Sālagrāma Introduction In Hinduism, God can be worshipped in two forms: the iconic and the aniconic. Images worshipped in temples or at home —this may include pictures or paintings also—belong to the first group. Yantras (mystical line-drawings), śivaliṅgas, kumbhas (pots filled with water), śāla- grāmas, sphaṭikas (crystals) and śoṇaśilā (piece of red metallic stone) belong to the second group.
Sometimes transliterated as: Salagrama, ZAlagrAma, shaalagraama
Out of these, śivaliṅgas and śāla- grāmas are more widely worshipped. The literature concerning the śāla- grāmas is copious. Apart from the several purāṇas like Brahmavaivarta, Garuda, Padma, Skanda and Varāha, which deal with them, there are special treatises also on the same, like Sālagrāmalaksanam, Sālagrāmaparīksā (of Anṅpasiihha), Sāla- grāmamulalaksanapaddhati, and Sāla- grāmaśilāpariksanapaddhati. The Name Sālagrāma is actually a village (and a place of pilgrimage) on the bank of the river Gaṇdakī in Nepal. As it has śāl trees (Shorea robusta or Valica robusta) in abundance, it got that name. Since these stone emblems are found in the Gaṇḍakī river near this village, they too came to be known as Sālagrāmas. The river too got its additional name Sālagrāmī. (See GANṇAKī also.) What it is The sālagrāma stone is actually an ammonite, the fossilized shell of an extinct species of mollusk found in the Gaṇḍakī river. It invariably contains the discus or the cakra-marks. Source of Śalagramas The śālagrāmas are natural objects found in the river Gaṇḍakī of Nepal and are never man-made. There are four specified spots in the river within Nepal’s jurisdiction, from where these stones are picked up. Pciurānic Legends There are several interesting legends connected with the appearance or mani¬festation of the śālagrāmas on earth. The river goddess Gaṇḍakī performed severe austerities to please Viṣṇu and get him as her child. Viṣṇu granted the boon and became the śālagrāma stones in her womb, i.e., the waters of the river. According to another version, the river Gaṇḍakī was formed by the drops of sweat of Viṣṇu and Siva, containing the śālagrāmas. Sanctity of the Śālagrāmas Even from ancient times, śālagrāmas have been considered very sacred emblems of Viṣṇu. The images of Nārāyaṇa at Badarīnātha (in Uttaranchal) and that of Kṛṣṇa at Uḍupi (in Karnataka) are said to be carved out of the śālagrāma stone. In the pañcāyatana pujā system (See PAÑCĀYATANAPUJĀ for details.) it is the śālagrāma that is used to represent god Viṣṇu. Unlike the images installed in temples or the ones used at home for worship, wherein the presence of God has to be induced or infused through appro¬priate mantras, the śālagrāmas have His presence eternally, by their very nature. Not only that, they are believed to possess inherently, a sahajavibhuti or mysterious divine power. This has given rise to several popular beliefs. Some of them are: 1) Placing a śālagrāma on a plate along with śaṅkha (conch) and covered with tulasī leaves (holy basil) is an extremely meritorious act. 2) Any religious observance like dāna (gifts), vrata (vows), śrāddha (obse¬quial rite) and pujā (worship), if done in association with the śālagrāma, will confer greater benefits. 3) Sipping or drinking the water in which a śālagrāma has been bathed, will help in the absolving of all sins. When put in the mouth of a dying person, this water will help him attain the world of Viṣṇu. 4) Rituals performed on holy occasions like the periods of an eclipse become more effective if done in the presence of a śālagrāma. 5) If a witness in a court of law gave his statement holding a śālagrāma in his hand, it was taken as true, since telling lies would have serious repercussions on him. The same process applied to making solemn promises also. 6) Worship of a śālagrāma, even without devotion, can confer liberation. 7) The gifting of a śālagrāma stone was considered an extremely meritorious act whereas selling it was frowned upon. The one that was bought was declared unfit for worship! Modes of Worship of a Śālagrāma Fire, which already exists in a piece of wood, manifests itself when rubbed against another piece of wood (as in the case of the araṇis) (See ARANI for details.). So also, Viṣṇu who is already present in the sālagrāma stone, manifests himself when it is worshipped. For the same reason, no process of consecration or purification is needed for a sālagrāma before worshipping it. So also there is no need for initiation from a guru with a mantra or learning of a formal procedure. What is really needed is a pure conduct, freedom from arrogance and infatuation, and, aversion to the base temptations of the world. The simplest form of worship of a sālagrāma consists in bathing it with water or milk, keeping tulasī leaves on it and offering some sweet preparation as naivedya (food for the deity). A few other details connected with its worship are: 1) The numbers of śālagrāmas that may be worshipped together can be four or six or any even number, except two. Worshipping one is permitted, though odd numbers is not. 2) Worshipping twelve śālagrāmas every day with devotion is considered highly meritorious. 3) Even though a sālagrāma has been damaged, it does not become unfit for worship. However, the one that has been secured by unethical means like fraud or force, becomes unfit for worship. Even if worshipped, it will be in vain. Varieties, Shapes and Sizes The śālagrāmas are stones, rendered round and smooth by water currents flowing for millenniums. They are distin¬guished by the discus-like (= cakra) marks left by śālās or vajrakīṭas (ammonite) which had entered into them, for residence, and got fossilized. Thus the cakra-forma- tion is the most distinguishing mark of this stone emblem. Since the cakra or the discus is the chief weapon and mark of god Viṣṇu, these stone emblems came to be regarded as Viṣṇu Himself in that aniconic form. As many as eighty-nine varieties of śālagrāma have been listed by experts and treatises on them. They are available in several forms like round, umbrella-shaped, spear-shaped, cart shaped, crooked and so on. Their sizes also vary from that of an āmalaka (gooseberry, myrobalam) to as big as a ball that can just be covered by both the palms (about 20 cms. or 8 inches in diameter). Depending on the smoothness of the surface, colour and shape, śālagrāmas are classified as uttama (the best), madhyama (the middling) and adhama (the worst). Perfectly smooth and blue-black ones belong to the first group. The ones with bluish or blackish colour belong to the second group. If the colour is tawny, yellowish, ash-grey or red, they belong to the last group and must be avoided. Identification and Testing Examination and identification of śālagrāmas (śālagrāmaparīkṣā) is an art and science, well-developed. Several purāṇas like Agni, Brahma, Kurma and Padma as also a few independent works, contain exhaustive accounts of this subject. Though the śālagrāmas are emblems of Viṣṇu in general, there are several varieties of them, each representing a particular aspect of his. The factors that contribute to this variety are: size, shape, colour, texture, the number and nature of cakras (discus-forms) as also other marks like lines and holes. Since genuine śālagrāmas are consid¬ered extremely sacred and beneficial, and also bought or sold for fabulous prices, fake ones are produced by unscrupulous traders cheating the gullible devotees. Hence, the standard texts on this subject prescribe a few tests to check the genu¬ineness or otherwise of these stones. Some of them are: striking it gently or all sides by a small hammer or knocking it with one’s finger after holding it firmly; placing it on a plate with its equal weight of rice or keeping it in milk in a bowl and leave it for a night. The former test shows that it is fake, if soft powders fall down. In the latter case, a slight increase in the weight of rice or the quantity of milk proves that the stone is not only genuine but also beneficial. Aspects of Visnu Represented The aspects of Viṣṇu represented by the śālagrāmas are quite numerous. The designation of each one is determined by the distinguishing marks of identification as given by the purāṇas and special treatises. For instance, if a śālagrāma is round in shape, has two cakras at the opening and is of whitish hue, it represents Vāsudeva. If it has a wide opening, is black in colour with two cakras on the left side, it represents Laksmī-narasiriiha and so on. Some of the other aspects are: the ten avatāras (incarnations) of Viṣṇu; Nārāyaṇa; Padmanābha; Hayagrīva; Dāmodara; Sudarśana; Gadādhara; Madhusṅdana and so on. Fruits of Worshipping Śālagrāmas The purāṇas are particular in men¬tioning the various fruits and results that can be got by worshipping certain specified śālagrāmas. For instance, to obtain— mantrasiddhi (rousing the inherent power of a mantra), one should worship a smooth and shining stone. freedom from sins—pale-coloured one. progeny—yellow one. fame—black one. worldly prosperity—blue-black one. These texts also warn that worship of the wrong ones will bring about great harm. For example, worship of a red one will cause illness, whereas the worship of a very large one will cut the life-span. Hence the possessor of a śālagrāma emblem should know all the essential details before keeping it and worshipping it. Dvārāvati-śilā The dvārāvatīśilās are white stones similar in shape to the śālagrāmas. They too have cakras (and other marks). They are available in Dvārakā (now in Gujarat), a famous place of pilgrimage for the devotees of Kṛṣṇa. If śālagrāmas are worshipped along with these, then all the sins of the worshipper are destroyed. Conclusion The followers of every religion believe what their scripture says, especially regarding things beyond the ken of the five sense-organs. Thus, the scripture being the sole authority in such matters, and since the Hindu scriptures declare as also highly eulogise the sanctity of the śālagrāma stones, they are being greatly revered even today.