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.
Key words (vernaculars are in italics)
Trinity, Shiva, Shivalingam, Mukhalingam, Aniconic, Anthropometric, Rudra, Shakti, Nishkala, phallus,shaft, Swayambhu, Ardhanarishwara, Eka Lingam, Panchamukha, Trimurti, Dwapar Yuga, Mandapa, sanctum, Nandi, rock, Puja.
Shiva is the last one of the Trinities of Hinduism - Bramha, Vishnu (Bishnu) and Shiva or Maheshwara. There are volumes and volumes of writings and discussions on these three, which is beyond the scope of this article.
The present article is in two parts.
In the first part, we shall discuss briefly on Lord Shiva's one particular aspect - His forms in general, then His Aniconic form, the Shivalinga / Shivalingam and finally focus on Mukhalingam, where He is represented as a conjoined form of His Anthropomorphic and Anionic forms - human-like face/faces carved on a Shivalingam.
In the second part, we'll discuss a particular temple named Ketekeshwar Dewal/Devalaya, situated in the city of Tezpur, Assam, India. Ketekeshwar temple is a very important Shiva temple which houses a very special type of Mukhalingam, though not very well known.
The Trinity, Lord Shiva and His various forms
A very brief introduction to Lord Shiva
It is just impossible to write something about Lord Shiva very briefly, especially in an article like the present one. Yet, I'm trying to do the impossible by writing few words with the help of the book "HINDU GODS AND GODDESSES" by Swami Harshananda.
Though Shiva is often equated with "Rudra", it is not sure whether the Vedic god Rudra and Shiva of the later ages are the same. According to some scholars, Shiva was a Non-Aryan god, more ancient than the Vedic Rudra. Probably, an amalgamation later occurred and Shiva became a god in the "Purana"-s and "Agama"-s.
Interested readers may read this excellent book, or they may go to the vast and almost endless literature on Shiva.
Forms of Lord Shiva
Lord Shiva is worshiped basically in 3 forms : Formless (Nishkala or Absolute Nothing), Anthropometric (where He is represented in human form) and Aniconic (where He is represented as Shivalingam, a shaft-like form, which is often regarded as a male phallus).
Lord Shiva is mostly worshiped in His Linga form.
It is interesting to note that there is probably only one major Shiva temple where Lord Shiva is worshiped in all of His 3 forms - and that temple is the Thillai Nataraja temple of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu.
Forms of Lord Shiva
Types of Shivalingam
There are volumes of literature on this subject which is beyond the scope of this article. Only very briefly it can be said that the shape, size, colour, origin (man-made or naturally occurring), the material with which it is made of etc. varies so much that it itself is a very big subject. We'll skip all those intricacies here. Interested readers may go to the appropriate texts or search the net.
Basically, a standard Shiva Linga is made of stone (all naturally occurring or Swayambhu Lingas and most man-made Lingas) or metal, though other materials like wood are also sometimes used.
The shape is basically like a shaft (often compared with the male phallus), though many Swayambhu Lingas are of various shapes (for example, the famous Kedarnath Shiva is shaped like the back of a buffalo; the Mahabaleswar Shivalinga is like a Rudraksha bead; the Ekteshwar Shiva Linga of Bankura, West Bengal looks like a human foot etc.).
Regarding the size of Shivalingas, there are so many claims and counter-claims, that it itself has become a big and controversial subject. Interested readers may visit my own blog on this subject in Hubpages.
Some of the huge man-made Shivalingas include Bhojeshwar of Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh; Mahabhairab of Tezpur, Assam; Rajarajeshwara Shiva of Shivaniwas, District Nadia, West Bengal; Durgeeshwar Shiva Linga of North Kolkata, West Bengal, Krishnachandreshwar and Raktakamaleshwar Shiva Lingas of Bhukailas, Kolkata, West Bengal etc.
About the colour of (naturally occuring) Shivalingas, it can be said that it may vary from black in one hand to white in the other, with many variations in between. Even there may be multi-coloured Shivalingas. One important example is the Ardhanarishwara Linga which is vertically half white and half red (or sometimes black) representing Shiva (the Male Power) and Shakti (the Female Power) in the same Shiva Linga.
Here we'll focus on one particular type of Shivalingam where the Anthropometric and Anionic forms of Lord Shiva are merged to create what is known as Mukhalinga/Mukhalingam.
Different types of Shiva Linga
Here one or more human-like faces are engraved or sculpted in high relief on a Shiva Linga, or less commonly in the metal sheath covering a Shiva Linga.
Probably the first of it's kind is the vary famous Guddimallam Shiva Linga situated in the town of the same name in Andhra Pradesh, which was established in the 3rd Century BCE.
From the 2nd century BCE, there was a great spurt of creating Mukhalingas in the Mathura Sculpture style.
The number of faces in a Mukha Linga may vary from one to five, though one unique example of eight faces is seen in the Ashtamukhi Pashupatinath Shiva linga in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh.
A Shiva linga has 3 parts - the lowermost part is called "Brahma Bhaga", the middle part "Vishnu Bhaga" and the top part "Rudra Bhaga" ("Bhaga" means part). The faces of a Mukhalingam is engraved as a rule in the "Rudra Bhaga".
The "face"-s on a Shiva Linga usually face the cardinal directions as follows :
If there is one face (Eka Lingam), it faces East; if there are two faces, they face East and West; if there are three faces, they face East, North and South; if there are four faces, they face East, West, North and South; if there are five faces, they are arranged in 4+1 pattern, with lower 4 faces facing the 4 cardinal directions (East, West, North and South) and the 5th face on top faces either skyward or towards East.
Of the several types of Mukhalingas, the most common and the most important is the Mukhalingas with 5 faces, called "Panchamukha Lingam".
As it is regarded as the most important, a little more is described about this Linga.
1. Name of the face : "Sadyojata"; Meaning "the Revealer"; direction - *East; Colour - White; element - Fire ("Teja"); Sense - Taste; representing body part - genitalia.
2. Name of the face : "Aghora"; Meaning "the Destroyer"; direction - South; Colour - Black; element - Water ("Ap"); Sense - Hearing; representing body part - tongue or speech.
3. Name of the face : "Tatpurusha"; Meaning "the Cosmic Being"; direction - *West; Colour - Golden; element - Earth ("Kshiti"); Sense - Smell; representing body part - anus.
4. Name of the face : "Vamadeva"; Meaning "the Concealer"; direction - North; Colour - Red; element - Air ("Marut"); Sense - sight; representing body part - feet.
5. Name of the face : "Ishana"; Meaning "the Lord"; direction - Skyward; Colour - Copper; element - Space ("Vyom"); Sense - Touch; representing body part - Hands.
* In some texts, these directions are reversed.
It is interesting to note that as per tradition, any Shiva Linga can be converted into a Panchamukhi Linga by placing a metallic cover with five faces engraved or sculpted on it.
Panchamukha Shiva Linga
It is interesting to see that in rare instances, a Shiva Linga is engraved with 3 deities Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva in His Anthropometric form on three sides. Such a Linga can be said a "Trimurti Linga".
One example is the Shiva Linga at the Ketekeshwar Dewal temple in the city of Tezpur in Sonitpur district of Assam. Another example can be seen in Unakoti, Tripura.
Ketekeshwar Dewal or Devalaya
Now we'll go to the second part of this article : Ketekeshwar Dewal or Devalaya,Tezpur, Sonitpur, Assam.
Ketekeshwar Shiva temple (called Ketekeshwar Dewal or Devalaya) is situated in the Ketekibari area of Tezpur in Sonitpur district of Assam.
Tezpur is a large and very important city of the North East India, and has a very ancient and rich history. It was the capital of the ancient King Bana (or Banasura) in the Dwapara Yuga, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. There are many mythological stories associated with Banasura.
At present Tezpur is a bustling city, and dotted with many temples, ancient petroglyphs and petrographs, archeological sites, beautiful gardens as well as IIT, Medical college and University. Mahabhairab temple is a very famous Shiva temple of Tezpur, where devotees flock round the year from whole of Assam as well as from places outside Assam.
Ketekeshwar temple, though very important on its own right, is however not very well known , especially to the outsiders.
The Ketekeshwar temple is situated in the Ketekibari locality of Tezpur, about 500 metres from the main road.
On it's entrance there is a gate or Torana with the words "Ketekeshwar Devalaya".
A little distance from the main gate there is an enclosed area with a huge banyan tree. There is a second gate, on either side of which are two temples, a Hanumana temple on the left and a Ganesha temple on the right.
Inside there is a garden with many types of shrubs and trees. Previously the area was full of bamboo trees, but now there are only few of them.
Inside, there is a rectangular hall on right side with attached two or three rooms which look like office-rooms. On the left is the main temple dedicated to Ketekeshwar Shiva.
The temple consists of an elongated Mandapa and the sanctum, which is rather open, unlike the small and closed spaces of the regular temples.
At the centre of the sanctum there is a huge Linga, at least 8 feet tall, with appropriate girth. The lower portion of the Linga is covered with a piece of red coloured cloth. There are usual things required for Puja in front of the Linga.
There is a beautiful statue of Nandi the Bull, Lord Shiva's Bahana (vehicle) in the Mandapa.
The priest told us an interesting thing. According to him, the three deities of the Trinity of Hinduism, viz. Lords Bramha, Vishnu and Maheshwara reside in this Linga - Maheshwara in front, Vishnu on right side and Bramha on the backside of the Linga. There the faces of the gods are engraved in high relief on the Linga, though weathered and blurred and difficult to identify.
So, basically this is a rare type of Mukhlinga, which may be called a "Trimurti" Linga.
Photos of Ketekeshwar temple
Legend of Ketekeshwar
According to the local legends, the Shivalingam, which is a few thousand years old, was originally located at a distance from the current temple. It was uprooted during a severe earthquake that shook Tezpur and was deposited at its present place by natural forces.
Shakti temple, Ketekeshwar
Usually, every Shiva temple is accompanied by a shrine dedicated to Shakti, the Supreme Female Power, who is the divine consort of Lord Shiva, and Ketekeshwar is no exception.
There is a "temple" of Shakti about 50 metres from the temple of Ketekeshwar in the same compound. Actually, it is not a temple in the strictest sense, but a open hut like structure with a tin roof.
The "idol" of Shakti is a big rectangular rock, with a central hole. There is no Anthropometric idol here. Incidentally, worshiping pieces of rock as the "Mother Goddess" is a Non-Aryan cult, later assimilated into mainstream Hindu culture. For this reason, we see pieces of rock being worshiped as Shakti in many, if not all, Shakti shrines all over India.
Shakti shrine; Ketekeshwar
Ketekeshwar is an important sacred place to Hindus, yet not known by many. I sincerely hope Ketekeshwar will get it's due recognition soon.
1. Different internet sites.
2. Hindu Gods and Goddesses; by Swami Harshananda; published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai.
3. Personal conversation with priests and local people.
All photos : by the author.
© 2022 Dr A K Chatterjee