India is the holy land of several gods and goddesses, who had been dominating the Indian religious scene, ever since the dawn of the civilization on earth. Some of them disappeared from the Indian religious horizon as rapidly as they had mushroomed, while others faded out of human memory in due course of time. But still there had been certain deities, who remained relevant from the earliest times to the present day facing all the natural, climatic, religious, economic and other natural adversiter boldly. These deities had special attraction for certain places, and because of their personal association with these sites, they were treated as sacred. The sites of twelve Jyotirlingas, seven sacred cities and the four Dhamas come under this category. An attempt has been made to bring out the salient features and the importance of these place from different angles, based on literary, historical and other traditional sources and I am confident, the work shall interest the readers.
Shantilal Nagar, a Graduate of the Punjab University, serviced in the curatorial capacity in the Central Asian antiquities Museum, New Delhi, the Archaeological Museum, New Nalanda, and archaeological Section of the Indian Museum, Calcutta for a number of years. He has to his credit the scientific documentation of over fifty thousand antiquities, in these museums representing the rich cultural heritage of the country and comprising beads, seals and sealing ancient Indian numismatics, wood, work miniatures and paintings textiles and Pearce collection of gems, ranging from the earliest times to the late medieval period. He was awarded in 1987 a fellowship, for his monograph on the Temples of Himachal Pradesh, by the Indian Council of Historical Research , New Delhi. He has authored more than fifty books.
The country of Bharata has been known as the Punya Bhumi or the sacred or holy land from the time immemorial. This is the land in the universe, where lord Visnu, besides other gods had incarnated from time to time in the past. It is not Visnu alone who appeared here in various forms over the sacred land of this country, but there are other deities too who incarnated in phallic or linga form besides the human form. Besides the Sivalings, the Jyotirlingas are also considered to be quite sacred. The difference between a Sivalinga and the Jyotirlinga has been that while the ordinary Sivalinga is consecrated by the people or the •high personalities, for the daily worship of Siva, the Jyotirlinga is consecrated at a place, where Lord Siva himself appeared in order to bless his devotees and stayed there in the form of Jyotirlinga at the specific request of the devotee. As for example, the Somanatha - the first Jyotirlinga was worshipped by the moon god in order to get rid of the disease of consumption, which he attracted because of the curse of Daksa-s-his own father-in-law, beau se of his ill treatment or neglect of the twenty- six of the twenty seven daughters of Daksa married to him. The moon god was perplexed and became restless, who at the advice of the sages, performed tapas for lord Siva, who appeared before the moon god and freed him of his discomfiture. At the specific request of the moon god, lord Siva, stayed at Somanatha in the form of a Jyotirlinga, and the tradition continued for the future. It may be recalled here that the Somanatha Jyotirlinga, as per the account of the foreign invaders was a hanging one, without any support from the ground or above.
It is revealed that it was made of iron and was hanging because of the powerful magnets fixed on all the four corners of the garbha-grha. Almost similar are the stories relating to the other Jyotirlingas.
Further, tracing the genesis of the Jyotirlinga, it may be stated that once, Brahma and Visnu developed a controversy as to who was the superior of the two. When they were so quarrelling, suddenly a huge column of fire appeared before them, which surprised them both. A divine voice asked both of them to measure the size or the end of the pillar. Neither of them was successful in his efforts, while Visnu frankly• admitted his failure in reaching the bottom of the pillar, Brahma falsely claimed success, which was detected by lord Siva, who cursed Brahma for his falsehood. The adoration of Jyotirlingas started thereafter, it is believed. Basically the Jyotirlingas appeared at twelve sites in the country, and at all these places lord Siva agreed to stay at the specific request of the devotees, of course there is an exception.
Besides the places which are sacred for the presence of Jyotirlingas, there are seven cities in the country which are also considered to be auspicious as follows-
i. Ayodhya: This is the birth place of Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Visnu. The lord was born here and his childhood was spent here with his brothers. It is at Ayodhya that lord Siva is said to have arrived as a juggler with Hanuman as a small monkey. At the insistence of child Rama, Hanuman was left by lord Siva, at Ayodhya, at the specific request of the king Dasaratha. It is said, that after many years, Hanuman was relieved by Sri Rama, to join the monkey army with Sugriva.
ii. Mathura: This is the most sacred place, where lord Krsna was born as a child and was carried by his father to Gokula and exchanged him with the daughter of Nanda-Gopa. The childhood of Sri Krsna was spent over the sand of the river Yamuna as well as the forest of Govardhana.
iii. Mayapuri-Haridvara: This is the place where Ganga-the auspicious river, after getting released from the locks of hair of Siva, fell and entered the plains and moved in seven streams. It has a large number of holy spots and shrines. It has been known as the place of lord Siva as well as Visnu. The relies of. the dead are consigned in the holy waters of the Ganga. The holy waters of the Ganga are carried by the pilgrims with them in small canes. The water of the Ganga so carried by the peoples, remains pure, for years together.
iv. Kasi- Varanasi: Is the fourth sacred city and is located on the bank of the Ganga; the main attraction of the place is lord Visvesvara-a jyotirlinga as well as his temple. There are several sacred ghats and educational institutions in the city.
v. Kancipuri: This is also one of the seven sacred cities of the country and is considered holy for Siva as well as Visnu.
vi. Ujjain or Avantika: This is the city of Mahakala Jyotirlinga, whose temple is located over the bank of Sipra river. vii. Dvaravati or Dvaraka: This is the city which was built by Visvakarma, for the sake of lord Krsna, in which the Parijata tree and Indra Sabha were transplanted after getting them from the heaven. Though a massively prosperous city, it was completely submerged in the oceanic water, after Sri Krsna his wives and other people vacated it. The ruins of this city have been discovered by the marine archaeologists.
Besides the Jyotirlingas and the Saptapuris, there are four places which have been declared as Dhamas, which are Jagannatha, Badrinatha, Dvarka and Ramesvaram. Actually speaking, Shankar Lal Mehta, has been the spirit behind the bringing out of this book in the memory of his late father, who had been a saintly person. During my first meeting with him, at the place of one of my relatives in Delhi, I was immensely impressed with his simplicity, nobility and the godly nature. At once I proposed to dedicate my work on Hanuman-which was- at the final stage of printing, to him, because he was a great devotee of Hanuman, to which he pleasantly agreed. When a copy of the published book was sent to him, he gracefully acknowledged the same. I was extremely happy to a suggestion from Shri Shankar Lal Mehta, for the bringing out this book which is in commemoration of the great liberated soul.
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