Thursday, November 22, 2007

Jyotirlingam Shrines

Somanatha in Saurashtra, Mallikarjuna in Srisailam;
in Ujjain, Omkara in Mamaleshvara;
in Parali, Bhimashankara in Dakini;
in Setubandha, Nagesha in Darukavana;
in Varanasi, Trayambaka on the banks of Gautami;
in the Himalayas, and Ghushmesha in Shivalaya.
He who remembers these Jyotirlingas morning and evening,
Shall wash away the sins of seven births.
Hymn of the Twelve Jyotirlingas

~by Adi Shankaracharya

The twelve Jyotirlingam Shrines of India, it is believed, were built on holy sites where the ancients discovered self-manifest (svayambhu) Shivalingams. The first mention of the twelve Jyotirlingams and the related legends is found in the Shiva Purana in chapter 42 of the Shatarudra Samhita (book III) as well as in several chapters (ch. 1, and ch. 14-33) of the Kotirudra Samhita (book IV). In the present post, we consider the twelve Jyotirlingam Shrines and ask two poignant questions: (1) Why exactly are there twelve shrines? (2) What is the basis of the geographical positioning of the twelve Jyotirlingams?

Let us first consider the number twelve. Twelve represents, esoterically, both space as well as time. Twelve is the number of months in a given solar year (time), and twelve is the number of constellations that divide up the heavens above (space). For the ancients, time measurement was based on the movement of the celestial bodies through the twelve constellations (signs of the zodiac) that divide up the heavens. Movement of the Sun through one constellation was one solar month, and movement through all twelve constellations was a solar year. So, we can see how the number twelve connects both the idea of space and time. Naturally, therefore, there are twelve Jyotirlingams, each associated with a different zodiacal constellation. The enumeration of twelve Jyotirlingams connects Lord Shiva with the idea of space-time, just as we saw in the previous post.

Now, let us consider the geographical positioning of the Jyotirlingams. If we look carefully at a map showing the locations of the twelve Jyotirlingam Shrines, it is fairly easy to see that a majority (7 out of 12) Jyotirlingams are found in west-central India in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The rest are dispersed in various other states. Why are these temples located where they are? If we take another careful look at the map and begin connecting the dots in a certain order from one shrine to another, the answer becomes self-evident. Try this -- using curved lines connect the Jyotirlingams in the following order: Nageshvar, Somanath, SriSailam, Omkareshvar, Mahakaleshvar, Trayambakeshvar, Bhimashankar, Grishaneshvar, Vaidyanath, Vishvanath (Varanasi), Kedarnath. When you connect these eleven, you will see a rudimentary 3-like shape on the map. Now, draw a curve from the center of that 3 to Rameshvaram, and voila, you've got something resembling the Omkara (Aum)! When the dots are connected appropriately the twelve shrines of Shiva display the mystic syllable Aum! The geographical distribution of the Jyotirlingams secretly connects Lord Shiva with the syllable Aum, the syllable which represents both the manifest universe bound by space-time, and that which is unmanifest beyond all this.

Aum is the imperishable syllable. Aum is the Universe, and this is the exposition of Aum. The past, the present and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be, is Aum. Likewise all else that may exist beyond the bounds of Time, that too is Aum. (Verse 1, Mandukya Upanishad of the Atharvaveda).

The Aum is time, the Aum is space,
The Aum is the Jyotirlingams twelve,
The Aum is verily Shiva Himself.

Aum Namah Shivaya.

© Agnideva, 2007. All rights reserved.

Other posts of interest: Jyotirlinga Stotram Video and Jyotirlingam.

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