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.