Friday, 2 September 2011

Bana-Lingas from River Narmada

What Salagramas are to Vishnu, that the bana-lingas are to Shiva: sacred and self-manifest representations. If the Salagrama are stones found only in the Gandaki river, the bana-lingas are stones found only in the Narmada river, although, according to some texts (as for instance Kalottara, sited in Viramitrodaya), the bana-lingas are obtained not only from the river Narmada but also in the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and other holy streams.

However, the bana-lingas are always associated with the Narmada river, so much so that a synonym of bana-linga is Narmada-linga. Narmada, which is regarded as one of the seven sacred streams of the country (sapta-ganga) and which is usually taken as what which marks off South India from the North, takes its origin  in Amarakantak, 914 metres above sea-level, in Madhya Pradesh, where the Vindhya ranges meet with the Satpuda ranges. It flows Westward for 1,292 kilometres through Mandla and Jubbalpore districts, and joins the Arabian Sea in Cambay near Bharoch in Gujarat. The legends identify the river with Reve of epic celebrity, which is described as flowing out of Siva’s own body, and therefore considered one of the holiest rivers.

According to Matsya-purana (Chap. 165-169), drinking the water from this river and worshipping Siva will secure freedom from all states of misery.

Voluntary death in this river by drowning sought by a devotee was extolled as leading directly to the realm of Siva, he having been purified from all sins, and being carried on the vehicle drawn by swans.

The currents of the Narmada river are very strong and forceful, and the stones are carried from the rocky river-sides, rendering them smooth and polished. Besides bana-lingas, which are normally white in colour, there are also in this sacred river, stones called ‘raudra-lingas’ which bare marked resemblance to the bana-lingas, but which are usually dark-coloured, although red, white and yellow varieties are not rare. We read in Lakshana-samuchchaya.

There is a story narrated in Aparajita-pariprchchha (205, 1-26) about the origin of the bana-lingas and their association with the Narmada river. Siva wanted to destroy the ‘tri-pura’, which had been obtained as a boon by the arrogant demon Banasura, and he let go a fiery dart from his great bow ‘pinaka’. The dart broke the three ‘puras’ into tiny bits, which fell on three spots: 1, on the hills in Sri-kshetra (of unknown identity), 2, on the peaks of Amarakantaka in the Vindhya ranges, and 3, on the banks of the holy river Narmada. The bits that fell in these places soon multiplied into crores,. each bit becoming a linga. As they formed part of the possession of Banasura, they were called Bana-Lingas.

Amarakantaka, the peak in Madhya Pradesh, is in close proximity to the source of the river Narmada, which according to the puranas, originated in the Vindhya mountains and flowed in the Kalinga country. Padma-purana says that there are along this river as many as sixty crore and sixty thousand holy ghats, all of which are associated with bana-lingas and raudra-lingas.

The demon Bana was the eldest of the hundred sons of Bali, who in turn was the son of Virochana and grandson of Prahlad (son of Hiranyakasipu and devotee of Narasimha). Bana, the king of demons (asuras) ruled over Sonita-pura. He went to the Himalayan regions, and performed a penance invoking Siva’s favour. When Siva appeared in answer to his austerities, Bana begged the god to bestow himself a thousand arms carrying a multitude of weapons to destroy all his enemies and opponents. He also desired that Parvati should consider him as her son.

In legend, he is described as Mahakala, one of Siva’s attendants and a brother to Subrahmanya. When, however, the demon began tormenting the three worlds, Krsna waged a war against him and severed all of his thousand arms with his discus, with the help of Siva. This story of told in Matsya-purana (chapter 5), Harivamsa (Vishnu-parva, Chapter 173) and Bhagavata-purana (10th skandha, chapter 62).

Bana, despite all the details of the story, was a great devotee of Siva, and Siva gave him his own representative in the form of a natural linga of worship (banrchartham krtam lingam); hence the name Bana-linga. It is also explained that the expression ‘bana’ means in reality Siva.

That the word ‘bana’ also means an arrow, a reed-shaft, cow’s udder and pike is to be considered. The moon-white stones naturally obtained in the river Narmada, answering to these forms may have been called bana-lingas on this account, quite independent of the legend concerning the asura named Bana.

The import of the legend is that the bana-lingas are self-manifest forms of Siva, and that they are therefore holier than any other anionic forms of Siva. This follows another legend which explains why Siva is not worshipped in his iconic form (pratima) but only as linga. Siva’s assumption of the linga form (a fiery column) to outwit the claims of superiority by Vishnu and Brahma is the theme of other legends. Among the several varieties of linga, Bana-linga is said to be the most sacred and its worship most effective.

We are informed in Yajnavalkya-samhita that the bana-lingas are actually bits of  the river-side rock, which flowed into the stream Narmada. The rock by the side of the river was itself the linga, the form assumed by Siva to bless the asura Bana. Siva dwells in that rock and the parts of the rock which we find in the river are, therefore, aspects of Siva.

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