Temples Of Shiva: The Twelve Jyotir-Lingas

Travelling to holy places related to Shaivite lore is part of Shiva-worship. Every Shiva bhakta visits these shrines, tirthas, at least once in his life. They can be found all over India and beyond.

In Tibet is Shiva's sacred abode. Mount Kailas. In Nepal, in the city of Kathmandu he resides as Pashupatinath. His temples are even found far away in South-East Asia especially in Cambodia and Bali, Indonesia.

Temples of Shiva are found in almost every Indian village: under banyan trees, in dark caves and dense forests or in elaborate temples built by kings. Down south, he resides at Ettumanoor, Kerala as the awesome Rudra. Up north, in the cold dark caves of Amamath in Kashmir, devotees can see his linga formed of ice. At Abu, in the western state of Rajasthan, he is the immovable Acchaleshvar; in Orissa, he is the lord of the Unga, Lingaraja. And in the centre of India; at Khajuraho, he resides in the sanctum sanctorum of a finely carved temple as lord of the caves, Kandariya-Mahadev.

Most important of these holy sites are the twelve jyotirlingas. Then there are the pancha-bhuta lingas and the natyashalas located in South India.

Twelve Jyotir-Lingas

Shiva's spirit, his radiance, jyoti, is said to be locked in twelve different lingas located in different parts of India. These are some of the holiest Shaivite shrines.

1. Vishvanath: On the shores of the Ganga stands the holy city of Benares, Kashi.

When it becomes too cold to live on Mount Kailas or in the caves of Amamath and Kedamath, Shiva and his consort come to Kashi. This city is held in place by Shiva's trident. Here the first human couple, Svayambhuva and Shatrupa, prayed to the lord of the Universe, Vishvanath, in the shape of a linga.

2. Shaileshvar On the banks of the river Patalganga, in Andhra Pradesh, stands the temple of Shaileshvar Mallikarjun, where Shiva is worshipped with jasmine, mallika, flowers. Shiva waits here for his son Kartik who left Kailas after a disagreement.

3. Mahakaleshvar In Ujjain, on the banks of the river Kshipra, stands the temple of Mahakaleshvar. The king of Ujjain was given a valuable and sacred gem called chintamani by the yakshas. Neighbouring kings and demons envied the city's prosperity and sought the fabled gem. They attacked Ujjain. The residents led by their king prayed to Shiva for help. He appeared in the form of a jyotir-Linga and struck terror in the hearts of the invaders. When they tried to ransack the city, the linga split open and revealed Shiva as the great destroyer, Mahakala, bearing all the weapons of death. He killed the kings, drove away their armies and became guardian of this city.

4. Bhimeshvar

This linga, also known as Bhimashankar, was established on the banks of the river Bhima, amidst the Sahyadri hills, by the virtuous king Sudakshina. The demon Bheema, son of the mkshasa Kumbhakama, attacked the king, destroyed his city and was about to break this linga when Shiva appeared in a fierce, bhisma, form. Shiva killed the demon by merely chanting the mantra 'hum'.

Some believe that this shrine is located not in Maharashtra but in Assam.

5. Kedamath Amdist the peaks of the Himalayas stands the temple of Kedamathwith a linga established by the twin sages Nara and Narayana, incarnations of lord Vishnu. Here the Pandavas renounced the world, as did the great philosopher Adi Shankaracharya.

6. Omkareshvar This linga stands on an island of the Narmada river amidst the Vindhyachal mountains, in Malwa. The lord of Vindhyachal established this linga so that he too would be as revered as the sacred Mount Sumeru.

7. Somnath On the shores of Saurashtra, Gujarat, stands Somnatheshvar. This is the holy land of Prabhasakshetra, the land of radiance, where lord Krishna is said to have died. Here Chandra, the moon-god, propitiated Shiva for saving him from Daksha's terrible curse and helping him wax again.

8. Trimbakeshvar Rishi Gautama once killed a cow by accident. To atone for that sin the pious sage begged Shiva to let the holy waters of the Ganga flow by his hermitage. Shiva agreed but Ganga, who resided in Shiva's hair, refused to flow there without having him by her side. To please both Ganga and Gautama, Shiva took the shape of a linga, the three-eyed Trimbakeshvar. Ganga flowed by his side as the river Godavari, also known as Gautami. Here the great nathpanthi leader, Gorakshanath, instructed his pupils.

9. Nageshvar Located near Aundh, Maharashtra, this linga arose when local merchants sought Shiva's help to fight the demoness Daruka. She was harassing them, attacking their caravans and stealing their goods. Shiva, accompanied by his serpents, the nagas, drove away this trouble-maker. But Daruka was a great devotee of Parvati and she prayed to the mother-goddess for help. Parvati gave Daruka her protection and gifted her a dense grove where she could reside peacefully without harming anybody. Under the watchful eye of ShivaNageshvar, the lord of the serpents, and his consort Nageshvari, peace was restored between humans and this demoness.

Another Nageshvar-linga is located near Dwarka, Gujarat.

10. Rameshvar This shrine is located near the southern tip of India in Tamil Nadu. Ram killed the demon-king Ravan who had abducted his dear wife Sita. Ravan, despite his shortcomings, was a great devotee of Shiva and his death disturbed the great lord. To appease Shiva, Ram and Sita established this linga on the shores of the sea.

11. Ghushmeshvar Sudharma was childless. Desperate for a child he married his wife Sudeha's younger sister Ghushma. In time Ghushma bore a son. Sudharma was very happy with his second wife and their son. Sudeha, feeling left out, killed her step-son and threw the body into a lake. The whole household was plunged in grief. Ghushma, a great Shiva bhakta, accepted this as the will of her lord. When she went to the well to collect water for her daily worship of Shiva, the lord showed her the corpse of her son. He even offered to kill the wicked Sudeha. Ghushma was not interested in revenge; she accepted her fate without regret. Pleased with his devotee, Shiva decided to stay there as Ghushmeshvar, the lord of Ghushma. This shrine is near Aurangabad. This shrine is also called Ghrishneshvar.

Nearby is the great Kailasa Temple of Ellora carved out of a single rock. Built in the 8th century A.D. by the Rashtrakuta kings, it is a fine example of Indian temple architecture and iconography inspired by Shiva, lord of all arts.

12. Vaidyanath This shrine is located in Marathwada, though some believe it is at Purulia, West Bengal. It was established by Ravan, the king of the rakshasas, quite accidentally. Once Ravan cut off nine of his ten heads to propitiate Shiva. Shiva was so pleased that he gave Ravan a jyotirlinga containing his radiant spirit. The gods feared that with the sacred Unga by his side Ravan would become invincible and threaten cosmic well-being. On his way to Lanka, Ravan experienced the terrible urge to answer the call of nature. He asked a local cowherd to hold the sacred Unga while he relieved himself. But the cowherd could not hold on to it for long. He placed the lingaon the ground. There it remains till this day. The Unga came to be known as Vaidyanath, the great physician, because Dhanvantari, the divine doctor and founder of Ayurveda is said to have merged with this linga. This shrine is also associated with Markandeya, the devotee whom Shiva saved from certain death.

Some believe, that the Unga containing Shiva's soul, atma, was established by Ravan at Gokarna, on the Kanara coast. Ravan tried to uproot the linga, mutilating it, until it looked like a cow's ear gokarna. Hence it is called the Gokama-linga of the strong-god, Mahabaleshvar.

It is interesting to note that both Ram and Ravan, who were sworn enemies, worshipped Shiva and established Shiva temples.

Panch-Bhuta Linga Shiva is Bhuteshvar, lord of the five elements, bhutas: ether {akash),Q.ir {vayu), fire (tejas), water {apas), earth {pnthvi). Shiva as lord of each of these elements resides at five different places in Southern India: the akash-Unga at Chidambaram; the apas-Unga of Jambukeshvar at Trichy; the pnthvi-linga of Ekambamath at Kanchipuram; the tejas-linga of Arunachalam at Tiruvannamalai; and the vayu'linga at Kalahasti.

Natyashala Shiva is the great cosmic dancer, Natesha, who resides in our hearts and minds generating the rhythm of life. He is said to have danced at several places in India. In Tamil Nadu, great dancing halls have been established at these sacred sites. There the art of dancing and its divine significance are explored in detail. These include the "hall of gems' in Tiruvalangadu; the "hall of copper" in Tirunelveli; the "hall of silver" in Madurai; "the hall of pictures" in Kuttalam and the "hall of gold" in Chidambaram, said to be the greatest dancing hall in the universe.


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