What are Sacred Salagramas ?
The Salagramas (also known as Saligramas or Shaligrams) mean differently to different people. For researchers and scientists, the Shaligrams are historically significant Nautlus (Mollusc) Ammonite Fossils – evolutionary relics embedded with the imprint of pre-historic marine creatures. For avid collectors, the Shaligrams are geological marvels carved with mathematically precise spirals and remarkably clear geometric forms like Chakra (Wheel or Discus), Shanka (Conch Shell), Gadha (Mace or Club), Padma (Lotus), etc. that date back to 400 million years. For the spiritually inclined, the Salagramas are revered Divine Energy Tools imbibed with energy nucleii that are verily sacred and deeply linked to the Great Protector of the Cosmos : Lord Maha Vishnu.
Like the worship of Lord Shiva in the form of a Linga, the worship of Lord Vishnu in the shape of a Salagrama (Shaligram) is iconic in character. While the Lingas may be natural objects like the Crypto Crystalline Quartz Bana Lingas found in the Sacred Narmada River (”Swayambhu”) or carved in Stones and various types of Crystals by humans (”Manusya”), the Salagramas are always only those which are naturally found in the Sacred River Kali-Gandaki near Mukthi Kshetra (also known as Mukthinath and Damodhar Kunda) in the North West of Nepal. The Gandaki River is also refered to as Narayani, Salagrami, Hiranvathi and Hiranyavathi – many Great Epics like The Mahabaratha celebrate the antiquity and sanctity of this Holy Himalayan Stream and credit it as the Divine Abode of the Fire God, Lord Agni and containing within itself the waters of all the Holy Rivers.
The Shaligrams are regarded as Divine Manifestations – the Vibhutis of Lord Vishnu. The ammonite origins of these stones do not make them less sacred. In fact, it’s hoary antiquity is a factor in it’s favour of it’s superior sanctity. The Shaligram or Saligrama or Salagrama is self-pierced (Swayam-trnna) and self-manifest (Swayambhu) in character. Thus it is not a mere stone : it is a Sacred Stone and that makes all the difference.
Legend about Origin of Salagrama :
There are many varying but interesting legends concerning the origin of the Sacred Stone Saligrama and the Sacred Gandaki River from many Puranic Texts. A popular one is narrated below :
Once upon a time a great battle raged between Lord Shiva and Asura (Demon) King Jallandara – both were quite powerful and were poised evenly – so the battle went on for a long time. Then an Asareeri (Voice from Heavens) declared that the Asura’s wife Brindha is a Sati and unless her purity and chastity becomes stained, the Demon King cannot be killed. But the Gods could not bring themselves to spoiling the chastity of a lady, even for a good cause. However the Asura had no such qualms : using his occult powers, he took on the guise of Lord Shiva and approached Goddess Parvathi (wife of Lord Shiva), determined to destroy her chastity, so that he could defeat Lord Shiva. But Goddess Parvathi, who is herself the Authority of Sakthi (Power) and Ruler of Maya (Illusions), easily identified the Asura and destroyed his illusion. In that instant, the Gods convinced an angry Lord Maha Vishnu (brother of Goddess Parvathi) that now it would not be a sin to spoil the purity of Brindha.
Lord Maha Vishnu took on the form of the Asura King and appeared near Brindha. Brindha was unable to detect this illusion and thought her husband had come to her. That very thought itself broke her chastity and instantaneously Lord Shiva burned the evil Asura to ashes.
When Brindha came to know of this, she became furious and cursed Lord Vishnu to become a stone. After cursing, she realised her blunder and prayed to Lord Vishnu to forgive her. Lord Vishnu blessed her and transformed her into a Sacred Himalayan Stream of pure water : the Gandaki River. On his instructions, Viswakarma (Divine Architect of the Gods) took the form of a diamond toothed Adamantine Water Worm Vajra-Keeta (Golden coloured, mighty and brilliant with a flash of lighting and making sweet noises – the Puranas identify it as one of the 84 lakh species of ammonites) in the bowels of the rocks and furrowed into each and every stone in that place, carving different spirals, chakra chambers and other markings inside and outside the stones. Then Lord Maha Vishnu manifested himself into all these stones, honouring Brindha and also for the benefit of his devotees.
Different types of Shaligrams :
The Shaligrama Shilas are principally the iconic images of the Great Preserver, Lord Maha Vishnu. These stones bearing various signs and insignia of the various weapons, flowers and rosaries, in a range of sizes, shapes and colour shades form the basis for the classification of various types of Salagramas representing the various emanatory forms and incarnations of Lord Maha Vishnu.
Broadly, there are four groups of Saligramas :
The first group is the popular Dasavatara or the Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu : (1) Matsaya (2) Kurma (3) Varaha (4) Narasimha (5) Vamana (6) Jamadagni Parasurama (7) Dasaradha Rama (8) Sri Krishna (9) Balarama and (10) Kalki.
The second group comprises of the widely accepted Chathurvimsathi Murthis – the 24 variant forms of Lord Maha Vishnu : (1) Kesava (2) Narayana (3) Madhava (4) Govinda (5) Vishnu (6) Madhusudhana (7) Trivikrama (8) Vamana (9) Sridhara (10) Hrishikesha (11) Padhmanabha (12) Dhamodhara (13) Sankarshana (14) Vasudeva (15) Pradhyumna (16) Aniruddha (17) Purushothama (18) Adhoksaja (19) Narasimha (20) Achyutha (21) Janardhana (22) Upendra (23) Hari and (24) Krishna.
The third group constitutes other forms of Lord Vishnu not included in the above two groups, like : Hayagriva, Kapila, Dattathreya, Simsumara, Mukundha, Hamsa, Paramahamsa, Vaikundha, Pundarikaksha, Lakshmipathi, Devadeva, Vatapatra-sayai, Arbhaka, Kshirabdhi-sayi, Visvambara, Viswaroopa, Garudadhvaja, Peethambhara, Sathyavirasrava, Amrathaharana, Chakrapani, Maya Narayana, Bahurupa Murthi, Pundarikha, Parijatha, Sudharsana, Jagadyoni, Anantha, Sesha, Lakshmikandha, Harimurthi Trimurthi, Harihara Murthi, Sankara Narayana, etc.
Finally the fourth group includes Salagrama Stones representing some forms of Lord Shiva, Goddess Shakthi, God Surya (the Sun God), Lord Ganesha and Gautama Buddha.
There are many Salagramas specific to each of the above forms and more.
What are the colours of Shaligrams ?
The Sacred Shaligrams come in numerous colours : black, blue, bluish black, grey, white, yellow, gold, green, copper, red, dark red, honey coloured and multi-coloured.
Are Shaligrams worthy of Worship ?
Vibhuti of Godhead signifies pervasion, penetration and comprehension of the Supreme Energy. Shaligrams as Vibhutis become worthy of worship. At energy-level, as objects of worship, the Shaligrams are far more preferred than the man-made iconic representations (like statues), as the later invariably suffer from corrupt energies created by the sculptor’s unclean body and mind, violent thoughts and unbecoming emotions, placement in dirty places, etc. An icon or statue to become fit for worship must first be Cleansed (at energy level) of all these impure energies. Secondly, it should be properly Consecrated or Energised (Sthapana, Prana Prathista – infusion of vital life force energies). Thirdly, the icon or statue should be Programmed – making the manifesting energy to incline favourably towards the worshipper (Sammukhi Karana). Only then it is rendered potent enough to reward the worshipper. If these 3 steps are not performed strictly and systematically, then the power of Godhead will refuse to be drawn into the icon or statue and the worship is of no use.
However, the Shaligrams do not require these preliminary rites of Purification (Cleansing) and Consecration (Prana Prathishta), as the Shaligrams naturally contain the Vibhuti of Godhead present in them. However, if the ideal concept of Programming can be accomplished by a competant professional, then the Shaligrams will bestow better and faster results.
Important : The “Puja Prakasa” quotes : A Shaligram stone damaged in any way : chipped, broken, split or cracked will not become unfit for worship; it is always sacred and worthy, nothing can be a deterrent for it’s worship. It does not lose it’s auspicious nature even when it is damaged and continues to be worthy of worship. This is also confirmed by “Vishnu Tilaka Samhita”.
The “Brahma Vaivarta Purana” (Prakrti Khanda) voices that as long as Lord Maha Vishnu abides in the Shaligrams, all the benevolent spirits dwell there, all the Gods and indeed all the fourteen worlds reside in them. It is believed that the Shaligrams will lose their sanctity and become devoid of the Presence of Lord Vishnu at the end of 10,000 years of the Kali Yuga (the present year 2009 corresponds to 5100 years of the Kali Era time period).
Do Shaligrams require Strict Worship and Elaborate Rituals ?
No Puranic Text has prescribed any exclusive worship ritual for the Shaligrams. The belief that the worship of Shaligrams must be very elaborate, correct to the minute detail and should be performed in strict purity is false. In fact the Puranic Texts unanimously state that it is sufficient to merely look at the Shaligram to gain benefits. Rigorous worship is always meritorious, but it is neither indispensable nor obligatory. In fact, Anupa Simha’s “Salagrama Pariksa” says that worship is optional. The “Sandilya Samhita” declares that there be no possible error when Shaligram worship is undertaken – any lapse or defect is immediately and automatically condoned and the purpose of the worship would be fulfilled.
The “Salagrama Sila Lakshana Paddhati” says : for worshipping the Sacred Saligramas, there is no need for a Guru (the Preceptor or the Master who initiates), a Mantra (the Hymnal Formula to chant, given formally by the Guru), Japa (Ceremonial repetition of the Mantra), Bhavana (Visualisation of a Deity), Stuti (Eulogy) or an Upachara (Service).
What are the benefits of having Shaligrams ?
Puranic Texts say that it is rarely that a person procures a Shaligram; the possession of the Sacred Stone speaks of the merits of the person – he should consider himself as extremely fortunate. The Shaligram is supposed to benedict the aspirants with various boons : relief from diseases, freedom from poverty, prosperity, children, a win over enemies and ultimately emancipation. Many Puranic Texts and Manuals extol the virtues of the Sacred Shaligrams :
(1) Brahma Vaivarta Purana (Prakrti Khanda) : Any Religious Observances, Auspicious Gifts, Nitya Poojas, Obsequies or the Last Rites (Sraddha) Ceremonies done in the presence of Shaligram is very meritorious.
(2) Padma Purana (Uttara Khanda) : If the Obsequies or the Last Rites (Sraddha) Ceremonies are conducted in front of a Shaligram, then the departed soul will directly reach Vaikunda (Vishnu’s Abode) and subsequent death ceremonies become unnecessary; gifts given in the vicinity of Shaligram will be infinitely meritorious; whatever comes into contact with Shaligram will be instantly purified; whoever worships the Shaligram will surely be liberated and will obtain all prosperity here, while alive.
(3) Purana Samgraha : If a dying person sips water in which the Shaligram is bathed (Abisheka), he/she will be freed from all sins; if the death itself occurs in the presence of Shaligram, the path to Vishnu’s Heavenly Abode is cleared for the departing soul.
(4) Haemadri : The Rites of Expiation of Sins (Prayachitha, Parikara) become most effective and in times of Lunar or Solar Eclipse, whatever ritual is undertaken becomes all the more effective when done in front of a Shaligram.
(5) Skanda Purana (Kartika Masamahatmya) : Lord Shiva tells his son Lord Skanda that all the 3 worlds in their entirety and he himself abide in a Shaligram and a mere glance at it is meritorious, and much more so worshipping it.
(6) Vishnu Purana : The Shaligrams represent the everlasting presence and power of Lord Vishnu; the Vibhuti present in these Sacred Stones are of an Akhanda variety. In fact, “Prameya Ratnakara” enumerates as many as 5,535 forms of Lord Vishnu in Shaligrams, while the iconic forms are only 513.
(1) The Puranic Texts specifically declare that ONLY the Fossil-Stones which have taken shape in the Gandaki River are Sacred Salagramas. The Ammonite Fossils picked up from any other river bed are just what they are : Fossils – nothing less and nothing more – they are available abundantly in the market at cheap prices in the guise of “Salagramas”.
(2) The great demand and the high prices that the Salagramas fetch have spawned many spurious, fake and artificially but skillfully carved black stones which are sold in the market as “Salagramas”. They will bring nothing but negative energy.
(3) Devotees are advised that they should approach a genuine organization to obtain authentic Shaligrams which can give positive results.
(4) A Shaligram ill-got by fraud or by force will never bring luck. Worshipping an illicitly obtained Shaligram will be in vain.
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