Spotlight: Lakshmi – Narasimha Shaligram

I think it’s time for another Spotlight series…

Description:

Narasimha, or conversely Narsimha or Narsingh, is an avatar of Vishnu or Krishna who is considered to be the supreme God in certain traditions of Vaishnavism but is also a popular deity in Hinduism more generally. Narasimha commonly appears in early Hindu epics, iconography, and temple and festival worship and dates back to well over a millennium. Narasiṃha’s appearance is particularly distinctive, usually depicted as having a human torso and lower body with the head and arms of a lion. Narasimha is also colloquially referred to as the god of “in-betweens” given his most famous appearance as the ‘Great Protector’ of the devotee Prahlada or as the protector of all devotees in their times of need. For example, when Narasimha appeared to destroy the demon king Hiranyakashipu, he did so in such a way as to circumvent the demon’s boon not to be killed by any living being created by Brahma, not to be killed at night or by day, on the ground or in the sky, nor by any weapon, human, or animal. Narasimha thus appears as the blending of a man and a lion, at twilight, at the threshold of the courtyard, places Hiranyakshipu on his thighs, and disembowels him with his claws.

As a variation on the Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram, the Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligram is easily recognized by the presence of a “fanged mouth” at the apex of the primary opening which also reveals the two internal chakra-spirals typically characteristic of the Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram. This “mouth,” then usually contains a row of “teeth” visible either along the outer edge of the upper part of the opening or encircling a second inner opening through the central column forming the end of the primary opening.

As manifestations of Narasimha, worship of these Shaligrams is said to bestow protections from enemies and from attacks on one’s faith.  As such, Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligrams are often sought after by those who live in regions where their particular religious tradition is in the political minority or by those who intend to immigrate to a country significantly outside of their usual cultural mores (such as America or the UK). These Shaligrams are also said to bestow confidence, strength, and righteousness more generally and are considered highly desirable for inclusion in daily puja rituals.

Vedic References: Praanatoshani Tantra pg. 347, Brahmavaivartta (Prakritikhanda, Ch. 21)

Vedic Descriptions: Large opening with two circular marks, glittering to look at, with vanamala mark (BV).

Discussion: This Shaligram bears similar resemblance to the Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram but is identified by the distinctive “mouth-like” structure located at the top of the main opening. This structure is formed by the incomplete wearing of the ammonite shell out of the surrounding shale nodule, which leaves at least one cross-segment of the internal portion of the ammonite still in place as it breaks out of the shell mold.

Lakshmi – Narasimha Shaligram

Lakshmi – Narasimha Shaligram

Spotlight – Shiva Linga Shaligram

The last “Spotlight” post in our current series of three “non-Vishnu” Shaligrams, this post will focus on the Shiva Linga Shaligram. Given that Shaligrams are generally assumed to be direct manifestations of Vishnu, it occasionally comes as a surprise to many people that Shiva Linga Shaligrams have some measure of Vedic precedent, particularly in the Harihara category of śīlas (Praanatoshani Tantra pg. 348, Skanda Purana, Nagarekhanda, 244: 3-9). Harihara is the fused representation of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara). Also known as Shankaranarayana (“Shankara” is Shiva, and “Narayana” is Vishnu), Harihara is thus revered by both Vaishnavas and Shaivas as a form of the Supreme God.

Harihara is also sometimes used as a philosophical term to denote the unity of Vishnu and Shiva as different aspects of the same Ultimate Reality which is called Brahman. This concept of equivalence of various gods as one principle and “oneness of all existence” is discussed as Harihara in the texts of the Advaita Vedanta school in Hindu philosophy. Additionally, some of the earliest sculptures of Harihara, with one half of the image as Shiva and other half as Vishnu, are found in the surviving cave temples of India, such as in the cave 1 and cave 3 of the 6th-century Badami cave temples.

(See also: David Leeming (2001), A Dictionary of Asian Mythology, Oxford University Press, page 67 and TA Gopinatha Rao (1993), Elements of Hindu iconography, Vol 2, Motilal Banarsidass, pages 334-335)

Description:

The Shiva Linga Shaligram is one of the most distinctive Shaligrams and typically appears as a round, smooth śīla containing a central conical spiral, which can be black, gold, or with white markings (see photo 1).

The variant of this Shaligram also appears as a columnar formation of black shale with a slightly segmented conical shape emerging wholly or partially from the top of the śīla (see photo 2).

This Shaligram is primarily associated with Shiva Linga worship and is therefore mainly sought after by Shaiva devotees. However, many Vaishnavas (such as Smartas) include the Shiva Linga Shaligram in their home practices in order to bestow blessings for meditation, protection, strength, and for normalizing a troubled family life.

Vedic References: Shivling Shaligrams are part of many local and regional Shaligram practices. While they are not mentioned by name in the Vedas, many devotees consider Shivling Shaligrams to be a part of the Harihara category of Shaligrams.

Vedic Description: Because this Shaligram represents Lord Shiva (The One who is Eternally Pure) the life of the devotee is considered free from contaminations of Rajas and Tamas; where the non-apprehension of Reality is Tamas and the misapprehension of Reality is Rajas. However, in Reality Itself there can be neither of them. In the Upanishads, for example, Brahman and Shiva are declared as part of the Absolute Oneness, which is Vishnu.

Golden Shiva Linga Shaligram

Golden Shiva Linga Shaligram

 

Shiva Linga Shaligram

Shiva Linga Shaligram

Spotlight – Anirudda Shaligram

Keeping in the spirit of my previous post, I thought I might continue for a time spotlighting and highlighting some of the beautiful and amazing Shaligrams I find during my field research and travels here in Nepal. I figured this might be both fun and informative given the wide variety of Shaligrams pilgrims and devotees might encounter in their lifetimes and the difficulties many face in finding literature and texts that describe Shilas. On that note…

Description:

Anirudda (The one who cannot be obstructed or resisted by anyone), is a form of Bhagavan Vishnu (the Supreme God), a son of Pradyumna, and the grandson of Krishna. Along with Pradyumna, Sankarshan, and Vasudev, Anirudda is considered one of Vishnu’s four vyuha avatars who received specific attributes or functions of Vishnu but not his entire incarnation. (See also Pradyumna Shaligram) Anirudda’s eternal consort, Usha, once captured and sequestered him in the palace of her father, Bana. He was then rescued by Krishna, Balaram, and the Yadav army as a prelude to the story of Krishna and Shiva’s battle at Banasura in the Bhagavata Purana.

The Anirudda Shaligram is distinctive in that it appears as a teardrop shaped Shila with a series of curved parallel striations marking the majority of the surface. In many cases, the presence of Anirudda is also noted in other Shaligrams where the unique shape of the Anirudda Shaligram can be discerned emerging from somewhere along another Shaligram’s surface. In the second image, a drawing of a temple Shaligram in Kathmandu for example, this Kurma Shaligram (note the turtle-like shape) has also been interpreted as bearing the influences of Anirudda in the characteristic concentric markings across the top portion of the Shila.

Anirudda Shaligrams are typically associated with the comforting of householders, with blessings of wisdom, wit, and conviction, and with providing a “Vaikuntha” like atmosphere conducive to students, architects, administrators, and politicians.

Vedic References: Praanatoshani Tantra pg. 347, Praanatoshani Tantra pg. 361, Brahmavaivartta (Prakritikhanda, Ch. 21), Garuda Purana (Panchanan Tarkaratna, Part 1, Ch. 45)

Vedic Descriptions: Round in shape, glaced and charming to look at, yellowish color (B).

Blue color, round shape, and hole at top side (G).

 

Anirudda Shaligram

Anirudda Shaligram

 

Kurma-Anirudda Shaligram, drawn from a temple Shaligram in Kathmandu

Kurma-Anirudda Shaligram, drawn from a temple Shaligram in Kathmandu

Spotlight – Hiranyagarbha Shaligram

Depending on which of the Puranas you read, there are variably 18 names of Shaligram and 13 chakra distinctions (Skanda Purana), 24 types (also Skanda Purana, though referencing an unknown earlier text), 19 types (Brahmavaivartta Purana), or 21 types (Garuda Purana). While there remains a fair degree of overlap between the types listed in each Purana, they are not precisely the same. This isn’t necessarily surprising, however, as different texts reflect practices from different times and different places and subsequent Vedic commentaries are included or revised in an effort to add clarity. By and large, in any case, the discussions found in both Skanda Purana and Garuda Purana remain the most often referenced religious texts in Shaligram practice throughout both India and Nepal.

As is typical among the majority of Shaligram devotees, the most commonly sought after Shaligrams are representative of Vishnu (or one of his ten avatars). These Shaligrams include a wide variety of Krishna Shaligrams (such as Govinda, Gopala, and Damodara), Laksmi-Narayan and Narasimha Shaligrams, as well as Dasavatara and Mahavishnu Shaligrams. But aside from these types (which are well represented in my research) I have recently taken an interest in some of the less well known Shaligram forms. Some of these forms are also mentioned in the Puranas (though not as extensively) and others not at all, instead reflecting more regional or local traditions of Shaligram worship. My interest today is to discuss some of these less attended to types, particularly the ones which are not detailed in the Puranas but may be referenced elsewhere in the Vedas.

Two in particular have caught my attention for the past few weeks: the Hiranyagarbha Shaligram and the Ganesh Shaligram. Today, I’ll discuss Hiranyagarbha and I will save my commentary on the Ganesh Shaligram for another post.

Description:

Hiranyagarbha, literally “Golden Womb” or “Golden Egg,” (and often poetically rendered as “universal gem”) is the source of creation for the universal or manifested cosmos in Hindu theology. It is mentioned in one hymn of the Rig Veda (RV 10.121), known as Hiranyagarbha Sukta, which suggests a single creator deity identified in the hymn as Prajapati.

In many interpretations of this Shaligram, it is said to express the creative urge of Narayana. The “Golden Egg” here is often interpreted as that from which all of the objective world emerges. The term thereby suggests that the entire creative power of the divine is but an expression of The Self, Narayana. This Shaligram is therefore often linked with transcendental consciousness, meditation, and Bhakti yoga practices.

What is more, in some Himalayan Hindu traditions, this Shaligram is also identified as Chandra (The Moon) or as an expression of Shiva appearing as the full moon (note its similarities with Shiva Linga). In fact, among many Hindus of the Himalayan regions, this Shaligram was more often associated with Shiva worship than any other Shaligram (save possibly Shiva Linga and Ananta Sesha Shaligrams) and is highly prized due to its golden color and rarity.

Vedic References: Rig Veda 10.121, Vishvakarman Sūkta (RV 10.82), Manu Smrti 1.9, The Mahābhārata, Book 12: Santi Parva. Kisari Mohan Ganguli, tr. Section CCCIII.

Vedic Descriptions: The Upanishads call Hiranyagarbha “The Soul of the Universe” or Brahman, which floated in emptiness and the darkness of non-existence for a year before breaking into two halves which formed the Svarga and the Prthvi.

In classical Puranic Hinduism, Hiranyagarbha is the term used in Vedanta for the “creator.” It is also Brahma because he was born from a golden egg (Manu Smrti 1.9). The Mahabharata calls it “The Manifest.”

Hiranyagarbha/Chandra Shiva Shaligram

Hiranyagarbha/Chandra Shiva Shaligram

Hiranyagarbha/Chandra Shiva Shaligrams

Hiranyagarbha/Chandra Shiva Shaligrams