Lord Shiva, one of the Trimoorties, is the Supreme Ascetic and Lord of the Universe. He is Ardh Nareeshwara, He is Neelakantha who drank poison to save the three worlds and yet, when crazed with grief at the death of Sati, set about destroying them. This truly makes Him an enigma for His devotees all over the world. Who is Shiva? What is the story behind the worship of the Lingam? This book is an answer to various such questions which often haunt his devotees.
He is believed to have revealed Himself to His devotees as flame or light or jvoti. The twelve ancient Jyotirlinga ins that find mention in the Shiva Purana are located in various places all over India. The five elements of Nature, namely Earth, Fire, Wind, Water and Space, worshipped as Panch Bhoota Lingams, have shrines in different parts of South India. Replete with vivid description, the author presents in a simple and lucid style the essence of Hindu religion, especially Lord Shiva and his Jyotirlingams.
Dr (Mrs.) Shantha N Nair, M.A., Ph.D, is a retired Reader and Head of the Department of Economics, S .P.W. College, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. She has written several articles in subject journals, published Learners’ Dictionary of Economics, translated a few religious books from Tamil to English for the ‘Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam (TTD), and has authored several books including The Holy Himalayas — An Abode of Hindu Gods and Echoes of Ancient Indian Wisdom for Hindoology Books. Both have been widely acclaimed by readers in India as well as abroad.
This book is divided into three sections. The first section deals with the Hindu concept of Paramatman or Para Brahman, who is the superior most power, creator, sustainer and destroyer of the Universe. He is Nirguna or without form. This chapter also points out the need for Saguna Brahman or God with form and qualities, projected in the form of personal gods or the avatars or incarnations. It deals with the significance of legends, the scientific basis of Hindu religion, Bhakti Marg or the path of devotion and about Lord Shiva. An effort is also made here to include, as far as possible, the various names of Lord Shiva with their inherent meanings, the symbolism of Lord Shiva’s form, the meaning of Lingam worship, and the origin of Lingam form of the Lord or the Lingodbhava. The names of the twelve Jyotirlingams and the five Bhoota Lingam shrines of the Lord are also mentioned here.
The second section is mainly about the legends associated with each of the twelve Jyotirlingams located in different places throughout India and their exact location.
Similarly the third, which is the last section, explain about the five Bhoota Lingam shrines found in five different places in India.
The legends associated with the shrines mentioned here can only be understood if one delves deep into the subject of Hindu religion and also spirituality. Religion is the means and spirituality is the end. No doubt, the authenticity of legends cannot be proved because they are all very ancient. But one must understand that these legendary stories are meant to reach man all that is positive and what we call as good would result in good human being. For example, the mock fight between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu over their superiority in the legend associated with Lingodbhava may give ample scope for critics to come to the conclusion that the Hindu gods are not in any way different from ordinary humans.
However, to understand the legends properly one must have a good knowledge of the principles of Hinduism. Advaita Vedanta stresses that there is only one Supreme Universal Power that is responsible for all creation, sustenance and destruction of the Universe and that Supreme Power is right inside everyone’s heart. The personal gods, who represent the Almighty, are only manifestations of that Supreme Truth. Sometimes they are the divine incarnations or avatars. These manifestations of the Supreme Power might have been the projections of the mind of great seers to enable the ordinary people to perceive the Supreme. It is like a mother telling her child stories that are childish, simple and unbelievable. Yet her intention in this act is not to exploit the child’s ignorance. It is to make her child understand the profound truths of life according to his level of understanding by making the stories interesting because then only the child will listen to her in rapt attention. Similarly, the sages of yore, who knew the level of ordinary humans, brought out the lofty truths through tales. It is not that they tried to exploit the ignorance of man; they just wanted to uplift the ordinary humans spiritually in a gradual manner, stage by stage.
The human nature is projected through the idols just to make the ordinary man understand that even gods had to pay the price for their mistakes. When even gods, who are divinity personified, had to undergo suffering for their doings then what about human beings who are entangled in maya or seeks the divine protection of the Almighty with a pure heart and humility is bound to be rewarded by His grace and blessings.
Mostly, the tales are about historical figures including all categories like avatars, saints and sages, kings, bhaktas and even ordinary men. These legendary stories might have been woven around historical facts, coupled with mythology and the poetical imagination of the great sages of those ancient times who composed them. It is also possible that the legends about great sages, kings, bhaktas and even ordinary men were real and not imaginary happenings, although they may seem like myth for the ordinary man of kaliyuga. Unlike that in Kaliyuga, in the earlier yugas it is believed that people showed more divinity. In Satyuga, it is said that humans were so divine that there was not much of a difference between what we considers as God and the humans. The humans in those times were so full of divinity, though not divinity personified, that they could achieve anything by mere thought. Such was their strength. Certain modern happenings may also look unbelievable after a few centuries. In his tribute on the death of Mahatma Gandhi, the great scientist Albert Einstein remarked, “Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a man as this walked on the Earth in flesh and blood.
Modern-day science is gradually proving many things correct that were already mentioned in the great Vedas and later in the Epics and Puranas. For example, our ancient seers were fully aware of the power of sound vibrations. The hymns uttered with correct pronunciation and in a fixed tune form the basis of the sound and music therapy that we use today for a healthy mind and body. The Vimanas and the Divya Astras that were mentioned in the Epics and Puranas and that were ridiculed upon by some as unbelievable are becoming believable to the same people who ridiculed them earlier. Except for the difference in the terms, the missiles closely correspond to the Astras that were supposed to have been used in ancient wars mentioned in our great Epics and Puranas.
It clearly shows that we should not look at the ancient happenings suspiciously with our modern eyes unless we have the capacity to look back and perceive the reality of the by-gone days. That does not mean that one should believe everything blindly. It only means that one should pass judgment only after proper analysis and with a thorough knowledge. By merely looking at the outward form or external meanings or without bothering to know the symbolism contained in any form of worship or without taking the trouble to know the inner, hidden meanings and teachings or things that are mentioned in the legends, if one tries to ridicule the ancient scriptures, then it is totally unjustifiable.
Even Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, who were the embodiments of divinity, had to face several hardships in their lives even though they were the incarnations of the Lord Almighty. The sages wanted to teach men all about their spiritual well-being, through historical and mythological stories woven around personal gods and avatars. Only the ones who can see the purpose behind the legendary stories will be in a position to get the required knowledge by reading and understanding these tales properly.
When a mother or teacher draws the picture of an apple, it is only to make the child understand how an apple looks like. It is not exploiting the child’s ignorance. The picture itself cannot be an apple. Later, when the child grows up and sees the real apple, he comes to know that the picture of the apple which his teacher or mother had drawn in his childhood was only to make him understood as to what an apple looked like. Even in the higher levels of learning, symbols are being used for an easy understanding of the subject. The great sages, similarly, tried to explain the profound spiritual truths through legendary stories that highlighted the path Bhakti, which is not only the highest but also the easiest path, for the benefit of ordinary men who are ignorant. It is not that they tried to exploit the ignorance of ordinary men. Instead they came down to the level of ordinary humans became mature enough to understand the Supreme Truth, step by step they tried to elevate them spiritually. Even a simple person will be able to follow a story and gradually he will be in a position to draw the morals from the stories. This enables him to become a better human being automatically and later he will be in a position to understand properly the meaning of statements like ‘Tat Twam Asi’ and so on.
The religion of Hinduism is vast, heterogeneous, complex, highly scientific and pre-historic, It offers many challenges to the one who tries to explain, describe, analyse or interpret any one of its aspects. Moreover, language has its own limitations. Even the greatest of the poets, writes, or spiritual masters may find it difficult to bring forth all that they feel of know. The one who attempts to say or write about this very ancient religion must be very careful in choosing the words, as there is ample scope for transgressing one’s limits of competence. Further, belief and faith are aspects that are totally subjective. With my limited knowledge and vocabulary, I have ventured to write something of what little I have understood and felt. I hope the readers will take into account the spirit and not the scholarship behind my writing.
Whatever little information I could gather from different sources as well as by visiting some of these places of legendary and mythological importance, I have presented here in the form of a small book. I wish to admit that in spite of my sincere efforts, I could not elaborate upon all the twelve Jyotirlingam shrines and all the five Bhoota Lingam shrines in an equal manner, although all these shrines are of equal importance from the historical, religious and spiritual viewpoints. This is because, while I could obtain more information about some of these, I had to satisfy myself with lesser information about some of the other shrines, particularly those who are the devotees of Lord Shiva, to pardon me for that inevitable lapse on my part. One will find that some of the legendary stories are repeated, as they seem to belong to more than one place. There are also variations in the same tales that are said to have happened in different places.
One finds the similar or slightly different legends being associated with the same shrine and also different shrines and the places where they are being located. Even the locations of some of the Jyotirlingam shrines like that of Vaidyanath and Nageshwar are not consistent. While some claim the shrines to be in one place, some others opine that they are located in a different place. However, the sanctity to the shrine is more important than the places where they are located. So it is better that one does not place much importance to the differing views.
The legends are given utmost importance in this book. These legends convey both outward as well as inner meanings. The bhakta who is in his initial stages in spirituality revels in the outward and plain meanings of the legends. On the other handa a bhakta who has reached an advanced stage in spirituality is able to grasp the inner meaning of the stories and benefit out of it. For example, an ordinary bhakta, in his imagination, sees the pomp and glory of the celestial wedding of the celestial couple Shiva-Parvati in the legend associated with their wedding, and through his inner eyes he enjoys the celebration as far as he can imagine. But for an advanced soul, the legend conveys the craving of the Jeevatma to identify and unite itself with the Paramatma, in the state of which the devotee becomes one with God.
The authenticity of these stories cannot be guaranteed as they are all very ancient. For example, the Puranas were composed over a period of several centuries. These stories might have got modified or even expanded in course of time, whenever they were being imparted by the teachers to their disciples to suit the changing times and needs of the society, and also from place to place wherever they are said to have happened. The readers are, therefore, requested to bear this in mind and give importance only to the content, the teachings and the moral principles behind these stories. My intention in writing this book is only to make available the information that I could obtain to those who are interested in this subject. There are also a few photographs of the Jyotirlingams and the Bhoota Lingams and those of the shrines.
If this book becomes useful to any layman then I can get the satisfaction that the purpose of writing this book has been fulfilled and if readers finds this book informative, then I am thankful to them. I hope that this book will also be of some help to those who visit the Jyotirlingam and Bhoota Lingam shrines and will be liked especially by the devotees of Lord Shiva – the Maheshwara – the Supreme God.
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