Mokshapuri Kashi

|| Sri Mahatripurasundari Chandramoulishwarebhyo namaH ||

grhamedhyatra vishwesho bhavAnI tatkuTumbinI |
sarvebhyaH kAshisaMsthebhyo mokShabhikShAM prayacChati ||

`The divine couple residing in Kashi – Sri Vishwanatha and Sri Annapurna, grant the Bhiksha of Moksha to all residents of Kashi’ – so say the scriptures. Thus, Kashi has been described as the foremost among the Mokshapuris. Kashi Khanda – which forms the fourth chapter of the Skanda Purana, describes the limitless glory of the sacred capital of Sri Vishwanatha. This post is a humble tribute to my Guru whose foremost desire was to reside in Kashi.

At the end of the Kalpa, the three qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas dissolved into a state of equilibrium, leading to mahA praLaya, which resulted in the disappearance of the entire creation including the pancha mahAbhUtas. With the intention of creation, Sri Mahadeva appeared as Sri Narayana, immersed in Yoganidra on Ananta, sporting Sudarshana, Panchajanya, Gada and Padma in his four hands. After several Yugas, Brahma appeared seated on a lotus that originated from the navel of Sri Narayana. Due to Mahamaya of Lord Sadhashiva, Brahma was filled with Ahamkara and assumed himself to be the master of the cosmos. Sensing Brahma’s ignorance, Sri Narayana appeared in front of him and asked him, “Who are you?”, to awaken him from the slumber of ignorance. Brahma replied, “I am Ishwara – Lord of everything”. When Narayana tried to explain the true glory of the Adi Purusha, Brahma angrily attacked Narayana. This lead to a fierce and inconclusive battle between the two, which lasted for several Yugas.

Then, all of a sudden, a Linga of immense brightness appeared in front of them, extending beyond the reach of their vision, both in length and breadth. Within the Linga, a divine form having five faces appeared. Both Brahma and Narayana were filled with devotion at the sight of the Divine form and immediately prostrated before him. The divine Purusha addressed them thus: “I am pleased with your devotion. Seek a boon”. Both Narayana and Brahma said, “Lord! If you are truly pleased with our devotion, please grant true and everlasting devotion in the divine Linga that has appeared before us. Also tell us why the Linga has appeared here and what its name is?” The Lord replied thus: “This Linga is called Vishweshwara Linga. In days to come, by merely seeing this Linga, people will be freed of all their sins and will earn the merit of Yajna, Dana and Tirtha Yatra. The location where this Linga has appeared is very special and the creature which gives up its body in this place will be granted Brahma Jnana and hence Mukti, by the Upadesha of Taraka Mantra from Ishwara. [If one examines Purnas and Itihasas like Linga Purana, Shiva Rahasya etc, the Taraka Mantra referred here is Pranava and not Rama Taraka. Pranava being the first and the foremost of all the Mantras, is the true tAraka mantra. Also, the scriptures explain anusandhana of Pranava as the path to Brahma Jnana. Some claim that Lord Mahadeva utters Rama mantra in the ear of a dying person in Kashi and grants him Moksha. This seems to be the belief of only some Vaishnavaite cults and has been well publicized. Though Rama mantra Japa can lead one to a state of Shuddha Chitta, required for Jnana, it is incorrect to assume that mere recitation of Rama mantra or any other mantra on deathbed can grant one Moksha.] This Linga will be present here eternally even after cycles of Maha Pralaya. Attain your desires by worshipping this Linga”. Having advised thus, the great Purusha disappeared.

That divine place where the Jyotirlinga appeared to Brahma and Narayana even before the creation of Pancha Bhutas is what we know today as Kashi or Varanasi. Kashi has attracted devotees and Mumukshus in all the four Yugas. Irrespective of one’s Varna and Ashrama, the Lord frees a dying creature in Kashi from the cycle of birth and death by Brahmopadesha. However, those who commit sins knowingly in this sacred city will attain Rudra Pishacha Yoni and will be punished by Bhairavas till they are absolved of their sins.

All Tithis and Nakshtras are auspicious for traveling to Kashi. It is unnecessary to examine Tithi, Nakshatra or Vara for Kashi Yatra. The most sacred place within Kashi is the Avimukta Kshetra, which is dearer to the Lord than even Kailasa. By entering this Kshetra, one is freed from sins and desires. Vyasa and Vamadeva have declared Avimukta Kshetra Darshana to be the greatest medicine for Mahapatakis and Upapatakis. The Shastras describe the following Kshetras as pApahAri: Prayaga, Naimisharanya, Srisaila, Himalaya, Kedara, Bhadrakarna, Gaya, Pushkara, Kurukshetra, Vamsha Tirtha, Prabhasa, Hatakeshwara and Gokarna. But even these Ksehtras cannot be compared to even one-sixteenth of the glory of Kashi-Avimukta.

To the right side of Sri Vishweshwara Linga, one can see Jnana Vapi. By taking bath there, one is propelled towards Brahma Jnana and hence the name – Jnana Vapi. This well is said to have been dug by Shiva himself using his Trishula and a bath in this well frees one from Graha and Preta Badha as well. It is said that Surya worshipped Lord Mahadeva with the water from this well reciting Rudra and Pancha Suktas.

To obtain Sudarshana Chakra from the Lord, Narayana performed penance in Kashi. He created a Pushkarini and filled it with water that emanated from his body. On the banks of this Pushkarini, Narayana performed a severe penance for eighty thousand years. Pleased with his penance, the Lord appeared with Bhavani and blessed him with Sudarshana Chakra. Hence, this Pushkarini came to be known as Chakra Pushkarini. Immensely pleased with Narayana’s devotion, Lord shook his head in bliss and his earring fell into the Pushkarini. As the Lord’s Karnamani (the earring) fell into it, the Tirtha also came to be known as Manikarnika. The Lord also blessed Narayana that those who perform Sandhya, Japa, Tapa, Pindadana, Vedapatha, Darpana Dana, Deva Puja, Go – Bhu – Kanya – Tila – Hiranya – Ashwa – Vastra Danas, sacrifices like Agnishtoma, Udyapana of Vratas, Vrishotsarga, Hari-Hara Pratima-Linga Sthapanas etc. on the banks of Manikarnika, will attain infinite merit. All sins accumulated over myriads of births are destroyed by taking a bath in Manikarnika and worshipping Hari and Hara with Abheda Buddhi (non-difference). One who thinks low of the glory of Manikarnika or sees a difference between Hari and Hara will accrue Brahmahatya Dosha [Naradiya Purana].

Kashi is the Avimukta Kshetra of Lord Mahadeva. Thirty-three crore Devatas reside in Kashi, ever worshipping Lord Mahadeva and Bhagavati Bhavani. By reciting one lakh Gayatri in Kashi, one is blessed with the merit of Chaturvedadhyayana. By merely fasting for a day in Kashi, one gets the merit of Kricchra, Chandrayana and other Vratas. The merit of performing severe penance in other places for a thousand years is obtained by performing Bhumishayana Vrata (sleeping on bare ground) for a year in Kashi. The merit of keeping total silence for one’s complete lifetime is obtained by observing Mauna Vrata for a fortnight in Kashi. Lifetimes would be insufficient to describe the greatness of the holy city of Kashi.

Though there are innumerable Shiva Lingas in Kashi, five are considered most sacred:

Vishwanatha

Omkareshwara

Krttivaseshwara

Kapardishwara and

Madhyameshwara

Sri Omkareshwara is also called Panchayataneshwara as this Linga represents the Samashti or totality of the Panchayatana – Aditya, Ambika, Ganesha, Vishnu and Sadashiva. Worshipping this Linga grants one the merit of a lifetime of Panchayatana Puja.

Lord destroyed Gajasura, wore his skin as cloth and came to be known as Krttivaseshwara in Varanasi. One who worships Krttivaseshwara attains Kaivalya even while living in a physical body. One attains Ashta Siddhis by worshipping this Linga and ascends to Kailasa. The secret place in Kashi which houses this sacred Linga is known only to advanced Yogis.

Kapardishwara Linga is also called Papanasheshwara as mere remembrance of this Linga destroys one’s sins. By taking bath in Pishacha Mochana Kunda and worshipping Kapardishwara, even the greatest of sins like Brahma Hatya Dosha are destroyed. Kapardishwara is considered as important as Sri Vishwanatha in Kashi.

Originally, the city of Kashi has been described as Panchakroshapura and the Linga situated in the centre of the city is called Madhyameshwara. Lord Shiva is ever present in this Linga along with Sridevi and Rudra Ganas. Krishna is said to have worshipped Lord Shiva at this place. Taking a bath in Mandakini and worshipping Sri Madhyeshwara grants one the merit of one hundred Maha Yagnas.

Traditionally, the city of Kashi is said to begin with Madhyameshwara and end with the shrine of Dehali Vinayaka. Visiting Kashi is a sacred duty for all followers of Sanatana Dharma. The prime duty for a person visiting Kashi has been described in Kashi Khanda as below:

yAtrAdwayaM prayatnena kartavyaM prativAsaram |
Adau swargataraMgiNyaH tato vishweshituH dhruvam ||

Yatri should take bath in Ganga and visit Sri Vishwanatha everyday while at Kashi. According to Kashi Rahasya:

chakrapuShkariNItIrthe snAtavyaM prativAsaram |
patraiH puShpaiH phalaistoyaiH pUjyo vishweshwaraH sadA ||

Yatri should take bath in Manikarnika and worship Sri Vishwanatha everyday while at Kashi.

snAtvA mumukShurmaNikarNikAyAm mR^iDANigaMgAhR^idaye tadAsye |
vishweshwaraM pashyati yo.api ko.api shivatmamAyAti punarna janma ||

Sri Manikarnika represents the heart of Ganga and the face of Bhavani. One who takes bath in Manikarnika and sees Lord Vishwanatha is freed from the cycle of birth and death. Hence, Kashi Yatra is also called ekAyatana yAtrA. Taking a bath in Manikarnika during the noon is considered more sacred than in the morning according to Linga Purana – prAtaH paMchanadIH snAtvA madhyAhne maNikarNikAm.

According to Shiva Rahasya, one should bath in Dashashwamedha Ghat during the morning and in Manikarnika during the noon [prAtardashAshwamedhe cha madhyAhne maNikarNikAm]. Taking a bath only in Manikarnika is considered Eka Tirtha Yatra, both in Pancha Ganga and Manikarnika as Dwi Tirtha Yatra and in Pancha Ganga – Manikarnika and Dashashwamedha as Tri Tirtha Yatra. Tri Tirtha Yatra is considered uttama or best. According to Linga Purana:

kAshyAM tIrthatrayI shreShThA sevyA nityaM prayatnataH |
Adau snAtvA prayAge tu paMchagaMgA tataH param |
tataH puShkariNItIrthe snAtvA muchyeta bandhanAt ||

One should first take a bath in Dashashwamedha, then in Pancha Ganga and lastly in Manikarnika. By doing this, one is liberated from bondage.

The procedure for Kashi Yatra is prescribed thus in Kashi Darpana: One should first take a bath in PilipilA Tirtha (the confluence of Ganga – Yamuna and Saraswati, also called Trilochan Ghat), offer Pitr Tarpana, then take a bath in Pancha Ganga and Manikarnika and finally in Jnana Vaapi before worshipping Sri Vishwanatha. This is the Prayashchitta prescribed for getting rid of the greatest of sins. Those who are capable, can bath in Pancha Tirthas – Asi Sangama, Dashashwamedha, Padodaka Tirtha near the Sannidhi of Adi Keshava, Pancha Ganga and Manikarnika. This is called Pancha Tirtha Yatra and accomplishing the same grants one the merit of worshipping the five faces of Sadashiva (Tatpurusha etc.) Along with Gauri Kunda (Kedar Ghat) and Pilipila Tirtha (Trilochan Ghat), the Yatra becomes Sapta Tirtha Yatra.

We have already discussed the details of Ekayatana Yatra. According to Nandikeshwara Purana, taking a bath in Manikarnika, worshipping Manikarnikeshwara (on Manikarnika Ghat), taking a bath in Jnana Vapi and worshipping Sri Vishwanatha – this constitutes Dwirayatana Yatra. Worshipping the Lingas of Avimukteshwara, Swarlineshwara and Madhyameshwara along with Sri Vishwanatha is called Tryayatana Yatra. Worshipping Shaileshwara, Sangameshwara, Swarlineshwara and Madhyameshwara Lingas along with Sri Vishwanatha is called Chaturayatana Yatra. Worshipping Omkareshwara, Kapardishwara, Krttivaseshwara, Madhyameshwara and Vishwanatha Lingas constitutes of Panchayatana Yatra. One who completes both Panchayatana and Pancha Tirtha Yatras, attains oneness with Lord Mahadeva.

The most elaborate and sacred Yatra procedure prescribed by the Puranas is the Pancha Krosha Yatra. On the day previous to undertaking the Pancha Krosha Yatra, one should take bath in Ganga, worship Sri Vishwanatha and Sri Dhundhi Vinayaka and perform a Sankalpa for the Yatra. The Yatra involves Tirtha Snana in the following Ghats and the worship of the following deities:

First Day

Manikarnika Ghat – Siddhi Vinayaka and Manikarnikeshwara

Lalita Ghat – Lalita Devi and Ganga Keshava

Mir Ghat – Jarasandheshwara

Manmandir Ghat – Somanatheshwara, Dalabhyeshwara

Dashashwamedha Ghat – Shulatankeshwara, Adi Varaheshwara, Dashashwamedheshwara

Sri Shitala Devi

Prayageshwara and Sri Bandi Devi

Pandey Ghat – Sarveshwara

Kedar Ghat – Kedareshwara

Hanuman Ghat – Hanumadishwara

Asi Sangama – Sangameshwara

Lolark Ghat and Bhadaini Ghat – Arka Vinayaka

Durga Kund – Durga Devi and Durga Vinayaka. One should offer Payasa Bhakshana to Brahmanas at the Durga temple.

Kandava village – Kardameshwara. One should offer Tilakshatas to Kardameshwara. One should also take bath in Kardama Tirtha and see one’s face in Kardama Kupa. One should then worship Virupaksha and Nilakantheshwara.

Second Day

Amara Village – Naganatha

Chamunda Devi Moksheshwara and Karuneshwara

Delhana Village – Virabhadreshwara and Vikata Durga

Devura Village – Unmatta Bhairava

Nila Gananatha

Kalakuta Gananatha

Vimala Durga

Mahadeva

Nandikeshwara

Bhrngiriti

Ganapriya Gananatha

Gaura Village – Virupaksha

Yaksheshwara

Prayagapura – Vimaleshwara

Moksheshwara

Jnanadeshwara

Asavari Village – Amrteshwara

Bhimachandi Village – Bhimachanda Vinayaka

Ravi raktaksha Gandharva

Narakarnavataraka Shiva

Sri Bhima Chandi Devi

One should conclude the Yatra for the day by offering Naivedya to Bhima Chandika.

Third Day

Kachnar Village – Ekapada Ganapati

Harpur Village – Mahabhima Gananatha

Harsos Village – Bhairavanatha and

Bhairavi

Dindaspur village – Bhutanatheshwara

Somanatheshwara

Sindhorodhasa Tirtha

Jansa Village – Kalanatha and

Kapardishwara

Chaukhandi Village – Kameshwara

Ganeshwara

Virabhadra

Chaturmukha Ganapati

Bhatauli Village – Gananatheshwara

Dehali Vinayaka

Sixteen Ganeshas (Shodasha GanapatayaH)

Bhuyli village – Uddanda Vinayaka

Hirarampur – Rameshwara

Utkaleshwara and Rudrani Devi

Varuna Nadi Rameshwara – Offer Tarpanas here

Someshwara

Bharateshwara

Lakshmaneshwara

Shatrughneshwara

DyavAbhUmishwara

Nahusheshwara

One should conclude the day’s Yatra by offering Shweta Tilakshata and bilva to Rameshwara.

Fourth Day

Varuna River – Innumerable Tirtha Lingas

Karoma Village – Devasandheshwara

Draupadi Kunda

Dharmeshwara

Bhimeshwara

Arjuneshwara

Nakuleshwara

Sahadeveshwara

Sadar Bazar – Pashapani Ganapati

Kahjuri Village – Prthvishwara and

Saranga Sarovara

Dinadayalupur – Yupa Sarovara

Kapiladhara Village – Kapiladhara Tirtha and

Vrshabhadhwajeshwara

Kapiladhara Tirtha is called Shivagaya and is considered more sacred than Gaya. ShrAddha, Tarpana and Brahmana Bhojana performed here grant Akshaya Shivalokavasa to one’s ancestors.

Fifth Day

Katova Village – Jwala Nrsimha

Varuna Sangama – only Marjana here and not Snana

Adi Keshava

Sangameshwara

Kharva Vinayaka

Prahlad Ghat – Prahladeshwara

Trilochan Ghat – Trilochana Mahadeva

Pancha Ganga Ghat – Pancha Ganga Tirtha

Bindu Madhava

Gabhastishwara

Mangala Gowri

Sankata Ghat – Vasistheshwara and

Vamadeveshwara

Manikarnika Ghat – Maheshwara and Siddhi Vinayaka

Saptavarana Vinayaka

One should conclude the Pancha Krosha Yatra by taking a bath in Manikarnika, worshipping Sri Vishwanatha, Annapurna, Mahavishnu, Dandapani, Dhundhiraja and Kalabhairava. One who thus completes Pancha Krosha Kashi Yatra is liberated even while living and attains Shiva Sayujya. By thus doing a Pradakshina of Kashi, one gets the merit of going round all the Tirtha Kshetras on earth.

kAshI pradakShiNA yena kR^itA trailokyapAvan |
saptadwIpA sAbdhishailA kR^itA tena pradakShiNA ||

Antargriha Yatra is yet another significant Yatra prescribed by scriptures like Kashi Rahasya and Kashi Darpana. On the decided day, one should keep the vow of silence, worship Pancha Vinayakas and perform the Samkalpa for Antargriha Yatra. The Yatra should begin with a bath in Manikarnika and worship of Manikarnikeshwara and Siddhi Vinayaka. The Devetas to be worshipped during this Yatra are:

Sankata Ghat – Vasukishwara, Parvateshwara

Lalita Ghat – Sri Lalita Devi and Ganga Keshava

Mir Ghat – Jarasandheshwara

Manmandir Ghat – Adi Varaheshwara, Somanatha, Dalabhyeshwara

Balmukund Chauraha – Brahmeshwara

Agastya Kund – Agastyeshwara

Jangamvadi – Kashyapeshwara, Harikeshaveshwara

Kodayi Chauki – Vaidyanatheshwara, Dhruveshwara, Gokarneshwara

Hatakeshwara – this is considered to be a very secretive spot not revealed to all.

Hastikshepa Tataka – this was lost during floods in Ganga.

Raj Darwaza – Kikaneshwara

Govindpur – Bharabhuteshwara, Chitragupteshwara

Chanduki Gali – Chitraghanta Devi

Pashupatishwara

Pitamaheshwara – Shitla Gali

Brahmapur – Kalasheshwara

Siddheshwari mandir – Chandreshwara

Vira Tirtha – Vireshwara

Nimvali Brahmapuri – Vidyeshwara

Agnishwar Ghat – Agnishwara

Bhonsle Ghat – Nageshwara

Sankata Ghat – Harishchandreshwara, Chintamani Vinayaka, Sena Vinayaka, Vasistheshwara, Vamadeveshwara, Sima Vinayaka

Lahari Tola – Karuneshwara, Trisandhyeshwara, Sri Vishalakshi

Dharma Kupa – Dharmeshwara

Vishwabhuja Devi

Mir Ghat – Asha Vinayaka, Vrddhaditya

Sakarkandaki Gali – Chaturvaktreshwara, Brahmishwara

ManaHprakameshwara

Sakshi Vinayaka

Kotwalpur – Ishaneshwara

Kalika Gali – Chandika Devi, Chandishwara, Bhavani Shankara, Shukra Kupa

Sri Annapurna

Sri Dhundhiraja Gajanana

Rajarajeshwara

Khova Bazar – Langulishwara

Nakulishwara

Paranneshwara – Jnana Vapi

Dandapani, Paradravyeshwara, Pratigraheshwara, Nishkalankeshwara, Markandeyeshwara, Apsareshwara, Gangeshwara, Nandikeshwara

Tarakeshwara

Mahakaleshwara

Moksheshwara and Virabhadreshwara

Avimukteshwara – Sri Vishwanatha

Saptarshi Yatra confers the grace of the seven sages on the Yatri and removes Pitr Dosha and other defects due to a weak Guru in the horoscope. The deities to be worshipped during this Yatra are:

Jangamvadi – Kashyapeshwara

Atrishwara

Marichishwara – Nagkund

Gautameshwara or Kratvishwara – near the new Vishweshwara temple

Pulaheshwara – near the Manikarnika Swargadwara

Pulastyeshwara – near the Manikarnika Swargadwara

Vasistheshwara and Arundhatishwara – Sankata Ghat

According to Kashi Khanda, Saptarshi Yatra is a pre-requisite for other Yatras like Pancha Krosha etc.

By completing Ashtayatana Yatra, one is freed from all Graha Doshas and sins. The deities to be worshipped during this Yatra are:

Daksheshwara – Vrddhakalakupa

Parvatishwara – Trilochan Ghat

Pashupatishwara

Gangeshwara – Jnana Vapi

Narmadeshwara – Trilochan Ghat

Gabhastishwara – Mangala Gauri

Satishwara

Tarakeshwara – Jnanavapi – this Linga is again at a secret location.

By undertaking Ashta Bhairava Yatra, one is relieved from all troubles and earns the grace of Sri Kalabhairava. This is a must for Bhairava Upasakas. Even upasakas of Devi i.e. Shaktas undertake this Yatra as Bhairava’s grace is essential in Tantric Upasana.

Ruru Bhairava – Hanuman Ghat

Chanda Bhairava – Durga Kund

Asitanga Bhairava – Amrit Kund

Kapala Bhairava or Lat Bhairav

Krodha Bhairava – Kamaccha

Unmatta Bhairava – Bhimchandi Sadak

Samhara Bhairava – Trilochanganj

Bhishana Bhairava or Bhut Bhairav

One should then worship Kala Bhairava and feed dogs. One should also try to worship:

Ananda Bhairava – Ramghat

Mohana Bhairava – Chauk

Dwara Bhairava – Vishwanatha temple

Navagauri and Navadurga Yatras are undertaken by Upasakas of Sridevi. They confer Saubhagya and Saumangalya. These Yatras also grant Mantra Siddhi and accomplishment of all desires. The deities to be worshipped in Nava Gauri Yatra are:

Mukhanirmalika Gauri – Hanuman Ghat

Jyeshtha Gauri – Karnaghanta Mahal

Saubhagya Gauri or Parvati – Vishwanatha Temple

Shringara Gauri or Annapurna- Vishwanatha Temple

Vishalakshi Gauri

Lalita Gauri – Lalita Ghat

Bhavani Gauri – Kalika Gali

Mangala Gauri

Mahalakshmi Gauri

The deities to be worshipped in Nava Durga Yatra are:

Shailaputri Durga – Shaileshwara Temple

Brahmacharini Durga – Durga Ghat

Chandraghanta Durga – Chandu Gali

Kushmanda Durga – Durga Kund

Skandamata or Vagishwari Durga – Jotpur

Katyayani Durga – Vireshwara Temple

Kalaratri Durga or Kali – Kali Gali

Mahagauri – Annapurna

Siddhidatri Durga – Bullanala Mahal

By performing Ekadasha Rudra Yatra, one pleases Sri Mahadeva and gets the befit of Shatarudriya. The deities to be worshipped in this Yatra are:

Jagrteshwara – Isarganj

Urvashishwara – Gola Ganj

Nakuleshwara – Ashaya Vata

Ashadhishwara – Kashipur

Bharabhiteshwara – Govindpur

Langalishwara – Khova Bazar

Tripurantakeshwara – Sigra

ManaHprakameshwara – near Sakshi Vinayaka

Pritikeshwara – Kali Gali

Madalaseshwara – Kali Gali

Tilaparneshwara – Durga Kund

Apart from these important Yantras, specific details for Dwadashaditya Yatra, Vaara Yatra, Tithi Yatra, Nakshatra Yatra, Ritu Yatra, Masa Yatra, Parva Yatra, Avarana Yatra, Rudragana Yatra etc. are described in the scriptures.

|| shrIvishwanAthaM sharaNaM prapadye ||

Shiva-Lingam: What is It

by Stephen Knapp

      One thing you may be questioning is why Lord Shiva is so often represented as a lingam. Linga basically means a sign or symbol. So the lingam is essentially a symbol of the shapeless universal consciousness of Lord Shiva. “Shiva” also means that in which the creation lies dormant after the annihilation. So, one explanation is that the lingam is a representative of the dormant universal consciousness in which all created things rest after the cosmic annihilation. It also represents the pradhana, the potential but unmanifest ingredients of the material world. Another explanation is that Shiva means auspicious. So the linga is the shapeless symbol for the great god of auspiciousness. It is intended to bring the shapeless unknown into our attention.

       The yoni upon which the lingam often sits represents the manifest universal energy. From the unmanifest comes the manifest energy, through which all other things are created. The yoni, which is a symbol of Shakti, combined with the lingam, is a symbol of the eternal union of the paternal and maternal principles, or the positive and negative, or the static and dynamic energies of the Absolute Reality. It is the communion of the eternal consciousness and dynamic power of the Shakti, the source of all actions and changes. It is also the symbol for the creation of the universe through the combination of the active energy of Lord Shiva and his Shakti. This is how Lord Shiva and Durga are considered the parents of the universe. The symbolism of the lingam and yoni also represents the base of the spine, meaning the Muladhara chakra, upon which the kundalini is resting, waiting for awakening.

       There are a few versions according to the Puranas of why Shiva is worshiped as a lingam and how this happened, of which I will relate one. There was a great sacrificial ceremony that was going to take place many hundreds of years ago. The great sage Narada Muni was invited to it and asked who would receive the effects of the sacrifice. No one could answer, so the sages who were present asked him who should receive it. Narada said that Sri Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva were all eligible, but they would have to find out which one had the most patience and purity to be the receiver of the sacrifice. So he chose the great sage Brighu to learn the answer.

      Brighu had many mystic powers and was able to travel to the domain of the demigods. So first he went to see Lord Brahma, but Brahma was preoccupied and did not notice Brighu’s presence. Feeling insulted, Brighu cursed Brahma, “You are so proud of your power of creation, you did not notice my arrival. For this you shall have no temples on earth.” Thus, there are very few temples of Brahma on earth. Next, Brighu went to see Shiva in Kailash, but Shiva also did not notice Brighu’s arrival. Brighu, again feeling offended, cursed Shiva to be worshiped only as a lingam on earth. This is the reason why Lord Shiva is primarily represented and worshiped as a lingam on this planet.

       Then, to continue the story, Brighu went to see Lord Vishnu, who also did not recognize Brighu’s presence. Brighu was so angered that he went forward and kicked Vishnu’s chest. Lord Vishnu apologized if He had hurt Brighu’s foot and began praising Brighu. Brighu immediately felt pleased and could understand that Vishnu was actually the most qualified to receive the offerings from the sacrifice. However, Lakshmidevi, the goddess of fortune and Lord Vishnu’s wife, was very displeased by Brighu’s action and, therefore, does not bestow much mercy on the brahmanas who, as a result, are often without much money.

       To explain the shape of the lingam, a Baana linga is egg-shaped and is meant to show that Ishvara has neither beginning nor end. The Lingobhavamurti is said to be the prime manifestation of the form of the formless, which Shiva is said to have manifested exactly at midnight on Shivaratri. This is why everyone stays up until midnight and then worships that form during the Shivaratri festival. A representation of the Lingobhavamurti can often be found in a niche on the outside wall of the sanctum in any important Shiva temple.

       The lingas in the temples are often formed in three parts. The lowest part is the base square called the Brahmabhaga or Brahma-pitha, which represents the creator Brahma. The next part in the middle is the octagonal Vishnubhaga or Vishnu-pitha, which signifies Lord Vishnu the sustainer. Both of these parts form the pedestal. The top cylindrical portion is the Rudrabhaga or Shiva-pitha, which is also called the Pujabhaga since this is the worshipable part. The top portion is also meant to symbolize the projecting flame of fire. This flame also represents the destructive aspects as well as the preserving power of God.

       There are twelve important Jyotirlinga temples scattered across India. They are found in Kedarnatha, Kashi Visvanatha, Somnatha, Baijnath, Ramesvare, Ghrisnesvar, Bhimasankar, Mahakala, Mallikarjuna, Amalesvar, Nagesvar, and Tryambakesvar. The five Pancha Bhuta Lingas in India are located at Kalahastisvar, Jambukesvar, Arunachalesvar, Ekambesvara at Kanchipuram, and Nataraja at Chidambaram. The temple of Lord Mahalinga at Tiruvidaimarudur (Madhyarjuna) is also a great temple in South India.

       The reason Lord Shiva is often worshiped by pouring Ganges water over the lingam is that it represents the Ganges descending from heaven on to Shiva’s head. The legend is that when the Ganges first began to flow to the earthly planet from the heavenly region, the force of it would have destroyed the earth. To prevent this, Lord Shiva agreed to let the river first fall on his head before forming into a river. It is also explained that when worshipers pour milk or Ganga water on the linga, it represents the pouring of ghee on the sacred fire in the fire ceremony, or yajna. It is the symbolic offering of ourselves to God.

       One story in connection with the Shiva linga is found in the Linga Purana. It describes that once Lord Brahma, the god of creation, and Lord Vishnu, the God of protection, engaged in an argument on who was greater. When those two great gods were fighting between themselves, Lord Shiva appeared as a huge pillar of fire that spread across the universe. He told Brahma and Vishnu that whoever finds the head or foot of his form of flame would be considered greater. Then Brahma took the form of a swan and set out to reach the top of the flame. Vishnu took the form of a boar to seek out the foot of the fire. But in spite of their efforts, they could not succeed in finding the limits. They realized their mistake and the peerless greatness of Lord Shiva. This shows how Shiva cannot be approached through ego, but responds with love to those who surrender to him. In this pastime, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of the fiery lingam for their benefit. So they were considered blessed with additional insight for worshiping that oldest form of him. This form of Shiva who appeared from the flame is called Lingodbhava. This story is found in the Shiva Purana and other texts.

       This further helps to show how the lingam is not formless nor really a form, but a symbol for the divinity of Lord Shiva. In Sanskrit, linga means “mark”. It is a symbol of Lord Shiva in the same way that large puddles of water are an indication of heavy rains. It is an inference for something else, like the form of that which is formless and omnipotent.

[This article and more information at  www.stephen-knapp.com]

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