| Shree Shaligram is a sacred stone found in Gandaki river found in the Muktinath area of Nepal . This stone is worshipped as the aniconic representation Lord Vishnu , just as Lingam is worshipped as aniconic Lord Shiva. The marks on the Shaligram are natural with the pattern often representing that of Sudarshan Chakra, the Discus of Lord Vishnu. The worship of these stones is widespread and dates back to a distant past. They are worshipped in temples, monasteries and households all over the country, as visible and natural emblems of Vishnu. The sipping of water in which these stones are bathed is a daily ritual for the pious Hindu belonging to the old and traditional families.
Salagrama is an iconic in character. However in comparison, the linga may be a natural object like the bana-linga found in the river Narmada, or carved by man in stone, gems or clay or any material. But Salagramas are always only those which are naturally found in the river Gandaki; they are never made by man.
It is interesting to that the great Samkara (632-664 A.D.) mentions in his Vedanata-sutra-bhashya the worship of no other god other than that of Vishnu, and that too in his Salagrama aspect (1,2,7 ‘yatha salagrama harih’; 1,2,14 ‘salagrama iva vishnoh’; 1,3,14 ‘yatha salagrame vishnuh sannihitah, tadvat’), and not in iconic forms. There is a wide-spread belief that the aniconic salagrama must necessarily accompany the iconic representations; and the worship offered to the salagrama takes precedence in the worship offered at home or in temples. It is a fact that in the Vishnu shrines, salagramas are invariably placed in close contact with the ‘mula-murti’, which worship is offered. Even in the celebrated temple of Vengadam (Tirupati-Tirumalai), the group of salagramas always kept at the feet of the main deity in the sanctum partakes of the principal worship daily; administrating a ceremonial bath to the salagramas is an important detail.
Salagramas do not require preliminary rituals of purification and consecration. They naturally contain the vibhuti of the Godhead, and may be worshipped straight away.
In the worship of Salagrama, no initiation is required; there is no special hymnology or specific procedure of worship, nor any need for a qualified priest or master of ceremonies. Worshipped anyhow, it will bestowal the benefits; and there is no error of any kind.
If, however, it is formally worshipped with all the details scrupulously observed, the benefits procured are boundless.
The pentad form of domestic worship, known as panchayatana-puja, is the popular usage in country since about the eight century A.D., it involves worship of five major deities (Vishnu, Siva, Devi, Surya and Ganesha) on a common platform. The deities are more usually represented by characteristic emblems: salagrama for Vishnu, bana- for Siva, metallic ore (dhatupatra or yantra) for Devi, crystal (sphatika) for Surya and red-stone (sona-sila) for Ganesha. The five deities of the group are arranged according to the sectarian preference. The Vaishnavas place salagrama in the centre and the other four deity-emblems in the four corners; the Saivas place the bana-linga in the centre, and the other objects in the corners; and so on.
The five sacred objects are placed on a metallic plate, on which the tulasi leaves and the bilva-leaves are also offered, and the worship is conducted to all the five deities. It is usual to offer the sixteen sequences of worship (shodasopachara), reciting a verse from ‘Purusha – sukta’ for each sequence. The Shaktas, however, prefer to worship five water – vessels (kalasas) in which the deities are invoked, instead of the aniconic emblems mentioned above.
The five deities in ‘panchopasana’ are also regarded as symbolizing basic ingredient elements of the universe: Vishnu-akasa, Siva-earth, Devi-fire, Surya-air and Ganapati-water. These elements are also constituents of human body, and the personality of an individual is predominantly one of these five elements, although all the elements are necessarily involved. The worship of one of the five deities, according it the central position is indicated for the devotee in whom the corresponding element is prominent.
Salagrama stones are obtained only from the river Gandaki, which is a Himalayan stream, celebrated since antiquity as Narayani, Salagrami, Hiranvati and Hiranyavati. The epic Mahabharata speaks of its sanctity (Bhishma-parva): it contains in itself the waters of all the holy-rivers (Vana-parvan, 84, 113), and it is the abode of Agni, the fire-god (ibid.). Krishna, Arjuna and Bhima are said to have crossed this river on their way from India-prastha to Girivraja (Sabha-parva, 20, 27). The puranas also describe it as a sacred stream in which all the gods and titans abide (‘punyodaka surasura-nishevita’). By merely looking at it, one would eliminate all his mental defilement’s, by touching it his bodily sins are burnt up, and by sipping its water the verbal demerits are thrown out.
One who comes into contact with this sacred stream will be liberated from the cycle of birth and deaths, even if he be a sinner.
For the very stones found in this river, marked with discus, are verily the glorious gods themselves.
The Salagramas are specifically described as fossil-stones which have taken shape in the Gandaki-river, and as characterized by the presence of discus marks (‘gandakyudbhava-vajra-kita-krta-chakra-samayukta-sila). The legend tells us that Gandaki, the lady-devotee, performed penances for long years, and that she got a boon from Vishnu, which made Vishnu reside in her womb (in her depths) as her own offspring; the Salagrama-stones are thus the forms of Vishnu. The presence of divinity in the Salagrama is for the welfare of the devotees.
And for the reason, the river Gandaki became among all the rivers extraordinarily sacred (‘mat-sannidhyan nadiman tvan ati srestha bhavishyasi’). Being a mystic river, looking at it, touching it, bathing in it and sipping its waters will be conductive to eliminate all sins, even the greatest of sins pertaining to the body, speech and mind.In the ancient texts, the river Gandaki is located in the south of the Himalayas, ten yojanas distant; and an area in the river is regarded as the holy Chakra-tirtha.
It is in this part of the river that Salagramas are found. In Varaha-purana (Reva-khanda), a mountain called Salagramagiri) is said to be responsible for the salagrama stones (‘salagramotpadaka – parvata). If this mountain represents Vishnu, there is said to be another mountain close to it (called Somesvara-giri), which provides sacred stones (called siva-nabha-sila) representing Siva.
Salagrama is actually the name of the village on the banks of the river Gandaki, where the holy stones are picked up. The name is derived from the hut (sala) of the sage Salankayana, who beheld the form of Vishnu in a tree outside his hut (cf. Varaha-purana). This hut was on the banks of the Gandaki, and it was in that particular spot that these sacred stones were found in abundance. The stones were therefore called Salagrama.
Shala (or Sala) also means the hardwood tree known to botanists as Shorea robusta or Valica robusta (Sarja), grown in Nepal (known there as Sukhava). It is said that the cluster of these trees in the otherwise barren stretch of the Himalayan foothills called Mukti-sthana, was responsible for the village close to this cluster, being known as Sala-grama. On the banks of the river Kali-Gandaki, the sacred stones were also found in abundance.
The river Gandaki is a very ancient river; and the geologists say that it existed even before the formation of the Himalayan ranges. It rises beyond the Himalayan ranges, probably in Tibet, and flows (in the north-south direction) into Nepal, which is the southern valley of the Himalayas, and India. The situation of the birth of the river is given as North 27 27 and East 83 56’; it courses in the south-western direction, and joins Ganga in a place called Bhavatyapur in Bihar. It is an important tributary of the river Ganga. It is called Salagrami or Narayani in Uttar-pradesh. It was known to the Greek geographers as Kondochetts.
It has abundant water throughout the year, as the rain in the rainy season and melted snow in summer keep it full of water. It courses for about one hundred and ninety miles, making itself useful throughout, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India. It rises on a high peak, and flows down in swift torrents. The area inundated by the rivers in this part of the country has four important rivers: Kosi in the East, Gandaki in the middle, Karanali to the west, and Mahakali in the far-west. Trisula-ganga is its tributary in India; the river Gandaki joins Ganga near Patna (near Sonapur) in Bihar, having coursed through Champaran to Mujafharpur district.
There is a lake at the source of the Kali-Gandaki (Krishna-g), called Damodar-kunda, connected in legend with the sage Salankayana, on the Nepal – India border. The lower Gandaki is well known as Mukti-natha-kshetra, also called Salagrama-kshetra. The sacred stones are largely found on the banks of Kali-gandaki near Tukche, between the two mountains Dhavala-giri and Annapurana. Damodara-Kunda is a Saivite place of pilgrimage (Somesvara-kshetra): it was a custom for the rulers (Ranas) of Nepal to visit the shrine during Siva-ratri to receive the salagrama-stones specially selected and picked up from the Gandaki-river.
The spots where salagrama-stones are found within the Nepal territory. Actually there are four spots in the river within Nepal jurisdiction, where the sacred stones are picked up. Until recent times, the spots were leased out to private enterprises, and the palace of the Maharaja reserved the right to appropriate what it considered as the most precious and valuable stones; other stones were given over to the lease-holders.
An even number of salagrama stones must be worshipped, but they must not be only two; an odd number of them is never worshipped, but one only is regarded best.
If a person worships daily twelve salagrama-stones with devotion, his merits will increase, and sins will be destroyed.
It must always be presented freely by a teacher or well-wisher with the words “peace, may it be good to you”; it should be received with reverence in the cupped hands and placed on ones own head, as a mark of acceptance.
Even as the fire lies latent in wood, and bursts out when ignited, Vishnu pervades the salagrama-stones and appears when the stone is worshipped.
A salagrama-stone continues to be worthy of worship even when it is broken. Split or cracked, it does not lose its auspicious nature. Only the mark of the discus must be present in the stone.
A salagrama-stone damaged in any way will not become unfit for worship; it is not always sacred and worthy; nothing can be a deterrent for its worship.