Shiva (शिव) is an adjective meaning "auspicious, kind, gracious. Shiva is to have multiple meanings: The Pure One; One who purifies everyone by the very utterance of His name; One who is eternally pure; and One who can never have any contamination of the imperfection. Shiva and Rudra the god of the roaring storm, are viewed as the same personality. Śiva is a god of ambiguity and paradox - Destroyer versus benefactor; Ascetic versus householder. The depiction of Shiva as Nataraja (நடராஜா Cosmic Dancer) and Dakṣiṇamurthi as a teacher of yoga, music, and wisdom and giving exposition on the shastras. Saiva Sect? Saivite Hindus worship the Supreme God as Siva, the Compassionate One. Saivites esteem self discipline and philosophy and follow a satguru. They worship in the temple and practice yoga, striving to be one with Siva within.
Saivism is the world's oldest faith with high philosophy, the guru's centrality and bhakti-raja-siddha yoga leading to oneness with Siva within. Saivism is ancient, truly ageless, for it has no documented beginning. Scholars trace the roots of Siva worship back more than 8,000 years to the advanced Indus Valley civilization. Modern history records six main schools: Saiva Siddhanta, Pashupatism, Kashmir Saivism, Vira Saivism, Siddha Siddhanta and Siva Advaita. The Vedas state, "By knowing Siva, the Auspicious One who is hidden in all things, exceedingly fine, like film arising from clarified butter, the One embracer of the universe by realizing God, one is released from all fetters." Aum Namah Sivaya.
The path for Saivites is divided into four progressive stages of belief and practice called charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. The soul evolves through karma and reincarnation from the instinctive-intellectual sphere into virtuous and moral living, then into temple worship and devotion, followed by internalized worship, or yoga, and its meditative disciplines. Union with God Siva comes through the grace of the satguru and culminates in the soul's maturity in the state of jnana, or wisdom. Saivism values both bhakti and yoga, devotional and contemplative sadhanas, or disciplines.
God Siva is honored as Pure Love, Light, Energy and Consciousness. He is contemplated as the timeless, formless and spaceless Absolute Reality. Shivalinga worship is ancient, original, prehistoric and not merely an abstract symbol. Many Saints and Heroes in Puranas worshipped Lingam made out of Clay, metal, copper, iron, silver, gold, mud, stone, precious gems, wood, butter, ice, earth or transitory materials such as made out of flowing river., and invoked Lord Shiva into it. This sends the message that God can be invoked and worshipped in any convenient form; the form is irrelevant, but the divine power that it represents is important. Before Cholas, most of the sivalingams are workshipped in open spaces or under trees. Shiva is "abishekap praya" and devotees pour water and milk over linngams. The offerings get collected in pits for animals to drink. In this way we feed animals, may be god is also known as pasupathi (protector of animals)
"Namah Śivāya is the most holy name of God Śiva, recorded at the very center of the Vedas and elaborated in the Śaiva Agamas. Na is the Lord's concealing grace, Ma is the world, Śi stands for Śiva, Va is His revealing grace, Ya is the soul. The five elements, too, are embodied in this ancient formula for invocation. Na is earth, Ma is water, Śi is fire, Vā is air, and Ya is ether, or akasha. Many are its meanings. The holy Natchintanai proclaims, Namah Śivāya is in truth both Āgama and Veda. Namah Śivāya represents all mantras and tantras. Namah Śivaya is our souls, our bodies and possessions. Namah Śivāya has become our sure protection."
Shivalinga worship is ancient, original, prehistoric and not merely an abstract symbol. Many Saints and Heroes in Puranas worshipped Lingam made out of Clay, metal, copper, iron, silver, gold, mud, stone, precious gems, wood, butter, ice, earth or transitory materials such as made out of flowing river., and invoked Lord Shiva into it. We read from scriptures Arjuna fashioned a Shiva Lingam made out of clay. A transitory Shivalingam may be made of twelve different materials, such as sand, rice, cooked food, river clay, cow dung, butter, rudraksha seeds, ashes, sadalwood, darbha grass, a flower garland or molasses. This sends the message that God can be invoked and worshipped in any convenient form; the form is irrelevant, but the divine power that it represents is important. Legend talks about Parvati fashioned a Shiva Lingam to worship the Lord in Kanchipuram, while Lord Rama, due to delay by Lord Hanuman who was summoned to bring Shiva Lingams from Himalayas, made Shivalingam in sand and worshipped at Rameshwaram. This is known as Prithvilingam, denoting the primordial element earth.
Some of the Shivalingams are Swayambus, appeared on its own, some of them are untouched by a chisel; there are rare Shivalingams in Pallava period bearing several stripes shaped, witnessed at Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram. As you may be aware, Shivalingam is generally circular based, a quadrangular receptacle. The pedestal is shrewdly shaped to drain off the water when ablutions are performed. This is the only God whose Form and Formless appear together. Learned indicate that the bottle portion of the pedestal represents Brahma Swaroopam, the middle portion represents Vishnu while the upper portion or the cylindrical one represent Shiva. Images are also sometimes carved rarely, such is one Kathmandu Pashupathinath temple.
Shiva Lingam is in various shapes, 11 typed shapes, elliptical, aniconic iamge, with a circular base or Peetam. He is beyond all qualities of Forms and Formlessness, He appears in either form or Formless.
Raja Raja Chozha (Chola) was one of the greatest Emperors of medieval history in India. He lived about 1000 years ago. During his reign he ruled Ceylon, Burma, Sumatra, Java, part of Indonesia and Phillipines. He was a great Shiva Bhakta. During one of his visits to the famous Thiruvaaroor temple in Thanjavur District, he heard a few people singing some hymns on Lord Lord Shiva. The Raja was greatly fascinated by the quality of the language, the choice of the tune and the devotion it aroused.
The Saivaite Emperor then started making enquiries about the source of the hymns. He soon learnt these were parts of the Divine poetry written by the 4 great Sivacharyas of Tamizh Nadu - Sri (Thiru)Gnana Samandhar, Thirunavukarasar (popularly known as Appar), Sundarar and Manickavachakar. All of them lived about 400 years before Raja Raja Chola - (i.e.) about 1400 years from today!
While not much was known about the notation of music in the case of others, the Maharaja learnt that the music for Sri Gnana Samandhar verses were composed by a Shaivaite musician named Thiru Neelakanta Yazhpaanar who was with Sri Samandhar most of the time. Neelakanta Yazhpaanar was a great Vainika (Veena Player) and a much-respected Shivacharya. Raja Raja Chola then took on the task of compiling these hymns and popularizing them amongst the masses.
Raja Raja tracked down the family tree of Thiru Neelakanta Yazhpaanar with great difficulty (remember more than 400 years had elapsed!) and was able to get in touch with a very old lady who belonged to Yaazhpanar's clan. She had with her some old palm scripts of Thiru Neelakanta Yazhpaanar handed down to her through several generations.
Unfortunately it contained only a very few - spanning about 21 ragas. The mighty king was much disillusioned. He consulted his ministers who advised him to call on Nambi Aandaar Nambi who lived in a place called Thirunaavaloor in Thanjavur District. Nambi Aandaar Nambi was a great scholar and Vinayaka (Ganesh) Bhakta. The king approached Nambi Aandaar Nambi requesting him to help him trace the hymns composed by the Shivacharyas. Nambi Aandaar Nambi had a vision that night. Sri Vinayaka appeared before Nambi and told him that the entire collection of palm leaves containing thousands of hymns composed by the great Shivacharyas - Thirunavukarasar (popularly known as Appar), Gnana Samandhar, Sundarar, Manickavachakar and others - were available within the precincts of the famous Chidambaram Temple.
Raja Raja immediately visited the Chidambaram temple and requested the Brahma Dikshitar (Head of the Dikshitars who were performing the Poojas in the temple) to hand over the palm inscriptions to him. The Dikshitars resisted stating that the collection could be handed over only to the 4 great personally and to no one else. The Sivacharyas had attained Mukhti nearly 400 years ago! The Raja was wise. He got idols of the Shivacharyas made, performed the poojas as per the Shivagamas Temple editct of dos and donts of Lord Shiva and His Parivaramuthis and brought them to Chidambaram. The Raja insisted that the as the "Avaahanam" was performed on the idols as per the Shivagamas, they were the Sivacharyas personified. The Dikshitars yielded. The keys of the room lying locked for about 4 centuries were given to the Maharaja.
When the Raja opened the doors, the sight brought tears from his eyes. The palm inscriptions were buried under anthills. The Raja almost gave up as he was convinced that nothing could be retrieved. He closed his eyes and called out to Nataraja (the dancing form of Lord Shiva) of Chidambaram. Then came a celestial consolation - a divine voice was heard stating that the hymns which were relevant for Kali Yuga were intact. The Raja was overjoyed. He organized to collect all the palm leaves and gave the enviable task of compilation to Nambi Aandar Nambi. It was a stupendous task by any standard. Nambi Aandar Nambi carefully worked on each palm leaf and retrieved thousands of them. He sorted and classified the hymns into 11 volumes. Each volume is called a "Thirumurai". The first seven Thirumurais are known as Thevarams. This literally means, "garland of honey" symbolizing the sweetness of the language. It also means "hymns on the supreme power".
About 200 years later, (12th Century AD), the Chozha (Chola) Kingdom was ruled by the Anabaya Kulothunga Chola. Anabaya was credited with glory of tiling the roof of the sanctum of Chidmbaram Temple with gold. He is known as "Pon Veynda Chozhan" in Tamil and as "Hiranya Garbha Chakravarthi" in Sanskrit. Both mean "The Emperaor who tiled the roof of the sanctum with gold!". [It should be noted that the work on the Gold tiling started right from the period of Paranthaka Chozha through Raja Raja and Rajendra Chozha. However, the completion of the Golden Roof was during the period of Anabhaya. During his reign, Sri Sekkizhaar Peruman composed the immortal "Thiru Thondar Puranam" (Popularly known as "Periya Puranam"). "Periya Puranam" literally means "The Great Epic". This depicts the life and times of the 63 Great Shiva Bhaktas or the Servitors whose selfless services to Lord in spreading His Glories among the masses had re-rewritten the history of Hinduism. They are called "Nayanmars". "Periya Puranam" (Great Epic) was added later as Twelfth Thirumurai.
Hindus and the Devotees of Lord Shiva in particular, owe a lot to Raja Raja Chola - the Great Emperor and staunch Shivaite, but for whom we would have lost a great treasure. Apart from its divinity, the hymns are of great literary value. This collection is also known as the Tamizh Vedam (Tamil Veda). They were composed by the Great Servitors of God for the welfare of the Universe. Chanting, singing of the verses from the Thirumurais will deliver us from the sins of several Janmas (births). There is nothing that cannot be achieved by singing "Thirumurais".