Dr. A K Chatterjee is a seasoned writer with more than 330 blogs in English and Bengali and 10 books mostly on travel, trekking and temples.
Bhimashankar of Assam
Key words (the vernacular words are in italics)
Shiva, Lingam, Jyotirlingam, Dwadash Jyotirlingam, Ganesha, Dakini, Daini, Torana, hymn, co-ordinates, Assam, Nandi Maharaj, Vahana, Jalabhishek, Parvati, Zodiac signs, Yogic, Darshan.
As per the scriptures, the power and grace of Lord Shiva is most strongly manifested in some places where He is manifested in His most potent form as JYOTIRLINGAM (literary meaning "Shaft of light").
Now, the problem is that there are two lists of these Jyotirlingam - one of 12 such Shivalingams popularly called DWADASHJYOTIRLINGAM (Dwadash = 12) which is well known, and there is a lesser known list of 84 Jyotirlingams. Most devotees follow the first one, and it is their life's ambition to visit the twelve Jyotirlingams at least once in their lives.
These 12 Jyotirlingams, collectively called "Dwadashjyoitirlingam", is best represented in the following Sanskrit hymn which gives their names as well as their geographic position :
"Sourashtrey Somnatham chaw Srishailey Mallikarjunam
Ujjaiena Mahakalam Omkaram Amaleshwaram
Paralyam Baidyanatham Chaw Dakinyam Bhimashankaram
Setubandhey tu Ramesham Nagesham daruka vaney
Varanaishyam tu Visheshwaram Tryambakam Gotami tatey
Himalaye tu Kedaram Grishnesham Shivalayey ..."
Let us see what this hymn indicates.
DwadashJyotirlingam and their geographic position
1. Somnath - Sourashtra (Gujrat); co-ordinates 20.8880 degrees North, 70.4012 degrees East.
2. Mallikarjun - Srishailam (Andhra Pradesh); co-ordinates 16.0733 degrees North, 78.8687 degrees East.
3. Mahakal - Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh); co-ordinates 23.1827 degrees North, 75.7682 degrees East.
4. Amaleshwar/Mamleshwar - Omkareshwar (Madhya Pradesh); co-ordinates 22 degrees 14'31.92'' North, 76 degrees 9' 2.16'' East.
5. Baidyanath - Paralyam/ Parli (Maharashtra); co-ordinates 18 degrees 50'33.98'' North, 76 degrees 32'7.42'' East.
*6. Bhimashankar - * Dakini hills (where?)
7. Ramesham/Rameshwaram - Setubandh (Tamil Nadu); co-ordinates 9.2881 Degrees North, 79.3174 degrees East.
*8. Nagesham/ Nageshwar - * Daruka Vaney (where?).
9. Vishweshwar/ Vishwanath - Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh); co-ordinates 25.3109 Degrees North, 83.0107 degrees East.
10. Tryambakam/ Tryambakeshwar - On Gotami/Godavari river (Tryambakeshwar town in Maharashtra); co-ordinates 19.9322 Degrees North, 73.5307 degrees East.
11. Kedarnath - Himalaya (Garhwal, Uttarakhand); co-ordinates 30.7352 Degrees North, 79.0669 degrees East.
*12. Grishnesham/Grishneshwar/Ghushmeshwar - * Shivalaya (where?)
Please note that there are 3 cases marked with stars (*) by the author. These places are not clearly marked, resulting in lots of controversies.
Then there is another controversy regarding the 5th Jyotirlingam Baidyanath/Baijnath.
Let us see what are the controversies.
Controversies of Jyotirlingams
1. Baidyanath/Baijnath : The holy men of North India claim that Baidyanath at Babadham Deoghar in Jharkhand is the 5th Jyotirlingam, whereas the pundits of South India claim that the real Baidyanath Jyotirlingam is at Parli in Beed district of Maharashtra as per the Dwadashjyotirlingam hymn.
There is a third claim which states that the Baijnath temple in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh is the original Baidyanath Jyotirlingam.
2. Bhimashankar : It is generally accepted that Bhimashankar Jyotirlingam is situated at Bhimashankar village in Maharashtra, about 130 km from the city of Pune, in the hills of Sahyadri range. Its geographical co-ordinates are 19.072 degrees North, 73.536 degrees East.
But since in the hymn the position is mentioned as "Dakinyam" (Dakini Hills), not everyone accepts this. There is another Bhimashankar at Dakini Hills near Guwahati, Assam. Its geographical co-ordinates are 26.0974374 degrees North, 91.69601 degrees East.
In the present article, we'll discuss about this little known Bhimashankar of Assam.
3. Nageshwar - Probably the most controversial of the 12 Jyotirlingams is Nageshwar.
As per the hymn, Nagesham/Nageshwar is situated at "Daruka Van". Though generally it is accepted that "Darukavan" or "Daruka Van" is Dwarka of Gujarat, the controversy arises here.
On one hand "Daruka" is not Dwaraka (as spelt in Sanskrit), and on the other "Daruka" means a type of Pine tree (Cedar) and "Van" means forest.
So, there are two other places (if not more) which claim to be the "real" Nageshwar. One of these is Aundha in Maharashtra which has the Nagnath temple claimed to housing the Jyotirlingam Nagesham. The other is the Nageshwar temple at Jageshwar, Uttarakhand.
Incidentally, Cedar trees do not grow in the plains, and can be found only in the Himalayas.
The Nageshwar temple of Jageshwar is situated amidst forest of Cedar and other Alpine trees.
4. Now let us take up the case of the 12th Jyotirlingam Grishnesham which is also known as Grishneshwar or Ghushmeshwar.
As per the hymn, it is situated at "Shivalaya" (Abode of Shiva). But where is that abode? Two places claim to be the "real" Grishneshwar. One is very close to the world famous Ellora caves in Maharashtra, and the lesser known is at Siwar, Rajasthan.
5.Then there is a controversy regarding the Jyotirlingam at Omkareshwar.
There are two Jyotirlingams at Omkareshwar - Amaleshwar (also known as Mamleshwar) and Omkareshwar. But which one is the "real" Jyotirlingam?
There are controversial views about this. Some say that Amaleshwar or Mamleshwar is the "real" one as per the hymn, others say that the "real" Jyotirlingam is the Omkareshwar Lingam.
A third view says that Lord Shiva is fully manifested in both these Shivalingams, and both are Jyotirlingams.
However, one thing is clear - Omkareshwar Shiva is mentioned as the 52nd Jyotirlingam in the list of 84 Jyotirlingams, and Amaleshwar as the 4th one in the hymn of Dwadash-Jyotirlingam.
Bhimashankar of Assam.
BHIMASHANKAR : THE 6TH JYOTIRLINGAM
As already said, there are (at least) two temples/Shivalingams which claim to be the real Jyotirlingam Bhimashankar. The well-known one is at the village of Bhimashankar, Maharashtra but the other one situated at Guwahati, Assam is not very well-known outside Assam.
Bhimashankar of Assam - Where is it?
This is situated at Dakini Hills (locally known as "Daini Pahar") near Pamohi in Kamrup district about 13 km from Guwahati city along National Highway 37 (NH 37). As already stated, geographical co-ordinates of this place are 26.0974374 degrees North, 91.69601 degrees East.
Bhimashankar of Assam
The legend of Lord Bhimashankar
The legend of Bhimashankar revolves around the story of the demon Bhimasura, who was the son of Kumbhakarna and Karkati, the daughter of the king of Patala , the netherworlds. Kumbhakarna was the younger brother of Ravana, the king of Lanka. Kumbhakarna was killed in the battle with Lord Rama.
When Bhimasura grew up, he came to know about his father and how he was killed by Lord Rama. He became furious and to take revenge on the gods and their devotees, he started strong penance to please Lord Brahma. Bramha was pleased and appeared before him to bestow boon. Bhimasura prayed to Lord Bramha to give him invincible strength so that he would never be killed by Lord Vishnu. This was granted by Lord Bramha.
Getting this boon, Bhimasura started to attack the heaven. He defeated gods. Even Lord Vishnu was defeated, though voluntarily just to show respect to Lord Bramha's boon.
This emboldened Bhimasura to the extreme and his tyranny now exceeded all limits. He attacked and defeated the King of Kamrupa Priyadharman and made the king and his queen prisoners.
Now, Priyadharman and his wife was staunch devotees of Lord Shiva. Even in the prison they continued worshiping Lord Shiva. When Bhimasura came to know about this, he became livid and entered the prison to threaten the king with dire consequences if he continued worshiping Lord Shiva. But Priyadharman refused to obey Banasura's orders. This enraged Bhimasura and he slashed with his sword the Shivalingam the king was worshiping.
This enraged Lord Shiva, and He appeared there. Bhimasura attacked Lord Shiva and a great battle ensued. Ultimately Lord Shiva killed Bhimasura.
At the end of the battle, Lord Shiva was sweating profusely, and from his free flowing sweat originated a river.
King Priyadharman prayed to Lord Shiva to stay at that place. Lord Shiva agreed and he stayed there as a Jyotirlingam named Bhimesh or Bhimashankar.
Bhimashankar of Assam : Description
From Guwahati city, if we proceed along NH-37, at about 12 km we'll reach Pamohi. From here we've to leave NH-37 and travel along a side road branching from the highway on left side. There is a big gate (Torana) at the starting point of this road. This motorable road soon passes through a thickly forested hilly region, the Dakini Hills ("Daini Pahar"), a hill supposed to be the abode of dangerous "Dakini"-s ("Daini"-s), who are supernatural beings often regarded as female companions of Goddess Kali.
The road soon ends at a Ganesha temple housing a rock-cut Ganesha, who is regarded as the Guard to the abode of Lord Bhimashankar. One has to take blessings and permission of this Ganesha before venturing further into the forest area where Lord Bhimashankar resides in the form of a Shivalingam.
One interesting point to note here is that the Ganesha idol has a straight trunk, which is rather rare (The elephant-headed god Ganesha has his trunk directed mostly either to the left or right, the left being more common).
Beyond the Ganesha temple there is a road reserved only for pedestrians. The road passes through dense forest where wild animals are frequently sighted. We saw fresh elephant droppings, still worm to touch. We also saw big sized brown squirrels munching bamboo leaves.
There is a big lake-like waterbody here with Water Hyacinth in full bloom.
Soon we reached a big gate or Torana decorated with different stone sculptures and an idol of Nandi Maharaj (the vehicle or Vahana of Lord Shiva). Interestingly, where in other temples Nandi is depicted as a bull, here the idol is of a half-man half-bull creature.
Among the stone artefacts there is a circular disc which deserves some special mention. It has three sets of images circularly displayed in Bas-relief. The outermost ring contains the 12 Zodiac signs. The middle ring has 8 Shivalingams, and the innermost ring there is a human figure in Yogic posture curving around a central Shivalingam.
Beyond the gate the road narrows down to a narrow path. It descends down the hill, crosses a mountain stream often called Mata Ganga, and ends at a medium sized meadow. The meadow is surrounded by dense forest. At one end of the meadow there is a temporary structure under which there is a collection of colourful flags and metallic tridents of various sizes.
We proceeded towards that area, and that is the abode of Lord Bhimashankar. Interestingly, there is no temple, only a canopy made of cloth. The Shivalingam is exposed to the Nature.
The stream mentioned above (supposed to be created from Shiva's sweat after His battle with Bhimasura) is flowing swiftly over a collection of rocks. Here, in one of the cracks in the rocks, lies the stone Lingam of Lord Bhimashankar.
Yes, it is the perfect abode of the Lord, who does not need a man-made temple to stay. The swiftly running water of the mountain stream Mata Ganga is perpetually bathing the Shivalingam, as if Mother Nature is performing a never-ending Jalabhishek (ritualistic worship with water).
Behind the Shivalingam, there is another piece of vermillion covered rock in another crack which is revered as Goddess Parvati, the divine consort of Lord Shiva.
There was a priest who with utmost care and devotion was engaged in the ritualistic worship of the Lord. He helped us to do our own worship. We poured water collected from Mata Ganga on the Shivalingam. It was such a nice and satisfying experience.
Bhimashankar, Dakini Hills, Guwahati, Assam
Comparison with the Bhimashankar of Pune
Though not fair and totally fruitless, yet it is the human nature to compare two similar things.
So, let us do some comparison between the two abodes of Lord Bhimashankar (the author have visited both).
1. Both are in the hills, one in the Sahyadri mountains and the other in the Dakini Hills.
2. One is in the South-West India, the other in the North-East.
3. In both the places, same legend goes. But there are two minor differences:
a) While in Maharashtra the name of the king who was imprisoned by Bhimasura was Sudakshina, here in Assam it was Priyadharman.
b) The river created from Shiva's sweat is called Bhima river in Maharashtra, but in Assam it is Mata Ganga.
4. In both the places there are shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesha.
5. But the most striking difference is that while in Maharashtra Lord Bhimashankar stays in a majestic stone-built temple, in Assam there is no permanent temple for the Lord.
Comparison between the Bhimashankar of Maharashtra and Assam
The shrine of Bhimashankar of Assam is very close to Guwahati which is a major city connected to other Indian cities by air, road and rail. It has also a good number of hotels and guest-houses suitable for every pocket. It has many other attractions, both religious and non-religious and is the main gateway to the North-East India. So, one can and should plan to visit Guwahati to have a Darshan (sight) of Lord Bhimashankar of Assam.
1. Different internet sites including Wikipedia.
2. "SHIB THAKURER BARI" - a book in Bengali by Somnath (Dev Sahitya Kutir, Kolkata)
All photos : by the author.
© 2022 Dr A K Chatterjee