Hinduism is one of the oldest religions on this planet, spanning across generations with a varied history. Therefore, it is quite natural that Hinduism will have more than a few handful of folk lores, myths and most importantly, deities.
One such powerful and significant Hindu deity is Shiv or Shiva. Across the entire land of the Indian subcontinent, there are hundreds of small and large temples and shrines dedicated to this God, however, none as famous as the 12 Jyotirlingas.
What are they?
A Jyotirlinga or Jyotirlingam is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva where he is worshipped in the form of Shiv Lingas. In India, there are 12 such Jyotirlingas scattered across the land.
This is extremely pious to the Hindus because amongst the most ardent devotes of Shiv, worshipping the Shiv Linga is considered one of the purest and truest forms of worship of the Lord. In fact, it has been believed by people over centuries that those who manage to transcendence the mortal realm and reach the highest levels of spirituality, can see the Lingas as columns of fire that pierce the surface of the Earth.
Is there a myth behind it?
Like all other shrines in India, these too have an interesting mythological origin. According to the traditional story, Brahma, the god of creation and Vishnu, the god of preservation, once had a fight regarding the supremacy of their creations. To settle the debate, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of an endless, infinite ray of light, piercing all of the realms, and asked the two other Gods to locate the ends of the light beams. The god Brahma lied to Shiva, telling him that he has found one end, while Vishnu accepted his defeat. Finally, Shiva appeared as a fiery beam of light, cursing Brahma, while Vishnu was worshipped for eternity.
This beam or pillar of light is still considered holy, and one of the most pious and unadulterated forms of Lord Shiva. Each Shiv Linga is considered nothing but the solidified form of this beam of light, in order to make worshipping easier.
Where are the twelve Jyotirlingas situated?
The Jyotirlingas are spread out quite non-uniformly across the Indian subcontinent, that is, while three of them are situated on river banks and two on sea shores, three of them are located on plains and four in the mountains. All the Jyotirlinga shrines take the name of the presiding deity, each, a different manifestation of Lord Shiva.
- Somnath Jyotirlinga in Gujarat: Considered the first pilgrimage site, this temple was deconstructed and put back together a staggering sixteen times.
- Mallikarjuna Jyotirlinga in Andhra Pradesh: Also known as Srisaila and is located in a Kurnool District mountain.
- Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga in Madhya Pradesh: This is the only temple of the twelve which faces South.
- Omkareshwar Jyotirlinga in Madhya Pradesh: Only linga situated in an island.
- Kedarnath Jyotirlinga in Uttarakhand: This linga can only be reached by foot and is open only for six months every year due to the snow.
- Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga in Maharashtra: This is closely associated with Lord Shiva slaying the great demon Tripurasura.
- KashiVishwanath Jyotirlinga in Uttar Pradesh: Situated in Varanasi, this is considered the holiest of all Lingas.
- Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple in Maharashtra: This linga is closely associated with the Godavari river.
- Baidyanath Jyotirlinga in Jharkhand: This is a temple complex where the Jyotirlinga is neighbors with a Baba Baidyanath temple and 21 other temples.
- Aundha Nagar Jyotirlinga in Maharashtra: It is held to be the first Jyotirlinga on this earth.
- Ramanathaswamy Jyotirlinga in Tamil Nadu: The southernmost of the Jyotirlingas, is home to the “Lord of the Rama” pillar.
- Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga in Maharashtra: Considered the last of the Jyotirlingas on earth this is the one of the lingas, which has been mentioned in the Shiva Purana.