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Shiva Shrines of India

Of the three gods of the Hindu trinity, Shiva is the most commonly worshipped in India today, Vishnu being second, and Brahma hardly at all. The origins of Shiva are to be found in a pre-Aryan fertility god and perhaps also in a fierce but minor deity of the Vedas called Rudra. Shiva is a god of many, often contrasting, characteristics. He is associated with the creative energy of the universe and at the same time with its destruction. Literally his name means 'One in whom the universe sleeps after destruction and before the next cycle of creation'. All that is created must one day disintegrate; this disintegration is a return to the formless void from which creation may once again spring forth. Shiva is the dynamic power behind this endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. He is the master of Tantric yoga, an esoteric science of sexuality, and also the Lord of ascetics, renunciates and yogis. He is the god of the battlefield, the cremation grounds, and inauspicious crossroads, and he is accompanied by demons, ghosts, and evil spirits. An oftern frightening deity, Shiva is also the exponent of the arts and the creator of dance.

Shiva is worshipped in both his anthropomorphic aspect, or more commonly in his aniconic aspect, the Linga. Contrary to a common (and uneducated) notion held in the west, the Shiva Lingam is not worshipped by Hindus as a phallic image. This idea was promulgated by arrogant and prudish Christian missionaries during the 18th century. The more accurate explanation of Linga worship is similar to explanations for the worship of certain stones and mountains throughout the ancient world - these natural objects are understood to be the sources or dwelling places of the spirits of the earth. The Linga is merely a miniature sacred mountain. The word Linga actually means sign or mark, and thus it is most accurately understood as the symbolic representation of the creative and destructive energies of Shiva. In some temples the Linga is simply an unsculpted outcropping of stone, in others a particular image has been fashioned and installed. This later, archaeologically speaking, more recent type of Linga will have always have two well defined parts; a circular horizontal base called a 'yoni' or a 'pitha' which is the female component, and the vertical stone shaft signifying the Shiva component (there may also be a square base signifying Brahma and an octagonal one signifying Vishnu). Sometimes the face of Shiva may be carved or painted upon the linga, or there will be a serpent, a common symbol of Shiva.

While Shiva temples are abundant throughout India's many thousands of villages, there are only a small number that are recongnized as true pilgrimage shrines. The distinction arises from the fact that, while any structure may house an idol of Shiva and thereby be utilized in the worship of the deity, the true pilgrimage shrines are those places where Shiva has actually manifested some aspect of his divine nature. Hindu texts delineate three distinct categories of Shiva shrines; the Jyotir Lingas, the Bhuta Lingas, and the Svayambhu Lingas. The Jyotir Lingas, twelve in number and located throughout the country are considered the most important. They are:

  • Grineshwar in Visalakam, near the Ellora caves, Maharashtra state
  • Somnath in Saurashtra, Gujarat state
  • Mahakalaswar at Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh state
  • Amareswara at Omkareshwar on the river Narmada, Madhya Pradesh
  • Tryambakesvara near Nasik on the river Godvari, Maharashtra
  • Naganath, in Daruka Vanam, Maharashtra
  • Vaidyanath at Deogarh, Bihar state
  • Bhimasankar northwest of Poona, in Dhakini, Maharashtra state, (sometimes
  • alternately listed as a shrine near Gauhati, Assam state)
  • Kedarnath in the Utterkhand Himalaya, Uttar Pradesh state
  • Viswanath at Banaras/Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh state
  • Malikarjuna at Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh state, (also listed as a Shakti Pitha site)
  • Rameshvaram, Tamil Nadu state

The five Bhuta Lingas, where Shiva is said to have manifested himself as a Linga of a natural element (earth, water, air, ether, and fire) are listed with the photo and text for the site of Tiruvanamalai, also featured on this web site.

The Svayambhu Linga temples contain representations of Shiva that are believed to have risen up by themselves in the primordial past. In the commentary by Nigamajnanadeva on his Jirnoddharadasakam, sixty-eight Svayambhu Lingas are listed

The Jyotir Linga Shiva shrine of Grineshwar, India
(Fine Art Print Available)


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