Shaligrams: God's Images on Stones
Shaligrams are sacred 'shilas' or stones representing the abstract form of Lord Vishnu and are found on the bank of river Gandakti in Nepal.
- What Are Shaligrams?
- How Are These Stones Formed?
- How Do Shanligrams Look?
- Importance of Shaligrams
- For Further Reading
What Are Shaligrams?
Hinduism believes God to be formless and abstract. God as a Creator is a concept that can be perceived as a bundle of attributes and these attributes are represented symbolically. Conceiving a God with a form becomes an easy way to conceptualize an all-pervading, universal soul for common people. The physical form of the deity (the color), the number of arms, the possessions He carries in those arms....all are allegorical and metaphorical in nature.
Shaligrams are sacred 'shilas' or stones said to represent the abstract form of Lord Vishnu. Many Hindus place these stones in their puja altars for daily worship. Just as the abstract form of Shiva is the stone ‘lingam', so is the ‘shila' a representation of Lord Vishnu.
Deep in the recesses of the high Himalayas in the north-west of Nepal, the Shaligrams are found on the bed of a tributary of Ganges called Gandaki river that flows through Mukti Kshetra and Damodar Kunda.
Shaligram refers to the name of the place where the stones are found. So sacred is this place that the scriptures make a special mention that any stone from this place is equally sacred as a Shaligram.
The river Gandaki is a very ancient river; and the geologists say that it existed even before the formation of the Himalayan ranges. It rises beyond the Himalayan ranges in Tibet, and flows South into Nepal and India. It is an important tributary of the river Ganges and joins Ganges in a place called Bhavatyapur in Bihar. It is called Salagrami or Narayani in Uttar-pradesh.
Shaligrams refer only to those stones found naturally in the river Gandaki.
How Are These Stones Formed?
The Shaligrams are specifically described as fossil-stones which have taken shape in the Gandaki-river, and are characterized by the presence of discus marks. These also include the famous Kali-Gandaki River at Muktinath, Damodar Kunda, Devghat, etc.
According to Hindu tradition, the Shaligram stone is the shelter for a small insect known as the 'vajra-keeta' that drills through this stone and lives inside it. Scientific explanation is that these stones are sedimentary rock carrying the fossils of the common ammonite that lived millions of years ago when the Himalayan mountain range formed the bed of a vast ocean floor.
Ammonites existed on earth during Triassic-Cretaceous time period 240 - 65 million years ago, evolving, surviving and adapting to natural catastrophes, finally becoming extinct along with the dinosaurs. Ammonites belong to a group of predators known as cephalopods, which includes their cousins the octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus
Be they 'vajra keeta' worming and drilling their way through, or some scientific sounding naughty Nautilus leaving its imprints on rocks, they are certainly fabulous works of art that have taken millions of years to materialise. Like the classic question 'which came first, the egg or the chicken', I wonder if the ancient seers saw these stones and formulated the looks of gods or the gods preserved their own personal attributes in these stones as a timeless album. Imagine having stones carrying marks that resemble the 'Sudarshan Chakra' or the discus which rests on the index finger of Lord Vishnu.
How Do Shanligrams Look?
Shaligram stones come in different colors such as red, blue, yellow, green and black. Of these, the yellow, blue and black varieties are considered more sacred. The yellow and golden-colored Shaligrams are considered most auspicious and are believed to bestow great wealth and prosperity on its worshippers.
Importance of Shaligrams
The legends relate how Lord Vishnu comes in kaliyuga to earth in the form of Shaligram stone, Pipal tree (Sacred fig - Ficus religiosa) and Holy Basil of Tulsi plant.
According to Hindu religion, one has to invoke God/Goddess to reside in the statue/idol being worshipped and bid farewell after due worship. But shaligram is a special stone in which Lord Vishnu is ever present, so there is no need to invoke His presence.
The importance of Shaligramas are espoused in several scriptures and Epics, including Mahabharata where Lord Krishna while giving a discourse to Yudhistra refers to the qualities of Shaligrams. People who keep Shaligrams keep ritualistic purity and offer daily worship. They are said to bring good luck, good fortune, peace and happiness and spiritual enlightenment. As per Skanda Purana the water at Gandaki river is equivalent to "Amrit" or "Nector", because the River Gandaki has bathed millions of Shaligram Shilas. Drinking this water enhances the physical and spiritual health of the devotee and worshipping Shaligram Shilas using Gandaki water is considered meritorious.
Shaligrams of different shapes are often associated with the different ‘avtars’ or incarnations of Lord Vishnu such as: Matsaya (fish) avtar, Kurma (turtle) avtar, Narasimha (half man-half lion) avtar and so on.
Many temples in India have deities out of Shaligram stones. The Jagannath Temple, dedicated to Vishnu, at Puri (Orissa) has the largest and heaviest shaligram in India.
For Further Reading
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