Thursday 4 August 2011

Saligrama - Emblem of Lord Vishnu

Saligrama is a sacred stone worshipped by Vaishnava devotees as a symbolic manifestation of the Supreme Lord Vishnu. In almost all Vaishnava homes the sacred Saligrama is kept in a silver or copper samputa wrapped with deer skin to maintain the sanctity of the holy stone and is daily worshipped with faith and devotion. Hindus believe that deer skin protects the contents from getting polluted.
Saligrama stones originate from the river Gandaki. It is said that they are ammunite, fossilised shell of an extinct species of insects found in the holy river and are rendered round and smooth by water currents. They are distinguished by marks of chakras left by ammunite (vajrakita) which had originally entered into them and living there got fossilised. Since these stones are marked with the emblem of the divine Sudarsana Chakra of Supreme Lord Vishnu, they are held as divine and worshipped as the symbolic representation of Lord Vishnu Himself.
We get lot of information about Saligrama stones in puranas like Agni, Brahmanda, Garuda, Skanda, Varaha and ancient works like Saligramalakshanam, Saligrama Pariksha of Anupasimha , Saligramasila Parikshana Vidhi, Vaishnava Pancharatna Agamas etc. Several interesting legends relating to the appearance and manifestation of Saligrama on the earth are mentioned in various religious texts.
It is said that Saligrama was a village on the banks of the holy river Gandaki in Nepal. Since the village was full of sala trees the pebbles and the stones found in the river are called Saligramas and the river also is known as Saligrama river. As per another legend, river Goddess Gandaki was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and worshipped Him with a mother’s love (Vatsalya Bhakti). She practised severe austerities to get Vishnu as her son. Pleased with her devotion the Lord granted her a boon that He would take the form of Saligrama stones marked with the emblem of His Sudarsana Chakra and remain in her womb (waters) for ever. Another puranic version tells that river Gandaki was formed by the drops of sweat of Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva and that these drops contained divine Saligramas.
Vaishnava Agamas like the Pancharatra contain episodes in the form of dialogues between the Supreme Lord Vishnu and Brahma related to the appearance and sanctifying effects of Saligrama stones. Lord Brahma becomes curious to know the divine value of the stone and puts questions to  Lord Hari about the Saligrama stone and Saligrama tirtha which is believed to have purifying effect of removing all sins and pollutions when sprinkled.
 Answering the questions Lord Vishnu says, “O Brahma,  I reside in Saligrama stones in different forms. Yourself having entered the beautiful stones in the form of an insect have made the marking of the chakras which represent my various forms like Trivikrama, Janardana, Ananta, Narahari and others.” In this manner the puranic literature furnish a few more legends related to the formation of the Saligrama stones.
Saligramas representing different forms of Vishnu may be identified by means of marks and the number of chakras formed on them. Experts on gemmology can ascertain their genuine nature and value by other qualities like shapes and sizes. Saligramas of the size of a gooseberry to the size of a big ball and of shapes–round, crooked, elongated, elliptical, spear-shaped, etc. are found. The religious works speak of eightynine varieties of Saligramas and have been classified as Uttama, Madhyama and Adhama depending on the smoothness, colour, shape, number and nature of charkas, lines and holes. Perfectly round, blue-black ones are of the best variety (Uttama), yellowish and tawny coloured ones are regarded as Madhyama, while those of ash-grey or red coloured are of the inferior Adhama type, not fit for worship. 
The puranas prescribe several tests to ascertain the purity and beneficial attributes of Saligramas. It is advised that the stone should be placed overnight in a plate filled with a specific quantity of milk or placed in a bowl containing rice. Next day the increase or decrease in the volume of milk or rice indicates respectively the beneficial or malefic effects of the stone. Another method is to strike the stone Saligrama gently with a stick and if soft powder drops down, it should be taken as fake.
By carefully examining the number of chakras, colour, shape, etc, the divine stones are identified as representing various aspects of Vishnu like Sudarsana, Hayagriva, Damodara, Gadhadhara, Madhusudana, Trivikrama, Vamana, Narayana, Vasudeva, Narasimha, Pradyumna, Aniruddha and other avataras of Lord Vishnu. In Agnipurana we find details of different types of Saligramas representing different forms of Lord Vishnu.
A grahastha who performs Saligrama puja should strictly follow all the religious norms prescribed in the Dharma Sastras, particularly maintenance of purity of heart and mind, speech and action. Devotees are strictly warned against worship of Saligramas acquired by stealing and other foul means. While performing puja, Abhisheka of the Saligrama should be performed with water filled in a conch (sanka). Water filled in a conch and taken round the divine stone three times is called ‘Sankateertha’ and is considered highly sanctifying. Vishnupriya Thulasi is always inseparably associated with Saligrama. It is believed Jaya, Maya and Lakshmi reside in the three petals of Thulasi and that the Abhisheka tirtha sipped with Thulasi petals makes one free from all sins. 
In the panchayatana puja Sri Sankaracharya has recommended ‘Saligrama Linga’ for the worship of Vishnu – Banalinga for Siva, Salgrama for Vishnu, Sphatika stone for Surya, Dhatu Yantra for Sakti and square red stone for Ganapati. One Saligrama or even a number of Saligramas except two should be grouped and worshipped together. Puja of odd numbers is prohibited.  Worshipping twelve stones together is held to be highly meritorious.
Various types of Saligramas are prescribed in religious texts for attaining different fruits and results – yellow ones for progeny, smooth and shiny ones for Siddhi, blue-black for prosperity     and so on. Though different types are found, a few among them are very rare and are valued as very precious and sanctifying. Like Saligramas, Dvaravatisila, white stones available in Gujarat are believed to be sanctifying and are worshipped in Vaishnava homes.
The principal idols in some of temples like Vishnu in Badrinath and Krishna in Udupi are made of Saligrama stones. In many Vaishnava temples the archavatara deities are decorated with strings of Saligrama stones fitted with gold or silver coverings.
Devotees have strong belief and faith that the presence of Saligrama in the house will always bestow health, wealth and happiness to the inmates of a family.
Article by : Dr. (Smt.) Radha Krishnamurthy
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 March 2010
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