Sacred Shaligrama Falling to Climate Change
By Our Special Correspondent
It is believed that God is formless. But his manifestation in stone known as Shaligram is of different forms. For a common devotee Shaligrams are natural and rare stones black in colour and round in shape. But believe it or not that there are 55 types of Shaligrams all in stone, most of them in black but very few in golden, blue or ever white colour! Each Shaligram is different from the other and individually everyone has different identity and quality.
Basically, there are ten different shapes of Shaligrams depicting ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu starting from Matsya (fish) Avatar to Kalki which comes in cycles. But apart from these ten avatars, there are 55 other types of Shaligrams some of whom also represent Vishnu and his weapon (Chakra) and devoted carrier Garuda. All the three major deities of Hinduism Durga, Kali and Laxmi are in Shaligrams too. There is one Shiv Lingam Shaligram and two others represent sun and moon all with different shapes.
We all worship Shaligrams as gods in natural stone forms. But each Shaligram has different inherent powers and qualities. Worshiping some might give you wealth and some provide valour. Shaligrams can bring respect, some spirituality and some mental peace. There are Shaligrams to protect one from the evils and even few can cure prolonged diseases. The list of the benefits is endless.
Most temples and places of worship in India besides other deities have Shaligrams as a living form of Lord Vishnu. These mostly round shaped sacred stones are there for ages and decorated with sandalwood paste by the seasoned priest during puja every day.
These holy Shaligrama, is essentially, a fossilized stone or ammonite (a class of extinct sea creatures related to modern squids) collected from the riverbed or banks of the Kali Gandaki River only in Nepal. The fossil ammonite stones which are millions of years old and were formed due to massive geological; the movement of Mega Rocks & Sea Water which created high pressure and formed not only the Himalayan Mountain Ranges but also compressed organic matter into ammonites’ fossils which we call Shaligrams.
Shaligram is worshipped in Hinduism, revered in Buddhism and Bon religion of Tibet too. But now availability of Shaligram is affected by change in flow of water in the river due to rapid glacier melting in the Himalayas as a result of climate change.
The Kali Gandaki River, also known as the Narayani and the Gandak, is one of the major rivers in Nepal and a left bank tributary of the Ganges in India which is the one and only source of Shaligrams in the whole world. These are not human-made, but created by nature over a long period hence believed to have an intrinsic consciousness of their own.
The village of Kagbeni marks the principal boundary between the two divisions and is also one of the main stops on the Shaligram pilgrimage route. The village sits directly on the banks of the Kali Gandaki and is one of the few areas where pilgrims can reliably find pieces of Shaligrams by wading through the river themselves and by watching the river bed for any signs of a black spiral emerging from the sand. But climate change and gravel mining are altering the flow and course of the river, which is endangering the pilgrimage by making it harder to find Shaligrams.
The last destination on the pilgrimage route, at roughly 4,000 meters, is the temple site of Muktinath, which contains multiple sacred areas of worship for Hindus, Buddhists and followers of Bon religion.
But Shaligrams are becoming rarer. Climate change, faster glacial melting, and gravel mining in the Kali Gandaki are changing the course of the river resulting in fewer Shaligrams appearing each year. This is mainly because the Kali Gandaki is fed by meltwater from the Southern Tibetan Plateau. But with the glacier disappearing, the river is becoming smaller and shifting away from the fossil beds that contain the ammonites needed to become Shaligrams.
Muktinath’s ancient name in Sri Vaishnava literature is Tiru Shaligramam. It is also home to the “Jwala Mai,” or the mother flame, a natural gas vent that produces a continuous flame that burns next to the constant flow of water from the mountain aquifer with high winds of the Himalayas. It is considered a rare place where all of the five sacred elements of life (Earth, Air, Water, Sky and Fire) come together. It is known as Mukti Kshetra, which literally means the ‘liberation arena’ (moksha) and is one of the Char Dhams in Nepal. Muktinath is one of the world’s highest temples at 3,800 m above sea level. Within Hinduism, it is one of the 108 Divya Desams and the only one located outside India.
Buddhists call Muktinath as Chumig Gyatsa, which in Tibetan means “Hundred Waters”. For Tibetan Buddhists, it is an important place for dakinis, goddesses known as Sky Dancers, and one of the 24 Tantric places. They understand the murti to be a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara, who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. In 2016, Muktinath also became home to the largest statue of the Buddha ever built in Nepal.