In an ancient Sanskrit sloka, 12 different Shiva temples are referenced as holy places that compose the Jyotirlinga, or Temples of Lord Shankar. For those unfamiliar with Jyotirlinga, it is a sacred space that the essence of the Infinite can be worshipped, since most of us have a limited concept of the divine. These temples are spread across the country, from the sea to the river, in village towns and high in the mountains. When one visits each of these Jyotirlingas, it is thought that they are blessed with infinite blessings, a calm heart and peace beyond their current knowing. I was lucky enough to visit one of them on a recent trip, Trimbakeshwar Temple, located in Nasik.
Though I don’t feel I have been released form the trials and tribulations of the cycle of life and death, or the eternal play of maya by visiting this beautiful Jyotirlinga, I did have the most amazing insights while I was standing in line to enter, with a brightly colored bouquet of flowers I had purchased from a village girl, ready to offer them to the Supreme God, which on this particular day, took the form of an immense Lingam inside the incredibly carved temple.
The pilgrims waiting to pay homage to Lord Shiva numbered in at least the several hundreds that day. I left my shoes outside with a ‘shoe-keeper’ for lack of a better name, who had a small stall just outside the temple walls, and they were mixed with hundreds more. I wasn’t sure if I would get them back, but I remembered many saints had walked the earth barefoot and lived, so I figures if I lost my shoes, it would be a small price to pay for this experience. The man I gave them to had the kindest eyes and few teeth, so I also felt that the small donation of a few rupees was my seva for such a profound opportunity to feel Trimbakeshwar Temple from the roots of my feet, to the pit of my soul.
Once in line, it moved rather quickly, and though I was there with another friend we were separated briefly, so I had the opportunity to take in the essence of the building before entering at my own slow-pace, and with the reverie I thought it deserved. It is said that anyone who visits Tryambakeshwar has a chance at salvation. Part of the reason this temple is given such prominence in the mind of Shiva worshipers is because it is located at the beginning of the Godavari River, which is thought to be the birthplace of Lord Ganesha, the visiting place of Gorakhnath, a famous yogi, and where Nivrittinath gained his knowledge of the Infinite from his guru, Gahininath. Also due to its proximity to Sahyadri Mountain, this temple is considered especially auspicious and a great place to perform a Shraddha ceremony, which is a special religious ceremony performed to honor a dead ancestor.
The highest point of the roof looks like a Shivalingam itself, with an ornately carved peak that is higher than the rest. The Jyotirlinga has three faces – each representing Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. The lingam has started to erode with the presence of so much water, but the worshipers simply say this is simply symbolic of the eroding nature of humankind.
Nestled at the base of Brahmagiri Mountain, this particular temple is made of black stone and is ‘very ancient’ with several different stories being told about how it came to be, including one that says it is the birthing place of the Godavari River itself. The most recent effort to restore it was in the 18th century, and Peshwa Bajirao was given credit for its current beauty. It is constructed in the Nagara style of architecture, complete with a walled courtyard. Within the building is a sanctum for the Shivalingam-Tryambaka. There is also a giant Amalaka or stone disc and a gold Kalasha (a pitcher or basin). Where the Shivalingam sits, there are doors on all four sides. Three of them have portico-like openings with very ornamental carvings. There are pillars and arches to swoon over. There are floral themes, scrolls, figures of so many Gods, I could not recognize them all, and animals as well as humans in divine form.
The shivalingam is in a depression in the inner room and seems to rest in a fountain of ever-flowing water. There were ‘priests’ I suppose you could call them, chanting mantras and pouring water over the lingam when I visited. Normally, the lingam is covered with a silver mask, but on other occasions it is given a golden crown.
Inside there are normal people, householders, chanting and looking at the wonders of the architecture, and seated on the inner floor, there was a holy man who caught my eye. He was about twelve feet from where I stood behind a railed pathway that led to the depression where the lingam stood. He seemed to look right through me. We didn’t exchange a word, but I felt as if he was giving me a type of diksha just with his presence alone, and I soaked it in.
Sanskrit Sloka About The 12 Temples
- “Saurashtre Somanathamcha Srisaile Mallikarjunam
- Ujjayinya Mahakalam Omkaramamaleswaram
- Paralyam Vaidyanathancha Dakinyam Bheema Shankaram
- Setu Bandhethu Ramesam, Nagesam Darukavane
- Varanasyantu Vishwesam Tryambakam Gautameethat
- Himalayetu Kedaaram, Ghrishnesamcha shivaalaye
- Etani jyotirlingani, Saayam Praatah Patennarah
- Sapta Janma Kritam pApam, Smaranena Vinashyati”
He had a small pooja fire in front of him, and his gaze never seemed to leave his fire, until it met mine. While the temple had its own hold over me, some of the experiences of India cannot be translated into words as easily. I was timeless in this moment, and not myself, while completely my Self. If this was salvation, I just had at least a taste of it, I thought. I continued past the holy man and into the inner sanctum and heard a bell ringing as water was poured over the symbol of the flame of eternal creation in the form of a huge rock phallus.
I wasn’t going to make it to the other eleven temples that comprise the Jyotirling 12, but I was exceedingly thankful for this chance opportunity. The Supreme has taken many forms in my life, and this one was exceptionally bright. If this symbol somehow made it easier for people to understand the Infinite, then it seemed to be working. These holy places definitely carry an energy of other-worldly benevolence. I did not mean to become a devotee myself, but after leaving the temple, and yes, getting my shoes back, without a hitch, I met up with my friend and we looked at each other with slack jaws and bright eyes, changed by our experience at Tryambak.
If you want to visit the other eleven they are located in the following places throughout India:
Somnath – Saurashtra
Mallikarjun – Srisailam
Mahakaleshwar – Ujjain
Omkareshwar – Shivpuri
Vaidyanath – Parali
Nageswar – Darukavanam
Kedareswar – Himalayas
Rameshwar – Setubandanam
Bhimashankar – Dakini
Visweswar – Varanasi
Ghrishneswar – Devasrovar