8 May 2013

Lingodbhavamurti Puja and the Ketaki Flower

As promised in an earlier posting, below are photographs of the recent Lingodbhavamurti puja held at Arunachaleswarar Temple on the night of the 2013 Mahashivaratri.

The manifestation of Shiva in this column of fire in front of Brahma and Vishnu, is carved in stone, as the Lingodbhavamurti manifestation of Shiva, and is always enshrined in the rear niche of the sanctum enshrining a Shiva Lingam. Since most temples face east, the Lingodbhava faces West.

The non-anthropomorphic form of the Shiva Lingam is a representation of this infinite cosmic column of fire, whose origins were not traceable by Brahma or Vishnu. The Shiva Lingam is the centre of reverence and worship in all Saivite temples.

Lingodbhavamurti, Arunachaleswarar Temple

The story of Lingodbhava is that of the attempts of Vishnu and Brahma to discover the origins (the beginning Aadi and the end Antha) of Shiva, is stated in three of the Puranas - the Kurma Purana, the Vayu Purana and Shiva Purana.

Vishnu was engaged in his yoganidhra (the slumber of yoga) at the end of a kalpa, in the waters of the great deluge, when there appeared before him, Brahma emerging from a great illumination. Brahma introduced himself to Vishnu as the Creator of the Universe, to which Vishnu replied that he was the architect of the Universe. An argument ensued between both as to their superiority over one another, when there appeared before them - a huge lingam of fire - with tongues of flames blazing out of it.

2013 Mahashivaratri Puja

Curious to trace the origins of this column of fire, Brahma assumed the form of a swan and flew upwards, while Vishnu assumed the form of a boar, and burrowed down into the earth. Eons of search in either direction proved futile, and hence the two Gods surrendered to this column of fire.

The puja celebrating the legend of the Lingodbhavamurti is particularly relevant on the day of Mahashivaratri as it represents the worship of sacred Arunachala itself, which is considered to be the manifestation of this cosmic column of fire as it represents the primordial element of fire as one of the Pancha Bhuta Stalas.

Dressed and garlanded Lingodbhavamurti, 2013 Mahashivaratri

I was eager to post these photographs because of the affinity I share with the sweet Ketaki flower which is an essential part of this puja.

Ketaki Flowers on the top of Lord Shiva's head

It is only on the day of Mahashivaratri (during the third Kala Puja) that the Screwpine flower is used for the worship of Shiva. As a result of a dispute between Brahma and Vishnu, Lord Shiva declared that henceforth the flower which hitherto had adorned his head in worship would no longer be used in his adoration except on the night of Mahashivaratri.

The story including the Ketaki Flower goes thus:

Dispute of Brahma and Vishnu In the days of antiquity a controversy arose between Brahma and Vishnu as to which of the two was greater. Brahma said to Vishnu, "I have created the five elements and all the living beings with their endless differences in form and sound. Therefore I am the Absolute God." Vishnu said, "The whole universe is but an aspect of mine. Of what use is your creation if I do not protect it? It is my thought-power that creates, sustains and destroys the whole Universe. So I am the Absolute God" Their dispute resulted in misery in the manifested world. Supreme Being Parameshwara saw this and was filled with compassion. To settle the discord and subdue their pride, Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of blazing column of light and a voice issued from it asking them to seek its upper and lower limits and he who found either of these is the superior one. Both gods stopped fighting and decided to explore the ends. Brahma took the form of a swan and flew up to reach the top of the column of light, whereas Vishnu became a boar and started burrowing into the earth to find its base.

A thousand years passed as Vishnu dug deep into the nether worlds and the journey seemed endless. With all this power he could not discover the base and he got lost in meditation with the result that he experienced the Supreme Light which dwells in the hearts of all. He soon realised and recognised that his true strength was derived from this Supreme Light, that is Lord Shiva. He prayed to Shiva seeking His pardon and then returned to earth. Brahman who flew up as a swan was mounting the sky and the higher he soared, the column of light rose higher before him. He was growing despondent and was about to return when he saw a fragrant flower called Ketaki (screw-pine) falling towards the earth. On asking from where it had come, the flower revealed that it had come from the crest of the fire column that was none other than Shiva himself and that it had been descending for thousands of four-fold Yugas. Brahma requested the flower to say that both of them came down after seeing the crest and thus the flower swore to Vishnu in the presence of the Column of Effulgence that Brahma had reach the summit.

Splitting asunder the column of Light, Shiva appeared before the two Gods. When the lotus-eyed Vishnu saw him, he danced with joy. The guilty Brahma on seeing the Lord’s true form was confused and frightened. Mahadeva said, "The two of you need not be ashamed for having transcended your limits. Hari (Vishnu) pondered deeply and became enlightened. But Brahma has uttered falsehood and I now cut off his fifth head for that perjury. Brahma shall not hereafter be installed in any Temple. And this flower, which bore false witness, shall never again find a place on my head and shall not be used for my worship." After cursing Brahma and the screw-pine flower thus, Shiva turned to Vishnu and said, "Child! Be composed, I am pleased with you. You are one of my foremost devotees. You originated from me and are my sattwic part. At the end of the kalpa you shall merge in me." 

Brahma and Vishnu prayed to Shiva to abide there forever as a Tejo Lingam. In answer to their heartfelt request, Parameshwara established himself as the Arunachala Hill and also as a small Siva Lingam at the eastern foot of the Hill for the welfare of the world and for those who desire to worship Him and obtain illumination. 

[Abridged – The Glory of Arunachala] 

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