Pilgrimage to the Self Manifested Lingams of Shiva’s Light

Pilgrimage to the Self Manifested Lingams of Shiva’s Light

The Advent of Shivaratri and the 12 Jotirlingams

By Swami Ayyappa Giri

First Published on Shivaratri, The Night of Shiva, 4 March 2019

The Rameshwaram Jotirlingam next to the sea by “Rama’s bridge”, is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in India.

This is the story of the 12 most miraculous temples in the world.  They have long been revered as astral portals that draw devotees from afar, to worship both manifest and un-manifest consciousness through earthen pillars (stambha) of light.  Yes, earthen light. Although formed of earth and stone, they represent the condensed omnipotent power of the universe itself, and are most certainly experienced as columns of light by many.  If one looks into the lingam, rather than at the lingam, the mystical joy is triggered; that capacity arrives only when the heart of the devotee has opened. It is a cosmic law that one must be profoundly spiritual to see the profoundly spiritual. 

These 12 lingams vary in size, but nearly all are cylindrical, and most are smooth black stone typically rounded at the top.  Looking at the lingam from above, one can see that they are circular, and like the rings of the betrothed, whose round structure represents eternity itself, the lingam is very completely that. But there is more to the lingam than a symbol of transcending time and space.

The lingam is uniquely and intimately associated with Shiva, the strong, compassionate, eternally meditating, majestic, masculine divinity who is the great revealer of the secrets of both Yoga and Tantra.  The Puranas remind us that Shiva is joyful, as he sits in lotus pose, surrounded by the assembled Devas, who, also in ecstasy, offer prayers. For He, indeed, is the primordial Being, the seed of the universe. Just thinking of him dispels fear.[1]

The lingam is Shiva’s alone.  There are more than 2 million temples in the sacred land of India, yet not one other Deity is represented by the lingam. Only Shiva.

At its most fundamental level, the Shiva Lingam is the great symbol, or sign, of the creative male cosmic power, just as the yoni is the symbol of the creative female cosmic power.  In most Shiva temples, the two are conjoined together.  It is the polarity of male-female in concert that brings things into manifestation.  In the early Upanishads, the word lingam is used in that context, a sign or symbol.  The 2nd century BCE Bhita linga in the Lucknow museum is a realistic depiction of human phallus, as are many lingams from ancient times that have survived the Muslim incursions.

In the lower planes, and especially the physical plane, that creative power takes on the meaning of sexual prowess.  Shiva has the power to create, thus his lingam is the sign of that power.  Those who deny the lingam as a symbol related to procreation need only visit the oldest continuously worshipped Shiva Linga in the world, the Gudimallam Lingam, which is roughly 2000 years old, and shaped anthropomorphically exactly like a phallus, with a beautiful motif of carvings on its face. This unabashed direct connection to the primal energy is something that all tantrics and yogis should be proud of. 

God brings us lessons in strange ways.  Understanding our own limitations, such as jealousy, is an important step in advancing in spiritual life.  The Shiva Purana relates a story of Lord Shiva, who visited a sage community at the Daruvanam forest (a sacred region in the Himalayas). He removed his tiger skin, trisula, and other items, that would identify his as Lord Shiva. Perhaps he even changed his form a bit.  His naked body was adorned merely with holy ash, as is customary for sadhus at the famous Kumbha Mela, even today.  The disguised Shiva walked comfortably into the forest community of Sages, clad only in sky, bearing a broad disarming smile, eyes twinkling with love and the cumulative effects of his awesome sadhana. Seeing Shiva first, the wives felt a mixture of fear, excitement, and surprise, but could not resist approaching him. Some, overcome by his magnetism and extraordinary charisma, literally embraced him, while others held his hand. Soon, the wives were struggling with one another in their clamor to be closer or even touch him. 

The Sages were nearby, beyond sight, and yet, approaching.  Their words had power, due to their strong sadhana, which on its own, bestows energy and power, Shakti.  Even a Sage, however can be influenced by Mahamaya.

As they rounded a turn in the forest, they saw this naked sadhu with their wives, not recognizing him to be Lord Shiva.  Immediately, instinctually, they were overcome with jealousy, which was soon followed by rage. “This is an abomination”, they yelled, and in a few moments of uncontrolled anger, they sent curses to this unknown sadhu, curses that his penis would fall from his body.  The lingam fell instantly, but it began to burn everything in touched.  The universe itself became unsteady. Beings in all the worlds became distressed. The Sages themselves became grief-stricken. All peace and joy disappeared.

Not knowing what to do, the Sages prayed to Brahma, who manifested before them.  Brahma, in his wisdom, realized that Maya, the cosmic illusion, had deluded the Sages.  He turned to Shiva, and with humility, bowed. 

He then instructed the Sages. “Although you are wise, your behavior was reprehensible.  Why do you complain about those who are fools, and yet you act in similar ways?” 

“As long as Shiva’s lingam does not become stationary”, he continued, “there cannot be anything good in the three worlds. I am telling you the truth. Let the Deities and the Sages propitiate Goddess Parvati.  Pray for her to assume the form of the yoni for that lingam, and all things, will become steady.”  He then shared with them a specific yantra with mantra for this purpose and to win the Grace of Parvati. (These techniques are to be learned from one who is qualified).

Because of the sadhana, both Shiva and Parvati were delighted and the lingam was held and contained by the Yoni of the cosmic Mother. Stability returned, and the welfare of all people was renewed.  Sadhus and sages everywhere plunged again into their sadhana, many achieving even deeper levels of bliss.

The story teaches us many important points. The first is the importance of overcoming the limitations of jealousy and anger.  It also teaches us that visualizing the cosmic male and female in harmony is a useful means of finding inner harmony in ourselves.  Without this balanced matrix of spirituality in universal law, life would descend into chaos.  In nearly every Shiva temple, the Lingam is either attached to, or inset in, a corresponding Yoni.

The awesome Shiva temple of Light and Fire, Thiruvanamalai. The mountain behind the temple is where tradition tells us the original contest occurred between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu.

Lingam of Light

The origins of Shiva Lingam worship are said to have occurred on Arunachala mountain, Tamil Nadu, made famous by the Fire Element Shiva Temple of Thiruvanamalai, which today stands majestically at its base.  The Siddha Nandi Devar narrates the story of Shiva’s miraculous manifestation of an eternal column of light, as recorded in the Puranas.[2]  It goes like this. 

Brahma arrived at the sacred Aruna Mountain and Vishnu was having a nap.  When Vishnu failed to stand, Brahma exploded with anger. Brahma insisted that Vishnu stand or at least sit in his presence.  Vishnu then exclaimed that, after all, Brahma was born of his navel.  Both claimed to be the father of the other.  A tremendous argument ensued. Some texts suggest that it went much further than an argument, escalating to an actual battle where some of their attendants were injured, or even slain.  It was such a spectacle, that all the Devas hovered above the fray, wondering what would happen next. They talked among themselves, as people do in times of warring monarchs.  Realizing that things had gone too far, the Devas sought the aid of Shiva.  Finding him in meditation, they requested his help.  After some time, he spoke, “O ye Davas, the fight between Brahma and Vishnu is already known to me. This agitation on your part is but redundant speech.”  Meanwhile, as Brahma and Vishnu battled, the great weapons they used emitted both fire and flame that threatened many souls.

Suddenly, when the fight reached a climax, a column of light and fire appeared in their midst, going deep in the ground and so high in the air, that no one present could see its end.  All the weapons on the field of battle were pulled into that mysterious pillar of light and fire.  Complete silence followed.  “What manner of weapon could this be?”, they thought.  The pillar was so beautiful and alluring, yet so massively powerful, that it seemed to shift emotional gears for all involved.  Vishnu and Brahma, rather than continue the conflict, decided to investigate the great column.  Brahma, in the form of a swan, flew towards its awesome heights. Vishnu assuming his Boar Avatar, burrowed deep into the earth.

Eons past, and Vishnu returned to the former battle-ground.  He was exhausted and frustrated at his lack of success, as he could not reach the end of the column from below.

Brahma too, journeyed for eons.  Reaching the point of exhaustion, he was surprised by a falling Ketaki flower.  When Brahma asked the soul of the flower how he came to fall, the little flower replied that he had been at the top of the column, and that he had fallen for many ages. The top was so distant, he said, that reaching it would be impossible.  Brahma then conceived a plan, and enlisted the aid of the Ketaki flower.  “Come with me”, he said, “and when we reach the battle-ground, please tell Vishnu that you are the witness that it was I, Brahman, who reached the very top of the column, and that I have brought you back to bear witness.”

When Brahma and the Ketaki flower returned to the battleground,  Vishnu was steaming, which delighted the mischievous Brahma. When Brahma announced that he had reached the top, and that the little flower was his witness, the spirit of the flower confirmed his story.

Shiva then emerged from the column of fire and light, assuming his Yogic form.  He turned to both Brahma and the Ketaki flower, and chastised them both for their trickery.  He told both Brahma and Ketaki flower, that, because of their lie, the Ketaki was banned from being offered to the lingam, and as for Brahma, he will not be worshipped in his own dedicated temples hereafter. Initially, Shiva took a hard line, but ultimately he forgave them, and even blessed them all. 

Thus blessing Brahma and Vishnu who learned a deeper humility, the Lord resuscitated all the attendants of the two deities that had been killed in the battle and purified their spirits from the carnage.

Shiva then spoke, “On this day, the day of Shivaratri, I manifested myself in the form of a column of fire…Hereafter, worship of me on the one night of Shivaratri will have the same effect as continuous worship or meditation on me for an entire year.” 

He continued, “I have two forms: the manifest and the un-manifest. No other Deity”, he reminded them, “has these two forms… First in the form of the column, and afterwards, in this embodied form, which you see before you. Thus, I have expounded to you my formless Brahma-hood, and embodied Isa-hood, For I am the supreme Brahman.

Lingam of the Vedas

All traditions of Shaivism worship the Shiva Linga, and nearly all of them consider themselves Vedic.  They are Vedic traditions because they align themselves with most of the principles of faith expressed in the Vedas, not because the authors of the Vedas particularly supported devotion to Shivas sign or symbol of Shiva, the Lingam. The authors of the early Vedas were not great Shiva devotees.  That is because Shiva and worship of the lingam were likely outside the Vedic fold at the time and because Shiva and the lingam were Pracheena, the “one who was there before”.  Truth, and the spiritual path toward it, is forever evolving.  The lingam and yoni symbols have been found in Indus Valley Civilization, as well as lingam and yoni artifacts of even more ancient peoples, the adivasis.  The Vedic peoples eventually embraced Shiva and the Shiva Lingam.  My guru would say, “absorb what is good, and leave the rest.”  That is exactly what both the Vedic and non-Vedic Sages and Siddhas did. Fools build walls and remain in ignorance; the wise learn from each other.

12 Jotirlingams

The Puranas[3] describe the 12 incarnations of Shiva Mahadev in the form of Jyotirlingas.  I have had the unbelievable privilege of darshan of them all, many multiple times, and so write this article in order to share what I have experienced and learned on the subject.  For those who have the means for such a pilgrimage, or perhaps multiple pilgrimages, be assured that it is the opportunity of many lifetimes and worth every effort to achieve, as it certainly changed my life forever, and I know without a shadow of a doubt, that it will change yours as well.  The sacred Shiva Purana identifies these 12 temples in the following order, but a pilgrim can visit any Shiva temple in any order.

(1) Somnath

The Somanth Jotirlingam is located on a majestic outcrop of the beautiful Gujarati coastline. The Shiva Purana tells us that the very sight of this temple and its location frees a devotee from accumulated karma. The attainment of both worldly pleasures and salvation is achieved through the Grace of Shiva.  Somnath means “Lord of the Moon”, an epithet of Shiva. The Somnath site lies at the confluence of three rivers (triveni sangam), an element that gives it paramount sanctity.

Legend of Somnath

The Skanda Purana reveals how this great Jotirlingam came into existence. The moon God, Chandra, was married to the 27 daughters of Prajapati[4].  However, he allowed preferential treatment, and had a very special love for his wife, Rohini.  Because he did not treat all fairly, the moon lost his luster, which took away the beauty, pleasure, and excitement from all people.   Deeply disturbed, Chandra and Rohini decided to worship Shiva in order to gain back the luster that all souls had so long enjoyed.  Pleased by the heartfelt devotion of Chandra, Shiva manifested to them and renewed Chandra’s light. Once again he was radiant and shone in all his glory.  In seeing this, Brahma laid the foundation for a Jotirlingam at that very sight, and when requested by the Devas, Shiva agreed to manifest as eternal power of light and fire.  Soma means moon. Because Shiva returned the light to the moon, this Shiva Lingam became known as Somnath.  The Skanda Purana describes the Linga of Somnath as one that is as bright as the sun, the size of an egg, and lodged underground. The Mahabharata also refers to this event of Chandra worshipping Shiva and the advent of the Jotirlingam.

History of Somnath

It is not clear what temple or temples preexisted the one known to be present from the early middle ages, however, the sanctity of the adjacent three rivers stretches far back into time.  It is often found in archeology that a town is built upon yet another town. For example, as many as 13 iterations of the great citadel of Troy were excavated before revealing the famous Homeric Troy.  Through all those excavations, untold numbers of professional archeologists consistently doubted that the Homeric Troy could be found, or even existed.  And yet it was, and did.  Like this, we must always take estimates of the age of these amazing Jotirlingams with a grain of salt.  It is somewhat the job of archeologists to be skeptical, so let us give them their due.  As a Swami, I am not obligated to be skeptical.  I am always open to the antiquity of the great temples. 

When the priest at Madurai revealed to me that the ancient temple of the queen of Madurai, Meenakshi, was more than 2500 years old, I remained open minded.  Later, I discovered that a Greek diplomat, Megasthenes, visited Madurai around 305 BCE, and recorded his experiences of the Pandyan capital, which he described as a vibrant city.  The city had a Queen named Pandiala, who, in the writings of Megasthenes, was thought to be a daughter of Shiva.  Like a Vedantist, Megasthenes seems to have identified Shiva in his visit to both north and south India, as synonymous with the Greek God Heracles.  Is this Pandyan Queen Pandiala actually Queen Meenakshi?  Certainly, I think so, but fortunately I do not have to defend my view in a group of archeologists.

The vibrations at the site of Somnath and other Jotirlingams change the consciousness. The energy will be there for thousands of years. So when such a temple is destroyed or collapses with age, a new temple is built upon its foundations.  The current temple is thought to have been built over the ruins of the earlier temple at the same site by the Yadava Kings of the Vallabhi Kingdom around 650 CE. That temple was destroyed in 725 CE, presumably by Al-Junayd, the Arab governor of Sindh.  In 815 CE, a third temple was constructed.  In 1024, during the reign of Bhima I, the prominent Turkic ruler Mahmud of Ghazni raided Gujarat, plundering Somnath temple and damaged its Jotirlingam.  Whatever damage was done, it must have been repaired or replaced, as there are records of pilgrimages to the temple again by 1038 CE, with no reported damage.

Somnath is considered by etic scholars as one of the oldest Jotirlingams, and was most certainly popular in the Middle ages, frequented by wandering Pasupathi Shaivites, warriors, and Kings.

Visiting the beautiful and sacred Somnath on a non-festival day offers a grand sense of space.

Temple of Somnath

I have had the grace of darshan at this temple several times.  When I arrived at this temple for the first time, and experienced its grand open courtyard, and felt the saltiness of the sea breeze upon my skin, and I was blown away by the sheer feeling of space and the temples’ symbiotic relationship with the ocean.  Gazing out on the Arabian sea, I thought of the Indus Valley boats which plied up and down the coastline, taking goods to ancient Mesopotamia, and most likely, to small kingdoms to the south. I thought of the trading vessels of the early middle ages, which left the nearby harbor, taking their products to far away destinations.  I even visualized the legendary golden age of Krishna, and the possibilities of a now submerged nearby land of ancient Dwarka, when Krishna and Shiva too, were loved and worshipped. I remember breathing deeply, sitting down behind the temple, by an elevated platform (mandipam), which looked like the foundation of an ancient building.  There I practiced Kriya Kundalini Pranayam and Bhairavi Breath of Ecstasy, and enjoyed a long and marvelous meditation. Later, I learned that the platform against which I rested, had been a powerful shakti peeth, destroyed in some bygone era.

I revisited Somnath just a few years ago.  The current reconstruction and conservation of the surfaces has been going on at an impressive pace, given that it is all custom work.  It is most certainly one of the most beautiful temples in India.  Eclipsing its beauty, however, is the power of the shakti that envelops the very space in which it resides.  I hope that all who read this find their way to that sacred place.

(2) Sri Srisailam

Shiva resides in this great Jotirlingam as Mallikarjuna, his second incarnation, and is the one who bestows every desire on devotees. The Shiva Purana states that “Through its mere sight, salvation at the end of ones life is not in doubt.”

Legend of Mallikarjuna

My Guru used to tell a story about this sacred temple and how it got its name.  It seems that there was once a princess from the Chandra Gupta dynasty[5], who, feeling Shiva’s pull, went into the Sri Sailam forests to do sadhana, and was helped by tribal adivasis, who showed her how to live on fruits and cow’s milk, but alas, one day, the cow began producing very little milk. Very early the next morning, she followed the cow to a secluded forest lingam which was surrounded by jasmine (mallige) creepers.  To her astonishment, she saw the cow hover over the lingam and release its milk.  Several times she witnessed the same event.  Then, in her sleep, Shiva appeared in her dream.  He asked her to build a temple at the spot, and following his request, the temple was constructed. Since the Lingam was surrounded in mallige creepers, this aspect of Shiva became known as Mallikarjuna.

The temple is known for accepting all castes for puja. Here is a beautiful story which sheds light on the origins of that forward thinking policy.

Lord Shiva was walking through the Srisailam forest, and met a beautiful girl of the Chenchu tribe.  Recognizing her as a form of Parvati, he immediately fell in love with her, and stayed with her in the forest.  Unfortunately, tribal peoples are not always welcome in some temples, but not here at Sri Sailam.  In memory of this ancient tradition, people of the forest dwelling Chenchu tribe are welcome in the sanctum sanctorum to perform puja.  Even on the most holy night of Shivaratri, they perform abhishek (milk bath) of the Jotirlingam.  Sri Sailam sets a most wonderful example and many temples and institutions could learn a lot from Sri Sailam in this regard, for all devotees, irrespective of caste, creed or sex, can go into the sanctum and perform abhishek and puja.  Jai Shiva Shankara !

Lord Rama himself is said to have installed the Sahasralinga, while the Pandavas installed the five lingas in the temple courtyard. 

History of Mallikarjuna

In the Mahabharata epic[6] the sacred waters of the Goddess Matanga is referenced and associated with this Jotirlingam.  The text tells us that if one takes a bath at the waters of Matanga’s Kedara, many fruits are obtained.  Matanga’s Kedara is thought to be Malikarjuna at Srisailam.  Near Sri Sailam is the Mahendra mountain.  The text states that “Proceeding next to the mountain called Mahendra… and bathing in Rama’s tirtha, a person acquires even the merit of the horse-sacrifice. Here you will find Matanga’s tirtha called Kedara, O son of the Kuru race ! Bathing in it, O foremost of the Kurus, a man gains the merit of giving away a thousand kin.”

Inscriptions imply that the temple was certainly in use from the 2nd century.  The first known temple benefactors were the Kings of the Satavahana dynasty.[7]  Much later, the monarchs of the Vijayanagara Empire[8], particularly King Harihara I, made major structural improvements. Today, the oldest temple in the complex is dated to the 7th Century.   It was a favorite pilgrimage of the celebrated 11th Century Yogini Kaula Sathguru, Macchendranath, who, acclaiming its greatness, along with Kamakya, as the most sacred pithas of all. He writes in his Kaula Jnana Nirnaya, that Bhairava Shiva himself has said, “I reside in these places, which are all associated with the miraculous powers (siddhis) of the past present, and future….All siddhis can be established in Srisaila, which relates to the sadhana shakti of power (rajas).”[9]

This Gopuram Tower, and the Mallikarjuna temple in general is being maintained well by the Temple Trust.

Temple of Mallikarjuna

Here, Shiva is called Malikarjuna Swami. As stated earlier in the text, he gets his name from the local jasmine flowers (malliki), which have always been offered to him.

Shiva’s consort here is the Goddess Bhramaramba Devi. Sri Sailam is not only a Jotirlingam.  The temple at Sri Sailam is also a Shakti Peeth.  Here, Bhramaramba Devi reigns.  In fact, this is one of the eighteen Mahapeeths.  It is at this site that the neck (greeva) of Sati is said to have fallen, when the grieving Shiva carried her body through the sky.  This is a special status of greatness, even as a Shakti Peeth.  The co-existence of Jotirlingam and a Mahasakthi Peeth in one Temple complex is unique throughout India.

As you enter through the main gait, there is a hall with many mirrors.  There, Lord Shiva and his Shakti rest in the evening. Unlike many Shiva temples, touching the Jotirlingam with devotion or placing the head upon the sacred relic is allowed. The older (vriddha) lingam can be seen to the right of the main temple.

Sri Sailam, like the Shiva temple at Somnath, was a favorite for Pasupati Sadhus in the middle ages.  There is an ancient tradition of circumambulating the temple following a puja.  Walls around the temple exterior are very tall, 28 feet (8.5 meters) . One can walk around the outside walls, and be pleasantly surprised to find that most of the stones have been engraved since very early times, giving all kinds of details of bygone yogis and swamis.  There are many images of sadhus performing austerities, and doing yoga.  Heroic legends from the epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, are sculpted in the stones on the wall structure. There is a wealth of ancient knowledge just on the carvings of the outside of the temple walls. The inside art and architecture is amazing as well.

Washing feet from a waterfall where Adi Shankara wrote the sacred 1008 names of Shiva and Shakti in 8th century.

There is a waterfall only 4 km from the temple where, in the 8th century, Adi Shankar performed intense sadhana.  There, he composed the 1008 sacred names of Shiva and Shakti (Shivanandalahari and Soundaryalahari) which are chanted by both priests and devotees today.

Ganesha and Muruga Compete for Marriage

There is a beautiful story which my Guru loved to tell about a contest between Ganesha and his brother, Muruga.  It is generally known to most Shaivites throughout India, and retold in many texts, with small variations. Although it often takes the form of the two brothers competing for a mango, the basic idea is present in all the variations. This is how it is narrated in Sri Sailam.

Shiva, Parvati, and their family lived happily on Mt Kailash.  When their two oldest sons approached maturity, Shiva and Parvati considered which of the two, Ganesha or Kartikeya, should be found a bride.  Whom should be married first?  Since each of them desired marriage, Shiva announced that the first one to go around the entire earth would be found a bride and arranged a marriage.   

Kartikeya mounted his sacred peacock with great confidence and immediately began the long journey.  Ganesha looked at Kraunja, his little mouse carrier, and realized he could never keep up with his brother.  He was always the clever one.  He thought for a moment, “Is not my father my world?” and getting on his little mouse, he simply ambled around Shiva. 

Kartikeya returned in time to see his brother win the right for an early marriage.  Upset at missing this opportunity, Kartikeya stormed away to Sri Sailam and set himself up for an extended period of brahmacharya.  Ultimately, he mastered the energy of that dharma, for which he became famous. Later, he would be betrothed to three shaktis, Icchai Shakti, the energy of desire, represented by Valli, Jnana Shakti, the energy of wisdom, represented by Devani, and Kriya Shakti, the energy of action, represented by the Vel, or spear, which his mother Parvati, is said to have pulled out of her own body in order for him to fulfill his destiny.

Shiva arranged for Ganesha to marry three Shaktis as well; the shakti of the intellect (buddhi), the shakti of mystical power (siddhi) and the shakti of prosperity (riddhi).

The story teaches us that the intellect has advantages over brash actions.  It also teaches us that embedded in the beautiful stories of the Puranas are many mystical principles of Shiva Yoga.

Saint Akka Maa did intensive tapas in a nearby cave.

Saint Akka Maa    

Akka Maa was a 12th century mystic, poet, and social reformer of the Lingayat (Veerashaiva) tradition, who lived in a cave near Sri Sailam.  She was a great devotee of Shiva, and did intense sadhana in her cave for many years.  She considered Shiva her husband, a devotional approach often referred to as the ‘madhura bhava’.  The name Akka, meaning elder sister, was an honorific used to address her specifically by great Lingayat saints of the time, such as Saint Basavanna.  Today, one can take a boat ride down the Krishna river, and visit the cave were she did sadhana.  Squeezing deep within this natural cavern, one can look into the small space where she lived and did tapasya.  She was truly a great saint.

(3) Mahakaleshwara

Mahakaleshwara Shiva resides in this ancient city of Ujjain in Madya Pradesh.  Both the temple and the city have been an important seat of learning for ages.

Legend of Mahakaleshwara

The Puranas tell us that Ujjain, in ancient times called Avantika, was one of the most important cities where sacred texts were studied. The ruler of the city was Chandrasena, a sincere devotee of Lord Shiva. When a farmer’s son, Shrikhar, heard the King chant Shiva’s mantras, he was moved to rush to the temple. The guards barred him, however, sending him outside the city by a river.  Just at that moment, another King was attacking the kingdom with intent to plunder the city. Seeing this, Shrikhar prayed to Shiva.  Shiva is said to have appeared and destroyed the attacking King and his army.  Responding to ongoing prayers of his devotees, Shiva in his Mahakala form, agreed to reside in the city and become the chief deity of the Kingdom. From that day on, Mahakala Shiva resided in the city, manifested as a Jotirlingam.

Here, Shiva manifests for the protection of his devotees. There was a demon named Dusana, who defiled sacred fires.  He held great hatred for Brahmins, Sadhus and all spiritual men and women.  At Ujjain, Shiva was being worshipped and meditated upon by spiritual priests and holy men. Dusana entered the holy space and began disrupting the practices and energy.  Shiva himself, we are told, manifested and reduced the demon to ashes merely by the vocalization of a mantra of great power.

History of Mahakaleshwara

Kalidasa, living in the 4th to 5th century CE, was a great Sanskrit poet.  He sang songs of devotion to Shiva here during the regime of Gupta King Vikramāditya.

In the 7th century CE, the Tamil Shaivite Saints refer in their songs of devotion to the Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain.

During 1234 CE as well as the following year, the temple of Mahakaleshwar was destroyed by Sultan Shasuddin iltutmish, as part of a broader raid of the city.

The present temple was rebuilt by the Maratha General Ranoji Scindia in 1734 CE.  Since then, many improvements and reconstructions have been made to the temple.

Temple of Mahakaleshwara

The temple grounds, located near a lake, are lovely.  The temple is famous for the bhasma abhishek or bath of holy ash, given to the deity in the very early morning. Registration is required to attend, which can be done on line or in person.  Like most Jotirlingams in the south, men are expected to wear dhotis, removing their upper garments, and women wear saris. The courtyard is spacious, beautiful, and surrounded by massive retaining walls.  Approaching the temple, the image Nandi, faces Shiva.  Mahakaleshwar is in the north facing south, and thus is recognized as Dakshinamurti. It is the only Jotirlingam facing south and the only temple to have a Sri Yantra perched upside down at the ceiling of the sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha).

Parvati is in the north, opposite Shiva. Ganesha is placed in the west, with Kartikeya (Muruga) across from him. The temple itself has five levels.  There is an underground sanctum as well. 

It is a well known tantric center.  A flight of steps leads down to the sanctum sanctorum which houses the Shiva lingam. Several pujas are held here during the day. The bhasma aarti or the ash ritual is the only one of its kind in the world. Traditionally, the ash with which the Shiva lingam is bathed every morning, must be obtained from a corpse that has been cremated the day before. If no cremation has taken place at Ujjain, then the ash was obtained at all costs from the nearest cremation ground. This practice ceased many decades ago. It is said that those who are fortunate to watch this ritual will never die a premature death.

The top floor of the Mahakaleshwar Temple remains closed to the public throughout the year. However, once a year, on Nag Panchami Day, the top floor with its two snake images, (which are supposed to be sources of tantric power) are made assessable to the public, who consider it literal darshan of the miracle of the Siddha Goraknath.

Here, Shiva is timeless, in fact, the root word Kal, in Mahakaleshwar, suggests time, or division of time. Everything is large here.  The temple grounds, the sanctum, and the lingam.  The fact that there are multiple levels, even the beautiful walls of the sanctum, which are covered with engraved silver plating.  The detail in silver plate around the base of the enormous yoni is impressive as well.  The priests primarily wear either ochre or red, the red reflecting their tantric roots. Like many of the lingams in Maharastra, this Shiva is decorated with a mustached face.

(4) Omkareshwar

Located on an island along the banks of the Narmada river, Omkareshwara is the fourth incarnation of Shiva and the site where Mamleshwara Shiva manifested. There are two temples here, one to Omkareshwar (whose name means “Lord of Om sound”, and one to Amareshwar, whose name means “Immortal Lord”. By reading the sloka on the dwadash Jotirlingam, we learn that Mamleshwar is the Jotirlingam, which is on the other side (south bank) of the Narmada river.  The whole area is soaked in divine vibrations. Even the priests will tell you that the two are one.

Sadhana in one of several abandoned temples of Mamleshwar. The energy remains even when the temple is no longer active.

Legend of Omkareshwara

The great Lord in Omkara is the one who bestows the desires of his devotees.  Here, at the township of Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, Lord Shiva manifested and fulfilled even the desires of the surrounding Vindhyachal mountain range, richly blessed by his presence.

The great sage, Narad Muni, on returning from Mount Meru, was praising it with such abandon, that it is said, the nearby Vindhya mountain became jealous.  The spirit of the mountain began to worship Shiva relentlessly for many months.  His prayers were deep, sincere, and directed in silence.  Months passed, and Lord Shiva, pleased, blessed the local mountain with his presence in the form of a Jotirlingam.  It drew the Devas and Maharishis too, who requested to Shiva to remain at that site for the benefit of all souls.  Shiva acquiesced to their pleas, and remained as Mamleshwar Jotirlingam. However the local mountain became prideful, and in a restless state began to grow.  The geologic changes to the mountain created problems for all who sought darshan of the Jotirlingam.  Eventually, the Siddha Agastya, living in Kashi with his wife, was summoned by Vishnu and the Devas to solve the problem. The great Siddha, with his massive sadhana shakti, successfully requested the mountain to stop growing, Agastya Siddha, with his wife Lopamudrai, migrated on to Srisailam and eventually to the Tamil region, were he established an Ashram.

History of Omkareshwara

In the medieval period, Omkareshwar Temple was ruled by the aboriginal Bhil chieftains under the larger control of the Paramara dynasty. The Paramara’s ruled west-central India between the 9th to the 14th centuries. The Bhil community are adivasis who are thought to have been in India for more than 30,000 years.

During the 12th century, The last Bhil chieftain, Natthu Bhil, fell out with Daryao Gosai, a powerful priest at the temple. When the priest approached the Raja of Jaipur to settle the matter, the Raja sent his brother, Bharatsingh Chauhan to Omkareshwar to negotiate the problem. Bharatsingh married the only daughter of Natthu Bhil around 1165 CE. Bharatsingh’s descendants have been in charge of the Omkareshwar temple ever since then, though many regional rulers have come and gone.

The Malwa Sultanate controlled the region from the late 14th century until the middle of the 16th century, followed by the Scindia of Gwalior, who seceded it to the British in 1824.

Bharatsingh along with some of Rajput associates who also married other Bhil girls settled in Mandhata in 1165 A.D. Their descendents are called Bhilalas. Bharatsingh’s descendants, now referred to as Rajputs, have administrated Omkareshwar since that time.

Near the entrance to Omkareshwara

Temple of Omkareshwara

The actual Jotirlingam on the island is the very embodiment of the sacred syllable itself. Across the river, his other half, Amareshwara, has stood witness to many centuries of devotion.  Both are majestic, beautifully ancient with their worn granite walls.  The energy one experiences from them is magnificent.

Devotees cross the Narmada by way of a boat or a suspension foot bridge to Shivpur island surrounded by two rivers, one on either side.  On the far side of the island is the sacred Kaveri river, just as with its larger namesake in the South. The stone used for the temple is soft, possibly sandstone, which would lend itself to the amazing detailed carvings.

Inside the temple, one passes through two rooms prior to the sanctum.  Parvati and Ganapati each have their own shrine.

There is a VIP gate to allow devotees to pour water on the Shivalinga. What a blessing! 

Below the sanctum, there is another floor, with a terrace, where many Shivalingas can be worshipped.   There are many very old temples, both Hindu and Jain, on the island, and one could quite easily spend a week seeing amazing things and meeting interesting people.

The island is dotted with caves, often populated with chillim smoking sadhus. In one of these caves, Adi Shankara met his Guru, Govindapada.  The actual cave is just below the Shiva Temple, were an image of Adi Shankara has been installed.  A perfect location to do our Kriya practice!

Swami Jotirlingam Giri meditates at Mamaleshwara Temple

Temple of Amareshwara also known as Mamaleshwara

Not to be missed is the Amareshwara temple, across the river.  In some ways, it is a much better location to do sadhana, as the Omkareshwara temple often becomes way too crowded, and Amareshwara is rarely so.  I have enjoyed mantra sadhana there for hours.  For practicing yogis, it is a major highlight.

With the Holy Temple of Kedarnath behind us, and Shivas Grace above, our Pilgrimage Kula takes a few moments to reflect on the incredible energy and love felt by all.

 (5) Kedarnath            

The holy shrine of Kedarnath in the Himalaya is the fifth great incarnation of Shiva.  Here, he bestows the desires of his devotees.  Although he is the Supreme Lord of all, he has a particular presence in the vast Himalayas and at his sacred temple. Kedarnath is a small, high elevation valley, at 11,755 feet. The temple features the highest elevation of any major Himalayan temple.  The nearby Chorabari Glacier forms the starting point of the Mandakini River, which ultimately releases its waters into the Ganges.

The name Nath means Lord, and Kedara means field, thus the temple is situated in the “Field of the Lord”.  Here, Shiva is known as Kedareshwara.  Here, grows the crop of soul liberation.[10]

Legend of Kedarnath

When Sita Devi perished, her soul was reborn as Parvati, and her yearning for Shiva was as strong as the gravity of the earth toward the sun itself.  Parvati began intensive sadhana to win Shiva’s grace at a site called Gauri Kund. It was here that she won his love and, in due course, they were married at a the nearby Vishnu temple, Triyugi Narayan.  The hot springs offered Parvati an ideal location for a daily bath.  Today, tired pilgrims can enjoy a bath at those springs. 

The Mahabharata[11] describes a great war in which the Pandava Brothers, while performing their duty, nevertheless killed some of their own relatives.  To assuage their guilt, they undertook a pilgrimage to Lord Shiva at Kashi. He avoided them, but they following him, and they caught sight of Shiva at Haridwar, but, again, he eluded them at Guptakashi.

They prayed intently to Shiva, saying that only after they receive his darshan, will their guilt subside.  They stated to Shiva that, as he has hidden himself from them at Guptakashi (Rudraprayag) surely hereafter it will become a famous shrine.  There words had the ring of truth and today, it is the most famous prayag in all the Himalaya.

The Pandavas continued until they reached Gaurikund, where they continued searching for Shankara.  After many mystical experiences, A Jotirlingam appeared to all of them and Lord Shankara emerged from its light. Shiva absolved the Pandavas from all guilt, and promised them that in the future, he would remain in the form of that triangular shaped Jotirlingam.  “By receiving darshan at my Kedarnath shrine”, Shiva said, “devotees will attain piety.”  The temple was, in due course, built around the rock, and today, that same triangular shaped lingam is worshipped in the temple sanctum.  According to legend, the Pandavas constructed the first structure at Kedarnath.

In the nearby village of Badrika, Narayana requested Shiva to remain at the snow clad Kedarnath. Shiva agreed to remain and is known as Kedareshwara today.

History of Kedarnath

The 6th and 7th century Nayanar saints of south India extoled the greatness of Kedarnath in devotional songs.

The Skanda Purana of the 7th century, identifies Kedarnath as the location where Shiva released the sacred waters from his matted hair.                          

Adi Shankara was an 8th century Hindu philosopher from the current state of Kerala.  Shankara is celebrated for reorganizing the Swami order and advancing the Advaita Vedanta Philosophy, a tradition which features the unity of atman and nirguna Brahman. Adi Shankara visited Kedarnath and revived the site, along with the temple of Badrinath and other temples of Uttarakhand, and entered into samadhi just behind the Kedarnath temple, near where our small pilgrimage group did our daily Kriya following the puja.

Raja Bhoj of Malwa, is generally given credit for building, or perhaps, rebuilding the temple in the late 11th century.

The Pilgrimage Today

There is a popular pilgrimage to the temples which lie at the source of the four great rivers of the Indian Himalayas.  Referred to as the Char Dham, the pilgrimage follows the Yamuna, Ganges, Mandakini, and Alakananda rivers to their respective sources.  I have completed it on several occasions.  At the source of the Yamuna, is the celebrated Himalayan Shakti temple of Yamunotri.  Following the Ganges to its source leads, of course, to Gangotri.  The Mandakini takes the pilgrim to Kedarnath, and the Alakanda to Badrinath.  Thus the Shakta, Vaishnava, and Shaiva traditions are all represented in the Char Dham pilgrimage. 

Pilgrimage to Kedarnath, or of any portion of the Char Dham, can be dangerous.  Major storms, both of rain and snow, are not that infrequent.  Road sections are destroyed, and freak events have occurred which resulted in the death of thousands.  However, with careful planning, timing, and transportation, mishaps can be minimized.  Based on the ongoing efforts of the Indian government, the pilgrimage is made safer each year.  Whether one goes on a pilgrimage to Kedarnath or to the full Char Dham, you can be assured that it will change your life.

The 14 kilometer trek takes about 5 hours by horse, and rises from 6000 feet to 11,800 feet. The last mile or so is by foot. During times of ice and snow, the trail is very slippery and great care must be taken.

Trekking from Gauri Kund

Gauri Kund is sacred in itself but also serves as the base camp for pilgrims going to Kedarnath.  The hiking trail from the trailhead to Kedarnath temple is 14 km, rising more than 5000 feet, and takes about 5 hours.  From Gauri Kund, at 6000 feet, pilgrims make their way up the mountain, either on foot or on horseback, and approach the ancient and beautiful temple.

The view at the temple area is awesome.  Mountains surround the Kedarnath temple on three sides.  On one side is the 22,000 feet high Kedarnath while Kharchkund, which is 21,600 feet high, is on the other side. Behind the temple is the 22,700 foot Bharatkund.

Arriving at the temple area, one might be besieged by priests vying to perform your personal puja.  I generally look at the eyes of the pujari in order to make a decision, bearing in mind that the eyes are the windows of the soul.  The head priest of Kedarnath, referred to as the Rawal, is from the Veerashaiva community of Karnataka.  He is the administrative head and does not perform the pujas.  A group of five priests rotate, each one serving as administrative head for a period one year. During the winter months, when the snow is heavy, the Rawals move down to Ukhimath, and return again in the spring.

After the puja and offerings, we sit near the Adi Shankara samadhi, and enjoy our Kriya Pranayam and Meditation.

Temple of Kedarnath

Entering the first room, inside the Kedarnath temple, the images of the five Pandava brothers can be seen, along with Lord Krishna, Nandi, and, of course, Shiva.  One of Shiva’s lieutenants, Virabhadra, guards Shiva.

In the main hall, one can see Draupadi and other deities, which are also installed in the main hall. The massive stone centered in the rear of the temple, represents Sadashiva.

The head of a man is carved in the triangular stone lingam of the temple. It is very similar to a carving that can be seen at the nearby Triyugi Narayan Temple, the site where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati was held.

Whenever I have visited this most sacred temple, I have enjoyed doing sadhana, including Kriya practice, in the rear of the temple near the samadhi shrine of Adi Shankara.

Triyugi Narayan Temple near Kedarnath, where Parvati was married to Shiva.

Temple of Triyugi Narayan

I like to visit the Triyugi-Narayan temple near Gaurikund, where Parvati was married to Shiva.  The Temple marriage was witnessed by Vishnu. The temple is located at an altitude of 1,980 meters (6,500 ft.).

The flame in front of the temple is believed to have burned from more than a millennia.  Thus, the temple is also known as Akhanda Dhuni temple. The present temple was built at the request of Adi Shankara. Devotees add sacrificial offerings of wood to the flame and collect the ashes as blessings.

Those who like to become betrothed, can certainly do so here, as many marriages are performed on short notice.

(6) Bhimasankara

Of all Jotirlingams, only Kedarnath in the Himalayas, and Rameshwaram, on the southern tip of India, can compete with the natural scenic beauty of Bhimasankara.  Nestled In the forested mountains north-west of Poona, near the town of Dakini, the area is blessed to have retained its wild rural feel.  It is a naturist paradise, and a citadel of peace in the wilderness, without the disturbances of city noise and pollution.

Legend of Bhimasankara

In ancient times, Lord Rama had defeated the great demon Ravana.  The demonic Bhima, nephew of Ravana, secretly sought to avenge his uncles death by killing Rama.  Bhima managed to hide his evil intentions, and performed austerities to gain power. Brahma mistakenly granted great powers to Bhima.  He proceeded to de-throne Indra, the King of Deva Loka, and imprisoned allies of Lord Shiva. 

Just when the angry Bhima, wielding a sword, was about to strike an image of  Shiva near the village of Dakini, Mahadev appeared out of a Jotirlingam.  The Devas too arrived to observe the event, and looked on in horror, as a great battle ensued.  Shiva soon reduced the demon to ashes.  The assembled Devas and Sages then requested Shiva to remain as a Jotirlingam.  Thus he is known as Bhimasankara, the one who slayed the demon Bhima. This sixth incarnation of Shiva is worshipped today in the remote mountain forest of Maharashtra.

History of Bhimasankara

The temple is in Hemadpanti architecture, a building style which was formed during the 13th Century in Maharashtra.  This same building style is seen in the Aund Nagnath Jotirlingam.

The Bhimasankara Temple and adjacent Bhima river were referred to in the 13th century CE. The Bhima River flows next to the temple, where the Akhanda Dhuni has been constantly burning about 800 years.  The great Saint, Dnyaneshwar, did tapas at this location.

Saint Dnyaneshwar, a 13th mystic and poet, was an advocate of Advaita Vedanta, who emphasized the ultimate oneness of Shiva and Vishnu.  He is said to have performed many miracles, such as to make a water buffalo recite the Vedas.  When Brahmin priests heard of this, they were profoundly angry and disturbed.  Their very livelihood, and not just a small amount of pride, is linked to their ancestral right to chant the Vedas.  For Brahmins, the act of a buffalo chanting the Vedas implied that their daily form of worship could be performed by a beast. Perhaps, in due course, they gained more humility.

Dnyaneshwar once humbled an egotistical Yogi when the saint himself rode upon a wall.  These and many other miracles sound incredible today, but there is often some truth hiding behind legend.  He must have been a force for humility at some point, since he is known to have been excommunicated from being a Brahmin.

In the 18th century, the temple was built, or partially rebuilt, by the celebrated the Maratha warrior-king, Shivaji, so it is a composite of older and newer design. Primarily, it is in the Nagara, or north Indian style.

Temple of Bhimasankara

Bhimasankara Temple, seen in the background through a thick fog.

Approaching the temple from the parking area, one descends down a number of stairs.  It is often foggy or rainy at Bhimasankara.  Near the entrance, there are many stalls from which to acquire an offering basket.  The moorthis in the temple are of the Rajasthani style as are the motifs and carvings of the pillars and door frames. On the site, there are small shrines to Saturn (Shani), and a little farther on, a Kamalaja shrine.

(7) Kashi Vishwanath

Kashi Vishwanath is the peerless holy city of Varanasi, a temple and city of great antiquity.  It still retains its ancient name. The name Vishwanath or Vishveshvara means “Ruler of The Universe”. Shiva, speaking in the Shiva Purana tells us, “O sage, the seventh incarnation is Kashi Vishveshvara in the form of the entire cosmic egg. It yields worldly pleasures and salvation.” Shiva is stationed there in the form of Jotirlingam. In his own city the Lord is in the form of a Siddha and he confers salvation to all.

On a recent Pilgrimage to Kashi Vishwanath and the holy city of Varanasi, we encountered wonderful souls from Bengal, also on pilgrimage to Kashi. Sharing the bhav with other seekers in the shadow of Shiva’s Jotirlingam. Walking beside him is never ‘just’ a walk.

Legend of Kashi Vishwanath

There is a tradition that Parvati’s Mother, the Rani of Deva Loka. was embarrassed that, following their marriage, her daughter and son-in-law had no decent dwelling.  Perhaps to please Sati, or even his mother-in-law, Shiva arranged a dwelling place at Kashi.  A Brahmin arranged for the construction of a temple.  Lord Shiva himself then declared Vishwanath in Varanasi as his residence. Local legend also tells us that Lord Shiva had lived at Kashi for quite some time on his arrival there after the Daksha Yagna incident.

When Shiva and Parvati came together, Lord Siva once again took residence at Varanasi.  Parvati was so pleased that she offered food to all who came.  Because of this she is known and worshipped as Annapoorni.  The Lord himself produces his sadhu bowl in order to receive her bounty.

There is a Devi shrine next to the Vishwanath shrine where this is celebrated. Shiva has stated that those who repeat the names of Kashi and Visvesha, performing japa with devotion, become unaffected by actions and reach the state of kaivalya

History of Kashi Vishwanath

The temple is very old and its origins are lost in antiquity.  It is reported to be mentioned in the Garuda Purana, as early as the 1st millennia BCE.  The Kashi Khanda section of Skanda Purana, thought to have been composed prior to the 8th century CE, makes clear reference to the temple.

The original Vishwanath temple was destroyed by the army of Qutb-ud-din Aibak in 1194 CE.  The temple was rebuilt by a Gujarati in the mid-13th century CE.  It was once again destroyed in the latter part of the 15th century.  During Emperor Akbar’s reign, it was again rebuilt, only to be destroyed again by Emperor Aurangzeb in 1669.  He constructed a Mosque on the site.  The current temple was built on an adjacent site by the Maratha Raja of Indore in 1780.

Saints, Sages, and Siddhas  

Sathguru Babaji and Mataji have both been seen by multiple high minded people on the banks of the Ganges near the Vishwanath Temple, There is a cave-like underground chamber near the famous Dashashwamedh Ghat were Mataji did intense sadhana.  The Siddha, Nandi Devar attained Soruba Samadhi at the original temple site. Lahiri Mahasaya, too, lived and served his chelas for many years, just a short walk from the temple.

Trailanga (Telang) Swami is one of the greatest Avatars in the last few centuries.  It is inexplicable why he is not better known. Much of his remarkable life was very well known to spiritual people in Varanasi. Many well documented miracles were documented.  He seldom ate.  He is reported to constantly read peoples minds.  Like Shiva himself, he could ingest poison with no effect.  His primary philosophy, which he often spoke about, is the glory of desirelessness, a state which he said would truly bring about heaven on earth.

Trailanga Swami was recognized as an Avadhuta, a mystic beyond duality, by none other than Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who was himself seen as an Avatar. Paramahamsa Yogananda too, considered him on a par with his own Parmaguru, Lahiri Mahasaya, and wrote about Trailanga in his famous Autobiography. Remarkably, he is widely believed to have lived around 300 years. Trailanga Swami is considered by many to be an Avatar of Lord Shiva and was often referred as the “The walking Lord Shiva of Varanasi”.  He was born in the year 1607 in Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh. His parents, Narashingha Rao and Vidyavati Devi, were immense devotee of Lord Shiva, and named him Shivarama.  At around age 40 his parents died, and for 20 years hence, he did intensive yogic sadhana.  He was initiated into sannyas by his Guru, Bhagirathananda in 1679. In 1733, he went on a pilgrimage to Prayag, and then Varanasi in 1737, where he remained until death in 1887. He frequently was on silence and roamed the city and the ghats naked.  Groups of people often saw him floating miraculously on the surface of the Ganges for hours.  Ramakrishna himself said that Trailanga Swami was an incarnation of the Lord Shiva. Ramakrishna reported that the Swami sprinkled urine on him, with the consideration that it was truly holy water, and the great Sathguru considered that as evidence of his seeing the sanctity in everything.  A doubter secretly gave him poison, which he drank with no ill effect, then breaking his silence, he spoke compassionately about the law of Karma.  A day before his death, he sat motionless for 24 hours. Devotees spontaneously poured water over his body as an abhishek from early morning till noon, considering him as a living form of the Lord Shiva. He left the world on the Monday evening at December 26, 1887.  He pointed out the difference between a poor person and a sadhu.  The true sadhu, he said, “has no attachment or desire”, while a poor person is actually greedy in terms of desire and attachment.  He was quoted as saying, “Those who forget their own nature, their Godly essence, forget the power that is within themselves…People prefer to believe in a miracle of the supernatural, rather than the inner strength of the powers that all of us possess.”  I had the massive grace to have done intensive mantra sadhana in an underground chamber below his mortal remains. Awesome!

Temple of Kashi Vishwanath

Reaching the Kashi Vishwanath through the maze of narrow lanes is both fun and exciting.  Security is high, as it should be, and westerners should be devotees of Shiva.  Wearing a dhoti is highly recommended.  Those not with Indian passports have a separate entrance and registration and they should follow the instructions of the authorities.  Cameras or any bulky items are not allowed and can be checked in a lock-box.  There is a 15 meter dome and spire on top of the temple.  It is entirely made of pure gold.

Once in, the treat begins.  You may offer flowers directly to the lingam, and touch the sacred relic.  The line needs to keep moving, since the sanctum accommodates 3000 devotees every day.  After the offerings are made, there is generally space for meditate or practice ones Kriya.  The energy is literally out of this world.  The lingam, which is a beautiful dark brown colored stone, is quite small, set in a square alter of silver plated metal.

Passing through the sanctum, one reaches the open space beyond.  There are small temples for Kalbhairav, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri in the complex.

Many years ago, in 1974, I was given access to the fabulous Nandi though the doors of the far wall, but Nandi’s darshan is apparently no longer possible.  I was told a beautiful story of how, in a previous century, some miscreants had jumped the wall and attacked the temple as well as the Nandi.  When they struck Nandi’s leg, a massive swarm of bees attacked them, and they jumped back over the wall and disappeared.

After the puja, pranayam, Kriyas and meditation, I leave the temple, swimming in bliss, a bliss that lasts for days.

(8) Trimbakeshwar

The Trimbakeshwar Jotirlingam is the eighth incarnation of the moon-crested Shiva.  It is situated 30 Km from Nasik, on the banks of the Godavari river in the state of Maharashtra. 

Legend of Trimbakeshwar

According to Shiva Purana, Sage Gautam had committed transgressions, including the killing of a cow, a significant sin for a Sage.  The Sage also  caused a conflict with Lord Indra, after an extended drought in the region of Nasik.  The Rishis advised Gautam to pray to Shiva and request a stronger presence in the region. When he did so, great waters were released by Shiva, which the Sage understood as holy water from the Ganges itself. A convoluted period of excess water and drought occurred and finally, the sacred waters of the Godavari began flowing steadily.  Gautam’s sins were wiped away.  The assembled Devas began singing the praises of Lord Shiva, Gautam Rishi, Ganga Maa. On the request of the Devas, Lord Shiva agreed to remain by the river as a Jotirlingam, and assumed the name Trimbakeshwar.

History of Trimbakeshwar

The local tradition is that the crown over the Lingam, which is made of gold embedded with precious jewels, was installed by Pandavas of the Mahabharata.

Trimbakeshwar is mentioned specifically in the Padma Purana, one of the 18 major Puranas.  The Padma Purana is thought to have had textual additions over many centuries, beginning in the 4th century and stretching for nearly 1000 years.  It is difficult to determine the age of the text. 

The current temple was constructed under the Peshwa rulers, who were patrons of the temple throughout their reign. The first Peshwa, Moropant Pingle (1620-1683), was appointed by the celebrated Shivaji. Shivaji fought tirelessly for Shaivism, and was the founder of the Maratha Empire.

A large diamond, extracted from Amaragiri mine, Telegana, in the 15th century, and referred to as the Nasik Diamond, apparently served as the 3rd eye of the moorthi between the years 1725 to 1817 CE.  It was removed from the temple by Peshwa Bajirao II, in 1817, apparently to protect it from what he saw as a growing Maratha threat.  He is reported to have handed it over to the East India Company as part of the Treaty of Bassein in 1818. Eventually, it was cut into a smaller gemstone, due to flaws perceived by the gem cutter. 

The Avatar Parashurama visited the temple.  Gorakhnath, one of the 18 great siddhas, lived in a cave (gufa) nearby and did sadhana, performing advanced Kundalini Yoga.

Swami Ayyappa Giri and Swami Jotirlingam Giri prepare to enter Trimbakeshwar Jotirlingam

Temple of Trimbakeshwar

Trimbak Jotirlingam fulfills all desires and emancipates devotees from their sins and miseries.  The name Trimbakeshwar has as its prefix, Tri, or three.  This is because, unique to all Jotirlingams, Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu all reside here.

The most unusual aspect of this Jotirlingam is its shape. Instead of a shrine with a single Jotirlingam, there is a void with three pillars placed within it. The three pillars represent, as stated, the three great powers of cosmology;  Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar.  The sanctum sanctorum (garbh griha) at Trimbakeshwar is very small, only about three feet in width and depth.  A strategically positioned mirror above allows devotees outside to have darshan of the Linga during abhishek. The extraordinary feature of this Jotirlingam here is its three faces embodying Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Rudra.

The three faces of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, remind us of the three faces of Dattatreya, an Avatar who also manifest all of these three powers. Indeed, Dattatreya is said to have visited the temple and done sadhana at the banks of the river in ancient times.  The lingam lies in a depression on the floor of the sanctum, constantly surrounded by water.

The entire structure displays deities and nature spirits (yakshas and yakshinis). as well as animals.  Like most of the Jotirlingams in Maharastra, the Jotirlingam is covered and decorated by a silver mask of Shiva, often, curiously, with a mustache.  At this temple, on special occasions, the mask is golden with five faces in the typical directions, and sporting a golden crown. Darshan is guaranteed to bring happiness welling up from within.

(9) Baidyanath[12]

Baidyanath at Deogarh, Jharkhand, was once an ancient cremation ground, beloved by Shiva. It became the sacred site of the ninth incarnation, to be glorified as Baidyanath.

The Shiva Purana[13] relates that Lord Shiva was installed in a cremation ground in the form of a Jotirlingam. The text tell us that it was here that, “The Lord, in the name of Baidyanath, became famous throughout the three worlds. Seeing and worshipping him with devotion yields both worldly pleasures and salvation.”

Legend of Baidyanath

According to the stories narrated in the Shiva Purana, Ravana, king of Lanka, the very same Ravana that later kidnapped the lovely Sita, sought to build a capital that would be perfect, one in which Shiva would be supporting him and remain in that capitol.  With that end he performed tapas, dedicating it to Mahadeva. After a great deal of sadhana, Shiva, being pleased with the intensity of his meditations, gave him permission to carry his Atma Linga from Mount Kailash to Lanka.

Shiva instructed him always to hold the lingam in his hands, and never allow anyone to hold it for him. Further, he should go directly to Lanka without a break.  He warned that wherever it was laid would be its permanent site.  Ravana left for Lanka with great joy in his heart and the lingam in his hands.  “This will make me invincible”, he thought.  Not understanding the depth of Shivas knowledge, the Devas had objected to this plan from the outset, anticipating that Ravana would use the power of the Lingam for evil purposes.  The Devas devised a plan to outwit Ravana. Varuna, the God of water entered into Ravana’s belly.  As Ravana carried the lingam toward Lanka, he felt a strong urge to urinate. He began looking for a man whom he could trust to hold the Lingam.  Lord Vishnu, disguised as a Brahmin, became that man.  Ravana handed over the lingam.  While Ravana was tending to his bodily need, Vishnu set the lingam on the ground.

On seeing this, Ravana became very upset.  He had great strength, and he did everything possible to loosen the stone from the earth, but to no avail.  Thus the Jotirlingam, whom Ravana wanted for his palace in Lanka, became the Jotirlingam of Deoghar.

Unfortunately, the sadhana that Ravana performed increased his strength even more, which he later used to wreak havoc on the world and abduct Sita.  It then became Rams time to vanquish the demon Ravana, a story that is continued at the Rameshwara Legend.

History of Baidyanath

This Jotirlingam is simultaneously a Shakti Peeth.  When I visited the temple, the local priests explained to me that the heart of the Devi resides under the Shiva Linga.  It is believed to have been a tantric and shakti center even prior to its becoming a Jotirlingam.  There is strong evidence of a link to Kubjika Tantra, Kalika Rahasyam, and even Rudrayamalam tantra. All of these important tantras mention this holy shrine as a popular seat for tantric Sadhakas. Gopinath Kaviraj, a notable tantric and scholar, has argued that Baidyanath Dham, was an important seat of Tantric Sadhana, based partially on evidence of Kapalika and Bhairava worship,

Adi Sankaracharya (788-820 CE) has praised Vaidyanath Jotirlingam, identifying it as a cremation ground, associated with Shiva, (chithabhoomi), and located in the northeastern region of India.

In the 8th century CE, the last Gupta Emperor Adityasena Gupta ruled this region. This Baba Dham temple has been famous since that time.

In the 16th century, during the Mughal Period, Raja Man Singh, the brother-in-law of Akbar created a Pond at Deoghar, which is known as Manasarovar.

Between 1695 and 1699, an interesting account of the pilgrimage to Baidyanath in the Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh, a persian chronicle written under the Mughal empire.

Swami Ayyappa Giri and Swami Premajyoti Saraswati visit Baidyanath Jotirlingam.

Temple of Baidyanath

Even thought the heart of the Devi resides under the Shiva Linga, there is a large beautiful Shakti temple situated at right angles to the Jotirlingam Temple. The sanctum, or holy of holy’s, of the Jotirlingam, is small, no more than 12 feet in both depth and width. The energy was so beautiful and powerful that I could barely think, nor was I concerned about it.  I felt that I could sense Shaktis heart under the Shiva Linga, and that she was powerfully pleased to have it there. People around me were excited, pushing a bit, as they went around the Shiva Linga, touching it, and then moving out into the open courtyard.  There was a very holy looking lady in a back corner, as calm and peaceful as anyone could imagine, just soaking up the intense vibrations. I make that statement because of her energy and her eyes, which were other worldly. I myself, felt doubly blessed, first to see and touch the sacred lingam protecting Satis heart, and second, to have darshan of that great lady.  There is more that happened in that powerful temple, but I choose to keep private for now.  This is one of the few Jotirlingams that I have been to only once, and with Shiva’s Grace, I will return. No devotee of Shiva could possibly go into that sanctum without having profound experiences.

(10) Nageshwara                    

The location of Nageshwara is in some dispute.  Since I have been to all of the temples involved, I will report the two primary candidates as (10a) Nageshwara Jotirlingam at Jamnagar, Gujarat and (10b) Aundh Nagnath Temple at Sadanga, Maharashtra.  A third candidate is the ‘Jageswara’ temple near Almora, Uttarakhand. The main claim of Jageswara for being a Jotirlingam, is that it is thought to be near a forest of deodar trees, and such trees are one of the few clues given in the ancient texts.  I have not yet  had the pleasure of going on a pilgrimage to Jageswara temple, so I will not report on it at this time.

Legend of Nageshwara

Regardless of which temple one thinks might be the actual ancient Jotirlingam, the legend of Nageshwara, told in the Shiva Purana, reminds us of the power of faith and perseverance.

There was once a demon named Daruka, who captured a devotee of Shiva, named Supriya, while he walked through the forest.  Daruka held him prisoner, along with many others, in a city somehow situated under the ocean.  They were all surrounded by sea snakes and demons.  Supriya bravely instituted a spiritual rebellion and encouraged all the prisoners to chant a sacred mantra to Lord Shiva, “Om Nama Shivaya”.  After some time, the vibrations shifted, a powerful energy was felt in the air, and Lord Shiva appeared, and promptly dispensed with the demon, Daruka.

The wife of the demon, Daruki, had a plan for revenge, but she kept it in a secret compartment of her heart.  She appealed to Parvati Devi for a much stronger energy (shakti) and certain miraculous powers (siddhis). She did sadhana until, one day, Parvati, knowing the secret of her heart, decided to cooperate with the divine play (lila), and granted Daruki power over the forest in which she lived.  This included all the sadhus and yogis living in the forest as well.  Soon she began to misuse her power. Whenever her demon friends got into trouble, she simply moved them, along with the entire forest, to a new location.  Her mischief had no bounds.  One day, she moved the forest into the sea, in a similar way that her husband had before.  The sadhus and yogis were in great distress. The kidnapping of innocent people again began and the evil actions were now just as bad as they were when Daruki’s husband had been living. As fate, or perhaps destiny, would have it, Supriya again got caught up in the demons dragnet.  Captured again, he was a prisoner along with the Yogis and Sadhus. 

This time, he used that same mode of attack.  Using a rock from the sea floor as a lingam, the prisoners chanted with devotion to Shiva.  This drove the demons absolutely insane.  They tried to kill Supriya, but Shiva, once again came to Supriya’s aid, handing him a magical trisula, which saved his life.  This time Parvati too, joined with Shiva to defeat the demons.

The lingam that Supriya had set up was taken to the site of the Jotirlingam and was called Nagesha; the tenth of Shiva. Thereafter, Shiva remained there as a Jotirlingam.  Goddess Parvati was known here as Nageshwari.  Lord Shiva then promised to guide devotees into the dharma.

(10a) Nageshwara at Dwarka

Nageshwara is near present day Dwarka, in Gujarat.  The incarnation of Shiva as Nageshwara is glorified as the tenth manifestation.

Here, it is said, Shiva slayed the demon, Rakshasa Daruka, the great violator of virtue. Here, Shiva saved his devotee Supriya, in order to help vast multitudes.  Out of compassion, Shiva then remained at the site and in the form of a Jotirlingam, accompanied by his beloved Parvati. 

Those who look into the miracle of Shiva’s lingam here, receive the flow of grace from the king of the Nagas.  Here, Shiva was bestowed the name Nageshwara.  Here, Shiva showers his grace on all who approach him with an open heart.

History of Nageshwara

The Purana legend refers to the demon, Daruka, moving the entire Darukavan forest to sea. Since this temple is the only one near the sea, this is the basic rationale for Nageshwara Temple’s claim which is situated at the sea shore near Dwaraka temple of Krishna.

Nageshwara is glorified by the Devas, and is the first temple reported in the Mahabharata as having been constructed by Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas brothers.

All things in the physical plane are absorbed back into mother earth over time.

The origins of the Nageshwara temple are shrouded in mystery.  There are some, apparently oral, suggestions that the temple was present at the time of Dnyaneshwar, the 13th century Marathi poet-saint. 

Historian and author M.S. Mate has expressed the belief that the stone portion of the temple was based on a construction technique quite uncommon during the Peshwa period. He believes that it could date back to between 1610 and 1615. The shikara has both Dravidian and Rajasthani influences, and may have been built much later, perhaps around 1725 to 1750.

It seems that by the 1970’s, the temple had been largely worn down from the ravages of age and time. Shri Gulshan Kumar obtained an architect and added significantly.  These additions may have included the mandapam or large covered hall.

Temple of Nageshwara

The term Nageshwara often addresses the king of serpents, Cora, whose nature is to coil himself around the neck of Lord Shiva. This is the mystical temple of Cora.  It is said that a person who prays at this temple should fear no harm from either snakes or poisons of any kind.

It is best to eat at Dwarka before proceeding to Nageshwara, since food options are limited.  While driving north from sacred Dwarka to reach Nageshwara, the devotee encounters the wide open fields of the region, finally to be punctuated by the Nageshwara temple, which looms up out of the mostly flat terrain.  Approaching closer, the temple is seen clad in a beautiful pink.  Beside the temple is a towering blue Shiva, said to be 25 meters in height.  What a sight !  

When one first enters the temple, it is a very large hall with open sides, except for the side of the sanctum.  Vendors in the hall itself, sell mementos and small lingams.  The sanctum, which appears to be made of solid stone, is easily visible from the hall. 

This sanctum where the Jotirlingam resides is about 3 feet below the floor of the adjacent hall, not at all uncommon for Jotirlingams.  There is a small temple to Lord Vishnu.   Small shrines are present too, for Rukmini Devi and Saturn (Shani), which  flank the main temple. This is one of those fabulous lingams were the devotee can personally offer flowers and touch the lingam itself.  One can also ask a priest to perform a more formal puja.  Jai Shiva Shankara!  I left the Jotirlingam fully satisfied and ready for the next adventure, which happened to be puja and arti at the Dwarka temple of Lord Krishna.  Does it get any better than this?

10b) Aundha Nagnath

History of Aundha Nagnath

Aundha Nagnath, in Maharashtra, is the incarnation of Nageshwara, glorified by the Devas. The temple was reported in the Mahabharata as having been constructed by Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandava brothers.

All things in the physical plane are absorbed back into mother earth over time.

The temple was rebuilt at this very sight near the end of the Seuna (Yadava) dynasty in the 13th century, just before it was succeeded by the Delhi Sultanate.

The base of the present temple is in Hemadpanti architecture, a building style which was formed during the 13th Century in Maharashtra.  This same building style is seen in the Bhimasankara Jotirlingam.

Aurangzeb had the temple sacked in the 17th century. 

The upper portion was repaired in the style which was prevalent during the 18th century Peshwa regime.

Temple of Aundha Nagnath

The Sanctum Sanctorum, like many Jotirlingams, is located below the level of the adjacent floor and at least two deep steps down to reach it. Yes, the sanctum is small and a bit crowded, but the energy is so elevating, who really cares ?  The echoes of mantras and prayers send waves of divine vibrations through anyone with ears to hear and a heart to respond. 

I must admit that the beauty of Aundha Nagnath, with its ancient and consistent stone construction, adds a great deal of mystery and enjoyment, as a compliment to the terrific energy of Shiva present there. That powerful energy becomes more tangible as one approaches the Sanctum Sanctorum.

(11) Rameshwara

The Rameshwara Jotirlingam is one of the most popular pilgrimages in India. Its massive gopuram towers, long intricately carved granite pillared halls, and awe inspiring energy, set against the beauty of the sea coast were Lord Rama worshipped Shiva prior to his battle with Ravana, makes this temple one of the most justified pilgrimages on the planet.

Legend of Rameshwara

The wondrous Shiva temple of Rameshwara has a very ancient and storied history.  It is the legendary site where Ram and his army, prior to his invasion of Lanka, halted to perform a Shiva Linga Puja, in order to win the grace of Mahadeva.  Ram was determined to defeat Ravana, the powerful Lord of Lanka, who had kidnapped his beloved Sita. Desiring to proceed, Ram fashioned a Shiva Linga out of beach sand and began the puja.  The Shiva Purana relates the story as follows…

“Lord Rama, after reaching Rameshwara beach, was thirsty. As he was drinking water he heard a celestial voice “You are drinking water here without worshipping me”. Rama recognized that voice as the voice of Lord Shiva. He then fashioned a Shiva lingam with beach sand, and commenced worshipped Lord Shiva. He prayed to Shiva to bless him in order to be victorious in battle, and vanquish Ravana. Lord Shiva blessed Rama accordingly. He also prayed to Lord Shiva to reside eternally at Rameshwaram, so that all mankind could benefit. Lord Shiva agreed to Rama’s wish and manifested Himself as the Ramanatha Jotirlingam, with a promise to remain there for eternity.”

Koti Rudra Samhita of Shiva Purana, Chapter 18

After the defeat of Ravana, when Ram was returning with Sita from Sri Lanka, he was showing her the location where he had worshipped Shiva, and received His Grace.  He tells her…

“See this island, located in the middle of the water, were my troops were stationed.  At this place, Lord Shiva formerly bestowed his Grace on me.”

Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda, Sarga 123, Verse 19

Here, in this very sacred spot in the southern tip of India, resides Lord Ramanathaswami in his stunning and massive temple.  The sacred text tells us that “This incarnation of Shiva is the eleventh one. It was pleasing to Rama and it was installed by him.  Duly propitiated by Rama, Shiva who is favorably disposed towards his devotees manifested himself in the phallic image and granted the boon of victory to him. O sage, the Lord, implored ardently by Rama and propitiated by Rama stayed at Setubandha in the form of Jotirlingam.” The grandeur of Rameshwaram is both wonderful and incomparable, yielding worldly pleasures and salvation and granting the devotees desires.  The man who performs ongoing worship of Rameshwaram becomes a living liberated soul.  After enjoying all worldly pleasures here, he then gains perfect knowledge, and shall obtain salvation hereafter. There is not even one doubt about it.

History of Rameshwara

Given the ancient propensity to appeal to Shiva prior to, or completing an important travel segment, the emergence of a temple, however humble, for Shaivites, is beyond likely. There is an oral tradition that since very ancient times, sadhus would congregate at Rameshwaram and worship a Shiva lingam, which probably began without enclosure, and was later covered by enterprising sadhus by a roof of palm fronds, set picturesquely by the ocean. 

The Ramayana, certainly one of the greatest examples of epic literature on the planet, is considered to be authored by the Siddha Valmiki, and is generally dated between 500 and 100 BCE by etic scholars. It refers to the establishment of a Shiva Linga at this location.

According to the temple record (sthala puranam) the lingam was housed in a thatched hut till the 12 century A.D., looked after by a series of ascetics.

In the 12th century, Parakrama Bahu, king of Ceylon constructed the sanctum sanctorum around the origonal `Moola Lingam’ (Sri Ramanathaswami).

It is very clear that since the time of Tamil Kings in Jaffna, Rameshwaram was a vital transit hub to and from the mainland cannot be overstated.

The temple of Rameshwaram is one of the 274 Paadal Petra Sthalams glorified in songs of devotion by the Shaivite Saints during the 7th and 8th centuries. Three of these revered Shaivite Saints (Nayanars), were Appar, Sundarar and Sambandar.

The Chola king Rajendra Chola I (1012 – 1040 CE) had control of the temple for a short period, but his contributions are not clear to the author.  During the 12th century, the temple was expanded by the Pandya Dynasty,

The sanctum was renovated in the 14th century by the Jaffna King Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan and further improvements were made by his successor, Gunaveera Cinkaiariyan.

Between 1215 and 1624 CE, the Jaffna kingdom had close connections with the island and claimed the title of custodian (setukavalan) for the temple.   . The Jaffna kingdom, under Setu, marked their coinage with reference to the temple. There are inscription on the temple itself that relate to this time period as well.

In the early part of the 14th century, Malik Kafur, the General of Alauddin Khalji, Sultan of Delhi, invaded the Tamil region, and despite stiff resistance from the Pandyans, reached Rameshwaram. He erected a mosque which was named Alia al-Din Khaldji, in honor of his victory.

By the early 15th century, the region was part of the Pandyan dynasty again, and in 1520 CE, the town came under the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire.

The Sethupathis, a breakaway faction of the Madurai Nayaks, ruled Ramanathapuram district, and contributed greatly to the Ramnathaswamy temple and architectural synthesis.

In the middle of the 18th century, the region was successively invaded and controlled, first by Chanda Sahib, Nawab of Arcot, followed by Muhammed Yusuf Khan until 1795.

From around the time pf 1795, Rameshwaram came under the direct control of the British East India Company and was annexed to the Madras Presidency until Indian independence in 1947.

Temple of Rameshwara

The temple rests on a long thin island, which is sometimes mistakenly thought to be a peninsula.  In ancient times, the site was revered not only for its Ram Avatar fame, but as a site were a confluence of waters merge, a sangam.   Sadhus on pilgrimage from sites far to the north would migrate to India’s southeastern tip, following routes on the coast side of the eastern ghats, which passed through a string of powerful temples, such as Chidambaram and Tanjore. 50 years ago, when I was a young brahmacharya, the sannyasins and sadhus were frequently seen on the rough roads.  They often passed through Karaikudi, where I shopped weekly for fresh vegetables.  Their eyes were gleaming like diamonds, and with great strength and shakti, they chanted with an expanding joy, “Om Nama Shivaya”. I always gave them something, even if it was only 50 paise (1/2 rupee).

The temple is remarkable for its size and beauty.  The shakti which it contains is inspiring.  The massive temple is one of the most important in India.

It is also the site where the great Siddha, Patanjali, performed tapas to attain the state of Soruba Mukti, the Samadhi of the golden body.

(12) Grishneshwara

The Grishneshwara Jotirlingam, near the equally famous Ellora Caves at the village of Verul, is the twelfth and last incarnation of Mahadeva.  The temple is situated on the banks of the Yeleganga River.

Legend of Grishneshwara

Here, Shiva Mahadeva is favorably disposed towards all his devotees.  The Shiva Purana tells us that at this site, he manifested as a Jotirlingam.  In the ancient past, this was a settlement of Nagas, and it was the mysterious Nagas that were among the first to embrace Lord Shiva. 

He brought back from the jaws of Yama the son of Grishna who was killed by Sudeha. So pleased he was with her devotion, that, at her request, Shiva remained in the lake in the form of a Jotirlingam which was named Grishneshwara in her honor.  The Puranas states that simply seeing and worshiping the lingam with devotion brings both happiness salvation.

In ancient times, King Yela, went hunting and killed a deer.  Several sages, doing sadhana in the forest, observed the event, and wished that the King would learn a lesson in humility and non-violence.  In a short time the King became lost and infested with small insects. He wandered aimlessly through the woods until he became both humble and regretful.  He became quite thirsty and, reaching a river, he drank from it.  Immediately, the insects left his body.  The King decided to sit for sadhana where the river and a nearby lake met and had an intense meditation of Shiva. That very spot, sanctified by the tapas of the King, became known as Shivalaya and the river as Yeleganga, in honor of the Kings penance.

A Brahmin, Sudharma, lived at the lake with his wife, Sudeha.  Sudeha wanted a child, but could not get pregnant.  They did sadhana and puja, but still no pregnancy came.  Finally, Sudeha asked her husband to have a child with her sister Grishna, as a second wife.  With all agreeing to the plan, Grishna began doing sadhana to Shiva with 108 lingams, immersing the lingams into the lake at the end of each puja.

With Shiva’s blessings, Grishna became pregnant, and soon, a son was born. To everyone’s surprise, Sudeha became bitterly jealous of her sister.  Her jealousy escalated into a secret rage until, one night, she killed the baby boy, immersing him into the lake.  In the morning, when Grishna awoke to find her baby missing, she and her husband became greatly distressed. Nevertheless, with nearly unbearable sorrow, Grishna continued her sadhana with the 108 lingams, placing each of them in the lake at the end of the puja.  Miracle !  Shiva’s Grace !  Shiva appeared before her, and rewarded her devotion and faith by reviving her son.  When she was given a boon, her only request and prayer was that Shiva would remain at that very spot with her family.  Thus, Shiva did remain, in the form of a Jotirlingam, for the benefit of all humanity.  In due course, people remembered the great faith and devotion of Grishna, and both lingam and temple became known as Grishneshwara.

History of Grishneshwara

Details about the original temple are unknown.  The temple was destroyed by the Delhi sultanate twice, both in the 13th or 14th century. It was rebuilt incrementally, but once again destroyed by Mughals between 1680 and 1707.   In the latter half of 1700’s it was again re-constructed by Maloji Bhosale of Verul, the grandfather of the famous Shivaji.  It was renovated in the 18th century by the Rani Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore.  This great queen also is known to have rebuilt or added to, both the Kashi and Somnath Jotirlingams, both destroyed by religious fanatics as well.

Temple of Grishneshwara

The temple as a Jotirlingam does not have a large footprint in the physical plane, but is a massive source of expansive divine energy.  A beautiful Nandi Bull rests in the courtyard. One descends steps from the outer hall to reach the sanctum. A unique aspect of the temple is that the 10 Avatars of Vishnu are carved around the temple, giving a tangible example of religious harmony and an acknowledgement of the essential oneness of all traditions. Many carvings of the manifestations of Shiva can also be seen at the temple.

Above center: Swami Kutstanand, and right: Chief Priest of Thgivayana Amman Kovil, Kartirgama, Sri Lanka

Concluding Remarks

Many practices in the field of Kriya Tantra Yoga are linked to Yogi Shiva and these 12 Jotirlingams. Some are very specific yogic techniques associated with particular temples in this group. These things are learned from an appropriate teacher (adhihariguru). Shiva is the inspiration behind all texts in the six historical traditions of Shaivism. More than a decade ago, I was on pilgrimage to Kartirgama, where our great Sathguru Kriya Babaji attained Nirvikalpa samadhi.  I was introduced by the priest of the Thgivayana Amman Kovil, to Swami Kutstanand. (see photograph above, center).  Swami Kutstanand had, though Shiva’s grace, completed a pilgrimage to all of the 12 Jotirlingams.  In a humble way, he informed me that he had visited all of the great Jotirlingams in India, and felt absolutely blessed by his experiences.  I felt Babaji speak through him, in his enthusiasm of the experience, as he encouraged me to complete such a pilgrimage, as well.  This report, which I submit to you, dear reader, is the culmination of that aspiration which Swami Kutstanand awoke in the depths of my soul.  I stand as a witness to the truth of their power and potential to create change. A pilgrimage to these powerful beacons of light will change your life forever. Jai Shiva Shankara !  Jai Sathguru Deva !  Om Nama Shivaya !

Swami Ayyappa Giri

Yogini Ashram

Swami Ayyappa Giri and Yogini Ashram can be reached on Facebook or email at [email protected].

© E. Ayyappa, Yogini Ashram.  This material may be reproduced wholly or in part with the provision that the source is cited as Yogini Ashram or [email protected]

[1]  Shiva Purana Book 1, Chapter 20, Verse 52

[2]  Pillar of Light story is found in several texts, including Shiva Purana, Book 1, Chapter 5-9.

[3] Description of these Jotirlingams is found in several Puranas, including Shiva Purana, Book 1, Chapter 32, Verses 1-58.

[4] Prajapati assisted Brahma in creation. The 27 wives of Chandra is a mystical reference to the celestial relationship between the moon and the 27 Nakshatras of Vedic Astrology. 

[5] The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire existing from the mid-to-late 3rd century CE to 590 CE

[6] Mahabharata, Book 2, Vana Parva, Section LXXVX

[7] The Satavahanan Empire, referred to as the Andhra’s in the Puranas, ruled from 1st century BCE to 2nd century CE

[8] The Vijayanagara Empire was based in the Deccan Pateau, and ruled from 1446 to 1520 CE

[9] Kaulajnananirnaya, by Matsyendarnath Siddha, Patala 16, Verses 5-7.

[10] A quote from the Kashi Kedara Mahatmya.

[11] The Mahabharata is quite old, estimates of its final form ranging from 400 BCE to 400 CE, with the origins stretching back to the 8th or 9th Century BCE

[12] The author is aware that Parli Vaijnath in Maharashtra and Baijnath in Himachal Pradesh are considered by some to represent this Jotirlingam.  I have personally visited both of these holy sites.  They are awesome!  I believe, however, based on my experience of the energy, that the Deogarh site is the one that stands out energetically.  Most sources seem to agree, at any rate.

[13]  Shiva Purana Book 1, Chapter 20, Verse 41