Understanding of the importance of the Salagram Sila
In the Vedic literatures Krishna is glorified as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although He is known throughout the world by many different names, such as Allah, Jehovah, Buddha, Vishnu, etc, He is always the same Supreme Lord.
As the origin of all that exists and the primal cause of all causes, whatever we experience has its origin Krishna. Most major religions stress the impersonal aspect of the Lord, but the forms that we see around us also have their origin in Krishna; therefore He must encompass both formlessness as well as form. The forms of which we have experience are composed of the Lord’s inferior energy (i.e., inert matter), so it is natural to stress the difference between the Supreme Lord’s spiritual form and the dull matter to which we are accustomed. Indeed it is a great sin to imagine God as having a mortal body like ours.
The Vedic scriptures state that beyond this cosmos is the spiritual sky, the Kingdom of God. In Sanskrit it is called Vaikuntha, the place where there is no anxiety. The scriptures give graphic descriptions of that spiritual world which might appear to be surreal and mythological, but why should we expect any less from God? In this world, variety is the spice of life, so why should there be no variety in the Lord’s kingdom? It is not a formless void but an eternal festival! Spiritual life is never static, but always dynamic. Frankly, if the goal of life was nothingness, I might opt to stay here. Even cable TV seems attractive in comparison.
The formless aspect of God is stated in the Vedas to be the effulgence of the Lord. These days most spiritualists seek out that impersonal “Brahman.” In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna clearly states “I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman,” (Chapter 14 Verse 27), so the devotee of Krishna desires to see the personal form of the Lord. Indeed, one who has not perfected his devotional service can not see through His glaring rays. In an important Upanishad, the Isopanishad, a devotee prays “Oh Lord, please reveal Your true face to Your pure devotee by removing the rays of the Brahmajyoti so that I can see Your form of eternal bliss and knowledge.”
Krishna, the merciful Supreme Personality of Godhead, can show His spiritual form of eternality, knowledge, and bliss to His devotee. In fact, one could never hope to see the Lord otherwise; we can not see Him on demand, but He can permit us to see Him if He desires. With the cataract of material vision, we can never see His beautiful face. For this reason, Krishna kindly reveals to us how we can see Him. One such way is by the construction of a deity. In the Vedas, there are descriptions of what the Lord looks like both in His original form of Krishna, His expansion Vishnu, as well as in His incarnations and avataras.
Certain portions of the Vedas contain information by which the devotee can form a deity of the Lord. The details of such deity sculpting are astounding. Exact materials, precise dimensions, qualified sculptors, astrologically calculated dates, and so on are meticulously described. There isn’t sufficient room in this article to depict the process in detail, but be assured that it is awe-inspiring.
Most importantly, when the deity is finished there is a elaborate ceremony by which the particular deity is called into that form to accept the devotee’s worship. So by God’s mercy, the devotee can see the Lord in stone, metal, jewels, etc. and worship the Lord in that form. After all, since the Lord is omnipresent, He is already there in the wood, stone, or whatever substance was used to construct the deity. However the deity form is unique as it is considered an “avatara,” or incarnation, of the God. When the Lord agrees to be worshipped in the form of a deity, there is a transubstantiation whereby the deity becomes the spiritual form of God and is no longer just inert matter. If the Lord pleases, He will accept the adulation according to the worshipper’s devotion. In accordance with his faith in the deity, to that degree he will actually see the Lord and not merely stone.
The Sila, a Blessing for the Devotees
The best form of the Lord to worship is known as a Salagram Sila. This name indicates that the the deity is a Sila, or stone, from an area known as Salagram, the place where many Sala tress grow. Sala trees are considered very auspicious as they are very useful for making leaf-bowls and the extremely hard wood is popular for constructing door-frames and such. In the past, Hanuman and other great warriors would uproot sala trees and beat their opponents with them. Salagram was located in Nepal along the Kali Gandaki river, although the change in geology and weather patterns means that one will not find many sala trees there. It is believed that the ancient site of Salagram is present-day Muktinatha, although some say that it was further down the Gandaki valley. Special stones from this area are declared in the Vedas to be direct incarnations of Lord Vishnu. They are not formed by sculptors like a deity, but were carved long ago by worms known as vajrakita, indicating that they have teeth as strong as thunderbolts. There are graphic descriptions of various forms of the Lord carved by these worms which are know by the markings on Them.
There is a long history of why Lord Vishnu assumes the form of the Salagram Sila but the internal reason is easy to understand; the Lord wanted that His devotees could make a pilgrimage to the Kali Gandaki valley to find a very portable deity of the Lord which they could bring home and worship. Indeed there is no need to even call the Lord into the form of a Sila as He is eternally present there. Doing so would indicate a lack of faith that the Lord had already incarnated in the Sila.
Of Molochs and Mollusks
When the British were in control of India, they tried every means they could to denounce the local faiths. They hired Indologists such as Max Muller to document Hinduism in such a way as to make it appear primitive and inferior to Christianity. Of course, there isn’t even such a thing as Hinduism - the word has no meaning, whatsoever. But almost all aspects of traditional Vedic culture were misrepresented and obscured. Worse, this misinformation was reintroduced into Indian schools and Vedic civilization was diminished irrevocably.
One such aspect of the Vedas which was widely misunderstood was the process of deity worship. The concept that God could incarnate in a material form and receive worship through it was unknown to the British. Despite the fact that God had appeared as a burning bush to Moses, the idea remained especially enigmatic to the missionaries. They crusaded against this “idolatry” and thought of the deities as totems worshipped in ignorance by a backwards people. Beautiful forms of their Father such as Lord Jaganatha (the British coined the word “Jaggernaut” after seeing Him on His car during the Ratha Yatra festival) were declared “Molochs” (idols of fearsome, blood-thirsty gods) and their worship was condemned as the Devil’s work.
The Salagram Sila had a low profile during the British Raja and did not receive much bad publicity. Scientists and geologists, however, declared that the Sila was actually a fossil known as an ammonite. Ammon is a Roman god who has the horns of a ram; to the geologists the markings on the Silas resembled such a horn. The Vedas state that those markings are the sign of the Chakra, Lord Vishnu’s weapon. The skeptics said that they were the fossilized remains of a Jurassic mollusk proving that the Himalayas were once beneath a salt water ocean. However, they could not account for the other unique carvings of the vajrakita.
Of course, there is no reason why Salagram Silas could not be incarnations of Lord Vishnu and fossils simultaneously. The fact that they were formed by ancient creatures indicates that they are a without a doubt a fossil, but they were not formed by the shell of a salt water mollusk, but by the teeth of a worm. Lord Vishnu inspired the vajrakita from within to carve the interesting forms on the Salagram Silas according to His desire. Also, the vajrakita worm is said to have been extant at least up to five thousand years ago; in the Mahabharata one is said to have burrowed into Ekalavya’s thigh while Dronacarya was resting with his head on his disciple’s lap. Of course, on many occasions an animal long thought to be extinct turns up unexpectedly. More importantly, during the Lord’s pastimes all sorts of extraordinary things take place and for a small worm to show up, even it had been extinct, is hardly surprising.
The Lord Remains Invisible to the Faithless
It should not come as a surprise that the scientists and geologists see the Salagram Sila as a fossil. After all, the Lord is always invisible to the faithless. By appearing in this unusual form, Lord Vishnu has given the devotees a great blessing. The materialists, however, miss the opportunity to see Him and instead see only a fossil.
The faithful devotee will always see the Lord in the Sila and the materialist may never. For me, I choose to follow the footsteps of the devotees as their faith brings them peace and happiness even in this lifetime. The faithless who do not see Lord Vishnu present in the Salagram Sila may never find true peace, being enamored by the dull matter of this world and not having sufficient faith in God. I pray to Sri Salagram Sila that I may serve Him and His devotees, caring nothing for the materialists. Then one day my vision may penetrate the brahmajyoti and I will gaze upon the Lord’s beautiful face for eternity.
Parama Seva dasa has been a member
of ISKCON since 1988. Currently he and his
family live in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an initiated disciple of HH