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)