Bana Lingas from the depths of the Narmada River

Omkareshwar by the river Narmada

The peace of the night descended as Srinivasan walked down to the banks of the Narmada at Omkareshwar. Across the river, covered in a veil of lights stood the main temple housing the Jyothir Linga. At his feet were the still and gentle waters of the Narmada, ripples that whispered a lot more in the deafening silence. These waters flowed from the very being of Lord Shiva, and as they did they carved out the bed rock into tiny forms of the Lord himself, into Bana Lingas that drew the essence of worship from other worlds within themselves.

Srinivasan recited a Shloka to himself, the origin of which was in folk lore as he pondered:
gangA gItA ca gAyatrI govindeti catuShTayaM |
Catur-gakAra-samyukte punar-janma na vidyate ||

That which started with the syllable "ga" meant emerging forth and being constantly present. As the verse goes, Ganga, Gita, Gayatri and Govinda are constants. In fact the very meaning of Linga in the Agama context signifies "ling" which means to destroy and "ga" which is to emerge. Bana Lingas emerge as natural swayambhuva Shiva Lingas. These are found only in the Narmada river bed and are very sacred stones as they contain the very form and energy of Lord Shiva similar to Jyothir Lingas. They are naturally powerful and hold the essence of divinity within them.

According to the Aparajita-pariprchchha (205, 1-26) there is mythology attached to the Bana Lingas association with the Narmada River. It is believed that when Lord Shiva destroyed the flying city of Tripura (Tripurantakamurthy) which had been obtained by the arrogant demon Banasura, He let go a fiery dart from his bow - Pinaka. This destroyed the three cities into tiny bits, which fell in three spots - on the hills in Sri-kshetra (of unknown identity), on the peaks of Amarkantak in the Vindhya range, and on the banks of the holy river Narmada. These soon multiplied into crores of Lingas and as they were part of the possession of Banasura, they came to be called Bana Lingas. The Padma Purana reveals that the holy river of Narmada has many ghats all of which are associated with Bana Lingas and Raudra Lingas.

Bana is also known to be the eldest son of Bali, who in turn was the son of Virochana and the grandson of Prahalada who was the son of Hiranyakashipu and a great devotee of Narasimha. Banasura himself was a great devotee of Lord Shiva and having done severe penance Shiva granted him in the form of Natural Lingas - Bana Lingas (banrchartham krtam lingam).

Srinivasan watched the silent ripples wash the shores and wondered in amazement over the potency of these waters. These waters protected rounded bed rock within its darkness, that when polished revealed to us, their beauty within. He pulled out a Bana Linga from his pocket and stared at it closely. The Siddhanta Sekhara (an astronomical work by Sripati in 1039 cen A.D.) revealed that the Bana Lingas have already been worshiped by deities and contain the impress of their worship visible in the marks on the Lingas:

Lotus mark (padma) reveals it was worshipped by Brahma
Mark of a parasol (chhatra) indicated Indra
Mark of two heads (siro-yugma) indicated Agni
Three steps (Pada) mark indicated it was Yama
Mark of a mace (Gada) indicated Isana Shiva
Mark of a water vessel (kalasha) indicated varuna
A banner mark (dhwaja) indicated the energy of Vayu

This rendered Bana Lingas as Daiva lingas and hence these Bana Lingas are considered extremely superior compare to other lingas.
The power of the Bana Lingas is felt in a few conditions. A Bana Linga, carrying the marks of Indra when worshipped fulfills all the desires of the devotee and bestows upon him respect and wealth. The Agneya variety of the Bana Linga is warm to touch, and contains the marks of Shakti's weapon. The Yamya Linga has the forms of a cudgel or that of a tongue. The nairutti Linga appears like a sword and carries stains on its body and bestows the benefits of gyana and yoga; however it should not be worshiped by a Grihasta (householder). The Varuna Lingas are round in shape and can be distinguished by the marks of a noose (pasa) and it is worshipped to secure wealth and prosperity. Lingas that signify the energy of vayu are black or ash gray in color and carry a flag post symbol on its head. The Kubera Linga also has the form of a mace (gada) or arrow (tuna) depicted by a hairline like line in the center. The Raudra Lingas are lustrous like a block of ice but bear the marks of a bone or spear. Vishnu's symbols could range from conch shell (samkhabha-mastaka), discus, mace, to the jewel on the chest (sri-vatsa and kaustubha) or foot print.

Srinivasan recollected the ancient verses of Adi Shankaracharya. In the ancient days all cults, namely those of Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Devi and Surya were independent and fighting for supremacy till Adi Shankaracharya set the rules to unite all of them. The result was the performance of the Panchayatana puja, by the Smartas towards their Ishta Devata, that deity being placed as the central altar. Each deity was represented in that aniconic form. This was the worship of the 5 sacred altars. In this orthodox tradition initiated by Adi Shankaracharya, five stones each representing the respective deities are placed on the sacred altar for the Panchayatana worship.

Sun God Surya is represented by a crystal found in Vallam in Tamil Nadu
Mother Goddess Shakti is represented by the Swarnamukhi stone found in Swarnamukhi river in Andhra Pradesh
Vishnu is represented through Salagramas found only in the Ghantaki river in the Himalayas
Ganesha is represented by the red Shonabhadra stone found in the river bed of the Sone river flowing into the Ganges.
Shiva is represented by the Bana Lingas found in the Narmada river bed near the island of Mandhata.
Different sets of rules apply to the Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vanaprastha and the Sanyasa.

Srinivasan got up to leave these waters, reliving his darshan of Narmada Bana Lingas at other potent Shrines.
Here was the ancient belief and promise to a pious and happy existence, and across these waters Srinivasan could see the new world of dams almost submerging all of this reality into the depths of the raging Narmada. Would all this just come to an end? Would this knowledge be submerged into the depths of time and ignorance?

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Shankaracharya Temple
Brihadeshwara Tanjore Temple
Somnath Jyothir Linga
Kashi Vishwanath Varanasi

Other related topics:
The meaning of Jyotir Linga
Jyothir linga Somanatham - The moon descends to earth
Jyotir Linga Omkareswar and Amaleshwar in the Vindhya hills
Jyotirlinga - Kasi Vishwanath, Varanasi
Temple of a saint - Adi Shankaracharya

Courtesy photos and original content:
Shlokas and meaning: Copyright© V. Krishnamurthy
Last updated Oct 2005. Copyright Ajit Krishnan [ 1999 - 2005 ]


Chaunsat yogini temple, Bheraghat Jabalpur

Strange temples that beat the canons of popular architecture echo the presence of an esoteric cult of the Mother Goddess in the form of "Chaunsat Yogini" shrines. Though the cult of the Goddess has survived in a more favorable way of ritual worship, few examples bring to life the extreme form of this worship during the 8th to 12th cen A.D.

In the darkness along the gushing course of the Narmada River, atop a hill in the silence of the moonless night a lamp is lit. The fire of the lamp lights up the faces of 64 Yoginis within the walls of a great temple, the temple of the Goddess. Shakti trasforms into power here, she is pure feminine beauty, she is sexuality and she is life. Raw female power is awakened within these walls of a circular roofless temple and as the ritual unfolds, these graceful yoginis begin to dance. These forms of the Goddess are full breasted and voluptuous with slim waists as they move with grace exuding beauty as the Sadaka worships their many forms, imbibing the very element of Shakti into his experience of the Goddess. As the Chausathi Mahamayavi Tantra and the Chandi Purana of the 15th century composed by Sarala Das describe through folk songs of the era, these yoginis constitute the different parts of the body of the Mother Goddess herself.

Chaunsat Yogini temple interior, Bheraghat
As the night deepens, the winds dance with the flames presenting a divine spectacle. Shiva leela, of a more potent kind spreads through the air within the walls of this temple. 64 beautiful yoginis pronounce the woman in all her grace and beauty to Bhairava, the form taken in by the Sadaka. Casting dancing shadows on the rocky temple floor, these 64 yoginis dance around Shiva and take up their place and sit in Lalitasana within the circle of Bhairava (3 in red in top right corner in the picture below).

Seduction gushes forth as these Goddesses come alive, dressed in flowing skirts held together by an ornate girdle worn low on their hips. Shimmering necklaces and garlands cover their chests, as the sounds of their bangles and anklets in sweet notes fill the air. 64 yoginis, charge the air as they dance around Bhairava, their elaborate hairdo pronouncing their lush beauty, their earrings shimmering in the light of the fire that wakes the sleeping night within this temple. Their lotus eyes bring sweetness to their beings, grace to their forms and warmth to their presence. Bhairava, the potent Lord dances with them within his circle, the Chakra of life, it is an experience for the living. This is the world of the tantriks, this is the world of Bhairava Shiva as the fire cuts through the darkness bringing on the experience of the Goddess divine.

Chaunsat Yogini temple, Hirapur

The aspirant goes into deep meditation, invoking the yoginis as he performs his rituals. Bhairava dances on, waking up the essence of Kuala Marga. The attainment of perfection is the path to Siddhi, one that brings perfection and a higher spiritual bliss of a different kind. The conquest of power and the taming of the Goddess's wilderness, the harnessing of her Supreme beauty into energy render the Sadaka powerful. Five elements are offered to the Yoginis, Matsya (fish) first followed by Mamsa (meat), Mudra (parched grain) and Madya (liquor) and finally Maithuna (couples in intercourse). The juices of life are offered to the yoginis at the culmination of this ritual. The depth of Tantrik sadhana is reached and the energies are imbibed by the aspirant as the 64 yoginis look on from within their niches.

The air is still, the lamp light is feeble, as the floor is flooded with the ritualistic syllables of the Goddesses. This magical world descends into darkness. Most yogini temples have the dancing Bhairava fiercely rendering his presence at the center of the courtyard. Here he dances with the 64 damsels through the night. At the temple of Bheraghat, Lord Shiva descends within the temple, seated with his beautiful consort Parvati on the back of Nandi Bull in the central shrine as they make their way into the tantrik rituals of this temple.

Bheraghat is one of 9 temples that dot the Indian landscape. Other Yogini Shrines are at Hirapur, Ranipur Jharial, and Khandriya Mahadeva temple Khajuraho to name the most prominent. There are dilapidated structures that dot the countryside of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

These temples redefine a strange cult practice that involved human sacrifices and offerings of blood, or the use of fresh corpses out of war (Dead kings, soldiers and warriors) and ritual practices of a tribal (Adivasi) kind that invoke the power of Kali and Mahakala Bhairava of the ancient Tantrik tradition. These 64 yoginis have also been grouped into 8 supreme Goddesses known as the Astamatrika. Interestingly in these temples even Ganesha has a feminine form - Ganeshani (bottom right in red in picture above).

Ganeshani at Bheraghat

These ritual practices have probably died with time or have moved back into the tribal villages of Orissa. What remain are powerful eerie temples that reflect the fury and tantrik power of Shiva Bhairava and the Mother Goddess.

Related posts:
64 Yoginis dance with Bhairava
Potency of Lord Shiva – Part 2
Ekapada Shiva - The one legged Shiva

Photo Courtesy:


Samadhi: Path to the Perfect Cave

The state of Samadhi is one of mystery and intrigue, a state of sublime, a state of constant bliss, commonly known as Nirvana.

Tantra 7 of the Thirumantiram composed by the great Tamil poet Thirumular contains 8 verses 1902 to 1909 that describe what happens when success is achieved in Yoga Samadhi as well as its failures and downfalls. These verses explain why a Jnani’s body is buried and not cremated as well as the ritualistic way in which it needs to be done.

As against common belief that Hindus cremate their dead, there are certain exceptions to the rule. When a Siddhar* fails to achieve Samadhi, he is reborn into this world and continues to worship Lord Shiva from where he had last left off. In the new life that he is granted, he has the complete potential to reach Siddhahood and attains Shiva Yoga, rising into the realm of celestials. When an aspirant goes into Mauna Samadhi he is neither reborn and nor does he attain Jiva Mukta, he is in constant union with the Lord. This is a state of pure consciousness where the body dies but the Siddhar* is still conscious and alive and has completely merged with the Lord. Such a jnani though limited within his human walls during his life time will exude the consciousness that is one with the all pervasive Lord Shiva.

A jnani’s body is never consigned to the flames of a funeral pyre; they say it challenges nature and brings about catastrophic changes to the land where he belonged resulting in disease and famine. Jnani’s are supposed to be buried as per the rules in the Agamic scriptures.

The jnani or Siddhar* is buried in an underground sepulcher which should be located in a riverbed, wooded grove, dense forest or a high mountain valley. The measurements of the sepulcher should be 5 by 5 feet and at a depth of 9 feet. To prepare this chamber, five precious metals and nine rare gems need to be spread within the cave on top of which the seat needs to be placed. Kusha grass is scattered and white holy ash is spread all over the chamber. Further to this turmeric powder in yellow gold mixed with incense is spread over the ash laden grass bed. The cave is square shaped inside and is further covered with garlands of flowers, sandal, musk, and diverse unguents and sprinkled with rose water. The ritual oil lamp is now lit within the cave with complete devotion towards the deceased Siddhar* (jnani). The white holy ash acts as a protective covering around the body. The body is now placed in the appropriate asana and the cave is filled with earth. The Siddhar’s* sandals, earrings and an image with his/her face and eyes decked in suitable clothing are placed over this cave along with rice food and tender coconut. White holy ash is again poured along with powdered incense as well as flowers and vilva leaves. Holy water is sprinkled over this sacred burial chamber and a platform of 3 feet is raised above it. Atop this platform a sapling of a peepal tree is planted or a Shiva Linga is installed. The Sannadhi faces North or East and 16 rituals are performed with complete devotion.

Few Samadhis speak volumes with this approach towards the deceased. Among many Samadhis that dot the Indian countryside some come with excessive divinity, around which the power and magnetic field continues to be strong.

Adi Shankaracharya’s Samadhi, Kedarnath
Samadhi of Siddhar Bogar, Murugan temple at Palani

The small shrine of Adi Shankaracharya at Kedarnath speaks of a Samadhi, at the same place where Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have spent his last days. The cave temple of Siddhar* Bogar, who went into Samadhi in the early part of the Kali Yuga in about 3000 B.C. is even older than that of Adi Shankaracharya. Both Samadhis are found at high altitudes and both have a representation of the Siddhar* and a Shiva Linga installed at the surface. While Adi Shankaracharya’s is a humble version, that of Siddhar* Bogar is a lot more flamboyant. Surrounded by the Nava Durga as well as Sri Bhvaneshwari, and hosting a unique sacred emerald Lingas (Maragada Lingam), not to be found anywhere else in the world along with a right mouthed conch shell, is the self made Samadhi of Siddhar* Bogar, under the main shrine of (Dandapani vigraha) in the Muruga temple at Palani. Interestingly Siddhar* Bogar and Adi Shankaracharya are believed to have traversed the world through air, while the former spread the science of medicine and aviation all the way in China as described in the Saptakanda, the latter went back to his mother during her last moments of life.

The ancient sites of Sanchi, Bharut, Sarnath and Vaishali contain the ash relics of Buddha embedded within a wooden box, with 9 precious stones and earrings of the Bodhisatva. It appears that a square pit was dug here too within the stupa at Vaishali to place these relics and covered with earth, capped by a stupa on top. The gateways depict the life of the Bodhisatva in sculptural representations across their panels.

The sacredness of these shrines leaves us breathless and makes us feel small and not just incompetent but wasteful in our approach for a more perfect life. The question now is “What is perfect living?”


*A person who has acquired all the 8 Siddhis during his lifetime is called a Siddhar. Typically Siddhars belonged to the previous yugas including the beginning of the Kaliyuga and lived approximately for a minimum of 125 to 300 years and a maximum that covered a yuga

Also read: Siddhar Bogar Samadhi, Palani Murugan Temple

Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5, Wikipedia
S.Mahalingam: Painting of Artist Silpi depicting Siddhar Bogar’s Samadhi.


Pataleshwar temple, Shiva Temple in Rashtrakuta Style

Pataleshwar Temple, alias Panchaleshwara temple, Pune:

The ancient land of the Rashtrakutas displays fine craftsmanship in chiseling out a place of residence and worship right into the heart of the very earth that surrounds their land. The Rashtrakutas are better known during the 6th to 8th century for their contributions to the Ellora caves. Their sculpture is not the finest, being extremely broad shouldered sculptures with very small legs; they are rather disproportionate, such that the sculpture cannot carry his/her weight. This is the point of view of a current day art critic.

The Rashtrakutas provided places to stay for wandering intellects and tired travelers during the Monsoons. Pune would have been a fabulous destination during the ancient days. Today the city has grown swallowing up this tranquility into itself with cement residential areas coming up everywhere.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them
There was a time when intellects and monks stayed here in these caves for a brief period. During this time they discussed matters of philosophy and worshipped the Lord in the main shrine. Beating the Monsoons and providing a quiet ambience, Pataleshwar temple defines every inch of what rock cut cave architecture is about. The circular mandapa is a treat to the eye, with pillars carved into a single bed rock that stands sculpted in the middle of the courtyard. This whole temple complex would have once been a sheer solid rock outcrop and carving into it would have been an ambitious task.

Moving back to the era of the 8th century around which time this temple was planned, the initial landscape would have been that of a rocky boulder with probable thick vegetation surrounding it. Assuming the surface was flat, the initial ground plan would have been visualized to describe the form of a Shiva linga, with the current Nandi Mandapa forming the main linga circle of this temple in aerial view. Digging down into live rock, with acute sense of geometry and precision, this temple would have taken a few years to sculpt out of live rock. Situated on the river side, this temple has the perfect ambience of a Buddhist chaitya and vihara.

It was a perfect place to stay, with room like cells dug into the walls on either side of the main hall. The ambience was very close to that of a Buddhist vihara, with a reservoir/well for water supply. This place would have been spectacular during the Monsoons with wet rocky floor carpeted with green moss across. Pataleshwar temple is a simple structure. As a chaitya, it contains a unique central Nandi mandapa, circular on the outside providing a path of circum-ambulation around the stone idol of Nandi housed within 4 square pillars on a square base. Nandi looks on straight towards the shrine chamber of Lord Shiva.

The courtyard is simple, flattened out and smoothened, leading up to a small cave with 2 rows of simple square pillars very similar to those found at Ellora (Teen tala). This cave was carved during the same period hence the resemblance is very vivid. Walking deeper into the main hall, this cave was left half finished in the interiors. What was probably planned for was a path of circum-ambulation around the main sanctum which was left incomplete, mysteriously in the same way as that of the ancient cave temples in the south at Mahabalipuram. The plan for this sanctum was to have a single entrance only.

Two rows of distinctly crafted pillars carefully chiseled out indicates that as the temple was being dug into, there were a set of sculptors polishing up the exterior row of pillars while others had already begun to carve the iconography of the Lord onto the large niches. None of the sculptures remain; hence it’s largely guess work to identify the sculptures of Shiva that adorned these walls. The central zone has three chambers in a line; I would suspect that these were originally empty. The present sculptures of Rama, Lakshman and Sita are later additions, maybe belonging to our era. By iconographical reference, they do not fit into this temple given their Vaishnavite origin. During the 8th century, there was no mix of divinity in these forms.

The main shrine is a living temple today, with a rather small Shiva linga in the center of this little chamber. Given the monumental shrines we see at the sanctums of Ellora, Ajanta and Elephanta, this is particularly small. I would suspect the Linga had been destroyed in time and has now been reinstalled for this size does not fit that era. The shrine chamber definitely has been subjected to a high degree of renovation in current times, given the floor has tiles inlay for the peetha and a brass crown covers the present linga.

This is a beautiful example of Rashtakuta design in sculpture and architecture, a clear representation of deep faith, a result of all the sweat and hard work to sculpt this abode for the Lord. The crowning glory of this region of course is not remembered for the making of this cave temple during this period but later during this period of the Peshwas in 1749 A.D. when Maharaj Chatrapati Shivaji came to reside here with his mother.

The Rashtrakutas have faded into history, their dynamism stretching across Karnataka and Maharastra is embedded within these cave temples that now provide the much needed peace and tranquility in the middle of a bustling metropolitan city.

Photo courtesy: Flickr.com (creative commons)