Vishnu and Shiva temples

This post may add to Aadisht’s contention of Shaivism being superior to Vaishnavism. Earlier this month I’d gone with family to this place called Avani, some 100 km east of Bangalore. The main centre of attraction there was this 10th century Shiva temple that had been built by the Gangas.

As we got off the car, I was pleased to see the signage of the Archaeological Society of India. I’m in general not a big fan of temples. I find them to be overwhelmed with “devotees”, and way too noisy, and more importantly for some reason I’m not allowed to use my camera inside temples. So I was pleased that this being an ASI temple there won’t be any worship in there and so I can take pictures peacefully.

As we entered, though, I saw a number of priestly figures standing around the entrance, and one of them shouted “no photo in temple, no photo in temple” (i was in bermudas and a t-shirt, and wearing a backpack and camera bag so looked foreign types). I just nodded and went on. And then another priest accompanied us, and performed the pooja to the idol.

The temple at Avani is that of Ramalingeshwara, a version of Shiva. Now, the studness with Shiva temples is that the idol is extremely simple. It’s just a penis. And it’s not hard to make, and more importantly it’s hard to break, since it’s monolithic, and usually without any portions that can easily break off. Contrast this with Vishnu temples, where the idols are of actual human figures, with arms and legs and ears and noses and fingers – all made of relatively thin pieces of stone, which makes it easier to break.

So think of yourself as an invader who for some reason wants to defile a temple by destroying its idols. The very nature of idols in a Vishnu temple makes your job simple. All you need is to give one strong hit which will break off a nose or a toe or a finger – not much damage, but enough to defile the temple and render it useless for the purpose of worship. But get to a Shiva temple, and you see one large penis-shaped stone in there, and you realize it’s not worth your patience to try break it down. So you just loot the vaults and go your way.

And hence, due to the nature of the idols in these temples, Shiva temples are more resilient to invasion and natural disaster compared to Vishnu temples. Aadisht, you can be happy.

14 thoughts on “Vishnu and Shiva temples”

  1. Actually, I think the shiva linga inspired especial righteous indignance from the Muslim invaders (due to its shape), since it seemed like a particularly disgusting form of idolatry. I sure remember reading this somewhere reasonably reliable, although I can’t remember where now.

    1. that sounds likely. but i’ve seen more active ASI shiva temples (one) than ASI vishnu temples (zero) so i stick to my stand about breakability

  2. Extending you logic, Islam is the more resilient religion – since there is no idol to even destroy!

    1. probably that’s why they decided to not have idols – so that there is nothing that kaffirs have to defame their holy religion

  3. I’m not sure a broken idol is enough to render the temple a useless place of worship. I thought I saw active temples with partially broken idols.

  4. The only problem is if one reads history, them muslim invaders stopped at hyderabad. They hardly came past that and thats where all the god damn awesome vishnu temples are and they were saved, pretty much 😛

  5. Slightly off tangent .. But I think the shivalinga is a personification of coitus. The base of the shivalinga is the yoNi or vagina. Parvati’s in this case.

    1. off tangenta? That means totally missing the point!! I guess your comment is tangential 😛

      yeah, I agree that the shivalinga is coitus. I guess it’s the MCP in me that decides to ignore the yoNi bit when describing the shivalinga and just describes it as a penis.

      1. I meant off tangent to the comments above! 😛
        In any case, the MCP in you can forget about the yoNi bit for a while now!!!

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