Tuesday, February 14, 2012







Siva is said to have 'manifest' (vyakta) or iconic, 'un-manifest' (avyakta) or 'manifest' and 'un-manifest' or an-iconic (vyaktaavyakta) forms. The most popular worship of Siva in linga form at home and temples, worship of Devi and Ganesha in linga form at homes and at few temples in India, the popular worship of Vishnu in Saalagraama forms at home and in temples illustrate the third an-iconic or vyaktaavyakta form of worship.


Vishnu, Ganesha and Devi are mostly worshipped in the iconic form. But they are also seen being worshipped in the an-iconic form of saalagraama and linga. Despite the wide employment of the an-iconic form of linga worship of Siva, his iconic representation is quite popular. Interesting among the iconic representations of Siva are Nataraja, Ardhanaari, Harihara, Kalyana Sundara and Bhikshaatana Moorti. The ancient representation of Mother Goddess have also been in linga forms, anthills, natural rocks and altars. Mookaambika in Kolluru in Karnataka is a linga. The Kaamaakhya shrine in Assam is a rock which has a crevice in it resembling the yoni, which is always seen smeared with red ochre. Kaamaakhya is considered as Saktipeetha where the yoni of Sati fell when Siva was carrying her dead body on his back in grief. Vishnu and Brahma stealthily entered that body and cut it into 51 pieces. The yoni part fell at this place. Ganesha is worshipped in the form of linga at Khumbhasi (Anegudda).


An icon (Greek Eikon) strictly means an image, a representation or a likeness. But an icon is characteristically representation with a new nuance meaning a likeness of something our eyes have actually never seen. A natural icon may be an unusually shaped rock or an odd tree trunk, objects that are not commonly found, like the crystal lingas, ammonite stones known as saalagraamas, pieces of quartz with strange veins in them, peculiar conch shells and other marine fossils, strange shaped roots of tree that may deemed to be icons.


The belief that all such unusual objects contain within themselves supernatural power known as 'mana' in English (the power of elemental forces of nature embodied in the object) supports such selections. An icon may therefore be looked upon as an image possessing 'mana'. In manmade icons it is natural to incorporate some 'mana' into the artifact.


Hindus worship the Supreme in iconic or an-iconic forms. Parama Samhita explains anthropometric necessity for iconic representations:

"Worship can be done only for the deity with form, and not for the abstract idea. It is therefore that icons are made. They help concentration, contemplation, adoration and worship. The icon is representation of the deity, and whatever is offered to the icon is really received by the deity. The devotee being human, he can communicate well with the icon in the human form. The human being therefore will reach the highest goal conceiving the real Godhead in the human form and worshipping the icon with great devotion"


Concrete objects of adoration are human in aspect. Images of Vishnu, Devi and sportive forms of Siva as also several minor divinities are in the human form. Animal human admixtures in the iconic representations are not unusual—Ganesha, Narasimha, Hayagreeva, Prtyagnaa (goddess with lion's head) and Kaakamukhi (Yogini with the face of a crow). Several iconic representations involve humanization: Garuda, Nandi, Hanuman, Subhramanya (serpent), Daksha (ram), Matsya(fish) etc.


In a large number of celebrated shrines in India only blocks of stone or stumps of wood are worshipped. The most famous Visvanaatha linga in Vaaraanasi is just a stone picked up from the river bed of Narmada of untold antiquity; and so is the Mahakaala linga in Ujjain; the lingas worshipped in the great temples of Kanchipuram and Ramesvaram are natural hardened heaps of sand (saikata). The popular Baidhyanatha shrine and Tribhuvanesvara shrine at Lingaraj temple are blocks of granite. The Narasimha images in several hill temples of the South are mere rocks, sometimes with gaping slits in them or rude pillars with marks of conch and discus on them. The Devi in the Kaamaakhya temple is a boulder with a crevice in it representing the yoni of Devi as said before. The Khond Temple in Orissa has only a wooden post which is worshipped as the goddess. Khambesvari near Gandhadri in orissa is an wooden pillar on which deity is crudely carved. The village shrines of the mother goddess are usually small conical stones. Durgamba in Bellary is worshipped in the form of anthill. Mangaladevi in Mangalore is worshipped as a rock. In all Siva temples Siva is worshipped as Achala Linga while the procession idols are in the human form as in the Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha and Subhramanya temples.


The an-iconic form of worship has its origin to pre-vedic periods and tribal practices still current in India. Symbolizing the deceased ancestors by stones and pebbles is current even among the sophisticated groups in India. There is a folk practice of throwing stones in the direction of the mountain symbolic of spirit flying to the mountain, its natural habitat. Awe-inspiring mountains were regarded not only as divinities but as abodes of gods and spirits. This is the origin of linga and saaligraama worship in India. Of course, there are other fanciful theories, Puranic narrations including sexual symbolism, which will be discussed later. The origin for linga and saligraama, vyaktaavyakta form of worship can therefore be traced back to the temple traditions from the prevedic period and the Indus valley civilization.


Linga Worship

Linga literally means "characteristic" or "symbol". Most of the devotees need something physical to gain access to godhead. Hence in its simplest form an upright stone is used as the symbol or linga of the Brahman, the cosmic spirit, the eternal, unborn soul of the Universe that has no form or dimension, no characteristic or attribute.


It is said Siva stood for several thousands of years on one leg doing penance forming the axis of the revolving cosmos. This axis has no beginning or end and is considered to be the linga or characteristic of Siva.


Mahabharata and Matsyapuraana say Siva's linga is the divine Phalus, the source of the soul-seed. The essence of the entire cosmos within that seed created all life. When life is destroyed, it returns to the prime phallus of Siva.


With the yoni portion usually associated with linga, it represents the productive mechanism, Siva and Sakti, male and female, cosmic spirit combined with cosmic energy that is responsible for creation and existence.


There are several stories explaining why Hindus worship Siva in the linga form:

The ascetic sage Bhrigu went to Kailasa and found Siva and Parvati lost in love. They did not pay attention to his presence and welcome him. The acerbic sage cursed Siva that people would worship him in the form of linga trapped in a yoni. This is from Padmapurana.

Sivapurana says that wives of certain sages fell In love with Siva while he was wandering in deodar forest. The sages in their fit of anger cursed Siva to lose his beautiful body. Siva turned himself to Jyotirlinga, a fiery missile and threatened to annihilate the whole world. The sages begged for his pardon. Mother Parvati in response to their prayers took the shape of the yoni and caught hold of the missile. Siva's fury got thus subsided within yoni. Siva asked the sages to worship the linga-yoni and realize the folly of anger and desire.


Lingapurana has its own story to tell. Vishnu and Brahma suddenly came across a fiery pillar that had no beginning or end stretching along the cosmos. In the form of a swan Brahma rose up to the skies to find the summit. Vishnu in the form of a boar gnawed into the earth and tried to reach its bottom. The pillar was cosmic linga of Siva, one that stretches into infinity. So, both failed in their mission. Brahma lied to Vishnu that he had seen the top and showed a ketaki flower as proof. For this lie Brahma was deprived of worship in temples and festivals. Ketaki flower also fell from Siva's grace. Ketaki flower is therefore not used in the worship of Siva except on the holy night of Sivaratri granted as a special concession shown by Siva at the pleading mercy of the flower.


However Vamapurana states that it is Siva who insisted that he be worshipped in the linga form. Siva took the form of an elephant and installed the first linga in the deodar forest under a banyan tree (vatavriksha).


According to Mahabharata, Siva appeared in answer to Asvatthaama's prayer as a golden altar (vedi) with fire emanating from it. The linga shaft stands for fire element and the earth is the earth element.


A tantric text Ajitaagama describes linga as "pillar of light" (jyotisthambha) and explains it as the fire in which all beings disappear (li)and from which all beings burst forth as sparks from fire (ga). Siva means the one in whom creation sleeps after dissolution. Linga also means a place where all created objects dissolve during the disintegration of the created universe.


A suspiciously phallic representation has been discovered from the Indus Valley Civilization and it is identified as linga. The sculptured lingam at Parasuramesvara temple in Gudimallam in Andhra Pradesh is unmistakably phallic in delineation. Its age is estimated to be first or second century B.C. On front of the shaft a male deity with a battle axe, a water vessel and a ram in two hands standing on a crouching dwarf , is carved. This could be the earliest representation of Siva in the an-iconic form of linga. There is neither characteristic pedestal (peetha) or the typical arghya of lingas of the later periods. There is also a linga in Lucknow museum which contains a human face in the linga frame work. Such lingas are called "Mukha lingas". This was found in Bhitaa and is a composite linga of both iconic and an-iconic. The deity's hand and bust are sculpted in this, one of the hands in "abhaya gesture" and the other holding a water vessel.


Siva was recognized as Rudra, a divinity in Rigveda, but there is no reference to any linga worship. Indus Valley Civilization remains have the well-known Pasupati seal, which could be a representation of Siva.


Siva was worshipped until about the first century A.D., based on the evidences, only in the anthropomorphic and iconic forms. The linga form came much later.


Despite wide consecration of Siva in linga form, 16 stylized iconic representations are there according to Kashyapa Silpa and 18 according to Silpa Ratna. Lingas called Baana lingas worshipped in homes have the form of unusual pebbles picked up from some sacred rivers like Narmada and they do not in any way remind one of the phallus. So is also the Visvanatha Linga at Vaaraanasi which was picked up from the Narmada river the date of which is not known.


A look at the ancient specimens of linga would convince anyone of the monumental significance attached to the linga idea. The linga is merely a miniature mountain. Linga worship reminds one of the veneration shown to mountains right from the days of Lord Krishna (Govardhana pooja by Nanda's clan) and veneration shown to anthill worship. Linga is often seen with metallic portion of hooded serpent. Siva is also associated with Ganga and Ganga has its origin from the mountain top Gangotri.


Many lingas are covered by metal sheaths and given a face. These are called Mukhalingas Some have the entire image of Siva carved on the surface.


The Panchamukah linga shows five elements, five elements and five organs that make our bodies. Lingas that have been never installed are called Svaayambhuva lingas. They are natural rock or ice formations shaped like pillar. The five faces in Panchamukha linga are Eesaana, Tatpurusha, Aghora, Vaamadeva and Sadyojata. This is the Panchaanana form of Lord Siva. Easaana represents highest aspect, zenith; Tatpurusha stands for power that rules over air; Aghora rules over the element of fire; Vaamadeva rules over water and Sadyojata the power that creates. This is the Panchaanana form of Lord Siva comparable to four vyuhas of Lord Vishnu.


At first orthodox priests despised the non-vedic worship of phallic symbols. When they finally reconciled, they gave numerous socially acceptable metaphors to linga. The aagamas were written to explain the worship of Siva in detail right from construction of the shrine to consecration of the idol. These aagamas soon became as important as Vedas.


Achala (immovable) lingas are those installed in temples. These are sculpted lingas as per aagamas that have three distinct parts. The top one third of the shaft is the visible part and this is the linga proper, which is worshipped. It is called Rudrabhaaga or pooja bhaaga, the Siva aspect. The middle one third of the portion is unseen, hidden in the peetha or pedestal. While the above is considered as the male part, this embedded portion is called the female part and is known as Vishnu Bhaaga. Siva was captivated by the beauty of Vishnu in the form of Mohini and married her. They had a son Aiyappan (Shasta) later. Vishnu Sahasranaama also has many names in feminine form addressed to Vishnu. Hence Vishnu being depicted in feminine form is not unusual. The bottom one third goes into the structure known as Nandyaavarta accommodated inside the earth. This is the Brahma aspect regarded as neuter. The word linga (pullinga, streelinga ans napumsakalinga) in samskrit means gender and the linga's iconographical description refers to all the three lingas. The top portion of the linga is cylindrical, the middle eight sided and bottom square according to Ajitaagama.


Permanent lingas (achala lingas) made in stone are of four types according to the variety of stone( any colored, dark red, white or yellow). The minimum height prescribed is 24 inches and maximum height 216 inches. Wooden lingas are distinguished by the type of wood used and they are of eight kinds. Wooden lingas are not made below 16 inches in height. Metrallic lingas are of eight kinds. Between three inches and sixteen inches they are regarded as mobile (chala), and when this limit is exceeded, the linga must be installed in a place permanently.


The chala (movable) lingas may be kept in the shrine of one's own home for worship or prepared temporarily made of sand, rice grain, cooked rice, rice flour, clay, cow dung, sandal paste, jaggery, butter, tender sprouts, or flowers. They are to be dissolved in water as soon as the worship is over. Veerasaivas, in Karnataka, wear chala lingas on their bodies being their Ishtadevata.


Mercury is also known as Sivadhatu, literally Siva's metal. In reality, it refers to Siva's vitality. Religious writers have equated a Sivalinga made of mercury with Siva. Whenever a linga is made ceremoniously with a combination of mercury, it is said to be very effective. In Sivapurana Siva has said, "Lingakoeti sahasrasya yatphalam samyagarchanaat; tatphalam koetigunitam rasalingaarchanaad bhavet; brahmahatyaa sahasraani gowhatyaaha sataani cha tatkshanadvilayamyaanti rasalingasya darsanaat; sparsanaat praapyata muktiriti satyam sivoeditam"—Whatever blessings are showered upon you on making offerings to millions of different lingas, these can be multiplied manifold when you personally offer prayers to mercury Sivalinga. By a mere touch of mercury Sivalinga one can achieve salvation. Rasaratna Samucchaya says: "Kaasyaadi sarvalingebhyo rasalingaarchanam sivam; praapyate yena tallingam bhogarogaamritaamaram"—the worship of mercury linga is said to be more efficacious than worship of crores of lingas including the one at Kaasi and other holy places. Mercury linga worship promotes healthy and wealthy life and immortality.


Contrary to the Chinese belief that mercury is female and sulfur male, Hindu alchemists and Siddhas regarded mercury as male and sulfur as female. Mercury in Samskrit is called "Paarada" signifying that it helps to cross the ocean of transmigration. It is also the essence (rasa) of Siva's own body (Hara beeja or Siva Veerya). If mercury represents Siva, the male, sulfur represents, Gauri, the female. Mercuric sulfide becomes important in this context. Interesting to Indian alchemy is the preparation of mercurial icon in the form of phallus (rasalinga) to represent the male principle of Siva. Usually, this icon is prepared by a compound of mercury and sulfur. It is intimately mixed with an extract of Barberia Cristata (Jhinti) and stirred vigorously until mud consistency is obtained, and then it is shaped into linga form, covered all over with sulfur powder and heated slightly over the fire of the cow dung cake so that it becomes hard. Another method is gold leaf and mercury in the proportion of 1:3 are rubbed with acids for three hours and the amalgam is shaped into a linga. It is interesting to note that in the ceremony known as "Ashtabhanda" employed in the installation of the icons in temples, this substance (cinnabar, sindhura, mercuric sulfide) forms one of the eight constituents. Alchemists in the middle-ages believed that all things in the world, especially metals are ultimately made up of two principles: mercury, the water element representing fusibility and sulfur, the fire element representing combustibility. These two were described as male and female and the whole world was the result of their union.


Lord Ganesha is also worshipped in lingas , saalagramas, yantras and kalasas. Ganapati saalagraamas are very rare.


Whether the Sivalinga is phallic or not is a mute point. Phallic cults have existed in all countries and in all civilizations. It is quite likely the phallic cults of aboriginal civilizations were absorbed into Hinduism and the worship itself was elevated to honor father-mother principle of creation. That it is a remnant of the vedic stupa sthambha to which sacrificial victims used to be tied is another view. According to this view the Hindu temple is metamorphosis of the vedic Yagnasaala. That it is an imitation of Buddhist stupa is another guess, but Sivalingas are found even in the prehistoric Harappa Mohenjadaaro civilization.


Siva is said to have appeared as a blazing pillar of fire of immesurable size to destroy the pride of Brahma and Vishnu. Lingodhbhavamoorti depicts him as manifesting in the heart of the Linga. The image has four arms. Brahma and Vishnu stand on either side adoring him.


The Sivalinga ellipsoid is fixed in such a way that one portion is embedded in the earth while one portion is seen above the surface. The visible part represents the world of plurality, Sakti. The unseen invisible substratum is the support of the visible part, the world. The properties of an ellipsoid are ideally suited for symbolizing the two aspects of Reality—the Un-manifest and Manifest.


A cross section of the ellipsoid cut along its axis is an ellipse whereas its cross section cut at right angles to its axis is a circle. Ellipsoid is thus a combination of circles and ellipses. The circle represents Supreme reality which has no beginning or end. One part of ellipsoid, circle therefore represents un-manifest reality. The other part which is ellipse represents the manifest universe. The entire Universe consisting of atom right up to the solar system is in a way related to the ellipse. The solar system consists of the Sun with planets revolving around it. The motion of each planet around the sun describes an ellipse. Strikingly similar is the motion of electrons around the nucleus in an atom. The orbits described by the movements of electrons are also ellipses. Hence, the other aspect of ellipsoid is most suited to represent the universe, the manifest.


In this chain of births and deaths creation and destruction, the day is maintained. Thus the third power of 'maintenance' is also ingrained in the other two powers of creation and destruction. To indicate this inseparable nature of creation and destruction Siva, the Lord of Creation represents the organ of procreation. The organ of procreation represents the linga-yoni manifestation, in the seemingly absurd symbolism in achala lingas consecrated in Siva temples.





Vishnu in his several forms and vyuhas is worshipped by Vaishnavites in the form of saalagraama, an an-iconic form, at home. They are, for the most part, a hereditary possessions of the family, handed down from generation to generation. It is a prized gift or daana, and given as a valued gift in some places to the bridegroom along with the bride by the bride's parents.


Saalagraama is generally a blackish rounded and polished stone with a hole containing the fossils of tiny mollusks, which is worshipped as an emblem of Vishnu. There are several varieties of them in different colors representing different aspects of the Lord. Saalagraama stones (ammonite fossil stones) are very ancient geological specimens rendered round and smooth by water currents over great length of time. They are distinguished by the ammonite (saala described as vajrakeeta, adamantine worms) having entered into stones for residence, are fossilized in course of time leaving behind discus-like marks inside the stone. Such marks alone make the stone eligible to be called saalagraama and worshipped. The word Saalagraaman is one of the names of Vishnu. The origin of this word is traced to a remote village called Saalagraami near the source of the river Gandaki in Nepal. Saalagraamas are natural formations of stones in the Gandaki river. These stones are also used in saalagraami to prepare the images of Vishnu. It is also a pilgrim center. Lord Badrinath is carved out of saalagraama stone.


Vajrakeeta worm was in fact a form which Vishnu himself had assumed. Having entered into the bowels of these stones, the worm golden colored, mighty and brilliant like a flash of lightning, making sweet noise, carves out the marks of numerous kinds and various insignia of Lord Vishnu with ease in the stones. Puranas give an indication as to the origin of these stones: "Gandakyaamcha uttare teere giriraajasya dakshine; dasayojanavisteernam mahaakshetra vasundharaa; saaalagraamo mahaadevo devi dwaaraavati bhavet; ubhayossangamo yatra muktisttatra na samsayaha"—To the north of the river Gandaki, also called Naaraayani, and south of the Himalayas there is the holy region of Saalagraama, which is ten yojanas extent, where Dwaaraavati merges into Saalagraama. Undoubtedly, such a place is capable of vouchsafing moksha.


Varaahapuraana has its own story to tell why these stones are called Saalagraamas:

There was a sage named Shalankayan, who performed austerities and meditated upon Lord

Vishnu at many holy places to get him as his son. He visited also Muktinaatha teertha(holy place in Nepal high in the Himalayas and took a holy dip in the icy waters of Kali Gantaki behind Annapoorna mountain. Tired and exhausted by climbing mountains he took rest under a saala tree. Fast asleep on the eastern side of the tree he did not notice Lord Krishna who had come and stood before him. Lord woke him up from his sleep. Filled with astonishment he at once started chanting vedic mantras paying his obeisance to the Lord. Pleased with him Lord fulfilled his desire and granted an additional boon. Krishna informed the sage that he would bless the spot with his presence and that he would self-manifest in the form of saalagraama sila and reside there to bless the devotees who will worship him in that form.


Mahabharata Vanaparva says: "Aajanmaakruta paapaanaam praayaschittam ya icchati; Saalagraama silaavaahi paapahaari namostu te"—Obeisance unto you, O water, sanctified by the washing of saalagraama! You grant deliverance to him who seeks you from all his sins accumulated from birth.


Another legend runs as follows: Once Brahma got exasperated at the rate of increase of sinners among his creation. The drops of sweat rolling down his cheeks(Gandha), ultimately collected themselves into the form of a female child who was named "Gandaki". She staged a severe penance being an off-shoot of Brahma which became so overwhelming that the Devas started trembling before her. They offered a bait in return for stopping the penance, but they met a tartar in her, for she wanted to be mother of all devas. Devas had no such power to grant and therefore pleaded their inability. Gandaki was furious and cursed them to become worms on earth below. Devas were upset and cursed her back to become 'Jada' or inert matter. Brahma got worried with this unexpected turn of events. He consulted Indra and Rudra. He drew a blank with them. Finally they all turned to Vishnu and sought help. Vishnu said, "In as much as the curses have been pronounced, they cannot be revoked and both the parties have to suffer the consequences". He however decided to work out to their mutual and ultimately universal benefit. He therefore decided to take up his abode in Chakrateertha near Saalagraama Kshetra. He decided to migrate to this hallowed region as Vajrakeetas eating into the pebbles. Gandaki was directed to fill the universe in the form of a river enveloping the stones (silas) hallowed by him. Thus saalagraama stones resulted in the manifestation of Vishnu cum devas.


Saalagraama icons are permitted to be carved out of Saalagraama stones, as is seen in Badrinath temple and other famous temples. Adisankara had established Narasimha icon at Badri. Famous deities like Lord Venkatesvara are made to wear garlands made out of saalagraama beads similar to rudraakshi beads.


Normally saalagraamas are worshipped chanting Purushasookta doing abhisheka (bathing ceremony). The worship of saalagrama does not call for elaborate puja rituals like shodasoepachaara pooja. Not even mantras, invocation of sacred waters etc are necessary. Its very presence assures happiness. These stones require neither consecration nor any ritual infusion of divinity (aatma-nivedanam) in them; they are worship worth, as they are. They continue to be fit for worship even when broken or damaged; and they cannot be defiled or polluted by any means. Household and temples all over the country treasure these sacred stones and worship them daily. It is said, saalagraama's presence at shraddha ceremony is most pleasing to the ancestors. Every year in Hindu Kartik month on the twelfth day of the lunar month, women conduct marriage ceremony between saalagraama and Tulasi plant and offer new clothes and other items. Amongst Hindus marriage season starts thereafter. It is believed that whoever looks after Tulasi, Sankha and Saalagraama with reverence and do pooja shall always be dear to Vishnu.


Puraanas elaborate the benefits of saalagraama pooja further: "Brahmahatyaadikam paapam mano vak kaaya sambhavam; seeghram nasyati tatsarvam saaligraamasilaarchanaat"—All the sins including even Brahmahatya (killing of a Brahmin, learned pundit) and those accruing out of the activities of our mind, words and body, all die instantaneously with the worship of saalagrama. One should sprinkle the water sanctified by the bathing of the saalagraama on one's head and wear tulasi leaves used in worship on the head, and partake the food offered to Vishnu in the shape of Saalagraama. One who does so will live for several aeons in Vaikuntha. The sipping of the sanctified water purges one of all sins accrued over crores of births. In the Padmpurana, Lord Sankara explains to his son Kartikeya the significance of saalagraama, quoting Lord Vishnu: "Nivaasaami sadaa sambhoe saalagraamodhbhavosmani"—O Siva! I always abide in the saligraama stone. Siva also adds: "Mallinga koetibhidrishtihi yad phalam poojitaihi sthutaihi saalagraama silaayamtu ekasyamaiva tad bhavet"—the fruits of pooja obtained by seeing and worshipping millions of Siva lingas is equal to worshipping a single saalagraama (as Vishnu resides in it always at his own will personally).


Saalagraamas occur in as many as 89 varieties. They represent various forms of Vishnu. They include twenty-four well-known Gaytri forms, the ten major incarnations, four vyuhas and several minor manifestations like Hayagreeva, Kapila, Ananta, Hiranyagarbha Gadaadhara etc. The saalagraamas must not only have one or more discus (chakra) like marks near an opening in the stone, but also lines, scratches or holes on the surface indicative of Vishnn's emblems like vanamaala (garland), padma (lotus), gada(mace) kaustubha (chest ornament) and so on.


Some puranas like Padmapurana, Agni, Varaaha, Koorma and Brahma contain elaborate details how saalagraamas may be identified with a particular form of Vishnu and worshipped. Saalagraamas differ in size, shape, color, texture, the number and nature of discus forms and other marks. Fake saalagraamas are also cleverly produced by jogis because of the great sanctity attached to them and price tag they carry because of popularity. An examination by an expert must therefore be, resorted to.


Blue-black saalagraamas which are perfectly smooth are regarded as best. Bluish-black ones are middle rated. If the color is tawny, yellowish, ash-gray or red, they are inferior and are avoided. Perfectly round ones will bring prosperity and umbrella shaped stones secure sovereignty. Cart-like stones bring in misery and spear-shaped ones will bring in ruin or death. Crooked ones cause poverty.


Saalagraamas occur in several sizes—gooseberry to a big ball that can be held in both palms. Larger saalagraamas are not suitable for household worship. The marks on stones are more important than size, color or shape. Without marks the stone become unfit for worship. The discus mark is most significant, signifying Sudarsana Chakra of Lord Vishnu.


Some of the welknown saalagraamas are Vasudeva, Narayana, Vishnu, Sreedhara, Narasimha, Lakshmeenaaraayana, Dadhivaamana, Varaaha, Matsya, Hayagreeva, Aniruddha, Pradyumna, Kesava, Koorma, Santhaanakrishna, Daamoedara, Vaamana, Trivikrama, Lakshmeenarasimha, Krishna, Raghunaatha, Padmanaabha, Hrisheekesa, Ananta, Sudarsana, Purushoettama, Hiranyagarbha, Brahma, Yogesvara, Ranaraama, Madhusoodana, Rajarajesvara, Gandhaara etc.


For worship in household Vaasudeva, Hayagreeva, Lakshmi-Narasimha, and Sita-Rama saaligraamas are considered valuable. Some saaligraamas like Ugra-narasimha being ferocious in nature call for daily worship without fail. More details on the subject as well as identification of saaligraamas are available in the Saalagraamakosha published by Sringeri Saradaapeetha, Kalpataru Research Academy.


"Agnidevoe dvijaateenaam muneenaam hridi devataam;

Pratimaa svalpabuddheenaam sarvatra viditaatmanaam"

One who performs rituals, invokes god by fire worship; the learned pundit finds god in his own cavity of heart; the dull-witted seeks him in an icon; those with higher intellect see god in every thing.


This lecture is prepared for the Vedanta class at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, TN, by N.R.Srinivasan by suitable extracting, abridging, and editing texts from the following:


  1. Prof. Ramachandra Rao, S.K., Vishnu Kosha and Indian Temple Traditions, Kalpataru Research Academy, Sringeri Sharada Peetham, Bangalore.
  2. Swami Nityananda, Symbolism in Hinduism, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, 400072.
  3. Prem P Bhalla, Hindu Rituals, Customs & Traditions, Pustak Mahal, New Delhi.
  4. Swami Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.
  5. A.Parthasarathy, Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals, Vedanta Life Institute, Mumbai 400006.
  6. Devdutt Patnaik, Shiva, Vakils Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai 400001.