from a family of spiritual seekers, She has learnt the correct method of chanting some major Hindu Mantras from the Vedas.



Nayatara will be the host of our upcoming ALCHEMY OF THE 5 ELEMENTS INDIA TOUR – ‘Earth to Aether: The Alchemy of the 5 Elements as the Cosmic Dance of Life’  from  Jan 22 – Feb 1, 2017 with speakers that teach about the ancient indigenous traditions from India from Liesbeth Pankaja, from Egypt- Patricia Awyan and from Australia- Stella Wheildon, along with Geologist, Suzan Moore.

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