As this blog has grown, I have been getting more and more requests to identify or verify Shaligram stones; to make a determination of their manifestation or their authenticity. This is something I have always been happy to help with. However, the number of requests has grown to such a degree where I have to formalize my policy.
My policy on performing this service is:
I will identify or verify one or two Shaligrams for free. It takes about 10-15 minutes per shila to make a full evaluation and I am happy to answer questions when I can.
If you would like me to identify more than two Shaligrams, I ask for $5 (US) per identification to cover time and the textual work involved.(Up to 10 shilas).
If you would like me to identify more than 10 Shaligrams, we can discuss the amount of time the collection is likely to take and negotiate accordingly.
My newest article, called “Cornerstones: Shaligrams as Kin” will be coming out from the Journal of Religion early next year.
Here’s a preview:
“The courtyard of Dinesh and Sangeeta Khanalâ€™s three-story concrete Kathmandu home was decorated for a wedding. Garlands of marigolds and lotus blossoms were strung across the top of the main gate as well as over every door and threshold. Banners of red cloth were draped over every surface, with gold trim and bangles jingling quietly in the breeze. The courtyard between the main door and a smaller, secondary door to the familyâ€™s primary living room was filled with clay pots of rice, yogurt, and curries. Leaf plates piled high with fruit; apples, oranges, and pomelos, had been carefully arranged on the benches along the garden wall. All of the homeâ€™s deities and photos of deceased parents and grandparents had been brought down from the third-floor puja room to attend the festivities. The kitchen bustled with activity as everyone took their turns in cooking massive pots of potatoes and dal bhat (lentils and rice) for the wedding feast or in arranging trays of sweets and pastries to lay out before the deities as honored guests. The bride was brought out first and placed in the center of a brightly-colored woven mat at the far end of the marble yard. The women of the household â€” Sangeeta, her two sisters, Sangeetaâ€™s daughter Meena, and Dineshâ€™s sister â€” all rushed out to apply welcoming forehead tikkas using mixtures of red and yellow rice paste. Meena began to wrap a beaded red wedding shawl over the brideâ€™s head and pile garlands of fragrant local flowers around her neck. Sangeeta offered water in a small teapot.
â€œTulsi is in the mandap?â€ [i] A voice cried from the kitchen. â€œYes!â€ Another voice responded. â€œThe bride has come down.â€ The bride, however, was not just named Tulsi, she was Tulsi.[ii] — a five-foot-tall Tulsi (holy basil) plant growing out of a wide clay pot, the finery of a new bride draped over her leaves and woven around her stems, with gold bangles and earrings artfully arranged on either side of her branches. Her husband-to-be was likewise non-human; an object of devotional reverence rather than a traditional groom. A few minutes later, a great cheer would rise up throughout the Khanal household as the senior men of the family processed from the upstairs puja room, bearing a large silver tray upon which sat the expectant groom, a Vishnu-Narayan Shaligram.
Shaligrams are a specific type of smooth, black ammonite fossil found in the Kali Gandaki region of the Nepal Himalayas, commonly worshipped by Hindus as a manifest form (murti) [iii] of the god Vishnu. As such, Shaligrams are ritual objects often found in Hindu homes where they act as aniconic deity forms that many devotees consider themselves to be ‘in relationship with,’ particularly denoting various kinds of kinship relationships. To understand then how Shaligrams become kin, it is therefore vital to unravel the complicated webs of relations and interactions that characterize Shaligram social life. To begin, the most readily accessible ways in which to demonstrate the kinship of Shaligram stones is by attending to the actual social relationships themselves. Ethnographically, this is to attend to the ritual events, rites of passage, and life milestones celebrated concurrently with both human and divine persons – Shaligrams participating as involved family members – as well as the ways in which people speak about, speak to, and speak of divine persons in their everyday lives. Viewing Shaligram relationships through the medium of kinship is also helpful partly because Shaligram practitioners themselves refer to them in this way. By staging an elaborate wedding between a basil-daughter and a fossil-son-in-law, the Khanal family was creating a kinship bond between their household and the deities they worship. They were making their godsâ€”particularly their primary household Vishnu-Narayan Shaligram â€”into literal members of their family: a ritual action that will be repeated again and again later through daily care in puja rituals and in the practice of darshan. In many ways these ritualized kinship relationships demonstrate what Marshall Sahlins calls a “mutuality of being;” where human persons and nonhuman persons share family ties apart from genetic relationships, are “intrinsic to one another’s existence,” and who “belong to one another” (Sahlins 2013). Shaligrams as kin therefore expand potential fields of symbols and perspectives regarding personhood, the body, and gender as they inform cultural kinship ideas and practices.”
Firstly, a sincere thank you to everyone who has helped to make this work possible. It’s been years in the making. But today is the day, and “Shaligram Pilgrimage in the Nepal Himalayas” has now officially been released!
(Links to read a preview of the book below)
You can read a Preview of the book (TOC and Chapter 1) HERE!
In honor of the upcoming Ganesh Chaturthi festival in just two days time, today’s Shaligram discussion will be a re-visitation of the Ganesh Shaligram! One of my favorites, not only for the meanings behind it but because, honestly, it’s just so cute!
Ganesha, also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka, is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities of the Hindu pantheon. The characteristic image of the elephant-headed god is found throughout India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, and it is not uncommon for a variety of Hindu traditions to worship him regardless of other deity affiliations. Devotion to Ganesha is also widely diffused among Jains and Buddhists.
Ganesha emerged as a distinct deity in the 4th and 5th centuries AD, during the Gupta period, although he inherited traits from a number of Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors. He was formally included among the five primary deities of Smartism in the 9th century and was later elevated to the status of supreme deity by the Ganapatya sect. The worship of Ganesha is generally considered complementary with the worship of other deities, however, Hindus of all traditions often begin prayers, important undertakings, and religious ceremonies with an invocation of Ganesha.
The “worship of the five forms” (paÃ±cÄyatana pÅ«jÄ) system, which was popularized by Adi Åšaá¹…karÄcÄrya, invokes the five deities Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva, DevÄ«, and SÅ«rya and is still common throughout South Asia today, particularly in Nepal.
Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, as a patron of arts and sciences, and as the god of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is often honored at the start of rituals and ceremonies and is invoked as patron of letters and learning during classes or in academic conferences. As such, the Ganesha Shaligram is used similarly; as a gift during weddings or other festivals and as a focus of worship prior to the undertaking of new endeavors in school, business, or life in general.
More broadly, Ganesh Shaligrams are associated with an ability to face challenges, resolve conflicts, or surmount difficulties in life and are most often included in household altars that make a point to collect Shaligrams of the â€œfive formsâ€ worshipped in the household.
While not typically included in Puranic lists of Shaligram categories, the Ganesh Shaligram is widely sought after and is often included as a variation of other Shaligram name-types, particularly Shiva and Shiva-Parvati Shaligrams.
The Ganesh Shaligram bears the distinctive shape and markings of an elephantâ€™s head, either turned sideways (with â€œtrunkâ€ curling downwards as in photo 1) or forward (with the â€œtrunkâ€ splitting the Å›ila down the center as in the above photo).
In rarer variations, the Ganesh Shaligram combines a series of features, including â€œearsâ€ of the Bivalve (Retroceramus) â€“ similar to the Anirudda Shaligram — and additional markings indicative of a seated man with a rotund belly.
So, I got a fake Shaligram. But donâ€™t be indignant on my behalf, it was on purpose.
One of the most pervasive fears many Shaligram devotees (or would-be devotees) have is ordering a Shaligram online, typically from an established seller, and receiving a fake stone. But unfortunately, due to both profiteering and scarcity, itâ€™s not an uncommon problem.
Ordering Shaligrams over the internet is a contentious topic among numerous practitioner communities for a variety of reasons. This is mainly because finding oneâ€™s own Shaligrams on pilgrimage is the ultimate religious ideal. But, sadly, a great many people are unable to reach the high Himalayas in order to do so (for economic, health, and political access reasons). As a result, choices are often limited in terms of getting a Shaligram in other ways. If possible, the second option for many devotees would be to receive one as a gift or acquire one from a temple collection. This is because placing monetary value on sacred stones is explicitly forbidden in many Hindu traditions and, for that reason, Shaligrams are never supposed to be bought or sold (to do so is a karmic sin). Barring that, getting one from another devotee in exchange for some other spiritual object or service is also considered to be an acceptable form of Shaligram mobility. The last resort however, when all other previous avenues have been exhausted, is then to look online, where any number of sellers and shops exist (from Amazon, to Ebay, to Etsy) to cater specifically to Shaligram practitionerâ€™s needs.
Unfortunately, many of these sellers are less than reputable when it comes to the origin, quality, and authenticity of their stones. Aside from that, even trusted sellers tend to price their ritual Shaligrams out of reach of the average devotee and can sometimes ask as much as several thousand dollars for a particularly rare or unusual deity. â€œAverageâ€ Shaligrams are then still relatively quite expensive, at several hundred dollars apiece plus shipping. Finally, very small or low quality Shaligrams round out the bottom of the list at roughly between $50 and $100 depending on the clarity of their chakras (ammonite shell spirals) and overall appearance of the stone. The price, in these cases, is therefore supposed to represent compensation for the sellerâ€™s travel, time, and trouble in getting the stone from Mustang and not, as might be the more pessimistic interpretation, the cost of the stone itself.
Even so, stories of receiving fake stones abound.
There are generally three well-known ways to fake a Shaligram. The first involves taking broken pieces of a real Shaligram and gluing them together in a kind of facsimile of a whole, unblemished, stone. This method is also sometimes used to add additional chakras to otherwise â€œunimpressiveâ€ Shaligrams or to repair a damaged ritual stone and sell it off rather than return it to the Kali Gandaki or to the care of a temple (as is the typical tradition). For the most part, glued piecemeal stones are reasonably easy to spot by their surface seams and cleavages but such things can be easily hidden in webpage photos for the unsuspecting buyer who cannot otherwise inspect the Shaligram on their own time.
The second, and far more popular, way of faking a Shaligram is to mold or fabricate an entirely new stone out of M-Seal industrial epoxy or concrete. M-Seal versions of Shaligrams look the best in photos largely due to the smooth, shiny, black exterior of the resulting plastic nodules, which superficially resemble the appearance of a real Shaligram just out of the river or just following ritual bathing (abishek). Some sellers will even take this further by attempting to press or stamp â€œchakraâ€ shapes into the false stone and I have seen some impressive instances of such sculpted Shaligrams. Sadly, many of these fake stones tend to fool even the relatively practiced eye of long-time devotees, depending on the skill of the fabricator. This is because, while a significant number of devotees have tremendous experience with sacred objects, not many have much in the way of familiarity with invertebrate fossils. Meaning, they arenâ€™t always quite so savvy in recognizing imprinted shapes that wouldnâ€™t be found in nature and thus, which couldnâ€™t be formed by a petrified ammonite.
Recognizing these kinds of faked Shaligrams, unfortunately, often requires physical handling; which is another reason why being in the actual presence of a Shaligram is so vital to receiving one. Not just from a spiritual sense, but a practical one as well. M-Seal Shaligrams tend to feel â€œplastic-yâ€ to the touch and are far lighter than a real stone would be. Additionally, if scratched with a fingernail or sharp implement, they will indent and furrow in the way that epoxy does when damaged, rather than powdering like black slate. Concrete Shaligrams work similarly, but in that scratching them reveals their underlying sandy composition or simply chips the paint (since most concrete canâ€™t be made to look like smooth black shale when dry). They also tend to fracture more readily than either M-Seal or a real stone and will often fall apart with little more than a firm tap.
Finally, one of the more bizarre ways to fake a Shaligram is to simply substitute another fossil in for the Kali Gandaki ammonite. Iâ€™ve seen trilobites advertised as â€œGanesh Shaligrams,â€ other kinds of ammonites obviously from elsewhere in the world claimed to be from Nepal, as well as fossilized plants, crinoids, and insects. As I have discussed previously, none of these fossils are Shaligram owing to the fact that they have not undergone death and re-formation in the sacred landscape of Muktikshetra and have not been born from the waters of the sacred river (one of the key parts of the process to becoming Shaligram).
As a side note, this problem has resulted in a variety of methods for determining the authenticity of a Shaligram; involving everything from keeping the stone in a pile of rice (to see if the rice increases or decreases), to spinning them with the tip of a finger, to scratching them with gold, to seeing if they float in water (which a real Shaligram wouldnâ€™t do, but then again, neither would a concrete one.)
But again, most of this relies on general ignorance of geological and fossil processes and anticipates that people who are buying Shaligrams online are not otherwise in contact with these types of sacred stones often enough such that they would readily be able to recognize a fake one.
My new fake Shaligram is of the second variety: an M-Seal nodule smoothed and shaped to look like a real stone. Mine, unfortunately, does not have any chakra impressions or other â€œmarkingsâ€ and probably wouldnâ€™t be broadly appealing to a devotee looking for a puja-worthy stone anyway but my reason for getting it has nothing to do with veneration. Rather, Iâ€™ve long wanted one so that, whenever I am giving talks on Shaligrams or conducting workshops on identification, I can use it as an educational example for what to be wary of. It is also the reason it was given to me by a devotee Iâ€™ve known for a long time and whom I have worked with previously in combating the spread of false Shaligrams. In the end, I would actually like to build a collection of such manufactured Shaligrams for this purpose.
Thus far, my collection of gaffes includes a black trilobite, a broken Shaligram re-glued, and now, an M-Seal imitation. At some point, I would then like to also acquire other M-Seal or concrete Shaligrams with cut or tooled markings or one that has been molded wholesale from an impression. I am, however, not keen on spending the hundreds of dollars many sellers ask for such obvious (to me) fakes and I can only imagine what a grant application would look like that had a provision in it for paying out that kind of expense on what amounts to chunks of plastic and cement. Iâ€™m also not especially enthusiastic about attempting to fake one myself. Iâ€™m confident my sculpting skills are up to par in this regard but Iâ€™m not entirely sure this is the kind of relationship I really want to cultivate with my research at this given moment.
In the end, the practice of falsifying sacred stones is an opportunistic one. Like many instances of people seeking to profit from the misfortunes of others, fake Shaligram sales are driven by the increasing inaccessibility of Mustang (for pilgrimage) as well as the challenges of ritual-object practice in the Diaspora; where communities have less in the way of established home temples, gurus, or Shaligram specialists. As a result, the dilemma many young Shaligram practitioners face is to potentially receive a fake stone (while losing a large amount of money in doing so) versus never being able to have a Shaligram stone at all. And if the latter continually comes to pass, many fear that the tradition itself will be in danger of disappearing as sons and daughters no longer learn the stories, pujas, and mantras from their elders or just never encounter a real Shaligram in their lives.
On a personal note, Iâ€™m often asked to identify new Shaligrams and I hate having to tell someone that a stone is fake. In many cases I can, thankfully, do so from an image before the item has been purchased but more often than not, it involves questions someone has regarding a stone theyâ€™ve had (and sometimes worshipped with) for years. Ultimately, faking fossils has a pretty long and gory history all over the world (both paleo-anthropology and paleontology, for example, have some pretty spectacular instances of this) but now we can add another version to the concerning line-up of spiritual fossil fakery. Not in the better-known Creationist sense this time, where the fossil record is intentionally altered and re-interpreted to fit fundamentalist Biblical narratives, but as a way of subverting darshan (the ritual viewing of and interacting with deities in many South Asian religions) into less a relationship with the material Divine and more a commodified form of tourist religion that blurs the lines between â€œiconâ€ and â€œsouvenirâ€ even more so than usual.
I don’t think I have ever done the Keshav Shaligram yet for my occasional “Spotlight” series. So, let’s do that one today! Because there is much to say about this multi-vocal Shaligram both in interpretation and in practice.
According to Adi Åšankara’ s commentary on the Vishnu Sahasranama (of which Keshava is the 23rd and 648th name of Vishnu), Keshava has a variety of meanings:
1. One whose kesa or hair is long, uncut, and beautiful 2. The lord of creation, preservation, and dissolution (Vishnu). 3. Krishna who destroyed the demon KeÅ›Ä« 4. One who is endowed with the rays of light spreading within the orbit of the sun. 5. One who is himself the three: Kah Brahma; Ah Vishnu and Isa Shiva.
According to the Padma Purana, however, the name refers to Krishna’s long, beautiful, unshorn hair. Additionally, in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna uses the name Keshava for Krishna a number of times, referring to him as the ‘Killer of the KeÅ›Ä« demon’ (Bhagavad Gita 1.30).
The demon KeÅ›Ä«, in the form of a horse, was sent by the demon-king Kamsa to kill Krishna but was overpowered and slain (Vishnu Purana 5.15-16).
Associated primarily with the sun (kesa also meaning the sunâ€™s rays), Keshava Shaligrams are said to ward any and all uses of Nazar Dosha (the evil eye) and to protect devotees from all who might think badly of them.
Worship of this Shaligram is also said to bestow wealth, social status and respect, and to facilitate worldly material comforts. Lastly, as one of the â€œsunâ€ Shaligrams, the Keshava Shaligram is particularly useful for devotees seeking to â€œilluminateâ€ their proper path in life.
Identification of Keshava Shaligrams is reasonably straight-forward. These Å›ilas are typically â€œshakhaâ€ or conch-shaped overall with a single, large, chakra on their flattened upper side.
The chakra should have clear, highly defined, ridges and striations (the kesa) that radiate outwards from the central spiral though, in all likelihood, the full chakra spiral will not be visible (which would indicate a Surya/Suraj Shaligram like the one below).
In some variations of this Shaligram, more than one chakra will be visible on the outer body of the Å›ila but the entire Shaligram should generally sit flat with its main chakras facing upwards.
One thing I love about Shaligram interpretive practices is how extensively narrative they are. As in, not only does each specific ammonite fossil invoke stories about the geological origin of the world, they also link to mythographic histories of people.
This is something that I have spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about as I now begin work on my second manuscript dedicated to discussing Shaligram interpretation (my first book on Shaligram pilgrimage will be out next year). I am still having some issues working out a format, however. On some level, the current work already looks something like a “field guide:” a short chapter introducing the methods of interpretation and reading Shaligrams (as one might a text) followed by separate, dedicated, pages for identifying each type of Shaligram currently in practice. But I still worry that this format leaves something to be desired. How, for example, do I ensure that the nuances of interpretation are clearly expressed? Or the variations between different Hindu, Buddhist, and Bon traditions? Or, even just attempting to boil down the multiple linkages and complexities of a single set of stories as they are expressed in a particular Shaligram without seeming tragically reductionist.
Take the Vasudev Shaligram, for example (shown below). Vasudev carries a wide variety of meanings depending on the particular Hindu tradition in question. To start with, in Indian epic poetry, Vasudeva is the father of Krishna.
He was also the brother of Nanda Baba, the chieftain of the cowherder tribe, who was a Surasena (an ancient region corresponding to the present-day Braj region in Uttar Pradesh, India) who also became the foster father of Krishna.
His sister Kunti was married to Pandu, both significant figures in the Mahabharata, but in other interpretations, Vasudeva was a partial incarnation of Rishi Kashyapa (a famous Hindu sage) as well as one of Vishnuâ€™s four vyuha avatars who received specific attributes of Vishnu but not his entire incarnation (See also the Anirudda and Pradyumna Shaligrams, which figure similarly). Additionally, following the advent of Bhagavatism in the 1st millennium BCE, the patronymic VÄsudeva (with long Ä) has also remained a popular name of Krishna. So, even in this short explanation, “Vasudev” acts as a kind of short-form for a wide variety of possible interpretations; none or all of which might be in play depending on the Shaligram or, for that matter, the interpreter.
According to many Shaligram traditions, on the other hand, the Vaasudev Shaligram is marked by both Åšesha (Ananta), the eternal serpent who appeared to protect the infant Krishna as Vasudeva carried him across the river during his flight from the demon Kansa and Kalpvriksha, the sacred tree along the river banks. Typically, these Shaligrams are identified using their long oval shapes and the appearance of a central spiral opening representative of the serpent Åšesha.
Ideally, they will then also contain a tree-like marking of grooves or lines somewhere else along the outer surface (which are more pronounced in the Shaligram below).
In practice though, Vasudev Shaligrams are more commonly associated with the stories of Krishna’s father than with Vishnu specifically. As such, they are said to grant enormous physical strength to devotees in times of trial and to encourage all practitioners in their vicinity to adopt stout hearts and minds whenever troubled. This â€œnever give upâ€ atmosphere of ritual veneration also makes them especially popular as gifts to those who are ill or who have recently suffered tragic circumstances in their lives.
For this reason, Vasudev Shaligrams are primarily identified through a combination of features relating to the story of Vasudev and the infant Krishna’s flight from Kansa rather than many of the other possible meanings of the term. Specifically a round or oval shape (a basket), a central spiral opening with two chakras (spirals set one above the other), and other grooved markings representative of tree roots or branches (Kalpvriksha) – or conversely a central, grooved, ring representing Ananta, the serpent: the presence of all such characteristics indicating the Shaligram’s association with this particular tale.
But, as you might imagine, this is a lot of information to fit onto a single page of an ostensible field guide. There is simply so much information and so many linkages within so many traditions, I could, in all honestly, spend a lifetime writing a separate book for each Shaligram. What a voluminous set that would be!
Maybe my original idea of setting up a kind of database with scans and links wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Alas! If only there were more hours in a day…
is nearly complete! Itâ€™s been a long road but I will be turning in the revised
and completed manuscript to my publisher in just a few weeks. I believe Iâ€™ve
mentioned it before but I have decided that my current research will be
separated into two different books. The first, which hopefully will be coming
out sometime around the beginning of next year, is my principal ethnography
about Shaligram pilgrimage in Mustang, Nepal and about the active practice of Shaligram
ritual traditions throughout South Asia. The second is going to be about
Shaligram interpretive traditions. This way, I can frame the first book as an
introduction to the topic of Shaligram pilgrimage for academics and laypeople
who arenâ€™t likely to have any prior background or knowledge of Shaligrams at
all. The second book can then be designed more for Hindus, Buddhists, and
Bonpos who already have some prior experience with and understanding of
Shaligrams or who actually practice with Shaligrams right now.
But as I finish up this first manuscript and get it off to the next step in the
process, Iâ€™m starting to think about how I want the second manuscript to work.
I already have a series of â€œfield guideâ€-style pages that detail the
characteristics of each of the 90 or so name-categories of Shaligram stones and
I think those will be especially valuable to practitioners. But I also want to
have some kind of commentary at the beginning that discusses exactly how
Shaligrams are read. This is a challenge, of course, because there are several
different Shaligram interpretive traditions and each tradition reads the shilas in slightly different ways. But
here is a little of what I am thinking.
Firstly, I want to talk about the main sets of characteristics: shape, color, set,
vadana (mouth), vanamala (white thread), and chakra (spiral). Each of these
characteristics exists on something of a spectrum. In other words, there are a
variety of shapes a Shaligram might appear in, a few different colors, and it
might have one or more vadanas or chakras. Or, as it may be, none at all. In
any case, this makes any discussion of variations potentially limitless and I
just donâ€™t have the time or space to cover every possible permutation.
Secondly, I will need to have some commentary on each of the current Shaligram
traditions. There are, for example, several Vaishnava Shaligram traditions, a
few Shaiva traditions, a number of Smarta traditions, as well as both Jain and
Buddhist traditions. Not surprisingly, these various traditions all tend to use
different combinations of sacred texts, guru lineages, and deity genealogies to
interpret the specific manifestation present in the shila and, though they overlap significantly, they are each unique
and distinct. Iâ€™ve compiled a table of my data and descriptions, but I am note
entirely sure what I want to do with it just yet.
And lastly, I want to both acknowledge and pay homage to the Shaligram books
that have come before me. The two main ones being, of course, Raoâ€™s Shaligram
Kosha and Ram Charan Sharmaâ€™s Shaligram Puran (I discuss pilgrimage
literature in the ethnography). Both of these works, though extremely difficult
to find outside of India, have been instrumental in my research and deserve the
best citations I can give them. They also aptly demonstrate some of the challenges
of working with Shaligram traditions as they move outwards from the Himalayas.
As Sharmaâ€™s work shows, for example, several Shaligram traditions have begun to
incorporate other sacred stones, such as Dwaraka shilas and Shiva Lingams, and
ritual objects, such as murti and
coins, in place of rarer Shaligrams that have been otherwise too difficult to
obtain. This means that any given Shaligram puja
might incorporate a wide variety of mantras,
images, objects, or other accoutrements whose relationships to one another
might not be immediately apparent.
as I continue to contemplate how best to move forward, I have been
experimenting with a few ways to demonstrate â€œreading Shaligrams.â€ One,
represented by the image below, takes a diagrammatical approach to mapping out
specific characteristics and their meanings. Iâ€™m also considering using other
combinations of tables, images, scans, and drawings to highlight the important
processes in the most understandable way I can. Hopefully, either later this
year or next year, Iâ€™ll have the chance to devote a significant amount of time
to it and to the complementary online database Iâ€™ve been contemplating for a
Reading Shaligrams is a challenge. Both in terms of reading about them and reading the shilas themselves. So, itâ€™s going to be
a delicate balance. Iâ€™ve already included as many Vedic, Puranic, Shastric, and
Tantric references as I can and I will continue to document the various ways in
which both sacred texts and peoples over time have come to understand
Shaligrams and to receive darsan of
the deities present. But in the end, I know that I canâ€™t include everything. Itâ€™s
a start, though.
Furthermore, Iâ€™m interested to hear what you all might think, in terms of
format, information, or presentation. If anyone has any thoughts, Iâ€™m open to
suggestions! Feel free to comment here or contact me on Twitter: @Manigarm
While it is listed as Dadhivamana in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, this Shaligram is often described as a variation of the more common Vamana Shaligram of the Dasavatara sequence of Vishnuâ€™s incarnations (See Vamana Shaligram). Its description differs from the more standard Vamana Shaligram however, in that the Dadhivamana Shaligram is often identified by ritual specialists as having a â€œraised head, being yellowish in color, and containing unclear chakras.â€
The Dadhivamana Shaligram takes its name from the Dadhi Vamana Stotra (Prayer to Vamana) where Vishnu takes the incarnation of Vamana, his fifth avatar, to destroy the pride of the greatÂ AsuraÂ king Mahabali. Though a demon, Mahabali was a benevolent emperor. But he usurped the Deva kingdom and as such, Vishnu took the form of a young, dwarf, Brahmin boy called Vamana and requested that he be granted three steps of land as measured by his feet. In spite of his guruâ€™s opposition, Mahabali agreed. Vamana then took the gigantic form of Trivikrama and measured all of the three worlds in two steps. When Mahabali offered his head as a third step, Vamana then requested that instead, Mahabali should live forever in Patala (the underworld). In Kerala, devotees believe that Mahabali makes his home-coming during the festival of Thiruvonam and in Karnataka, devotees believe that he visits them every year on the Bali Padyami. In this way, the Dadhivamana Shaligram is often brought out during the celebrations of these festival seasons.
This Shaligram is also associated with Vamanaâ€™s preference for anointing sacred beings in curd or offering rice mixed with curd where he confers strength to the tongue (so as to speak nothing but the truth) and gives a pleasing odor to the mouth.
Very small in size with two circular marks, and having the color of a new cloud. (BV)
Also described as “yellowish, with unclear chakras.”
The Dadhivamana Shaligram is usually uneven in overall shape with one or more openings that appear yellowish in color. The body of the Shaligram itself is also usually mottled with yellow or orange infiltrates and is typically grey to dark blue in color.