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Why tortoise placed in between Nandi and Lord Shiva?

Tortoise in Shiva Temples has a symbolic significance to inspire the devotees in their spiritual practice.

It is said that some of the cursed but virtuous souls from the Bhuvalok (Nether region) are reborn on the earth as tortoises. Tortoise is next to the cow (amongst the non-human living beings) in possessing the ability to attract larger amount of sattvik waves from the atmosphere. Hence, the tortoise is more sattvik when compared with other living beings.

Also, When Tortoise hatches its eggs, they don't sit over their eggs to hatch, instead they constantly look at them, and hence it is kept facing lord shiva which signifies that one should concentrate while praying the god. It also significies that one should concentrate on darshan .

Nandi symbolizes the Aasan, which means to be firmly seated in ones place and posture. The aasan helps to still the body. Nandi gazes up at the murti (face, idol) of Lord Shiva. the mind is still, we have to withdraw our senses, which are forever craving for objects of pleasure in the external world and direct them inwards. The process of withdrawing senses from the temporal world is signified by the murti of the tortoise, placed ahead of the murti of Nandi. Just as a tortoise withdraws all its limbs within its shell, we should also withdraw our senses from objects of sensual pleasure.

Therefore first step is concentration (dhyaan ) which is symbolized by nandi . Then we have to withdraw our senses from the external worlds which is symbolized by Tortoise. Then with our struggle we reach to mahadev .

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