Jyothir Lingam Sri Sailam - Mallikarjuna temple

Mahonnadham Mahakasam Mahodharam Mahabujam |
Mahavaktram Mallika arjunam Jyothi-swaroopam Namosthuthe ||

Andhra Pradesh, a state baking in the summer heart breaks into lush green carpeted landscape when the monsoons hit the parched lands. The Sri Sailam range has the Krishna River meandering through the foothills. There are places where the river flows inside the mountain, underground and is therefore called Patala Ganga. Legend has it that if one takes a dip in its sacred waters, they are blessed with amazing mind control and purity of thought. They say that even “manaseek darshan” (darshan through the mind) is also very effective here and bears fruit to one’s wishes.

Mallikarjuna is also known to be a Jyothir Linga sthala apart from hosting a Devi Peetham. It has its own share of mythologies surrounding it, in this case more than one event seem to have taken place in history, well beyond the measures of the western calendar.

Chandragupta ruled over a greater part of India, beyond the Northern banks of the Krishna River. He was a benevolent king who for the greater part of his life stayed away from the court fulfilling his royal duties. He had a very beautiful daughter, princess Chandravati who was very pious by nature. One day the princess when to the southern side of the Krishna River into the Sri Sailam forests to do penance. She was accompanied by a group of faithful herdsmen with cattle. She stayed in these forests for a while, and her main diet was milk from the cows.

One day she observed that her cow was not giving milk when the herdsman milked it. Curious to know the reason why, she ordered the herdsman to follow the cow wherever it went. The herdsman came back with news that the cow was yielding milk over a Manikam Shiva Linga (Linga made of Ruby). The princess went over and witnessed this for herself and was left pondering. That night Lord Shiva appeared in Jyotir Swarup in her dream and asked her to build a temple around this sacred Jyotir Linga. The princess built the temple according to the Lord’s instructions and the luminous Lord took the form of Shiva Mallikarjuna. This temple faces east and has a special shrine for Lord Brahma and Nandikeshwara occupies the central hall.

The Sthala puranam has another story to say. Lord Shiva and Parvati once decided to find suitable brides for their sons, Ganesha and Muruga who argued on who would get wedded first. Lord Shiva put the condition that the one who would go around the world in Pradakshinam would get married first. Lord Muruga took his vahana (vehicle), the peacock and flew away on his mission. Lord Ganesha held his hands together in adoration and walked around his parents 7 times. According to the Shastras, going round one’s parents in circumambulation is equal to going around the world in Bhupradakshinam. Having completed first, Lord Shiva got the daughters of Viswaroopan, Siddhi and Buddhi married to Ganesha.

When Muruga returned, he was enraged and went away to Mount Kravunja to stay alone there and assumed the title of Kumarabrahmachari (Bachelor). When Shiva and Parvati went to pacify him, he decided to move to another peak, but stayed back on request of the Devas. Lord Shiva and Parvati came to stay close at Sri Sailam. It is believed that Lord Shiva visits Muruga on Ammavasai and goes back to Parvati during Poornima.

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Jyothir linga Somanatham - The moon descends to earth

The Shiva Purana goes:

Somanadham Someswaram Samastha Gunaparagam |
Gora-Padhaka thavagnim Jyothir-Swaroopam Namamyaham ||

Along the sandy coastline of Northwest India, the Lord descended on earth in a column of fire. He made a divine appearance, one seen by few but sung by many. A flaming Linga of light came to reside along the silent sands of the western sea coast.

It is believed that the Chandra (Soman) was the chosen husband for the 27 beautiful daughters of King Daksha. Good natured and fair, Soman was not just kind to his many wives but presented himself with grace and charm unmatched. But this didn’t last long, Soman’s interested clearly drifted towards one of his wives and he began to favor Rohini over the others and gave her far more attention than the rest.

This angered his remaining wives and they went back heart broken to their father and complained to King Daksha over Soman’s new inclination. King Daksha’s anger knew no boundaries and he cursed Soman that he would lose all the beauty and charm that he was proud of till now.

Having realized his mistake Soman sort the help of the Devas who directed him to Brahma to help him get rid of his curse. Brahma advised him to descend to earth, and meditate on the Mrityunjaya mantra attributed to Lord Shiva at Somnath and seek his favor to get rid of the curse.

Soman (alias Chandra – Moon) descended to earth and along the confluence of the river Saraswati he stood on one leg and started to chant the Mrityunjaya mantra. He chanted for years until finally, Lord Shiva who was pleased with his penance appeared before him in the form of a light or Jyotir Swarupa. Lord Shiva couldn’t reverse the curse but he promised Soman that for one fortnight in a month he would grow to appear bright, charming, and glow to his fullest form for one night but the other fortnight of the month he would fade into darkness. Shiva promised him that he would be seated among his locks or jatas waxing and waning through the month. The waxing phase of the moon is called Krishna Paksham and the waning phase is called Sukla Paksham.

Within the shrine chamber is a sacred Jyothir linga, covered in red, with the Moon on its crown. Someswara Linga is potent for it has also been worshipped by Chandrabagha devi, making this place a Shakti peetham. The devi shrine resides behind the Shiva Linga itself. It was in later centuries that a temple was built to house the fiery Lord and his consort.

Also read: PRAN PRATISHTHA by Sardar Shri Vallabhbhai Patel


The meaning of Jyotir Linga

Jyotir Lingas, is a common household term, spoken by few with reverence and remembered by many in terms of geographical locations and associated temples. As we all know, there are 12 Jyotir Lingas in the Indian subcontinent. But what are Jyotir Linga? What makes up this Linga? Why are they so different from all the others?

Jyotir Lingas are associated with the vision of a column of fire. The only known sculpture of this kind is Shiva Lingodbhava. Yet these Lingas are of a different kind and are believed to be flame or the fiery form of the very Lord Himself.

When one begins to dwell into Jyotir lingas, the other symbolisms cease to exist. His association with the more obvious phallic symbol, the cults of tantriks and His connection to Devi and the miracle of birth depicted within the garbha griha do not seem to hold the same clout. We cannot associate Shiva with any one symbolism alone, He means different things to different people depending on their level of spiritual evolution at different times.

The presence of Jyotir lingas appears in many disconnected stories ranging from subduing ones vanity, to disconnection from the cycle of death and rebirth, to killing all demons but maintaining constant meditation to Lord Shiva for spiritual upliftment. Some of these stories have one underlying thread, and that is Shiva appearing as a column of fire or a flame or in a fiery form in each case. What appears in each temple is a simple unassuming stone Linga, like any other Linga found around the country, but with a difference.

When a devout person worships the Lord and rises up his spiritual ladder, he does not see the Linga anymore, but he witnesses a flame, or light in the place of a Linga. He witnesses the column of fire in his mind's eye. 12 jyotir lingas were brought into the Indian landscape as early as the Tretayuga, each temple built in a different era and therefore bringing with it a variety in architecture depending on the century and dynasty they were built under. The Jyotir Lingas are themselves far more ancient and didn't have an associated temple when they first came up.

Shiva stotras list out the names and locations of 12 Jyotir Lingas still in existence, and the belief goes as follows:

Yethaani Jyotir Lingaani shaayaam pratham pathenaram|
sapta janmaakritam paapam smaranine vinasthi|
Sri Shiva sharanam prabhatyey||

Meaning: These are the Jyothir Lingas of Lord Shiva, whose names if recited in the morning and evening every day with devotion destroys the accummulated sins of the aspirant over the last 7 births, and gives him all the Siddhis and brings the aspirant to rest at the feet of Lord Shiva Himself.

Having done this, and having lived as a devout Shaivite, there is then a possibility that the aspirant actually witnesses the flames of enlightenment within the Jyotir Linga.


When the priest becomes a lady

Click on photo to enlarge

Thiruvanaikkaval, Srirangam:

We walked into the temple, the thick stone walls beat out the heat. The cool dark interiors were most welcoming for any tired traveler seeking the blessings of the Lord. Its a small temple but here we witnessed tradition in full swing. It was the time for the Uchyakala puja, at the stroke of 12.00pm

It was not a Cinderella we saw, but quite something else. Having completed the worship and abhishekam of the Mother goddess at the Amman shrine, a priest came dressed in a maroon silk saree with rudraksha beads round his neck. Two beaded necklaces hung down from a well covered chest and a benign look on his face made him look very close to the Goddess Herself.

He walked in gracefully, his calm face adding to the charm. He wore a crown on his head, a brilliant maroon velveted crown with semi precious stones depicting Lord Shiva Jambukeshwara on it. He carried a pot with water almost making it appear like Parvati, the consort of the Lord who had descended to bathe Him with her very hands. He looked divine, straight out of the 11th century walking into the temple today.

The thick wooden doors creaked open, and he slipped through while the crowd savored the spectacle they had just witnessed. We waited for a few moments more, understanding why he was dressed that way when the doors were thrown open to all.

The very incarnate of the Goddess who had bathed the Lord now held the flame up to Him. The Arti started and each lamp with a million tiny flames was served up in circular motion to the Lord who stayed behind a grill window. The fire rose into the air, the smoke clouding the interiors, a figure raised his hands, adorned with a crown on his head that was taken straight out of Krishnadeva Raya's closet. I wondered what else there was hidden within these small towns that boast more of our living culture than the cities.

Minutes after the flames rose, and the bells rang, the crowd was allowed to visit the sacred shrine of the Lord representing water. We all moved in, taking our respective queues but no where could we set eyes on that Goddess again. She was just gone.

P.S. This is just my rough attempt to capture that moment to you. Please excuse lack of proportion in the sketch.