(typed up by Kirtida Sundari - thanx)
What are Salagramas?
Among the natural objects held in extraordinary veneration in India, the salagrama-stones (black stones in which fossil ammonites are embedded) are the most celebrated universally. The worship of these stones is widespread and dates back to a distant past. They are worshipped in temples, monasteries and households all over the country, as visible and natural emblems of Vishnu. The sipping of water in which these stones are bathed is a daily ritual for the pious Hindu belonging to the old and traditional families. The presence of these stones is indispensable while performing daily and occasional ceremonies and festivals of a religious nature. They are also worshipped in quasi-religious functions like house-warming (grha-pravesa, vastu-puja), pacificatory rites of different sorts (santi), marriages and funerary rituals. A salagrama is worshipped by householders as well as by ascetics.
The famous image of Vishnu in the Himalayan Badri-nath is said to be carved out of a salagrama, as also the image of Krishna in Udupi (in Karnataka). During the image-changing ceremony (nava-kalevara) in Puri-Jagannatha, the salagrama-stone is the essence (padaratha) that is concealed within the main wooden icon of Jagannatha. A salagrama-stone officiates as the snapana-murti (icon for bathing) in the shrine of Natha-dvara.
Like the worship of Siva in the form of a linga, the worship of Vishnu
in the shape of a Salagrama is aniconic in character. However, the linga
may be a natural object like the white quartz (known as bana-linga) found
in the river Narmada, or carved in stone by man. Natural stone forms of
Linga are called ‘svayambhu’ lingas, while those made by man are ‘manusha’.
There is also the practice of making temporary lingas out clay (mrt), cow-dung
(go-maya), flowers (pushpa) or grain-flowers (pishta), which are dispensed
with when rituals of worship is completed. The stone-lingas are usually
found only in temples, and white quartz or crystal emblem represents Siva
in household worship.
But Salagramas are always only those which are naturally found in the river Gandaki; they are never made by man. And Vishnu has iconic images (like the incarnations, emantory and sportive forms; Rama, Krishna, Narasimha, Varaha, Kesava, Vasudeva, Hayagriva, Venkatesa, Ranganatha and so on), made by human sculptors.
There is an inscription of about the second century B.C. which mentions a shrine for the twin gods Vasudeva and Samkarshana in the form of salagrama-stones (Ghosundi – Nagari near Mewar in Rajasthan, Epigraphia Indica, Vol. 22, p. 204); the Gajayana King Sarva-tata of Parasara-gotra caused the enclosing wall around the stone-shrine (puja-sila-prakara), which was called ‘Narayana-vatika’.
Another inscription dated 404 A.D (Mandasor rock inscription of Maharaja Nara-varman, probably a feudatory of the Gupta monarchs) begins with an invocation which strongly suggests the adoration of Vishnu in the Salagrama-stones (‘vasudevam jagad-vasam apremeyam agam vibhum’):
Although the one line brahmi inscription of the first century B.C. (Burhikhar, Bilaspur in Madhya-pradesh) on a sculptured representation of a deity (chaturbhuki bhagawan) suggests that Vishnu was worshipped also in his iconic form, it was more usual for Vishnu to be worshipped in his aniconic salagrama form. Even this sculptured representation may indeed be that of Vishnu’s attendant deity (judging by the anjali-mudra in its normal hands, although the two extra hands carry discus and mace).
The well known Mora inscription of about the same period (near Mathura, Epigraphica Indica, Vol. 24, 194 ff.) mentions ‘five worshipful heroes’ of the Vrshni dynasty in their five luminous stone-forms (viz. Salagramas, ‘bhagavatam, vrshninam pancha-viranam pratimah…. Archadesam sailam pancha-jvalata iva’). The five ‘heroes’ are obviously the five vyuha-forms of Vishnu: Vasudeva, Samkarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha and Samba (son of Pradyumna). They had their iconic forms (pratima) as well as the aniconic stones (sailam).
It is interesting to that the great Samkara (632-664 A.D.) mentions in his Vedanata-sutra-bhashya the worship of no other god other than that of Vishnu, and that too in his Salagrama aspect (1,2,7 ‘yatha salagrama harih’; 1,2,14 ‘salagrama iva vishnoh’; 1,3,14 ‘yatha salagrame vishnuh sannihitah, tadvat’), and not in iconic forms. There is a wide-spread belief that the aniconic salagrama must necessarily accompany the iconic representations; and the worship offered to the salagrama takes precedence in the worship offered at home or in temples. It is a fact that in the Vishnu shrines, salagramas are invariably placed in close contact with the ‘mula-murti’, which worship is offered. Even in the celebrated temple of Vengadam (Tirupati-Tirumalai), the group of salagramas always kept at the feet of the main deity in the sanctum partakes of the principal worship daily; administrating a ceremonial bath to the salagramas is an important detail.
The concept of ‘vibhuti’ of godhead is an important one in the philosophy of worship. The expression ‘vibhuti’, which is as old as ‘’Rgveda (1, 8, 9 ‘evahita ibhutayah indram avate’ and 6, 21, 1 ‘raviv vibhutir iyate vachasa’) is used in the sense of might or power, as well as in the manifestations of Godhead in the tenth chapter of Bhagavad-gita. Sayana explains the vibhuti means special powers ‘aisvarya-visehah’, Rgveda 1, 8, 9) which are the cause of all the variety, expanse and glory of the world (Rgveda, 6, 21, 1 ‘vibhutir jagato vibhava-hetuh’). The word has in it the implied sense of spread, abundance or profundity. There is also an element of mystery in it.
This mysterious divine power manifests itself in many forms. The fullest and most direct manifestation of Vishnu is said to be in his inseparable consort, Lakshmi. This is like the presence of Siva in Shakti. The manifestation here is ‘nita-vibhuti’ (direct). The abiding presence and power of God in the soul of every one (jivantargata-bimba) is innate and continuos manifestation (naija-vibhuti). The manifestation of Divine power in icons which are properly installed and worshipped (pratima), in the milch-cow (go), in the tulasi plant (three months after germination) or in the asvattha-tree (after it is ceremonially wedded) is described as ‘ahita-vibhuti’ (projected, place of effected). And the manifestation of divine might in the salagrama-stone and in the consecrated fire (samskrtagni) is ‘sahaja-vibhuti’ (natural, original, congenital).
The theistic vibhuti-ideology is accepted also in the Vedanta framework. Samkara for instance speaks of vibhutis as manifestations of the one Brahman in diverse ways so as to facilitate the devotees to approach and understand the ultimately real. There is multiplicity of divine appearances, despite absolute unity in Brahman (Vedanta-sutra-bhashya, 3, 2, 23 ‘ekam api brahma vibhuti-bhedair anekadha upasyata’, cf. Also 2,4,10; 3,3,23; 1,4,4 and 3, 3, 43).
Vibhuti also signifies pervasion, penetration and comprehension of the supreme reality. We read in Kaurma:
Whatever is the vibhuti of the one godhead is to be regarded as identical with the godhead, and not as a part thereof or as a mere representation of some principal referring to the godhead. It is no doubt a manifestation (avir-bhuti), but it is manifestation in eternity.
Salagramas as vibhutis become worthy of worship. In fact, as objects of worship they are preferred to the man-made iconic representations. The latter suffer from certain disadvantages, like being carved into a shape by sculptors who may not be clean in body or pure in mind., being subjected to violence while carving, and being pushed around and placed on unclean ground. An icon fit for worship must invariably be cleansed of these disadvantages (sodhana) and properly consecrated (pratishtha). Otherwise, the power of Godhead will not be drawn into it. Salagramas, on the other hand, do not require preliminary rituals of purification and consecration. They naturally contain the vibhuti of the Godhead, and may be worshipped straight away.
In the worship of Salagrama, no initiation is required; there is no special hymnology or specific procedure of worship, nor any need for a qualified priest or master of ceremonies. Worshipped anyhow, it will bestowal the benefits; and there is no error of any kind.
If, however, it is formally worshipped with all the details scrupulously observed, the benefits procured are boundless.
The worship rituals of an icon in the household necessarily begin with ‘the formal infusion of vital force’ into the icon (technically known as ‘prana-pratishtha’), and making the power incline (‘sammukhi-karana’). Unless these preliminary rituals are gone through, rest of the worship is in vain. The presence of ‘vibhuti’ in the icon is a necessary prerequisite for worship; and this has to be priorly and formally accomplished.
However, these rites are unnecessary in the case of Salagramas, for the ‘vibhuti’ is always present in them. Invoking of life into them is thus a meaningless procedure. An icon in a temple, duly consecrated, is also like a Salagrama: it does not, need formal infusion of life into it or invoking its attention by a formal ritual. These aspects of the worship ritual are taken care of by the procedure of consecration itself.
The pentad form of domestic worship, known as panchayatana-puja, is the popular usage in country since about the eight century A.D., it involves worship of five major deities (Vishnu, Siva, Devi, Surya and Ganesha) on a common platform. The deities are more usually represented by characteristic emblems: salagrama for Vishnu, bana-linga (white quartz picked from the Narmada river) for Siva, metallic ore (dhatupatra or yantra) for Devi, crystal (sphatika) for Surya and red-stone (sona-sila) for Ganesha. The five deities of the group are arranged according to the sectarian preference. The Vaishnavas place salagrama in the centre and the other four deity-emblems in the four corners; the Saivas place the bana-linga in the centre, and the other objects in the corners; and so on. Given below is the tabular account of the five arrangements according to sects, as is usually done.
The five sacred objects are placed on a metallic plate, on which the tulasi leaves and the bilva-leaves are also offered, and the worship is conducted to all the five deities. It is usual to offer the sixteen sequences of worship (shodasopachara), reciting a verse from ‘Purusha - sukta’ for each sequence. The Shaktas, however, prefer to worship five water – vessels (kalasas) in which the deities are invoked, instead of the aniconic emblems mentioned above.
Some texts like Jnana-mala provide different accounts regarding the placement of deities:
The five deities in ‘panchopasana’ are also regarded as symbolizing
basic ingredient elements of the universe: Vishnu-akasa, Siva-earth, Devi-fire,
Surya-air and Ganapati-water. These elements are also constituents of human
body, and the personality of an individual is predominantly one of these
five elements, although all the elements are necessarily involved. The
worship of one of the five deities, according it the central position is
indicated for the devotee in whom the corresponding element is prominent.
So we read in Mantra-yoga-samhita:
Any of these five deities may be worshipped in the iconic emblem (pratima), aniconic emblem (mentioned above), or in an appropriate mystic diagram (mandala); the deity may also be invoked in a pot of water (kalasa) or on a vacant but consecrated seat (sthandila). There are also salagramas for the five deities. There is this verse with reference to Vishnu.
Salagrama stones are obtained only from the river Gandaki, which is a Himalayan stream, celebrated since antiquity as Narayani, Salagrami, Hiranvati and Hiranyavati. The epic Mahabharata speaks of its sanctity (Bhishma-parva): it contains in itself the waters of all the holy-rivers (Vana-parvan, 84, 113), and it is the abode of Agni, the fire-god (ibid.). Krishna, Arjuna and Bhima are said to have crossed this river on their way from India-prastha to Girivraja (Sabha-parva, 20, 27). The puranas also describe it as a sacred stream in which all the gods and titans abide (‘punyodaka surasura-nishevita’). By merely looking at it, one would eliminate all his mental defilement’s, by touching it his bodily sins are burnt up, and by sipping its water the verbal demerits are thrown out:
One who comes into contact with this sacred stream will be liberated
from the cycle of birth and deaths, even if he be a sinner.
For the very stones found in this river, marked with discus, are verily the glorious gods themselves:
The Salagramas are specifically described as fossil-stones which have taken shape in the Gandaki-river, and as characterized by the presence of discus marks (‘gandakyudbhava-vajra-kita-krta-chakra-samayukta-sila). The legend, related at length in the next chapter, tells us that Gandaki, the lady-devotee, performed penances for long years, and that she got a boon from Vishnu, which made Vishnu reside in her womb (in her depths) as her own offspring; the Salagrama-stones are thus the forms of Vishnu. The presence of divinity in the Salagrama is for the welfare of the devotees.
And for the reason, the river Gandaki became among all the rivers extraordinarily sacred (‘mat-sannidhyan nadiman tvan ati srestha bhavishyasi’). Being a mystic river, looking at it, touching it, bathing in it and sipping its waters will be conductive to eliminate all sins, even the greatest of sins pertaining to the body, speech and mind.
In the ancient texts, the river Gandaki is located in the south of the Himalayas, ten yojanas distant; and an area in the river is regarded as the holy Chakra-tirtha.
It is in this part of the river that Salagramas are found. In Varaha-purana (Reva-khanda), a mountain called Salagramagiri) is said to be responsible for the salagrama stones (‘salagramotpadaka – parvata). If this mountain represents Vishnu, there is said to be another mountain close to it (called Somesvara-giri), which provides sacred stones (called siva-nabha-sila) representing Siva.
The puranas also claim that in the Avanti country, there is a mountain called Hari-parvata, at the foot of which is a big pond known as chakra-tirtha; and that the Salagrama-stones are produced here.
Salagrama is actually the name of the village on the banks of the river Gandaki, where the holy stones are picked up. The name is derived from the hut (sala) of the sage Salankayana, who beheld the form of Vishnu in a tree outside his hut (cf. Varaha-purana). This hut was on the banks of the Gandaki, and it was in that particular spot that these sacred stones were found in abundance. The stones were therefore called Salagrama.
Shala (or Sala) also means the hardwood tree known to botanists as Shorea robusta or Valica robusta (Sarja), grown in Nepal (known there as Sukhava). It is said that the cluster of these trees in the otherwise barren stretch of the Himalayan foothills called Mukti-sthana, was responsible for the village close to this cluster, being known as Sala-grama. On the banks of the river Kali-Gandaki, the sacred stones were also found in abundance.
The river Gandaki is a very ancient river; and the geologists say that it existed even before the formation of the Himalayan ranges. It rises beyond the Himalayan ranges, probably in Tibet, and flows (in the north-south direction) into Nepal, which is the southern valley of the Himalayas, and India. The situation of the birth of the river is given as North 27 27 and East 83 56’; it courses in the south-western direction, and joins Ganga in a place called Bhavatyapur in Bihar. It is an important tributary of the river Ganga. It is called Salagrami or Narayani in Uttar-pradesh. It was known to the Greek geographers as Kondochetts.
It has abundant water throughout the year, as the rain in the rainy
season and melted snow in summer keep it full of water. It courses for
about one hundred and ninety miles, making itself useful throughout, especially
in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India. It rises on a high peak, and flows
down in swift torrents. The area inundated by the rivers in this part of
the country has four important rivers: Kosi in the East, Gandaki in the
middle, Karanali to the west, and Mahakali in the far-west. Trisula-ganga
is its tributary in India; the river Gandaki joins Ganga near Patna (near
Sonapur) in Bihar, having coursed through Champaran to Mujafharpur district.
There is a lake at the source of the Kali-Gandaki (Krishna-g), called Damodar-kunda, connected in legend with the sage Salankayana, on the Nepal – India border. The lower Gandaki is well known as Mukti-natha-kshetra, also called Salagrama-kshetra. The sacred stones are largely found on the banks of Kali-gandaki near Tukche, between the two mountains Dhavala-giri and Annapurana. Damodara-Kunda is a Saivite place of pilgrimage (Somesvara-kshetra): it was a custom for the rulers (Ranas) of Nepal to visit the shrine during Siva-ratri to receive the salagrama-stones specially selected and picked up from the Gandaki-river.
The spots where salagrama-stones are found within the Nepal territory. Actually there are four spots in the river within Nepal jurisdiction, where the sacred stones are picked up. Until recent times, the spots were leased out to private enterprises, and the palace of the Maharaja reserved the right to appropriate what it considered as the most precious and valuable stones; other stones were given over to the lease-holders. While the texts prohibit the sale of these stones, they were indeed sold for extraordinarily high amounts, some of the stones costing more than five lakhs of Nepali Rupees.
Because of great demand for these sacred stones, and high prices they fetch, there has been a steady practice of making fake salagramas. Many monadic mendicants (bairagis - vairaghis) pick up round black pebbles, which are found in many rivers, but which do not contain the chakra-emblems, and make them in imitation holes (vadana), and tracing artificial chakra-marks in slate stone, they paste them up on these pebbles. This deceit is so skillfully perpetrated that it would be impossible to recognize the fake-salagrama straight away. Over years, however, the daily washing of these pebbles will wear away the tracery, when the deceit is detected.
Thus, the elaborate examination of the salagrama-stone becomes necessary to ascertain its genuineness. Usually, the stone which is passed off as a salagrama is gently struck on all sides by a small hammer, or knocked with one’s fingers firmly. If it is a fake stone, the boring of the hole and the tracing of the chakra marks would have left soft powders within, which will fall out when the stone is struck or knocked.
There are other tests also, like placing the salagrama-stone with its equal weight of rice in a plate or in milk in a bowl and leaving it for a night; if it is a genuine salagrama, there will be a slight increase in the weight of rice or quantity of milk. But this test is more than often employed as to ascertain if the genuine salagrama is a lucky one: if there is no increase it is an unlucky one, and if there is a decrease in the quantity of rice, it would be disastrous to have it.
There are numerous popular beliefs concerning salagrama. Salagrama alongside Tulasi leaves and conch (samkha), placed in one plate is regarded as most meritorious.
Any religious observance, gift, consecration, obsequies, and worship
should preferably be done in association with a salagrama:
(Brahma-vaivarta-purana, Prakti-khanda, 19).
Regarding the obsequies or the last rites (sraddha), it is usual to
conduct such ceremonies in front of a salagrama. For that would ensure
the departed spirit reaching Vishnu’s abode directly: and subsequent death
ceremonies would become unnecessary:
(Padma-purana, uttara-khanda, 127).
When the dying person is made to sip a little of the water in which
the salagrama-stone is bathed, he will be freed from all sins, and will
reach the heavenly abode of Vishnu. And death itself when it occurs in
the presence of a salagrama-stone will pave the way for Vishnu’s realm,
for Vishnu is present in that stone.
The rites of expiation of sins (prayaschitta) becomes effective more by drinking the water in which these stones are washed than by gifts or fasting or by observances of various kinds.
In times of solar or lunar eclipse, whatever ritual is undertaken becomes all the more effective when done in front of a salagrama-stone so says Hemadri.
It was practice in the olden days to ask the witness to hold a salagrama
in hand while testifying in a court of law; if he uttered utter falsehood,
he was believed to suffer immensely and long as a punishment:
(Brahma – vaivarta – purana, op. Cit.)
And while making a solemn promise or undertaking, holding hand of a salagrama, it was considered binding; if the person went back on a promise, he was sure to be subjected to terrible punishments in hell.
Merely looking at a salagrama stone would wash away the sins of the beholder, even as the mere sight of a lion would make the antelopes run for their lives in the forest.
Whoever glances at a salagrama would be purified of his past demerits; what then would be the benefit of one who is mindful of it, who praises it, meditates on it, worships it, and prostrates before it?
Whether one has real devotion or not, if he worships a salagrama-stone with prostration before it, he will surely get emancipated from the cycle of phenomenal existence.
The person who offers a daily service for the salagrama stone will be freed from the fear of death, and he will cross over the stream of births and deaths.
A regular worship of the salagrama-stone, bathing it in curds, ghee, milk or water will cause untold merit.
In the salagrama-stone abide the three realms, and all the immovable and movable aspects of creation; and hence Vishnu resides in it.
The gifting of a salagrama-stone is also described as most meritorious.
One who with delight in his mind worships a salagrama-stone placing it in front of him, will instantly obtain the merit of performing a million sacrifices.
When excellent men worship a salagrama-stone, the area of a yojana (three miles) all around that spot, would become as holy as all the sacred places of pilgrimage together in one spot.
Even the worst criminal who has committed countless sins will instantaneously
get purified by sipping water in which salagrama stone has been washed.
Tulasi leaves, sandal paste, discus, Gomati-sila (stone from Dvaraka), conch, bell, salagrama (stone from the Gandaki), lamp (sikha, flame of light) a vessel of copper, uttering the name of Vishnu and sipping the water in which the salagrama has been bathed – these nine will burn down the mass of sins, so say the learned sages:
The Devotee who worships the salagrama-stone must be of good conduct, free from arrogance and infatuation, and averse to temptations of sex and wealth; he must worship with influence and deliberation.
For worshipping sacred salagrama-stones, there is no need for a guru (the preceptor or master who initiates), a mantra (the hymnal formula given formally by the preceptor) japa (ceremonial repetition of the mantra), bhavana (visualization of a deity), stuti (eulogy) or an upachara (Service).
An even number of salagrama stones must be worshipped, but they must not be only two; an odd number of them is never worshipped, but one only is regarded best.
If a person worships daily twelve salagrama-stones with devotion, his
merits will increase, and sins will be destroyed:
The salagrama stones must never be bought or sold; they must be presented by a teacher or well-wisher, or gifted by an ascetic freely. A commercial transaction in this regard is sinful for all those who are involved in it:
(Padma-purana, Patala-khanda, 11)
It must always be presented freely by a teacher or well-wisher with the words “peace, may it be good to you”; it should be received with reverence in the cupped hands and placed on ones own head, as a mark of acceptance.
Even as the fire lies latent in wood, and bursts out when ignited, Vishnu pervades the salagrama-stones and appears when the stone is worshipped.
A salagrama-stone continues to be worthy of worship even when it is broken. Split or cracked, it does not lose its auspicious nature. Only the mark of the discus must be present in the stone.
A salagrama-stone damaged in any way will not become unfit for worship; it is not always sacred and worthy; nothing can be a deterrent for its worship.
A salagrama-stone will not bring luck if it is got by fraud or by force; worshipping an illicitly obtained salagrama will be in vain.
The salagrama-stones are associated in worship with similar stones (but white in colour) obtained in Dvaraka (dvaravati-sila), a holy place for the Vaishnavas because of its association with the career of Sri-Krishna. These latter stones also contain numerous discus-emblems (chakra) but also have numerous other marks (‘suklas cha bahu-chinhitah’). Dvaraka was a township, created by Krishna and Balarama for the Yadavas, to escape the constant attacks of Jarasandha. The township was on the banks of the river Dvaravati, and later the river as well as the township, were submerged by the sea. Worship of the stones from this site along with the salagrama-stones obtained from the Gandaki river is said to be especially meritorious.
Because the stones from Dvaraka are white in colour, they are regarded as representatives of Siva (‘sivakarah chit-svarupam niranjanam’); and the black stones from Gandaki represent Vishnu. The worship of Vishnu and Siva together is indicated here, as it will destroy all sins accumulated over innumerable births.
It is believed that the salagrama-stones will lose their sanctity in India and become devoid of the presence of Vishnu at the end of ten thousands of years of the Kali age (the present year 1996 corresponds to 5097 years of the Kali era). This is the belief voiced in Brahma-vaivarta purana (Prakrti-khanda, 6).
But as long as Vishnu abides in these stones, all the gods dwell there, all the benevolent spirits and indeed the fourteen worlds reside in these stones.
Hence, we have it as an assurance from Vishnu himself that whoever worships
the salagrama-stone even once will surely be liberated: and also will obtain
all prosperity here, while alive.
(Padma-purana, Uttara-khanda, 127)
Gifts given and rituals observed in the vicinity of a salagrama-stone
will be infinitely meritorious, for where that stone is, is indeed a sacred
place for miles around.
And whatever comes into contact with the sacred stone will at once be purified.
Worshipping the salagrama stone with articles like milk, ghee and curds, bathing the stone with them, will entitle the devotee to dwell in the heavenly realms for countless years.
In Skanda-purana (Kartika-masa-mahatmya), Siva tells Skanda that all the three worlds in their entirety and he himself abide in a salagrama-stone and a mere glance at it is meritorious, and much more so worshipping it.
Texts also say that it is rarely that one procures a salagrama; the possession of the sacred stone speaks of the merits of the person; he should consider himself as extremely fortunate, and worship it diligently.
The water in which the salagrama-stone is bathed in is sipped reverently by the orthodox folk when they take their baths, before they begin eating their food, and after the food is eaten.
The salagrama stone is known to the paleontologists as an ammonite fossil. The ammonites are sea-creatures (animals of the sea-shore) so called because of the horn-like features (Latin, cornus Ammonis, after the Egyptian god Ammon) presented by them in their fossil impressions (whorled and chambered shells). They belong to the fossil genus of cephalopods (‘head-foots’), which were once imagined as coiled snakes; when petrified, they were known as ‘snake stones’. Cephalopods belong to a highly organized class of Mollusk, which is known by the possession of a distinct head with arms or tentacles attached to it. They are soft bodied and devoid of bones of any sort. They have instead hard shells. They make up as much as one third of the main group of mollusks. They dominated the era of middle life (Geniotites), called, Critacius ages, but became extinct as this era ended. That was more than a million years ago. All that we have now are their fossil remains in flat spiral form. The salagrama-stone among these fossils.
Animals called Mollusca are known to creep with their muscular feet and to have often protective shells. The familiar conch (samkha) is a protective shall of the mollusca. According to Cuvier, they constitute a phylum of soft-bodied and unsegmented animals, usually having a hard shell, and occurring in five classes; amphineura (chitons), gastrpoda (limpets, snails, slugs without shells etc.), scaphopoda (tooth-shells), cephalopoda (cuttle-fish with tentacles on its head, equids, octopus etc.) and lamellibranchia (oysters, mussels etc.). The animals of this phylum occur in a large number of sizes, from the size of a pins head to the size of more than a foot across.
The molluscs follow different plans in making their own shells; there is thus almost an infinite variety of fossil specimens that are available now.
The puranas have recognized the salagrama-stones as fossils of sea-creatures, but describe the ammonites as ‘varja-kitas’ (adamanita worms), living in water. These worms are responsible for the creation of ‘chakras’ in stone and other marks, which are incidental to their efforts to make their own shells.
They speak of marine monsters, marine creatures (graha matanga) and aquatic worms which are inside hard-shells (pashanantargata-kitas); they also describe the cadavers, broken, shriveled and shrunk, resulting in fossilized forms (sirna); and the hardened forms of the fat and bone-marrow of these creatures (medomajja-sambhavah).
These fossil cephalopods (ammonites) are usually small, smooth and shiny pebbles of diverse forms and shapes (although in a large number of cases round or oval). They have natural holes or openings (called vadana, sushira, vaktra, dvara etc.); marks of flat spiral lines (discus or chakra) may be found inside these holes or on the outside. The stones are also sometimes flecked, and inlaid with gold (pyrites), identified as ‘hiranya’. Although the stones are usually black in colour, they occur in several shades and hues.
The puranas speak of 84 lakh (8,400,000) species of this ammonite phylum: some are hidden inside the earth (bhu-garbha), volcanic matter lodged inside (hence called agni-sali), and some in the excessively cold places like the North and South Poles (hima-sali). Those which belong to the jala-sali variety are either in the depths of seas or in mountain torrents. Gandaki river in India is where the jala-sali ammonites are found in abundance.
The other varieties of sacred stones always associated with the salagramas is white in colour, and fossil forms of cartiligenous water-creatures (somewhat like cuttle-fish, with radiating arms) found in the Gomati-river as it joins the sea (at Dvaraka). The salagrama-stones answer to the variety of self-pierced (svayam-trnna) stones mentioned in the Brahmana texts in connection with the ‘agni-chayana’ ritual.
Not withstanding the details mentioned above, the salagrama stones are regarded as divine manifestations, as the vibhutis of Vishnu. The ammonite origin of these stones does not make them less sacred. Even the icons in temples are actually stone carvings, but they are not regarded as stones by the devotees. Divine presence is invoked and secured in them by the excellence of the sculptors efforts (‘bimbasya saushthavat’), by the extra-ordinary nature of the worship that is conducted (‘archanayastisayivat’) and by the discipline and devotion of the person who worships (‘archakasya-tapo-yoga’). In the case of the salagrama-stone, however, the sculptors effort is not involved; it is self-pierced (svayam-trnna) and self-manifest (svayam-bhu) in character. And it’s hoary antiquity is a factor in its favour of its superior sanctity. The salagrama is not a mere stone; it is a sacred stone, and that makes all the difference.
According to Vishnu-purana, the salagrama-stones represent the everlasting presence and power of Vishnu, the ‘nitya-vibhuti’ mentioned earlier.
Incidentally, this text mentions nine other vibhutis : nita (projected in an icon from out of the devotee’s own heart), sadharana (universal, present in all things and beings), visesha (specific presence in persons with a mission in life, e.q. Arjuna, Lakshmana, Hanuman etc.), sajatiya (the ten incarnations of Vishnu, matsya and so on), naija (god’s own innate characteristics, jnana, ananda etc.), ahita (the divine forms in sages and wise men ‘jnanyahitani janihi sarvatra’), sahaja (the power manifesting in the effect owing to the cause), vijatiya (the divine power hidden in different deities like Agni, Vayu, Indra and Brahma), and khanda (the power differentiated in every small detail or organ). The vibhuti present in salagrama-stone is of the akhanda-variety (undifferentiated whole). Prameya-ratnakara enumerates as many as 5,535 forms of Vishnu in salagramas, while the iconic forms are only 513.
Thus ends Chapter One:
Chapter One - What are Salagrams 1- 26
Chapter Three - Vishnu and His Forms
Chapter Four - Details of Shaalagraama page 107 - 136.
Chapter Five - Identification of Shaalagraama pages 137 - 174.