Banalingas from the River Narmada

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 In the Padma Purana Lord Siva declares the greatness of salagrama sila as follows;

    mallinga kotibhi drsthi yad phalam pujiti |
    salagrama sila yamtu ekasyam iva tad bhaved ||

    "The merit obtained by seeing and worshipping hundreds of thousands of My Lingams, is equivalent to that obtained by worshipping one single salagrama sila."

    ato'dhisthana vargesu suryadisviva murtisu  |
     salagrama silaiva syad adhisthanottamam hareh ||

     The  Lord  resides  in  many  places  in  which  he  may  be  worshipped, but of all places Salagrama is the best.      ( Skanda Purana )

     salagrama sila rupi yatra tisthati kesavah  |
     tatra devasurayaksa bhuvanani catur dasa ||

     With  Keshava  in the form of Salagrama sila reside  all  the devatas, asuaras, yaksas and the fourteen worlds.         ( Padma Purana )

However having said all that, there are verses encouraging the worship and service of Lord Siva for Vaishnavas as mentioned and collected in Hari Bhakti Vilas:
such as in the Shivaratri information and observances herein:



 Lord Siva spoke to Skanda, his son, saying that any person who has seen Salagram Sila, paid obeisances to Him, bathed and worshipped Him, has achieved the results of performing ten million sacrifices and giving ten million cows in charity.



 (Lord Siva speaks to his son, Skanda) In this mortal world, if anyone does not worship Salagram Sila, I do not at all accept any of their worship and obeisances.

More from HBV about Salagrams here:

Salagram Kosha Volume 2. Chapter Three -  Page 119-141.

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.


The expression ‘linga’ in the Agama context signifies ‘symbol’ (chinha). Derived from the root ‘ligi gatyau’, it refers to movement, and words having been movement as their etymological meaning  have also connotations of knowledge (‘sarve gatyarthah jnanarthah’). Linga therefore means that by which the Divine is cognized or approached (‘lingyate jnayate anena iti lingam’). The Agama texts also bring out another valid explanation for the word ‘linga’ : linga in its primary sense is broken up into ‘ling’ (to dissolve, to get merged, to destroy) and ‘ga’ (to emerge, to go out). Linga is so called because all phenomena is dissolved in Siva at the time of cosmic dissolution, and it emerges from Siva once again at the time of creation. (Ajitagama, 3, 16-17).

The lingas are classified into six varieties, depending on how they came into existence: 1, daiva-lingas are those installed and worshipped by the gods and other celestial beings, and thus named after them; they continue to exist in the present day and on earth, but their origin is traditionally ascribed to the gods; 2, asura-lingas are those installed by the class of the wicked titans (known as asuras and daityas) but were pious and zealous devotees of Siva (like Ravana); 3, arsha-lingas were installed and worshipped by sages of yore (like Agastya); 4, purana-lingas are those which have been celebrated as installed at the very distinct past by mythical personages; 5, manusha-lingas are those that have been caused to be made by human patrons (rulers, chieftans, wealthy folk etc) in historical times; and 6, svayambhu-lingas are the forms which Siva assumed to manifest himself. The Bana-lingas being to the last variety.

There is also reckoning of their relative merits. The lingas of the divya, purana and svayambhu varieties are considered best (uttama), the lingas of the asura and arsha varieties are of middling quality (madhyama), and the lingas of the manusha variety inferior (adhama).

Another classification is based on how it is made: 1, krtima, artificial, made by hands, and 2, akrtrima, natural, bought about by a natural course of events. The bana-lingas belong to the latter group. A further classification has the structural status in focus: 1, chala (mobile) or jangama, and 2, achala (stationary) or sthavara. The latter variety of lingas is what we find in temples, duly installed, consecrated and elabourately worshipped by professional priests. Silpa-ratna describes these lingas thus.

These lingas are usually carved in stone, and installed according to Agamic prescriptions, and the enduring presence of the Godhead is invoked in it. They are not thereafter moved from that spot; they are permanent fixtures there. On the other hand, the lingas worshipped in households are neither installed at one place, nor consecrated once and for all time. They can be shifted to any spot for purpose of worship. But during the worship they are placed on a pedestal or platform, and not moved until the worship is over. These mobile lingas may be natural or carved in precious stones, or made in copper, silver or gold; the bana-lingas come under this category.

Usually, these mobile lingas are not carved in stone; they may be stone ones when they occur naturally and are obtained from rivers (as in the case of bana-lingas and raudra-lingas). When however,  small lingas (sailam) are made in stone for household worship, they answer to the category known as ‘chalachala’ (both mobile and stationary) (Suprabheda, op. Cit.). to the same category belong the lingas made in clay (mrnmaya) or in wood (darava).

The stationary stone lingas worshipped in temples are required to have features like tri-sutra markings and division of the linga shaft into the four-sided Brahma-bhaga (hidden under the ground) the eight sided Vishnu-bhaga (concealed by the yoni or pedestal), and the circular Rudra-bhaga (which is seen and is worshipped, and hence called puja-bhaga).

These are entirely absent in the mobile lingas worshipped in a household. Nor are they required to answer to the Agamic prescription regarding the measurements (tala-mana), the treatment of top-portions (siro-vartana), or the typology (shape etc.). Mobile lingas may also be used temporary purposes (kshanika) out of clay from the river-side (nadi-mrttika), sand (sikata), uncooked rice (tandula), cooked rice (anna), cow-dung (gomaya), sandal-paste (chandana), sacred grass (kurcha), jaggery (guda), butter (nava-nita), rice flour (pishta), rudraksha beads, flowers or sprouts (pallava). These are prepared  immediately prior to the commencement of the worship-ritual, and are disposed of when the worship is concluded.

Among the lingas that are worshipped, there is a hierarchy in terms of worship mentioned in Meru-tantra (6th prakasa). Among the soft-lingas, lingas made in mud or clay are the best. Among the hard ones, stone-lingas are meritorious. But rock-crystal-lingas are superior to the ordinary ones. Better than the rock-crystal-lingas are the lingas carved in lotus-hued ruby (padma-raga), and better than the latter are those made of saffron (kashmira); and increasing in merit in succession are the lingas made out of topaz (pushya-raga), sapphire (indra-nila), Himalayan gem (gomeda), coral (vidruma), pearl (mauktika), silver (rajata), gold (hairanya), diamond (hiraka), mercury (parada), and bana-linga.

We find numerous texts extolling the unsurpassed merit of the bana-linga in bestowing all benefits when worshipped daily with devotion.
The superior merit of bana-linga is thus acknowledged, although some texts would rate the linga made out of mercury (rasa-linga, parada-linga) higher, as for instance Suta-samhita.

Generally, however, the rasa-linga is regarded as an extremely difficult specimen to obtain, and its association with tantrik cults and alchemic procedures give it an occult aura, not entirely acceptable to the common householder. Alchemic and medical texts like Rasa-ratna-samchchaya and Rasarnava, describe elaborate  processes which can purify mercury and make it amenable to be solidified. Only then a linga can be made out of it. This is done only in pharmaceutical factories called rasa-salas, under expert guidance; and the rasa-linga (solidified mercury) is invariably installed and worshipped in a rasa-sala, before medicinal preparations are attempted. The rasa-linga is said to have magical properties. Its religious use, however, is extremely limited.

In any case, the rasa-linga is prepared by human beings (manusha), and cannot come under the category of self-manifest (svayam-bhu) lingas, which are regarded as the holiest and most suitable for worship. Bana-linga, on the other hand, is an excellent example of self-manifest lingas. Its worship is said to secure worldly welfare as well as emancipation from worldly involvement. It is therefore claimed that the bana-linga when worshipped is a thousand times more effective than any other linga.

Even merely thinking about a bana-linga early in the morning is likely to bestow success in all enterprises. (Yoga-sara, chapter 5)
Even the rasa-linga requires to be duly installed and consecrated without which techniques of empowerment (samskara) its effectiveness may not be assured. This is true of all other varieties of lingas, excepting bana-linga. Matrka-bheda-tantra (patala 7) makes a summary statement to this effect.

Contrarialy, the bana-lingas do not need to be ceremonially installed or duly consecrated. They do not require even to go through the normal ritual of invocation of divine presence (avahana), for the divine presence is already there, and will continue to be there quite independently of any rituals.

Bana-lingas are in this regard similar to salagramas. These aniconic objects of worship are not in the nature of artifacts, and hence do not suffer from the disadvantages and limitations of deliberate human involvement. They do not need to be made worship-worthy by rituals of transumatation; their worthiness for worship is self-evident, natural and enduring. They cannot be defiled on any account, and do not lose their merit under any circumstances. In fact, there is a consideration of acceptability or otherwise in the case of lingas made by human agency. Some are deemed worthy of worship, owing to the presence of certain favorable features, and other not. And, further, there is a problem of partaking of the water or food offered to a linga (naivedya) and of using the flowers once placed on the linga (nirmalya). There are doubts expressed in these matters, and the authentic texts are themselves divided in their views on these matters. But it is clear that in the case of bana-linga that all offerings made to them are acceptable by the devotees.

With regard to the lingas of all varieties except bana-linga, bigger the size the greater the acceptability as it is also the case with rudraksha beads, which are sacred to Siva. But with regard to the bana-lingas obtained in the river Narmada, as is the case with the salagramas obtained in the river Gandaki, smaller the size the more meritorious it is.

According to Siddhanta-sekhara, the bana-lingas available in the Narmada River are said to have been worshipped already by the gods, especially by the guardian – deities (loka-pala), and the stones are also said to contain the impress of such worship. There are bana-lingas carrying different marks characteristic of these gods: conch shell mark on top (samkhabha-mastaka) to denote that it was worshipped by Vishnu, lotus-mark (padma) to indicate that it was worshipped by Brahma, mark of a parasol (chhatra, Indra) mark of two heads (siro-yugma, Agni), three steps (Pada,Yama) mark of mace (gada, Isana), mark of a water-vase (kalasa, Varuna), mark of banner (dhvaja, Vayu) and so on. And having been worshipped by the gods, the bana-lingas answer to the ‘daiva’ variety of linga, in addition to being ‘svayam-bhu’. Hence their indubitable superiority.

Vira-mitrodaya, the celebrated gloss on Mitakshara (which is itself a commentary by Vijnansevara on Yajnavalkya’s Dharma-Sastra), quotes Kalottara on this subject of bana-lingas being distinguished by characteristic marks of the gods who worshipped them. The text enumerates nine varieties of bana-lingas, eight of them corresponding to the eight guardian-deities (loka-palas), and one called Vaishnava. The verses are quoted below…

The bana-lingas worshipped by Indra will, when worshipped, fulfill all the desires of the devotee; and bestow upon him sovereignty. The Agneya variety of bana-linga will be warm to touch, and carries the mark of the weapon sakti. The Yamya-linga will have the form of a cudgel or of the tounge. The Nairrti-linga will look like a sword, carries stain on its body and will bestow the benefits of jnana and yoga; however, it should not be worshipped by a householder, as it will bring about misery; it is demonical in character. The Varuna-linga will be round in shape, and may be distinguished by the marks of noose (pasa). Its worship will secure prosperity. The linga named after Vayu will be black in colour, or ashy grey; it will have the appearance of flag-post, or may carry on its head the mark of a banner. The Kaubera-linga will be in the form of a mace (gada) or arrow (tuna); there may be a hair-line like line in the center. The Raudra-linga will be lustrous like a block of ice, but bares the marks of a bone or spear. The linga which was worshipped by Vishnu is distinguished by the marks of conch-shell, discus, lotus, mace, the jewels on the chest (sri-vatsa and kaustubha) or the foot-prints of Vishnu.


There is another classification of bana-linga suggestion by Hemadri (Lakshana-kanda).
1. The Svayambhu-linga is honey-coloured (tawny), and carries the black mark of a coil; it is adorned by all Yogic adepts.
2. The Mrtunjaya-linga is multi-coloured, and has masks of matted hair and spear; it is worshipped by gods and titans alike.
3. The Nilakantha-linga is elongated in shape, and is pure white in colour, with a black dot in it.
4. The Trilochana-linga is white in complexion, and has three eye-like marks in it; there are also white lines resembling hairs in the body; the worship of this linga will eliminate all sins.
5. The Kalagni-rudra-linga is dark-complexioned, stout in shape, and brilliant in aspect; it carries the marks of matted hair dressed into a top-knot; it is adorned by all spirits.
6. The Tripuri-linga is honey coloured (tawny), with a white line resembling the sacred chord worn by the twice-born; there is a mark resembling crescent-moon on top, and at the bottom lotus-like mark, white in colour, can be seen; there are also lines reminding one of weapons.
7. The Isana-linga is white in colour, but there will be tawny coloured mark on top resembling matted hair; there will also be the mark of a garland of severed heads, and the mark of a trident.
8. The Ardha-nasisvara-linga is distinguished by half of it being white; and the other half red; there will also be marks of trident and hand-drum.
9. The Maha-kala-linga is bright and corpulent in shape, elongated, and slightly red-hued; it is bright and attractive, and its worship will secure all the values of life.

Besides the above varities, other texts (like Kalottara and Bhavishya) mention three other types of Bana-linga. The ‘Daiva’ type is very uneven on its surface, with scratches and holes, depressions and mounds; it is longish in shape and it contains the marks of spear, crescent moon and stone- masons hammer. The ‘Gola’ type resembles a small pumpkin or a crow’s egg in shape. The ‘Arsha’ type is like a rose- apple in shape, and carries the mark of a sacred chord. It is fatter at the base than the rest of the body. Some lingas of this type are stout in the middle and not so at the bottom or on the top; and these are the best among the lingas of this type.


According to Yajnavalkya-samhita, the bana-lingas obtained in the river Narmada are the very forms of Siva assumed by the God at the request of Banasura; they are therefore the holiest of objects. Worshipping one bana-linga gets the benefits that can be procured by worshipping a crore of other lingas. The bana-lingas in the Narmada River may be the shape of a ripe jambu-fruit, or of a swan’s egg. They may be honey-coloured, white, blue or emerald-hued (passage quoted earlier).

Suta-samhita, which also extols the bana-lingas, mentions that the best bana-lingas are like the lotus seeds or like the hen’s egg in shape.

We also read in other texts that the best of bana-lingas must be four angulas in height, when fixed on a pedestal; half of that height would be inferior. A bana-linga the height of which is less even than this must never be worshipped.

While Suprabheda (33) roundly declares that all bana-lingas are equally worship-worthy, and that the distinguishing marks and features are not to be considered (‘bana-lingasta-naivoktam lakshanam’), there are texts which commend some bana-lingas as worthy of worship (‘subha-bana-lingas). According to Kedara-khanda, the rough surfaced bana-linga must not be worshipped; for its worship may lead to death of son and spouse. The linga that is flattened or blunted will augur ill for the house; if the linga when placed on earth inclines to a side will cause the death of cattle, children and consorts, as well as destroy wealth. If the linga is split on top, its worship will cause disease and death.

Hemadri (Lakshana-kanda) says that the bana-linga with sharp edges, and crooked tops, must not be worshipped also as exceedingly corpulent or thin ones. They may be beneficial to those whose only goal in life is emancipation from phenomenal involvement, but they will spell ruin for the normal householders, interested in worldly prosperity and spiritual welfare.

The householder would profit by worshipping a bana-linga, which is like a bee in colour, shape and size. It may be worshipped, fixed to a pedestal or not. It will secure worldly prosperity as well as ultimate liberation from all phenomenal ills. But those ascetics whose only concern is emancipation may worship bana-lingas, which are tawny in colour or dark, and of any size. The householder must never worship the bana-linga, which are extremely small or unusually fat.

Even as there are methods of examining the salagrama-stones for their acceptability (pariksha), there are methods to find out if a bana-linga is suitable for worship. One of the methods is to weigh the bana-linga against grains of rice, three, five or seven times. If the weight of the rice is not the same in all cases, then the bana-linga is acceptable as genuine. If the weight increases, and not decreases, when it is weighed seven times on a balance, then the supposed bana-linga is genuine; otherwise it is a mere stone.
Another method is to drop the bana-linga under examination into a flowing stream; if it can be picked up again, it is a genuine bana-linga, and its worship will secure happiness.


While there are no distinct prescriptions or procedures for the worship of salagramas, there appears to be a separate procedure for worshipping bana-lingas, different from the standard worship ritual offered to Siva. However, this procedure is heavily tantrik in orientation, and suggests Kaula influence. Yoga-sara, which is in the nature of a dialogue between Siva and Parvati, contains not only a dhyana for Siva in the form of a bana-linga but also a long stava (hymnology) eulogizing the bana-linga. Here bana is the name of Siva himself, and he is associated with his feminine counterpart, Sakti. He is said to be inebriated (prammata) and equipped with the ‘dart of eros’ (kama-bana), which deludes the phenomena; and he is full of the erotic sentiment (srngara-rasa). The worship of bana-lingas is calculated to burn up our transmigrational involvement.

Then the procedure involves the mental worship of the bana-linga, visualizing all articles of worship like sandal paste and flowers (‘manasa gandha-pushpadyaih sampujya manum smaret’). This is followed by rounds of breath-retention, which will cause delight to the bana-linga (‘pranayamam tatah krtva bana-lingam tu toshayet’). Then the devotee visualizes the identity of the bana-linga with his own chosen deity, and recites the ‘vagbhava-mantra’ in a state of contemplation (‘tad-ishtadevayor aikyam vibhavya vagbhavam japet’).

After the completion of this ritual of silent and concentrated repetition of the mantra (japa) for the fixed duration, the devotee offers following prayer to bana-linga (‘tato japam samapyatha stavenanena toshayet’).

This marks the completion of the ritual. The prayer-hymn (stava) contains nineteen verses, the first six of which appear to have been the original portion and the nucleus; the rest of the section opens afresh with the seed-syllable ‘aim’ which is the Vedic pranava (with which the first section begins). The first four verses in this latter section is the hymn-proper recounting the names of Siva, the remaining verses being in the nature of ‘phala-stuti’ (eulogization of the benefits to be obtained by reciting this hymn).

This is a shivling found at the VATICAN and Displayed in Vatican Museum .
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