Lord Shiva is worshiped in every part of India. Lord Shiva  is described as a yogi who wears snakes as ornaments, and animal skin as garments, has the crescent Moon on His head, and is always in meditation.  But in essence, He has no form. He is formless, present everywhere and in everything, the Supreme Consciousness. That is the reason why He is worshiped in the form of Lingam.

The word ShivaLingam derives its meaning from Shiva, the Lord and Lingam, the mark or symbol. So essentially, the incomprehensible Lord is worshiped through his symbol, the Lingam. It is symbolic of the fact that everything in this world arises out of a round shape. Any tree comes from a round seed, every living being comes from a cell that is round. Why even non-living things have atoms that are round. The Lord is symbolized as a round Lingam. The Lingam is the “Brahmanda” the cosmic egg, containing the entire universe, with no beginning and no end. Lord Shiva is the formless, Supreme being.

There are many temples dedicated to Lord Shiva all over India. Today I will tell you about 12 temples scattered all over the country that are together referred to as the dwadasha jyotirlinga,  or 12 jyotirlingas. Jyotirlinga stands for lingas of light.

The twelve jyothirlingas are:

  • Lord Somanatha in Somnath, Gujarat
    • This is the first of the 12 Jyotirlingas. This temple has been destroyed multiple times by invading Muslim rules and has been rebuilt multiple times.
    • Soma, or the Moon is said to have prayed to Shiva here, hence the name of the Lord.
  • Lord Mallikarjuna at Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh
    • It is here, according to legends that Ganesha, the son of Shiva worshiped his parents.
  • Lord Mahakaleshwara at Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh
    • It is situated on the lake Rudra Sagar in Ujjain.
    • Here the Lord faces south and so is also called dakshinamurty. He is also considered as the eternal ruler of Ujjain.
    • Here the Lord is worshiped as Mahakala or immortal Time.
    • Most famous here is the Bhasmarthi or aarti using ash. This is done in the early morning.
  • Lord Omkareshwara at Mandhata island, Madhya Pradesh
    • This island is in the shape of  ॐ “OM” in the Narmada River. Hence the name of the Lord. Here on the bank Narmada on the mainland, is another temple of Shiva. Here He is named Amareshwara. Both these temples are considered as Jyotirlingas.
    • Mandhata was an ancestor of Lord Rama. It is said that he worshiped Shiva here, hence the name of the island.
    • Adi Shankara met his guru Govindapada in a cave here. The cave can still be seen here.
  • Lord Kedarnath at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand
    • This temple is in the snowy Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakni river.
    • Due to extreme weather conditions in winter, the temple remains open from Apr to Nov. During the rest of the months, the deities are worshiped in Ukhimath at the foothills.
    • This temple was built by the Pandavas and revived by Adi Shankaracharya
    • It is the highest among all the Jyotirlingas.
    • The 2013 flash flood destroyed all the surrounding areas of the temple except the temple. There was only a crack on one side the wall. Though the waters entered the temple, the structure itself remained intact. Now it has been repaired.
  • Lord Bhimashankara at Khed, Maharashtra
    • This temple is in the ghat region of Sahyadri hills near Pune.
    • Here is the start of the river Bhima, a tributary of mighty Krishna.
    • Legend has it that Bhima, a son of Kumbhakarna who was the brother of Ravana, waged a terrible war with Lord Shiva here. The sweat that poured from the forehead of Shiva is the river Bhima and the Lord stayed here as Bhimashankara.
  • Lord Vishwanatha at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
    • One of the most holy and most famous temples of India on the banks of river Ganga.
    • Vishwanatha means the lord of the universe.
    • This temple too has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The last time it was destroyed was by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. He built a mosque in its place. The temple that stands now is on the adjacent site, it was built by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780.
  • Lord Tryambakeshwara at Nashik, Maharashtra
    • Tryambakeshwara temple is around 40 kms from Nashik. The origin of the holy Godavari river is from the Brahmagiri hills here. The temple is between the three hills of Brahmagiri, Kalagiri and Neelagiri.
    • The Lord here in the the form of the holy trinity. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are all together here. This is because there are three faces to the lingam, each face signifying one of the trinity.
  • Lord Baidyanatha at Deogarh, Jharkhand
    • Legend has it that Ravana worshiped Lord Shiva here by sacrificing his 10 heads by cutting them off one by one. Lord appeared before him, granted him boons and healed his wounds too. That is why He is called Baidhyanatha or the Healer. (“Vaidya” in Sanskrit and other Indian languages is doctor)
    • There are 2 other temples that contest to the Jyotirlinga namely, Vaijnath temple at Parli, Maharashtra and Baijnath temple at Baijnath, Himachal Pradesh.
  • Lord Nageshwara, at Dwarka, Gujarat
    • Legend has it that Shiva killed a demon named Daruka here.
  • Lord Rameshwara at Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu
    • Lord Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana worshiped Lord Shiva here after the Ramayana war. The Lingam itself is said to be made by Sita using the sand. That is why the Lord here is called Ramanathaswamy.
    • The temple is on the Rameshwaram island off the coast of Bay of Bengal.
    • Near Rameshwaram is the abandoned town of Dhanushkoti. Dhanushkoti was destroyed in a cyclone in 1964. It is from here that Rama built the bridge Rama setu to reach Lanka to fight Ravana.
    • In and around the temple are 22 holy thirthas or wells. Bathing in them is considered as important.
  • Lord Grishneshwara at Verul, Maharashtra
    • Grishneshwara means the Lord of compassion.
    • It is located very near Ellora caves – A UNESCO World heritage site.
    • This temple too was rebuilt by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar, after it was destroyed by Mughals.

Shiva temples can be found in every corner of the country. These 12 are the most famous of them all.