Shaligram Interpretive Practice (Chakra)

I’ve intentionally saved chakra for last. The reasons for this are really two-fold. One, chakras (the name given to the ammonite shell-spiral) are probably the most iconic characteristic of Shaligram stones and the vast majority of devotees and practitioners want their shilas to have clear, obvious, and visible chakras. And two, chakra is the only consistently mentioned trait in every Shaligram interpretive tradition. Which is to say that if anything could be said to “define” Shaligram reading, it’s the presence and absence of spiral markings.

Chakra, the central spiral

But as with any Shaligram characteristic, chakra exists on a kind of spectrum. The first concern in Shaligram identification is how many chakras a shila has followed by what state of completeness those chakras are in. For example, the Sudarshan, Lakshmi-Narayan, and Surya Shaligrams all have one, large, prominent, chakra. But in the case of Sudarshan, the chakra is sharp and clear and is visible all the way through to the center.

Sudarshan Shaligram

The Surya Shaligram then has essentially the same thing, but in reverse (i.e., the chakra is impressed into the stone, not raised above it).

*In fossil paleontology this is called the cast and the mold.

Surya Shaligram

The Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram, on the other hand, also boasts a single main chakra but one that is partially obscured in the center by either a smooth, shale, nodule or by flattened wearing.

Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram

In yet one more case, the Vaikuntha Shaligram also contains only a single chakra. But within the spiral of this Shaligram stone, the chakra contains at least one “step” wherein parts of the cast and the mold are both still visible. This gives the central chakra a “two-layered” appearance that indicates its association with transcending the material world into the spiritual world beyond. Hence, Vaikuntha – the celestial abode of Vishnu.

A pair of Vaikuntha Shaligrams

But all of this, as you may have noticed, still only refers to Shaligrams with a single chakra! There are, of course, Shaligrams with two, three, or even up to ten and twelve chakras. Each of which contains multiple distinctions and variations depending on the Shaligram interpretive tradition one uses. It is fair to say, however, that the most common and most sought-after Shaligrams tend to display either one or two chakras. Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligrams, such as the one pictured above, can have one chakra and a smooth, featureless, back or another chakra on the opposite side (for a total of 2). They also have a second variation.

The alternative Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram has two internal chakras and a slightly obscured or worn central column between them (see below). I include this Shaligram to note specifically that chakras are not always external and that internal chakras are just as common. What makes for troublesome identification is that the Puranic texts don’t distinguish between the two types. A Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram with internal characteristics isn’t described any differently than a Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram with all external characteristics.

Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram

Multichakra Shaligrams are much trickier, unfortunately, and there is often a fair amount of debate when it comes to identifying some of the more esoteric variations. The Praanatoshani Tantra, for example, lists thirteen divisions of Shaligrams by their number of chakras.

  1. Sudarshan
  2. Lakshmi – Narayan
  3. Acyuta
  4. Janardan, Caturbhuja
  5. Vaasudeva
  6. Pradyumna
  7. Sankarshan
  8. Purushottam
  9. Navavyuha
  10. Dasavatara
  11. Anirudda
  12. Ananta
  13. Paramatma

Other sources, such as the Skanda Purana, give different lists (something I discuss more at length in my upcoming manuscript on interpretive traditions) or don’t delineate numbers of chakras at all. Conversely, some Puranic sources say that any Shaligram with more than three chakras is automatically Mahavishnu. In practice, once a Shaligram reliably demonstrates more than four chakras, it tends to be read as one of the Mahavishnu types.

The Mahavishnu Multi-Chakra Shaligram can therefore also appear in a wide variety of forms. For many devotees, these Shaligrams are specific to Shaligram category-types listed in both the Praanatoshani Tantra and in the Skanda Purana, where the specific name of Vishnu associated with the Shaligram is determined by the number of visible chakras rather than by specific characteristics of shape or color. For this reason, many practitioners will identify multi-chakra Shaligrams using the name associated with their number of chakras followed by Mahavishnu (i.e., a four chakra Shaligram would be called Caturbhuja Mahavishnu, a ten chakra Shaligram would be called Dasavatara Mahavishnu, and so on). This naming convention, however, can become confusing in cases where other Puranic texts use the same deity designations, such as Acyuta (three chakras) or Pradyumna (six chakras) to identify other types of Shaligrams in their own right. For example, Pradyumna Shaligrams are also mentioned in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, but are identified by criteria other than their number of chakras.

Also referred to as Chaturbhuj Shaligrams overall, Mahavishnu shilas are particularly sought after for their capacity to shield individuals and households from snakes, evil spirits, and restless ghosts. In other cases, they are prized for their capacity to create atmospheres of holiness and devotion marked by creative energies, innovation, and good luck. In Shakti Hindu traditions, Mahavishnu Shaligrams are sometimes referred to as Sri Chakra or Sri Yantra Shaligrams. In this interpretation, the multiple interlocking chakras are seen as representations of a yantra of nine interlocking triangles that radiate outwards from a central point. As a junction point between the manifest (physical) and unmanifest (divine) world, these Shaligrams are therefore considered to be the form of the goddess Sri Lalitha or Tripura Sundari, “the beauty of three worlds” (an aspect, not of Lakshmi but of the goddess Parvati).

A five-chakra Mahavishnu Shaligram

It is also important to note that multi-chakra Shaligrams can be interpreted as being multi-deity stones as well and some Shaligram interpretive traditions do just this (such as the two-chakra Ram-Sita Shaligram and the multi-chakra Radha-Krishna-Shrikara Shaligram). This means, ultimately, that while chakra is the most common and probably most referenced Shaligram characteristic, the particular appearance and number of spirals on a shila can mean different things depending on the authoritative sources one uses to read it. It can also vary given the Shaligram’s other characteristics, such as set, color, and vadana. But in the end, visible chakras are always considered auspicious and, for the most part, the more the merrier.

21 thoughts on “Shaligram Interpretive Practice (Chakra)

  1. Dr Walters your blogs are most informative and a great help for those who have started a journey into the world of Shaligrams.
    I have found it fascinating to learn much from your blogs. Thank you
    One question – when we purchase shilas – how do we know they have not been given away in distress or taken away from homes? Is it not necessary to know the source of the shilas?

  2. Working with sellers is always complicated and, unfortunately, I don’t have a single good answer. I always advise that you ask where the Shaligram came from and whether or not it has been worshipped previously (at a temple, in a home, etc.) but depending on who you are trying to buy from, they may know or they may not. In the end, it depends on how much you feel you can trust the seller. Good luck! — HW

  3. Dr Walters there is a debate on whether we can worship large shaligrams at home. They may not fit into the palm of our hands or weigh more than 300 gms. What do the Puranas say? And what is it in actual practice

  4. There is, indeed, a debate about size. The Puranas are pretty vague on the subject and only note that householders shouldn’t worship very large Shaligrams. But it’s not entirely clear on what exactly that means. In practice however, this tends to mean a shila that exceeds the size of a man’s hand on all sides when placed on the center of the palm. Such Shaligrams are generally reserved for temples. I haven’t really encountered a debate on weight, though; so that might be more specific to certain traditions. Overall, in my experience, the typical goal is to practice with Shaligrams that are less than 5 inches/ 12.7 cm across. But again, that can vary depending on circumstances and the nature of the household. — HW

  5. May I send an image of the large shaligram in question? If you can send me an email ID that I could send it to?

  6. There are many stones without any chakra and/or are otherwise unremarkable – but are shaligrams – do we continue to worship them – or select only those that have chakras or interesting shapes

  7. Several of my posts in the identification series have Shaligrams that don’t display chakras. Krishna Shaligrams don’t, for example. Neither does Hiranyagarbha or Shiva Shaligrams. Chakras are often highly desirable because people like how they look and they are “iconic” in that chakras make a Shaligram readily identifiable as a Shaligram, but they aren’t specifically necessary.

  8. Shaligrama Kosha says we can worship even number of shaligrams, not odd numbers. Three is an exception. In your years of study, is this the common practice?
    Thank you

  9. It varies but that’s because it largely depends on access. For the most part, yes, an even number of Shaligrams is preferred but in my experience it has not been a hard rule. Sometimes, odd numbers of Shaligrams can also be divided up among different worshipers in the same household. For example, if a family has five Shaligrams, one might be given to an elderly parent or adult sibling to look after while the other four are kept in the central home mandir.

  10. Dr Walters In one of your earlier blogs you have said that you have never seen a mountain shaligram worshipped at home. Is it specifically mentioned to avoid worship of mountain shaligram – with rust white and brown colours?

  11. No, there is no specific ban on worshiping Kshetra (Mountain) Shaligrams. Most practitioners avoid them because they tend to be red in color not because of where they appear. If you have a Kshetra Shaligram that is brown, yellow, or white, they are perfectly fine for home puja. — HW

  12. Dr Walters for the purpose of count, should take a shaligram that has been split into two – as one or two shaligrams?

  13. Thank you. For those of us who worship shaligrams it is very painful when we see the shilpa’s deliberately broken open. The one I have, the only one fortunately, is split clean and do fit together. Should I keep them apart or fix them to form a whole?

  14. Dr Walters the weight of Shaligrams vary so much, although of similar size one is really heavy and another not so much. Could these be because they are fake, carved out of granite or some such stone? Thank you for clarifying.

  15. It can vary significantly but it doesn’t always mean that the lighter Shaligram is fake. Remember, even outwardly smooth Shaligrams can have open spaces and chakras inside of them. If they do, they might very well be lighter than a solid shila. However, it sometimes **can** mean a fake stone though. Usually one made out of M-Seal or concrete.

  16. Dr Walters – Difficult as it is to travel to Kali Gandaki – many of us have no option but to purchase Shaligrams. In turn it raises so many questions, lot of suspicion – distrust. Leading to so many questions. Plus the injunction of not purchasing Shaligrams and adding to overflowing karma baggage. Finally it is either we believe or we don’t keep Shaligrams that are purchased.
    Yet another problem for many of us, the identification of the shaligram. Your blogs are informative – but the shapes vary so much I am unable to see a resemblance. Is there a standard book you can recommend to help us with identification?
    Thank you

  17. For example what is labelled as Lakshmi Narayana, is elsewhere referred to as Damodar. There is no standard nomenclature or is there?

  18. I wish there was a text I could suggest, but there really isn’t when it comes to Shaligram interpretive traditions. That’s why I am working on one. To get started though, you can look into getting a copy of the Shaligram Kosha by Rao (though it might be difficult to find). Otherwise, the vast majority of Shaligram traditions are oral and there are few written versions of them anywhere. That said, there is a standard nomenclature. There are roughly 90 separate name-types of Shaligrams with a specific list of characteristics that defines them. Determining the difference between these name-types of Shaligrams then becomes a matter of time and practice but I understand that it can be frustrating without something to refer to. As soon as I find a publisher, I will do what I can to provide one. — HW

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