Shiva Maha Purana
The sixth of the jyotirlingas is Bhimashankara.
You know about Rama and Ravana from the Ramayana and you also know that Rama killed not only Ravana, but also his brother Kumbahakarna.
A rakshasa woman named Karkati used to live on the mountains named Sahya. Karkati had been married to Kumbhakarna and her son was named Bhima. One day, Bhima asked Karkati, Mother, whose son am I? Why do we live alone in this forest?
Karkati said, Let me tell you my sad story. I used to be married to the rakshasa Viradha. But Rama killed Viradha. Later on, Kumbhakarna came and married me here and you were born. Kumbhakarna had promised to take me to Lanka. But he was killed by Rama and I never got to see Lanka. That is the reason we live here alone. We have nowhere else to go.
Bhima was very sorry to hear this story. He resolved to avenge himself on Vishnu because he knew that Rama had been an incarnation of Vishnu. For a thousand years he prayed to Brahma with his hands raised up to the sky. When Brahma appeared, Bhima wished for the boon that he might become very strong. This boon Brahma granted.
The first target of Bhima’s attention was the king of Kamarupa. The king’s crime was that he was devoted to Vishnu. Bhima attacked the king, stole all his belongings, conquered his kingdom and imprisoned him and his wife. He then proceeded to conquer the rest of the world.
In their prison, the king and his wife started to pray to Shiva. This news was brought to Bhima by the rakshasa guards and Bhima decided to kill the king. He found the king praying before a Shiva linga. When Bhima raised his sword to cut off the the king’s head, Shiva appeared from the linga and repelled the sword with his trident. Bhima flung a spear at Shiva, but this too was driven back by the trident. Whatever weapon was used by Bhima, Shiva’s trident destroyed them all. Finally, Shiva killed Bhima and all his rakshasa cohorts.
The gods were gratified and they craved that Shiva might always remain in the place in the form of the linga.
Vishvanatha and Varanasi
The seventh of the jyotirlingas is named Vishvanatha and it is located in the cityof Varanasi or Kashi.
Varanasi is a very sacred place. Brahma himself performed difficult tapasya there. So difficult was the tapasya that Vishnu shook his head in disbelief. When Vishnu shook his head, a jewel (mani) fell down from Vishnu’ ear (karna). The place where the jewel fall is known as Manikarnika and it is a famous tirtha.
Varanasi is not destroyed when the rest of the world is destroyed. Shiva himself raises it on the point of his trident and protects it while destruction rages all around. When the world is re-created. Shiva replaces Varanasi to its appointed place.
Shiva and Parvati once went to visit Brahma. Brahma began to chant hymns in Shiva’s praise with all of his five mouths. One of the mouths however made mistakes in the pronunciation of the hymns. This angered Shiva and Shiva severed the offending head with a gaze of his third eye. But this effectively amounted to the killing of a brahmana and Shiva committed a crime. The severed head therefore got stuck to Shiva’s back would would not come off, no matter where Siva went. But when Shiva arrived in Varanasi, the head fell off his back. Shiva realized that Varanasi was a special place and he resolved that he would always be present there.
Goutama and Trymbaka
Towards the south of the country there was a mountain named Brahmaparvata. There the sage Goutama and his wife Ahalya performed tapasya for ten tousand years. While they were meditating, there were no rains in the forest for a hundred years and there was a shortage of water. Living beings died from the drought. Goutama prayed to Varuna, the god of the ocean and the rain. Varuna appeared and offered to grant a boon.
Please grant the boon that it might rain, said Goutama.
I can’t do that, replied Varuna. That is beyond my powers. Ask for something else instead.
Then let us have a pond in the forest that will always be full of water, said Goutama.
This was within Varuna’s powers and the pond was created. The other sages also began to use water from this pond. Normally, Goutama sent his disciples to fetch water. But the disciples complained that the wives of the other sages did not let them take the water. So Ahalya herself started to fetch the water. The wives of the other sages annoyed and pestered Ahyalya, but she never reacted. These wives then complained to their husbands about Ahalya and Goutama. At first the sages did not listen, but eventually, they were convinced that Ahalya and Goutama were wicked. They therefore sought to devise a plan so that these two might punished. They began to pray to Ganesha.
When Ganesha arrived, the sages said, Please grant us the boon that Goutama and Ahalya might be banished from the hermitage.
Although Ganesha realized that this was an unfair boon, he decided to grant it because he realized that the sages and their evil wives needed to be punished.
Goutama had some fields of paddy and grain. Ganesha adopted the form of a lean and starving cow and began to eat up the crop. Goutama tried to drive away the cow with a blade of grass. But as soon as he struck the cow with the blade of grass, the cow fell down and died. This was a terrible calamity. It was the killing of a cow.
The other sages banished Goutama and Ahalya from the hermitage. They had to set up an ashrama (hermitage) that was a fair distance away. The other sages completely disassociated themselves from Goutama and Ahalya. Goutama began to think of ways of performing prayashchitta (penance) for the crime that he had committed. The other sages told him that he would first have to travel around the world. After that, he would have to pray very hard for an entire month. The next task was to circle Brahmaparvata a hundred times and bathe in a hundred pots of water. This would complete the penance. All this Goutama and Ahalya did. They also prayed for a long time to Shiva.
Shiva appeared before them and offered them a boon. Goutama desired the boon that the river Ganga might always be present in the hermitage. Ganga said that she would agree subject to the condition that Shiva and Parvati were also always present in the hermitage. Parvati and Shiva agreed to do this. This established Trymbaka, the eighth of the jyotirlingas. The river Ganga which flowed there came to be known as the Godavari. So Trymbaka is on the banks of the Godavari.
What happened to the evil sages and their wives? Goutama asked that they might be pardoned. They performed penance by circling Brahmaparvata one hundred and one times, and begged forgiveness from Goutama and Ahalya.
Ravana and Vaidyanatha
The ninth of the jyotirlingas is named Vaidyanatha.
Ravana, the king of the rakshasas, meditated in the Himalayas so as to please Shiva. First he prayed on Mount Kailasa, but Shiva did not appear. He then went to a place named Vrikshakhandaka which was a little towards the south. He prayed there, but Shiva did not appear. Ravana next dug a pit in the earth and started to pray inside the pit. He established a Shiva linga inside the pit. Shiva still not appear.
Ravana therefore decided that he would immolate himself. Ravana, as you know, had ten heads. He lit a fire and severing his heads, began to offer them one by one to the fire. When nine of the heads had thus been offered, Shiva appeared.
Enough is enough, said Shiva. What boon do you want?
Please grant me the boon that I may be very strong. And please restore my nine heads, replied Ravana.
These boons Shiva granted and the place where Ravana prayed is known as Vaidyanatha.
The gods were not at all happy that Ravana had become so strong. They were afraid tha the rakshasa might start to oppress them. They therefore sent Narada to create some mischief. Narada met Ravana and asked him why he was looking so happy. Ravana related the story of the boon.
Boon, exclaimed Narada. Who believes in Shiva? Let me see if you can lift up Mount Kailasa. If you can do that, I shall indeed believe that you have become strong.
Incited by Narada, Ravana returned to Kailasa and lifted up the mountain. As the mountain shook, Shiva and Parvati were disturbed. Shiva cursed Ravana that soon a being would be born who would kill Ravana. This being was of course Rama, Vishnu’s incarnation.
The tenth of the jyotirlingas is named Nagesha.
There used to be a rakshasa name Daruka. His wife was named Daruki. They lived in a forest on the banks of the western sea. Parvati had granted Daruki the boon that wherever Daruki went, the forest would follow.
Using this forest as a base, Daruka and Daruki began to oppress the world. They destroyed the yajnas and killed all the righteous people. In desperation, the survivors went to a powerful sage named Ourva. They told Ourva that he alone could save the world from the depredations of these rakshasas. Ourva cursed the rakshasas that if they committed any violence on earth, they would immediately die.
As soon as the gods got to know about this curse, they attacked the rakshasas. The demons were in a fix. If they did not fight with the gods, they would be slaughtered. But if they fought with the gods, they would die because of Ourva’s curse. They decided that they would go and live in the ocean. Thanks to the boon that Daruki had received from Parvati, the entire forest was also submerged in the ocean and became the home of the rakshasas.
There the rakshasa lived. They did not return to earth. But they imprisoned and killed any people who travelled in boats across the ocean.
In this fashion, they once captured a vaishya (the third of the four classes) who was devoted to Shiva. The vaishya set up a linga in the prison and began to pray to Shiva. When the rakshasas saw this, they attacked him with weapons so as to kill him. This vaishya was named Supriya. Shiva gave Supriya a pashupata, a divine weapon associated with Shiva. With this the vaishya killed many demons. The remaining rakshasas were saved by Parvati’s intervention.
The linga that Supriya worshipped is Nagesha.
Rama and Rameshvara
The eleventh of the jyotirlingas is named Rameshvara.
Ravana had kidnapped Sita and Rama looked for her everywhere. He was aided in his search by the monkeys. The search brought them to the shores of the ocean.
While Rama was trying to decided how to cross the ocean, he felt very thirsty. He therefore asked the monkeys to fetch him some water. But when the water was brought, Rama realized that he should not drink the water without first praying to Shiva.
Rama constructed a linga and worshipped it with many fragrant flowers. Such were the powers of Rama’s prayers that Shiva, Parvati and their companions appeared before Rama. Shiva blessed Rama and Rama requested him to stay in that place forever. It is this linga, on the shores of the ocean, that is known as Rameshvara.
Ghushna and Ghushnesha
The twelfth and last of the jyotirlingas is named Ghushnesha.
To the south, there is a mountain named Deva. A brahmana named Sudharma used to live there. His wife was called Sudeha. Husband and wife were righteous and regularly prayed to the gods. They had only one reason for complaint: they had no son. Sudeha was especially disturbed at this. Other women tended to insult her because she had no son.
Sudharma decided to conduct an experiment. He plucked two flowers and offered them in front of a sacred fire. He mentally associated one of the flowers with having a son and asked his wife to choose a flower. Unfortunately, his wife chose the flower that was not associated wtih having a son. From this Sudharma concluded that they were not going to have a son and he did his best to console Sudeha. But Sudeha refused to be consoled, she was miserable.
Why don’t you marry again? asked Sudeha. Perhaps you will then have a son. Marry my niece Gushna.
No, replied Sudharma. You love her now because she is your niece. But if she does indeed have a son, you will become jealous and will come to hate her.
Sudeha convinced her husband that this would never happen. So Sudharma married Ghushna.
Every day, Ghushna made a hundred and one lingas out of clay and worshipped them. When the day’s prayers were over, she immersed the lingas in a pond. When one lakh lingas had thus been worshipped, Ghushna gave birth to a handsome boy. Shiva had taken pity on Sudharma and Ghushna.
But when the son was born, Sudeha’s nature changed. As her husband had warned her, she felt jealous. She thought that Gushna got more important and she was treated like a maid. In the middle of the night, Sudeha slew the boy with a knife and threw the dead body into the pond. This was the pond where the lingas had been immersed.
As was her wont, Ghushna got up in the morning and began to worship a linga. Blood was discovered on the bed, the boy could not be found and everyone raised the alarm. But Ghushna was not distracted by this racket and did not leave her prayers. Shiva was so impressed with Ghushna’s devotion that he restored her son back to life. He also wished to kill the evil Sudeha with his trident, but Gushna begged for her aunt’s life and Shiva spared Sudeha. Shushna’s act of forgiveness so impressed Shiva that he wished to grant Ghushna another boon, apart from restoring her son.
Ghushna desired that Shiva might alwaysbe present in a linga near the pond. This is known as Ghushnesha.