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.
Lord Shiva and temples on His body-parts
Lord Shiva is one of the three principal Gods of Hinduism, the other two being Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. Together they form the Trinity of Hinduism - Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer.
There are endless tales about these Three in various religious texts, which are essentially beyond the scope of this article. Here only a small fragment of tales about Lord Shiva is being narrated because of it’s uniqueness.
Body parts of Lord Shiva
There is a well-known tale about the Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata fame, where it is told that after their victory over their cousins in a gory war, the Pandava brothers were the victors but guilty of committing the sin of killing their cousin-brothers and other relatives as well as their teachers. To be free of this sin they had to please Lord Shiva. But Lord Shiva was reluctant to appear before them. So He entered into the Earth in the form of a buffalo and His body parts emerged in five places which are collectively called Pancha Kedar (the Five Kedars) - His face at Rudranath, forelimbs at Tunganath, back at Kedarnath, belly with navel at Madamaheswar and locks of hair (Jataa) at Kalpeswar.
It is also believed that Shiva’s hind limbs emerged at Pashupatinath in Nepal.
A lesser known story
A lesser known story about Lord Shiva’s body parts being placed at different places is there in the folklore of the state of Assam in the North-eastern part of India.
In that story it is said that Shiva’s navel is at a place called Nagashankara in Sonitpur district , the chest at Biswanath Ghat in the district of Biswanath and the footprints are at Rudrapada in Tezpur, Shonitpur district.
In the present article, I shall write briefly about these places and the temples associated with Lord Shiva’s chest, navel and footprints.
This is a small village in Sonitpur district few kilometers from the city of Tezpur which is well connected with the rest of the state as well as with the rest of the country by rail, air and roadways.
The medium size temple, built in typical Assam style by King Narasankar of Lohitya dynasty in 4th century AD has a hall (Mandapa) in front, a sanctum with a tall spire at the rear and a small porch in between.
Another view tells the temple was constructed by King Nagmatta or Arimatta.
Whoever built the temple, it was renovated by Ahom king Su-sen-pha in 1480 AD.
Inside the sanctum there is a central water filled tank which is connected to a big pond just behind the temple by an underground channel. There are several Shiva Lingams as well as idols of Lord Shiva in human form.
It is believed by the devotees that Lord Shiva’s navel lies here, though there is another myth which says that Sati’s (Parvati’s) and not Shiva’s navel fell here.
That it is associated with navel (Sati’s or Shiva’s) is evident from the fact that the temple was originaly known as Navishankar temple (Navi meaning navel).
The pond and the turtles of Naga Shankar temple
There is a huge pond just behind the temple. This pond harbours large number of big sized turtles called “Mohana” locally. These turtles belong to two species - NILSSONIA GANGETICA and CHITRA INDICA.
The former is classified as “Vulnerable” and the later “Endangered” by IUCN.
Pilgrims coming to the temple feed the turtles, though the system is strictly restricted now.
Biswanath Ghat and the legend of Banasura 1
Biswanath Ghat is regarded as the “Kashi of Assam” (Kashi or Varanasi is the holiest site on earth where Lord Shiva resides as Biswanath, the Lord of the Universe).
It is associated with the legend of KIng Banasura who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Legends associated with Banasura are well known. One of those is the love story between his daughter Usha and Aniruddha, the grandson of Lord Krishna. Banasura had strong objection to this romantic alliance and he captured and jailed Aniruddha. Lord Krishna came to rescue his grandson. Banasura panicked and prayed to Lord Shiva to come to help him in the battle against Lord Krishna, who was an avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Lord Shiva came to defend His devotee and thus ensued a great battle between Hari (meaning Lord Vishnu) and Hara (meaning Lord Shiva).
This story is well known, but has some controversy. There are at least two places which claim to be the site of Banasura’s capital city as well as the site of this battle between Hari and Hara. One of these is Tezpur in Assam, the other is Ukhimath in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
Gupt (Hidden) Kashi of Assam
Now we’ll come to another legend associated with Banasura which is directly linked to our story here.
Banasura, a strong Shiva devotee, once asked Shiva to come and reside in his kingdom in Assam, and he promised to built a second Kashi for the Lord. Lord Shiva agreed, but on one condition - that He will come to this new Kashi only if Banarsura could establish one crore Shivalingam there. Banasura agreed and started to build the Shivalingams. But where is the place to store these huge number of Shivalingams?
The river Brahmaputra came to Banasura’s rescue, and asked Banasura to keep the Shivalingams in the river-bed. Banasura piled up all those Shivalingams on the bed of the mighty river Brahmaputra. When the difficult task was nearing completion, gods residing at Varanasi became anxious as they were reluctant to leave Varanasi with Lord Shiva to go and settle in Assam. So they hid one of the Shivalingams, and the count was one less than one crore.
However, Lord Shiva was pleased at the near impossible effort of Banasura and He agreed to stay in Assam, but in a hidden (Gupt) form called GUPT BISWANATH and though the place He decided to make His new home was bestowed the status of Kashi, it was to be called Gupt (hidden) Kashi.
And that Gupt Kashi of Assam is presently known as Biswanath Ghat.
Biswanath Shivalingam at Biswanath Ghat
Biswanath Ghat is a small town in the district of same name. It is about 70 kilometers from Tezpur and is on the confluence of the mighty river Brahmaputra and two other rivers - BADA GANG and BUDI GANG (Briddha Ganga).
The original Biswanath Shivalingam lies in a small rocky island inside the river Brahmaputra and can only be approached by a boat during the dry season (from mid-November to end May). In the rest of the year, it gets submerged in the water of the river. Hence it is called Gupt Biswanath or Hidden Biswanath.
The rocky island containing the Gupt Biswanath Shiva has broken pillars and columns of an ancient stone-built temple thrown all over.
As the Gupt Biswanath Lingam remains out of bound for the devotees for half of a year, Ahom King Gadadhar Singha in the 17th century built a temple on the north bank of Brahmaputra at a spot where a Swayambhu (self-manifest) Shivalingam was found under the ground. This is the second Biswanath Shiva of Biswanath Ghat.
This Swayambhu Shivalingam has a peculiar shape. Unlike the standard phallus-like shape, this Shivaligam looks like a rectangular box, and this is believed to be the chest of Lord Shiva.
Rudrapada - Lord Shiva’s feet
Having covered Lord Shiva’s navel and chest, we shall now cover His feet.
Rudra is Lord Shiva’s other name, and Pada means feet, hence Rudrapada means Shiva’s feet.
Rudrapada is a fringe locality of the city of Tezpur. There are two temples on a hill just on the bank of Brahmaputra which are associated with the legend of Shiva’s feet or footprints. As per local tradition, Lord Shiva’s right footprint is at the Bhairab Pada temple and the left footprint is at the Tingeswar Mahadeva temple situated on the top of the hill.
So, in that sense, these temples are not on Shiva's body-part (feet here), but on imprints of his body-part (footprints here).
It is said that Lord Shiva appeared before Banasura at this particular spot and left His footprints here.
A temple was built here by King Shiv Singh in 1730 AD, though the original temple was destroyed by the surging water of the mighty Bramhaputra.
Though the legend of Pancha Kedar is well known among the millions of Shiva devotees all over the world, the legend of Shiva’s body parts (or two parts and footprint in another place) situated in four temples in Assam is not very well known. I hope this article will be an eye-opener in this regard.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Dr A K Chatterjee