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12 Most Sacred Jyotirlingas in India

Legend has it that once the two gods, Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu once had a dispute as to who is supreme. To settle Lord Shiva produced a huge pillar of light and asked both of them to go in different directions and find the end of the pillar which was eternal. Lord Brahma chose to go in the upward direction and Lord Vishnu went in the downward direction to find the ends. However, Vishnu lastly accepted defeat but when Lord Brahma returned he chose to lie and said that he did find the end of the pillar. On hearing this, Lord Shiva cursed Brahma that he would not be involved in any religious ceremony even after being the creator of the universe but blessed Vishnu and said that he would be worshipped on earth till eternity.

The Jyotirlingas which are considered to be the most sacred places for the Shaivites is said to have originated from this infinite pillar of light. The word “Jyotirling” can be broken into two terms, “Jyoti” meaning light and “linga” meaning phallus. There are 12 such Jyotirlingas in India as mentioned by Adi Shankaracharya in his ‘Dwadasha Jyotirling Strotam’. According to the religious texts Lord Shiva appeared on the earth on the night of Aridra Nakshatra and thus there is a special reference to Jyotirlinga in the texts. There are 64 Jyotirlingas in total but only 12 are given utmost importance.

  • Somnath Temple

The Somnath temple is located in Gujarat and is one of the most important jyotirlingas. This temple is built on a Triveni Sangam of Hiran, Kapila, and Saraswati Rivers. The legend related to this temple is that the Moon was married to 27 daughters of Daksh Prajapati out of which he loved Rohini the most. Daksha, after getting angry because the moon did not give enough attention to his other daughters, cursed him that he will lose all his beauty and lustre. The moon prayed to Lord Shiva to reverse the curse made by Prajapati after which Lord Shiva gave his beauty back to him. The moon offered himself in return and Shiva placed him in his hair locks. From then on, Shiva is also known as Somnath which means the lord of the moon. The other gods and deities requested Bholenath to make the place his abode and so he appeared in the form of linga there.

It is believed that the linga contained in its hollow self a Syamantak Mani or the Philosopher’s stone of Lord Vishnu which is believed to have immense alchemic and radioactive qualities and creates a magnetic field around the linga to keep it floating above the ground. The temple also has a special mention in Shreemad Bhagwat, Skandapuran, Shivpuran, and Rig Veda.

This temple has been looted several times by invaders and rebuilt time and again. The latest structure was planned to be restored by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in November 1947.

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  • Mallikarjunaswamy Temple

This temple is a tremendously beautiful piece of architecture situated in Shrisailam among the Nallamala hills in Andhra Pradesh. This is also known as the Kashi of the South. Legend has it that Kartikeya left home to live alone and came to Krahill. He did not allow his parents to live with him so Devi Parvati and Lord Shiva settled on the Srisailam hill.

According to another story, a demon Arunasura prayed to Lord Shiva and in return, Shiva granted him a boon that no living being with two or four legs could kill him. But, over time, he started terrorizing the world. Lord Shiva asked goddess Durga to kill him who then released thousands of six-legged bees to sting him to death. Because of this event, Durga acquired the name of Bramarambika and the temple is also known as the Bhramarambika Mallikarjuna Swamy temple.

So, the unique feature of this temple is that this place has both a jyotirlinga and one among the 52 shakti paths situated alongside which is considered divine by the pilgrims.

  • Mahakaleshwar Temple

This temple is situated in Ujjain and it is one of the venues where the auspicious Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years. It has the idol of Nagchandreshwar situated on its third story which opens once a year on the day of Nag Panchami. To the south of the temple is located the image of Nandi which is the vehicle of Lord Shiva. The deities of Lord Ganesha, Lord Karthikeya, and Goddess Parvati are installed in the west, east, and north of the sanctum respectively.

The amazing feature of this temple is that the jyotirlinga is facing south and this is also called Dakshinmukhi. This temple also finds its mention in the works of poet Kalidasa.

The legend behind this temple goes that there was once a family in Avanti (now Ujjain) who used to worship Lord Shiva daily. Near them lived a demon on the Ratanmala Hills named Dooshana. Asura Dooshana used to hate all forms of Shiva and Vedic worship and kill people who used to worship almighty. After coming to know about the family, Dooshana attacked Avanti. However, the family did not quit worshipping Shiva and installed a shiva linga. When the demon reached the family’s home, he and his soldiers started hurling weapons. Darshana broke the door open and ran towards the Shivalinga with a sword in his hand. At the same time, a dreadful form appeared in front of the Shivalinga beyond imagination and just one glance burned the demon and his soldiers down into ashes. This form of Lord Shiva came to be known as Mahakal because of its fierce appearance and anger. However, just reducing the demons into ashes did not cull the anger of Shiva and he gave a huge roar which made the entire universe tremble in fear.

From then on, the jyotirlinga there became known to the world as Mahakaleshwar.

  • Omkareshwar Temple

The Omkareshwar jyotirlinga is located in the Mandhata Hills among the Vindhya ranges in Madhya Pradesh. The island on which the temple is situated is said to have taken a shape of Ohm in the kali yuga. Thus, the name of the temple was kept the Omkareshwar temple, Omkareshwar meaning the “Lord of the Ohm sound.”

Like the other temples, this temple also has a story related to its creation. The story is that once the Vindhya Parvat prayed to Shiva to make him his abode. Impressed by his devotion, Shiva granted his wish and appeared as a jyotirlinga on the mountain on the condition that Vindhya would not trouble the local people and pilgrims coming to worship the jyotirlinga. But on the request of the Gods, he split the linga into 2 parts, the first part being Omakreshwar on the Mandhata hills and the second part being the Mamleshwar or Amreshwar on the mainland.  However, the Vindhya Parvat forgot his promise over time and grew only bigger and bigger thus making the place difficult to reach for the devotees. The devotees then requested Agasthya Rishi to help them. So, Rishi Agasthya ordered the mountain to stop growing till he returned to which he never did thus solving the problem.

  • Bhimashankar Temple

Bhimashankar temple is situated in the Sahyadri hills of Pune, Maharashtra. This temple is an extraordinary example of Nagara architecture and is surrounded by a wildlife sanctuary. The distinctive feature of this temple is that the Jyotirlinga installed her is said to be “Swayambhu” meaning manifested on its own.

The story mentioned in the religious texts is that the demon Bhima used to live in the Sahyadri ranges who got to know that he was the son of Kumbhakarana. Angry at the fact that Lord Vishnu killed his father in the Avatar of Lord Rama, he prayed to Lord Brahma who granted him immense strength. He then imprisoned an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and asked him to pray to Shiva instead of him to which the devotee denied. Angered by the denial, Bhima raised his sword to destroy the Shivalinga but at the same time, Shiva manifested in front of the shiva linga and reduced the demon into ashes. This was the story behind the Shivalinga being called Swayambhu. It is also said that the Bhima River situated there is formed from the sweat which poured from Shiva while battling the demon.

  • Rameshwaram Temple

This Dravidian-style architecture is the most important pilgrimage site in Southern India. It is situated off the setu coast on the Rameshwaram Island in Tamil Nadu and can be reached from Madurai.  This temple is famous for its architecture and has the record of having the longest hall which tanks 1212 pillars with the tallest pillar of the height of 53 m. There are two separate lingas installed in this temple namely the Ramalingam and the Vishwalingam.

The story linked with this temple dates back to the time when Lord Rama returned from the battle with Ravana after successfully bringing Sita back with him. He stopped at this place where he had also worshipped before setting out on the journey towards Lanka. Sita and Rama decided to install the largest Shivalinga at this place and, therefore, sent hanuman to Kailasha to bring one. When hanuman did not return after some time, Devi Sita herself built a small shiva linga from the sand on the beach and named it Ramalingam. By the time, Hanuman also brought one from Kailasha and they installed it there by the name Vishwalingam.

The temple also has 22 teerthas or holy water bodies and one is expected to take a dip in all these water bodies before entering the sanctum sanctorum. These 22 teerthas are believed to be established by the 22 arrows in Rama’s quiver. There are separate shrines within the temple namely Santanaganapthi, Mahaganapathi, Ramnathaswamy, Visalakshi, Parvathavardhini, Subramanya, Mahalaxmi, Nataraja, Setumadhava, and Ajaneya.

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  • Nageshwar Temple

The Nageshar temple is located in Saurashtra, Gujarat between the Bait Dwarka and Gomati Dwarka. The prominent characteristics of this temple are that it has a huge statue of Shiva which is 25 m tall and it has an underground sanctum. Lord Shiva has a historic connection with snakes. He is always portrayed with a snake named Vasuki around his neck. This temple is named Nageshwara which means “Lord of the Serpents”. It is believed that one is relieved of all kinds of poison from the mind and body if one worships Nageshwara.

The story behind the Nageshwar temple as mentioned in the Shiva Mahapurana is that the city was earlier infested with sea snakes and the demon Daaruk ruled over them with his wife Daaruka. Daaruk had imprisoned Supriya among many other people. Supriya was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and he prayed to him even while in prison and urged the other companions to also chant “Om Namah Shivaay” with him. Enraged by this, Daaruk ran to kill Supriya but Lord Shiva manifested and annihilated the demon. That is how this jyotirlinga was formed.

  • Baidyanath Temple

The Baidyanath temple is located in the Santhal Pargana of Deoghar, Jharkhand, and is also known as the Hardapeeth. It is much revered among the devotees and people believe that worshipping this shrine liberates the soul of all the worldly sorrows and miseries. There are a lot of interesting stories associated with this place. The first story is that Ravana prayed to Lord Shiva and asked for the boon of becoming omnipotent. He offered his ten heads one by one to Shiva. Shiva got impressed by his devotion and came down to earth to cure his injuries. That is why this place went on to be known as Baidyanath because Lord Shiva became a Baidya or a doctor for his devotee.

Another story that is also quite popular is that Ravana prayed for a long time to Lord Shiva to make Lanka his abode. On his request, Shiva gave him a Shivalinga and said that if he establishes it, it would be as good as his presence but also warned that it will be installed wherever it is placed. The afraid gods requested God Varuna to enter Ravana’s body. When Varuna did so, Ravana felt an urgent need to relieve himself and that is when Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of a Brahmin. Ravana handed the linga to the Brahmin and went to relieve himself. Vishnu mischievously placed the linga on the ground and disappeared. That is how the jyotirlinga got installed in Deoghar.

There is also a very interesting but painful story because of which this place is also revered as a shakti peeth. It is said that Sati, the first consort of Lord Shiva, got to know about a Yagya taking place at her father Daksha’s house. She requested Lord Shiva to go but Shiva, in turn, said that it would not be wise to visit without an invitation. However, Sati did not listen and went to Daksha’s house. Angered by the insult of Lord Shiva there, Sati entered the same Yagya and sacrificed herself. When Lord Shiva got to know about the death of his love, he was exasperated and mourned her death by performing Tandav with her body in his arms. To stop his mourning, Lord Vishnu cut Sati’s body with his Sudarshan chakra into 52 pieces and it is said that the heart of Devi Sati fell at this very place. Thus, it is known as the Hardapeeth.

  • Trimbakeshwar Temple

The Trimbakeshwar temple is situated 30 km away from Nasik near the mountain named Brahmagiri in Maharashtra. It is said to be located on the head end of the Godavari River which is also known as “Gautami Ganga.” Lord Shiva was requested by Gautam Rishi and many other gods to reside in the mountain. Shiva agreed and took the name of Trimbakeshwar. Gautam Rishi was also rewarded by Lord Varuna with an inexhaustible granary. However, out of envy, the other gods sent a cow in the granary which was mistakenly killed by Gautam Rishi. When he requested Shiva to purify the premises, Shiva asked Ganga to flow through the region.

This temple is unique in itself because it does not have a shiva linga but three pillars representing the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh.

  • Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Kashi Vishwanath temple is the most important of the 12 sacred jyotirlingas and is situated in Kashi (Varanasi). This temple is said to be the dearest to Lord Shiva himself. Kashi Vishwanath is also believed the first jyotirlinga to have manifested and Shiva appeared as a sizzling column of light by breaking the earth’s crust and moved towards heaven. It is believed that the earth is created by this very first ray of light which appeared in Kashi. This temple is associated with the belief that Shiva himself used to reside here and liberate the devotees from worldly affairs and worries. This place is described in the Holy texts where the humans (referred to as micro) get to connect with the cosmos (referred to as macro). Because of the belief that Shiva provided salvation to people coming to him in Kashi, this place is also referred to as Maha Shamshana (the largest cremation ground).

The legend related to this place is that Devi Parvati’s mother was worried that her daughter’s husband does not have an abode and therefore Lord Shiva asked a demon Nikumbha to make this place suitable for living with his wife. It was at this place that Mother Parvati acquired the name “Annapoorani” and Shiva, the master of all, is said to himself ask for food from Mother in a begging bowl. This is also one among the 52 shakti peethas as Devi Sati’s left arm fell in Varanasi.

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  • Kedarnath Temple

The Kedarnath temple is situated at the source of the Mandakini River in the Garhwal Himalayas. This is the most difficult of all the pilgrimage sites in India. The original temple is said to be built by the Pandavas of Mahabharata but the present structure is designed by Adi Shankaracharya who attempted to revive Hinduism.

It is said that the Pandavas travelled to Kashi in search of Lord Shiva because they wanted to absolve themselves from the sins after the battle of Mahabharata. However, Lord Shiva transformed into a bull and escaped to Uttarakhand. When Pandavas got to know about this, they followed the lead of the bull and reached here. It is at Kedarnath that they made a shiva linga and prayed for blessings of salvation from Lord Shiva.

  • Grishneshwar Temple

This temple is exemplary for its Shikhara-style architecture. It is a 5 storey temple made of red rocks and has the carvings of gods and goddesses on the pillars and the walls. It has a huge Nandi bull in its court hall. The name of the temple means the “Lord of compassion.” It is said that there was a woman named Kusuma who was very devoted to Lord Shiva and used to pray to him all day. Her husband’s first wife became very jealous of her devotion to the Lord and thus killed her only son. Though grief-stricken, Kusuma continued to worship the Lord and Lord Shiva brought her son back to life. Kusuma asked the Lord to stay at that place and that is when Lord manifested as a jyotirlinga there. Hence, the temple is also known as Kusumeshwar.

These places are considered the most sacred. It is believed that visiting the places would relieve the devotees from the circle of life and death and offer moksha. People claim that those who have achieved the highest levels of spiritual attainment can see the lingas as wide columns of fire piercing through the earth. All of these describe nothing but the greatness and vastness of the ocean of “Sanatan Dharma” and the devotion of Hindus to the almighty Shiva who is infinite and unfathomable.

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