Narmadakund, Amarkantak: Origin of the Narmada river

नर्मदायै नमः प्रातः
In the wake of dawn
Calm reigns supreme
The waters at the Narmadakund rise
Life giving waters for the living

She originates here

Goddess Narmada gushes forth

From the very being of Lord Shiva

She rises to bless the land

Life giving waters flow
The Mother rises to shine
Protects us from venomous snake bite
Purifies our souls divine

Amarkantak, Madhya Pradesh: Narmada is serene beauty that descends from heaven, from Lord Shiva's being and she descends onto the earth here at the holy town on Amarkantak, Madhya Pradesh. This is the sacred place from here the great river Narmada originates and flows towards the Arabian Sea. The Narmada is one among three rivers that originate here, the Sone river originates at Sonemuda near Narmadakund in the Maikal mountains. The third river is Juhila River that originates further away.

Tripurantaka Shiva destroyed the 3 demon cities of Tripura, while they burnt down to ashes, one of the cities fell at Kailash, the ashes of the second fell at Amarkantak and Lord Shiva saved the ashes of the third city from falling anywhere. When the ashes fell here, they turned into crore of Shiva lingas, of which only one remains in the temple of Sri Jwaleshwar Mahadev, 8 kms from Amarkantak. This is called Maha Rudra Meru, one of only 2 such places with Maha Rudra Meru, the other being Varanasi.

Kalidasa is known to have visited Amarkantak and names the place Amrakoot after the beautiful mango groves that dotted this sacred land. Adi Shankaracharya is known to have come and resided by the river side and consecrated its banks, he also founded the Pataleshwar temple at Amarkantak from a clump of bamboo trees. This place is called Surajkund today.

Amarkantak has found its place in the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vasishtasamhita and Shatapatha Brahmana. Situated near the ancient city of Kalinga, Amarkantak is a place where Gods, Gandharvas, Asuras and Rishis have achieved divine spiritual powers. This river has its own story to tell, one that is unique and particularly different from that of the Ganges.

नर्मदायै नमः प्रातः नर्मदायै नमो निशि
नमोऽस्तु नर्मदे तुभ्यं त्राहि मां विषसर्पदः
जरत्कार्वोर्जरत्कर्वां समुत्पन्न महायशाः

अस्तीक सत्यसन्धो मां पन्नगेभ्यो अभिरक्षतु
नर्मदायै = To Goddess (river) Narmada;नमः = I bow; my salutations; प्रातः = in the morning;
नर्मदायै = To Goddess (river) Narmada; नमो = I bow; my salutations; निशि = during the night;
नमोऽस्तु = I bow and give you my salutations; नर्मदे = Oh! Narmada river;
तुभ्यं = to you; त्राहि = Save me; protect; मां = me; विषसर्पदः = from the poisonous snakes;
जरत्कार्वोर्जरत्कर्वां = the wife of Jaratkaru; समुत्पन्न महायशाः = people of great renown;
अस्तीक = To the sage Astika; सत्यसन्धो = One bound to speak or defend the truth; मां = me; पन्नगेभ्यो = to or from serpents or snakes; अभिरक्षतु = Let one protect me.

This is a prayer to Goddess Narmada to purify the soul as well as protect oneself from the deadly venum of Snake bite.

"Salutations to the Goddess Narmada, the river Goddess in the morning and in the evening. Oh Goddess I bow to you, I salute you, please protect me from the venomous serpents and purify my soul."

The mythology of associated snake bite goes as follows:

The Mahabharata tells the story of an ascetic named
Jaratkaru, who saw some of his ancestors suspended over a deep pit, with their heads downwards on a rope of fiber which was being gradually gnawed at by a rat. On inquiring why they hung down that way, they replied saying that they were his ancestors and were brought to this state because he had not yet got a son to perform certain rites if he continued to remain childless. The rope would break and they would fall through into the pit. Jaratkaru agreed to give up his life as an ascetic and decided to marry a woman who had a name same as his. Once when he visited Nagaloka, Vasuki, the king of serpents, offered his sister Jaratkaru in marriage to the ascetic. They had a son named Astika who came to be the protector of Serpents.

Meanwhile King Parikshit(a descendant of the Pandavas) had died of a serpent bite and his son king Janamejaya ascended the throne of Hastinapura. King Janamejaya bore a deep grudge against serpents and performed the great Sarpa satra yagna that would destroy all living serpents. With the commencement of the yagna, with every spell recited within a mantra, a sarpa would fall into the flames for each "Swaha" oblation. Many serpents perished in the yagna flames, seeing the plight of the remaining nagas, the Naga king approached
Jaratkaru for help. Astika was asked to go and stop King Janamejaya from continuing his sarpa satra yagna. Astika promised King Janamejaya that no serpent would venture into a place that is inhabited by people. The serpents are obliged to keep their promise by hitting their heads thrice on the ground. By the recitation of this mantra the serpent's promise comes alive that they will never attack a human being until provoked. The Goddess Narmada is invoked in this prayer to save oneself from serpents.
नर्मदायै नमो निशि
O Goddess Narmada, I bow to you by night.

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Bhojeshwar Mandir, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh


Enlightenment - The meaning of Sahasra Linga

In the sun light from heaven
a thousand Lingas shine
the Lord is present
in every stone divine

The holy river waters flow
a constant worship unfolds
a world of Gods revealed
on bed rock shining gold

The light of enlightenment
has many paths defined
the brilliance of creation
manifests in every shrine

In the silence one can hear
the shimmering waters flow
ablution to the Lord
in the lap of nature unknown

The air echoes the names
the thousand names of the Lord
whose halo shines a fiery flame
feet bless with the waters of life

Depth of faith and meticulous worship can bring alive a world very different from what is familiar in temples. While worship is primarily carried out in temples, meticulously built with the yantra of the presiding deity embedded within the shrine chamber capped by the stone idol, there was yet another form of worship that took place in parallel beyond the walls of the temple. Within the temples we get to see one kind of form of the Sahasra Linga, where a single Linga is faceted and carries on itself a 1008 smaller Lingas. Like the Sahasra Linga at the Parashurameshwar temple Orissa given below, there are such kinds of Lingas installed in temple precincts as well as within shrine chambers across the country.
Yet there was another practice, that leaves us breathless when one descends into that realm. Far away from the civilized world, deep within the forests, along sacred river sides, Shiva worshipers made their own temples in the open. It is a different world, leaving behind the yantra culture that originated from the time of Adi Shankaracharya. These are power centers, of divine presence, meticulously carved into every rock in and around a flowing river.

The beauty of this breath taking creativity can be found in few remote locations. While Hampi(Karnataka) boasts of 1008 and 108 Shiva Lingas carved on the rocks along the Tungabhadra, the Shalmala river to the north in Karnataka has Lingas scattered across its sides. The ambiance around these power centers lifts the mind to a new realm of worship.

Click on the image to enlarge
These power centers bring with them a feeling of sublime, where divinity present leaves us speechless, imbibing every moment we spend in front of these amazing shrines. Across the Shalmala river are the Sahasra Lingas, not all in one, but each carved into every known bedrock across a single stretch of the river. In the moon lit night, as the silver flakes dance around the jingling waters, one sits face to face with a 1008 Lingas, echoing the names of the Lord in every ripple passing by.

Far away in Cambodia, deep among the silent rivers that flow through the forests, not far from Angkhor Wat in South East Asia, are another striking example of similar beauty. Here at Kbal Spean is another series of Shiva Lingas, reliving the Sahasra Linga form of Lord Shiva. What overwhelms the heart and mind, is this creation brought alive in the pure waters that flow through these shrines. But why were these shrines created? Why were they meticulously carved into bedrock of fast flowing rivers that could have claimed lives? And why is it called Sahasra Linga? The answer lies in the account presented by the sculptural evidence of the Buddha, in the Miracle at Shravasti.

Click on the images to enlarge

The account: "The actual miracles took place the following morning. The first of these is known as the yamakapratiharya, or "pair illusion" where the Buddha rose into the air and issued flames from his shoulder and water from his feet. The second miracle is known as mahapratiharya," or Great Illusion" where, the Buddha divided himself into multiple bodies, thereby creating an illusion in which every person present had his or her own Buddha to converse with..."

Sahasra is the state of enlightenment, a state where divinity shines forth as a golden halo of fiery flames around the head and water begins to flow from the feet and the enlightened being appears to multiply such that they are present in numerous parts, each for every devotee witnessing them. This state has been rendered in the description of Krishna dancing with each gopi at the same moment, Buddha multiplying himself in the Miracle of Sravasti, Christ walking on water and Shiva Rudra with rising flames on his shoulders around his head. Sahasra is a visible state that shows the world that a person has reached spiritual enlightenment, it is possible to attain and these river shrines reinforce that phenomenon depicting constant water flow at the feet of 1000 lingas.

Related topics:
108 Lingas along the Tungabhadra
Within a watery bed of peace

Copyright Gillian Mee. All rights reserved
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0
Huntington archive.osu.edu/studypages/
Glossary of Indian Art -
Original photos and text ©2002 Michael D. Gunther.


Shiva and the meaning of life

I am an illusion
I am an enigma
I am that which I myself don’t know
I am not the person you see
I am just a drop
In the ocean of life
I am the soul
Another form like you

I am Shiva, I am He
I am constant, endless
I am a phenomenon unknown
I am the truth
I am what is before birth
I am what is after death
The illusion you see in between
Is not really me

I am that mystery
I am what I search for
I do not even know
Who or what am made of
I am not ego, nor the self
I am no daughter or mother
I am life, I am breath
i am that bliss, that ecstasy
I am divinity that even I don’t know

Asato maa, Sadgamayaa
Tamaso maa, Jyotirgamayaa
Mrityor maa, Amritam Gamayaa
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

The Shanti Mantra beautifully renders this truth, that what we call the self is really non existent and we live in an illusory world where we are defined by the roles we play rather than who we really are. This deep inherent search for the self, mingled with life's experiences that makes our search far more complex is all in the state of the mind.

Asato maa, Sadgamayaa
This is the definition of our journey through life, life being a medium but not the end. Through this path laden with events and experiences shaping up our personality, clouded by circumstances and emerging with a brutally beaten ego we are like travelers who stray away not knowing where they lost touch of their chosen destination. This journey is from ignorance to bliss, this journey is in the mind as we sieve through various facets of our external life. This is not a journey from birth to death, but a constant attempt to give up the illusory self- The "I" in me, the ego - to calm a jumping mind.

Tamasoma, Jyotir Gamaya

This is worship to be delivered from ignorance to eternal bliss. With every passing event, leaving us undeterred and detached is when the mind begins to settle. The mind begins to reach a state of equilibrium, where there is silence, where there is nothing, no thought, no fear but pure consciousness. This is the state of bliss, where the only sounds are that of OM, the fundamental sound that shapes this universe. Externally, this is a state when we cease to ask for external approval, we cease to seek attention, we live without ego massage. Now we are ready to be alone in a room faced with our self and the feeling is of complete bliss, and time ceases to exist. This is the moment to feel the inner light of spiritual ecstasy.

Mrityor maa, Amritam Gamayaa
This is worship for salvation. Arriving at the state of bliss is a constant, where the world ceases to exist and the mind continues to rest within that silent room of the self. The world is visibly external, its sounds can’t be heard, its presence can’t be felt, its noise cannot be experienced. It’s the death of the ego, its the death of "I", I don’t exist any more. I am bliss, I am Amrit, I am the constant, I am potency, I am present as I should be, I am beyond life and death, I am real, I am divine.

Moolatho Brahma Roopaya, Madhyato Vishnu Roopini
Agratas Shiv Roopaya, Vriksha Rajayte Namaha

Another depiction of this bliss is in the worship of the banyan tree or the Ashwatha Vriksha. The banyan tree is the emblem of life, symbolizing the constant. The banyan tree is also considered to be the symbol of the trimurthy, with Brahma at the root of creation, Vishnu representing the shaft is a symbol of sustenance and Shiva resides at the top bring out in full bloom and life, therefore describing its form as the Shiva linga itself. Such is the beauty of this tree that it describes the constant of life, the eternal bliss that we search for, within ourselves.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Photo courtesy: Pal V, Photographer, Mumbai.
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Hayagriva, the lesser known Vishnu Avatara

In the ocean of knowledge
Lord Brahma resides
On his lotus throne
Creating the world
Creating live

He breathes in life
Lets loose the pearls
Of knowledge and wisdom
Embedded in the Vedas
The essence ready to unfold

As the worlds come alive
The Vedas gone
Stolen by the demons,
Madhu and Kaitabha...

The demons Madhu and Kaitabha are associated with Lord Vishnu and Brahma in many ways. They are known to have infamously stolen the Vedas while the worlds were being created. The vedas, the root of all knowledge, carrying the essence of living had to be retreaved from the Asuras(demons). Fearing greater loss, the Devas went to Devi who directed them towards Vishnu to retreave the Vedas. In pure whiteness, dressed in blue, Lord Vishnu descended onto the earth in the form of Hayagriva, human by nature but horse headed in form, to fight the demons and destroy them...

In Sakta tradition, Hayagriva is also the name of a demon who was the son of Kashyapa Prajapati. He did severe penance and won the favor of Goddess Durga, and asked for a boon that he should be killed only by another Hayagriva. This almost made him invincible and he began to harass the Devas. The Devas turned to Vishnu for aid, who despite a long struggle was unable to kill him. Vishnu returned to Vaikuntham and started severe penance in padmasana with his head supported by his bow. The Devas went back to request him again but were unable to shake him out of his meditation. They tried to break his deep conentration with the help of termites gnawing at the string of the bow, but the snapping of the bow resulted in the string lashing out with such force that Vishnu's head was severed from his body. It was now that Devi revealed the boon of the demon Hayagriva to the devas and told them to have Vishnu's head replaced with that of a pure white horse, making him another Hayagriva, in order to kill the demon...

Hayagriva is represented 4 armed, carrying Shanka and chakra in two hands, a rosary(aksha-mala) in the third and his fourth is in the vyakhya mudra. He is also found holding the vedas in some occasions. Hayagriva is associated with the purity of knowledge and is represented in the same way as Saraswati. White is a symbolism of purity that is depicted in the "white horse" face he adorns.

In Vaishnavite tradition, Vedanta Desika (born in 1317 A.D. in Thoopul near Kanchipuram) is considered to be the incarnation of the ghanta(bell) of the Lord of Thirupati. He was a child prodigee who had risen to the status of "Acharya" at the age of 27. On initiation into the realm of the Garuda mantra, Desikan went to Thiruvahindrapuram and began chanting. Pleased with his devotion, Garuda initiated him into the Hayagriva Mantra, encompassing all knowledge. Lord Hayagriva appeared to Desika and presented him an idol of Himself, hence all temples dedicated to Desika have an idol of Hayagriva installed near him. Thiruvahindrapuram has one of the most ancient temples dedicated to Hayagriva.

Hayagriva shrine in Hayagriva Madhab Temple, Manikuta Parvat

Interestingly far away in Assam, on the Manikuta Parvat(hill) in Hajo, near Kamakhya devi temple is the Hayagriva Madhav temple. It is also believed that Hayagriva composed the Vedas during the process of creation. A very ancient idol of Hayagriva is installed at this temple too. The interesting aspect of this temple is that it is highly regarded by buddist for they believe it contains an ancient relic of the Boddhisatva.

In another legend the Vaishnavite tradition in Orissa is brought to light. King Indradyumna of Orissa had a dream, where the Lord instructed him that a big tree would come floating in the sea and he would have to cut it into 7 pieces. 2 of these pieces have been brought to Kamarupa (the others were carved into Krishna Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra at the Jagannath Mandir Puri), one of which has been fashioned into the form of Hayagriva and the other as Madhava(Matsya). It is also believed that the Hayagriva avatar of Vishnu might have preceeded the Matsya avatar.

Last but not the least, Hayariva holds the same importance as Saraswati when it comes to imparting knowledge. Garuda had initiated Vedanta Desika into the Hayagriva Mantra as previously mentioned. It is a tradition even today for children to recite this mantra before they begin they daily studies.

Hayagriva Shlokam goes as follows:

Gyaananandamayam Devam | Nirmala Spadikakruthim ||
Aadaram Sarva Vidyanaam | Hayagreevam Upasmahe ||

Vidyaarambam begins with a prayer to Sri Hayagriva praising him as the presiding deity for all knowledge. May he grant us the power to imbibe this knowledge we seek with the recitation of this mantra.

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