Baidyanath Dham needs no introduction for Ranchi residents. Lord Shiva’s temple at Deoghar is celebrated across the state. But do you know how Baidyanath Dham is connected with four other ancient Shiva temples separated by thousands of miles?
Interestingly, all of these temples share a similar ‘origin’ story.
Let us begin with the Shiva shrine at Baijnath, Himachal Pradesh. Located in the Mandi district, its neighbouring towns are Palampur and Kangra; the latter is known for its late medieval miniature school of painting. According to the temple’s legend, in Treta Yuga, Ravana or Dashanana (the one with 10 heads), of the epic Ramayana, travelled to Mount Kailasha, Lord Shiva’s abode in the Himalayas, in order to obtain great powers.
When the Lord did not appear despite his fervent prayers, Ravana, as a form of complete surrender and sacrifice, started chopping off his heads one by one, and putting them in the sacrificial fire.
Moved and pleased by Ravana’s extreme devotion, Lord Shiva not only restored his heads – as a ‘super-speciality’ doctor or Vaidya will do – but also bestowed him with great powers. Ravana, thereafter, requested Lord Shiva to accompany him to Lanka.
As per this legend, Shiva consented to Ravana’s request and after converting himself into a Shivalingam, asked Ravana to carry the Lingam to Lanka.
He, however, placed one condition: Ravana, under no circumstance, should place the Shivalingam on the ground anywhere on his way to Lanka. For good measure, the Lord added, “Should you ever place me on the ground in this Lingam form anywhere en route to Lanka, I will forever rest then and there!”
Ravana agreed to this condition and by chanting powerful mantras, was soon airborne. After a while, he reached Baijnath, the site of our first legend. The demon king, all of a sudden, started feeling terribly thirsty.
Unknown to him, the Gods – alarmed by Lord Shiva’s decision to move from Kailasha and remain in the company of his great devotee Ravana – decided to queer the pitch!
Perhaps, they realised that the future battle between Lord Rama and Ravana might become problematic, if Lord Shiva joined Ravana at this stage. So, Lord Vishnu used his Maya to create a terrible thirst that overwhelmed Ravana.
Flying overhead, Ravana spotted a young shepherd, who was really Lord Ganesha in disguise, and immediately came down on ground, asking for some water. Now, Lord Ganesha, in anticipation, had already requested the Lord of the Seas, Varuna, to fill the pot of water that he offered to Ravana.
Since Lord Varuna had infused his powers into that pot, Ravana unknowingly drank a vast amount of water, and soon after quenching his thirst, felt a tremendous urge to urinate. According to orthodox Hindu custom, the body becomes impure (or ashuddha) after urinating and/or defecating, and there are structured rituals about how to make one’s body pure (shuddha) again.
Given this custom, it was quite impossible for Ravana to hold onto the Shivalingam, while relieving himself! So, he requested the young shepherd to hold the Lingam for a few minutes, and went away to answer nature's call.
But the opportunistic Lord Ganesha put the Lingam on the ground and thus, Lord Baijnath manifested himself. When Ravan returned, he realised that he has been tricked by the Gods and quietly went back to Lanka. Today, the Shivalingam as Baijnath is worshipped in the form of Ardha-Narishwara, where Lord Shiva is fused vertically with His consort, the Goddess Shakti. The word ‘Baij’ is perhaps derived from the Sanskrit word, Vaidya (doctor); the reason has been previously explained.
Ravana may have failed in his quest, but the people of Baijnath still hold him in great veneration. So much so, on the occasion of Vijayadashami or Dussehra when Ravana’s effigy is burnt with much celebration across the country, this town remains remarkably quiet.
The writer is a communications professional. He explores various facets of ancient India and writes about the subcontinent’s shared heritage. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.