The SAT temple is a Siva temple consecrated to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. To understand the teachings, meditation, and worship here, it is best to experience them.
Just as a wise sage may appear plain and simple outwardly, yet be full of spiritual splendor and magnificent perfection inwardly, so it is with the SAT temple.
Driving along the path toward the eastern entrance, under the canopy of which one’s shoes may be removed, the exterior appearance of the temple is plain and simple, yet what is wonderful awaits within.
This entrance opens to the Lotus room. The walls of the lotus room and adjacent hallway are adorned with photographs of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, pictures of Siva in various forms, and an old photograph of Arunachala. The large, colorful mural shows the wise sage Vasishtha (vasiṣṭhā) enlightening Rama (rāma), in the company of numerous holy sages and others, as described in the Yoga Vasishtha (vāsiṣṭha).
Across the Lotus room and to the left is the Sadisvara Mandiram (sadīśvara mandiram).
Walking along in the clockwise direction one comes to stand in front of the Mandiram.
The first sacred symbol encountered is the place of offering, the sacrifice of the ego, called the Balipitham; balipīṭham.
Directly in line with the balipīṭham, in the form of a bull, the mount of Siva, is Nandi (Nandikesvara); nandikeśvara. The representation of steady, firm, unswerving devotion, nothing obstructs his view of Siva in the form of the sivaliṅgam, as, by the power of devotion, nothing can stand between the devotee or oneself and God or the Self.
To the left of Nandi, upon the first tier of the mandiram, is Ganapati (Ganesha); gaṇapati gaṇeśa mahagaṇapati vighneśvara vināyaka.
The power of spiritual knowledge that removes all obstacles, with his elephant goad in his outer right hand and the noose in his outer left hand, he impels, directs, and guides the mind to free it of the inertia (tamas) of ignorance and captures, retains, and guides the mind to free it of the agitation (rajas) of delusion. This knowledge manifests the scriptures, of which, with his own tusk as a stylus held in his inner right hand, he performed the scribal accomplishment, and he, himself, Knowledge, itself, enjoys its own sweet bliss held in his remaining hand. The shrew, which is his mount, may be understood to represent the mind. For more details concerning gaṇeśa, see Advaita Devatam.
To the right of Nandi, upon the first tier of the mandiram is Subrahmanya (Skanda); subrahmaṇya skanda, the form of heroic wisdom that manifests as valiant Self-inquiry in those who intensely pursue the Realization of Brahman.
In his upper right hand, he holds the traditional representation of his vel, or śakti (spear), symbol of the power of jñāna, spiritual knowledge, and the same all-conquering power of knowledge, in a more explicit depiction, is nestled in his arms. His lower right hand displays the gesture of fearlessness, abhaya mudrā, for true knowledge destroys illusory duality, the cause of fear, and thus grants freedom and peace. His upper left hand holds a vajra, the thunderbolt, displaying the immense, illuminative power of this wisdom, and his lower left hand is in the pose indicating firmness and steadiness. His peacock, said in Skanda Purana (Skanda purāṇam) to dance to the sound of thunder and to be a natural enemy of snakes, may be understood to be the experience that accords with this wisdom and destroys the passions of ignorance. For more details concerning subrahmaṇya , see Advaita Devatam.
Next to and to the right of the sivaliṅgam, upon the upper tier of the mandiram, stands Sivakami (Devi, Sivakamasundari); sivakāmi sivakāmasundarī devī.
She is the one solitary power or energy in all, wedded inseparably in complete, difference-less union with Siva. She is symbolically set slightly aside to enable the meditating worshiper to discern Siva, the second-less, uncreated Reality of the Self, just as it is. As Siva, indicated by the lingam, is nirguṇa Brahman (attributeless Brahman), she may be regarded as saguṇa (with attributes) Brahman. Brahman is in common and is their only existence. For the deluded, she appears as maya (illusion), and, for the wise, she is the “all” in “All this is only Brahman,” while Siva is signified in “Brahman alone is.” He is absolute Being, and she is all the manifestation of That. He is Consciousness (cit), and she is knowledge (vidyā). He is Bliss (ānanda), and she is experience.
In the center is Sri Sadisvara Sivalingam; śrī sadīśvara śivaliṅgam, signifying the absolute, infinite, eternal Reality, Siva.
Situated on the first tier, to right of the mūrti-s, is Citragupta; citragupta, Yama’s (death’s) accountant, who records all that is done, meritorious or otherwise, with the activities of the body, speech, and mind. Gupta means hidden or secret, and citra may be interpreted as wondrously conspicuous. Thus, he may be understood to correlate to the devotee’s conscience, a reminder of the necessity of consistent virtue, as well as to the manifestation of the results of those actions (karma), liberation from which is to be attained by Self-Knowledge.
On the seven columns in the sadīśvara mandiram are depictions of forms of Siva and legends that pertain to him, as described in Siva Puranam (śiva purāṇam) and other scriptures.
On the column to the immediate left of the sivaliṅgam is Dakshinamurti; dakśiṇāmūrti, seated underneath the banyan tree, revealing the Truth of Brahman in silence to the four rishi disciples - sanandana, santkumāra, sanatsujāta, sanaka.
The next column to the left, which one passes while performing pradakśiṇā (clockwise circumambulation while keeping the object of veneration to one’s right), displays the Lingodbhava; liṅgodbhava and shows Brahma and Vishnu unable to reach the end, the top or bottom, of the illimitable, immeasurable Siva.
The next column depicts Siva saving all from the poison churned by the devas and asuras in their faulty attempt to produce nectar using the mandara mountain as a rod and vāsuki as a rope.
For more explanation of these, see Advaita Devatam.
The next column displays Siva as the destroyer of the tripura-s; tripura, which may be understood to be any of the triads, including the three states of mind, with a single arrow.
The next column shows Siva saving the devoted Markandeya; mārkaṇdeya from Yama; yama (death).
The next column depicts Ardhanarisvara; ardhanārīśvara, the indivisible one in whom difference, such as between Siva and Sakti, cannot be distinguished.
The final column displays Nataraja; naṭarāja, the Lord dancing in transcendent space.
The perimeter walls of the sadīśvara mandiram contain stone carvings and pictures that, for the most part, pertain to the spiritual lineage (guru parampara) of the SAT Temple.
On the perimeter wall are stone carvings that depict the life of Adi Sankaracarya; śaṅkara ādi śaṅkarācārya and Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
On the top row, are seven stone carvings that show scenes of the sublime, sacred life of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The first depicts his Self-Realization (or death experience as he also referred to it). The second shows his arrival at Arunachala; aruṇācala. The third is Sri Ramana in the Patala-lingam; pātāla liṅga cellar in the temple. Then follows Sri Ramana in Virupaksha; virūpākṣa cave. The next is the Maharshi at Skandasramam; skandāśramam. The sixth is Sri Bhagavan in the Old Hall. The Nirvana; nirvāṇa room is the final stone.
On the bottom row are seven stone carvings that depict the glorious, spiritual life of Adi Sankaracarya; ādi śaṅkarācarya. The first depicts, when grasped by the crocodile of transience of the bodily form in the river of the cycle of birth-and-death, Sri Sankara renouncing samsara, as his mother stands on the shore. In the second, Sri Sankara meets his Guru, Sri Govindapada; govindapāda. The third depicts Sri Sankara writing his holy texts, commentaries, and verses and bestowing spiritual instruction, accompanied by four of his disciples, padmapāda, toṭaka, sureśvara, hastāmalaka. In the fourth, Sri Sankara is appreciated and blessed by Sri Vyasa Maharshi; vyāsa. The fifth depicts the digvijayam; digvijaya, in which the sacred teaching spread far and wide, in which the Truth is revealed beyond the bounds of time and space. In the sixth, Sri Sankara abides absorbed in Kailasa; kailāsa, the abode of Siva. The seventh depicts final absorption at Kanchi; kāñcī.