The 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva: Name & History

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Shiva is considered the Supreme God in Hinduism. He is believed to have existed even before creation and would continue to exist even after the universe has come to an end.

Legend has it that Lord Brahma, the God of Creation, and Lord Vishnu, the God of Harmony, once debated the superiority of their abilities. As a result, Lord Shiva decided to put them to the test. Lord Shiva created the jyotirlinga by piercing all three planets with boundless pillars of light.

Following that, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma were tasked with locating the end of the light pillars; both must locate the end of the light in a certain direction, either upwards or downwards. Following their futile attempts to find the end, Lord Vishnu admitted his incapacity to do so, whilst Lord Brahma lied and claimed to have reached the end.

Angered by Lord Brahma’s deceit, Lord Shiva declared that Lord Vishnu would be prayed to by devotees for all yugas, however, Lord Brahma would never be worshipped.

Each of the twelve jyotirlinga sites takes the name of the presiding deity – each considered a different manifestation of Shiva. At all these sites, the primary image is lingam representing the beginningless and endless Stambha pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva. The 12 Jyotirlingas were first mentioned in the Shiva Purana, an ancient text which gives information about Lord Shiva, his symbology, and his legends. The twelve Jyotirlingas are associated with 12 Shiva incarnations and are symbolic manifestations of the Lord on earth.

The term ‘Jyoti’ signifies light, also called ‘radiance’; lingam or linga means ‘sign’ or ‘picture’. Jyotir-linga literally means “Radiant signs of Lord Shiva.” These divine abodes, dedicated to Lord Shiva, are considered the most sacred in Hinduism & are revered as India’s most unique places of worship. Join us as we embark on a journey to explore these sacred sites’ relevance and mythological history:

Temple 1: Somnath Temple

Our pilgrimage begins with the legendary Somnath Temple in Gujarat, situated on the western coast of India. This temple holds immense historical and spiritual significance. Due to its location near a Triveni Sangam (the meeting place of the mythological Saraswati, the Hiran, and the Kapila rivers), the Somnath area has long been a popular destination for pilgrims.

According to legend, Chandra Devta (Moon) married all 27 daughters of King Daksha. Chandra Devta (Moon) preferred Rohini above all his wives. As a result, Daksha Prajapati cursed him to disappear. Chandra Devta then worshipped Lord Shiva at this blessed location in order to be freed from the curse. Lord Shiva, pleased with the Moon God’s commitment, profound penance, and devotion, released him from the curse and since then Somnath Jyotirlinga has been consecrated here. Along with the other names Someshvar and Somnath, which both indicate the Lord of the Moon, the name of the town, Prabhas, where the temple is situated, also means brightness.

Temple 2: Mallikarjuna Temple

Next, we travel to the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, where the Mallikarjuna Temple stands tall amidst the lush green mountains of Srisailam.

Another tradition behind Sri Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple is that Lord Shiva emerged as Shivalingam in three locations, one of which is Srisailam, and the other two are Kaleshwaram and Bhimeswaram/Draksharamam.

King Parvatha, the son of Silada Maharshi, prayed to Lord Shiva for atonement. Lord Shiva granted his desire to live on his body in response to his prayers. Parvatha thereafter took the form of the hill known as Sri Parvatha, while after the sacred marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, they resided in the form of Mallikarjuna and Bhramaramba at this divine abode.

Temple 3: Mahakaleshwar Temple

Our journey now takes us to Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, where the Mahakaleshwar Temple awaits us. This temple is believed to house one of the most powerful Jyotirlingas

The Mahakaleshwar idol is Dakshina Mukhi, which means it faces south. According to the Puranas, Ujjain became known as Avantika and was recognized for its beauty as well as its role as a spiritual epicenter. It was also one of the most important cities for students to study sacred books. According to mythology, the king of Ujjain named Chandrasena was a devout follower of Shiva and constantly worshipped him.

Around this time, the rivals of Ujjain, particularly King Ripudamana and King Singhaditya of neighboring countries, decided to attack the Kingdom and seize its wealth. The Kings chose to attack with the assistance of the mighty demon Dushan, who had been bestowed by Brahma with the ability to be invisible, they ransacked the city and attacked all Shiva believers. When Shiva heard the cries of His suffering worshippers, He arrived in Mahakala form and killed King Chandrasena’s adversaries. It is said that the temple’s presiding deity, Lord Mahakaleshwar, brings solace to devotees and grants them liberation from the cycle of life and death.

Temple 4: Omkareshwar Temple

Moving ahead, we arrive at the serene island of Omkareshwar, situated on the Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh. Here, the Omkareshwar Temple stands as a symbol of Lord Shiva’s omnipresence.

According to Hindu legend, there are 3 stories regarding this temple’s origin. The first story involves Vindya, the god of the Vindhya mountain range, was worshipping Lord Shiva to make amends for his sins. As a result, he fashioned a holy geometrical design and a lingam out of sand and clay. Shiva was pleased with his adoration and manifested as Omkareshwar and Amaleswara. Because the mud mound was shaped like the letter ‘Om,’ this island was known as Omkareshwar.

The second story concerned the penance of Mandhata and his son. Lord Shiva was worshipped here by King Mandhata of the Ikshvaku dynasty (an ancestor of Lord Ram) till the Lord showed himself as a Jyotirlinga.

Many scholars also tell how Mandhata’s sons, Ambarish and Muchukunda, performed tremendous penance to satisfy Lord Shiva, and as a result, the mountain was called Mandhata. The third story came from Hindu texts and stated that once upon a time, there was an enormous fight between Devas (Gods) and Danavas (demons), which the Danavas won. The Devas were devastated, so they prayed to Lord Shiva. Pleased with their prayers, Shiva appeared in the guise of Omkareshwar Jyotirlinga and destroyed the Danavas.

Temple 5: Kedarnath Temple

Our pilgrimage now takes us to the majestic Kedarnath Temple nestled amidst the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. According to Hindu legend, after the great Kurukshetra War, the Pandavas sought Lord Shiva’s forgiveness for their sins here. Lord Shiva, who was being followed by the Pandavas, transformed himself into a bull and vanished into the earth at Kedarnath. The temple is reported to have been erected on the site where Lord Shiva vanished, and the lingam within the temple is said to have developed spontaneously by the elements of earth, air, water, and fire.

Temple 6: Bhimashankar Temple

Let us now venture into the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, where the Bhimashankar Temple is located. According to Hindu legend, Bhima, the son of Kumbhkarna, and his mother, Karkati, dwelt in the deep forest of Dakini in the Sahyadri highlands many years ago. When he learned of his father’s death, he became enraged and vowed to revenge on Lord Vishnu. Bhima underwent great penance and delighted Lord Brahma in order to increase his power. He defeated Lord Vishnu and Indra after gaining extraordinary abilities. Suddenly, his ego grew, and he begged Lord Shiva’s greatest devotee, Kamarupeshwar, to worship him instead of Lord Shiva. Shiva was obliged to go before Bhima and put an end to his oppression when sages appealed to him. As a result, he was reduced to ashes after the conflict.

Another well-known mythology about Bhimashankar Temple from the Shiva Purana claims that in ancient times, the demon Tripurasura tortured sages and Gods in all three worlds, which worried everyone. Lord Shiva himself went on Earth to vanquish Tripurasura in order to liberate the three planets. Both of them got into a big struggle that lasted for days and resulted in the death of the evil demon. Lord Shiva is said to have slept in the Sahyadri mountains after the conflict, and his sweat transformed into the river Bhima, which still runs today and is revered as the holy river.

Temple 7: Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Our next destination is Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India, where the Kashi Vishwanath Temple awaits us. This temple, dedicated to Lord Vishwanath (another form of Lord Shiva), is considered one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. Pilgrims flock here to seek liberation and attain moksha.

The Kashi Vishwanath temple is one of Lord Shiva’s most renowned temples. This tranquil temple is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas and is located in the holy city of Varanasi, on the western banks of the holy Ganga. It is thought that the first jyotirlinga revealed itself in Varanasi. This blazing pillar of light erupted from the earth’s crust and blazed all the way to Heaven. Lord Shiva is said to be the most fond of the Kashi Vishwanath temple, also known as the Shri Vishweshwar Temple.

Temple 8: Trimbakeshwar Temple

As we travel to Nashik in Maharashtra, we encounter the Trimbakeshwar Temple. This temple holds a unique distinction as it houses not only a Jyotirlinga but also the sacred river Godavari, which is believed to have originated from Lord Shiva’s matted locks.

Shri Trimbakeshwar is a holy center where one of the twelve Jyotirlingas may be found. The Jyotirlinga found here is notable for its three faces: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The linga has begun to disintegrate as a result of excessive water consumption. This erosion is thought to represent the decaying character of human society. A jeweled crown is put over the Gold Mask of Trideva (Brahma Vishnu Shiva) to hide the Lingas.

Temple 9: Vaidyanath Temple

Our journey now takes us to the eastern state of Jharkhand, where the Baidyanath Temple in Deoghar stands as a beacon of devotion.

According to Hindu mythology, the demon king Ravana worshipped Shiva here to acquire boons, which he exploited to wreak devastation on the world. Ravana sacrificed his 10 heads, one after the other, to Shiva. Pioneered by this act of sacrifice, Shiva descended to heal Ravana, who was injured. He is referred to as Vaidya (“doctor”) as he worked as a doctor. This aspect of Shiva inspired the temple’s name.

Temple 10: Nageshwar Temple

Next, we find ourselves in the coastal town of Dwarka, Gujarat, where the Nageshwar Temple is located.  This is called Ashtam Jyotirlinga Sri Nageshwar Jyotirlinga. Legend has it that a demon named Daaruka imprisoned a Shiva devotee named Supriya here. Supriya’s chanted ‘Om Namaha Shivay’ and summoned Lord Shiva, who appeared and defeated the monster. To this day, a self-manifested Shivalinga is worshipped here. According to mythology, Lord Shiva assumed the form of a fierce snake to bless his devotees at this site.

Temple 11: Rameshwaram Temple

Our penultimate destination is Rameshwaram, a sacred island off the southern coast of Tamil Nadu. According to the Ramayana, Rama is said to have built a bridge over the sea from this location to Lanka in order to Mata Sita from Ravana. The temple, devoted to the Hindu god Shiva, is in the town center and linked with Lord Rama and Lord Shiva. For Shaivas and Vaishnavas, the temple and town are sacred pilgrimage sites.

Rameswaram is India’s second-closest point to Sri Lanka and points to geological evidence that the Rama Sethu was once a land link between India and Sri Lanka.

Temple 12: Grishneshwar Temple

Our pilgrimage concludes at the Grishneshwar Temple in Maharashtra, the last of the 12 Jyotirlingas. The original temple was built in very ancient times by Rashtrakuta King Dantidurga. The location is referred to as ‘Kusumeshwar’ in certain ancient texts.

This blog on the 12 Jyotirlingas of India took us on a sacred journey through the rich tapestry of Hindu mythology. These divine abodes, each with its unique story and significance, hold a special place in the hearts of millions of devotees.

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As we conclude our exploration, let us remember that these revered sites connect us to our spiritual roots and serve as a testament to the enduring power of faith and devotion.


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