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.
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.
108 Lingas along the Tungabhadra
Within a watery bed of peace
Copyright Gillian Mee. All rights reserved
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Glossary of Indian Art - Original photos and text ©2002 Michael D. Gunther.