Lord Shiva is highly revered in India. He is the Destroyer, the Transformer and the Supreme Being. He has several forms and one of them is a healer or the King of Physicians. The Baijnath Temple in Kangra is dedicated to Lord Shiva’s form as the King of Physicians.
Hindus are very religious and spiritual. Hinduism believes in multiple gods and deities. Scriptures, saints and history have all amalgamated to create myths and legends which are now worshiped by Hindus all over the world. The legend of Lord Shiva is such. Some call him a monk, some call him a yogi while some think he is a benefactor. Widely known to be the Destroyer, a God with a temper, Shiva can take several avatars. Avatars are forms or bodies the Hindus believe the Gods to inhabit during different time periods. Lord Shiva is part of the Trimurti, the Holy Trinity comprising of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva. His wife and partner is Parvati (Sati), a goddess in her own right. And he had 2 children, Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya. It is believed that even Ravana used to worship Lord Shiva. And it is due to Ravana, the Baijnath Temple exists today.
The story begins with Ravana’s penance and dedication to Lord Shiva. Ravana was already a scholar, a King but he wanted to be powerful and invincible. He decided to go to Kailash and pray to Lord Shiva. With strict penance and devotion, he managed to win Lord Shiva’s blessing. Pleased by his efforts and willpower, Lord Shiva granted him the powers of immortality. Ravana had achieved his wish but he wanted more. He requested Lord Shiva to accompany him to his home, Lanka. Lord Shiva agreed to his request but on one condition- he transformed into a Shivling, a emblem or mark of Shiva. Ravana could not place the Shivling down on his way as where he would put it down, the Shivling would remain there forever. The story gets murky here as one story suggests if Lord Shiva would stay in Lanka, it would make Ravana invincible and even the Gods couldn’t touch him. Another story suggests Lord Ganesha in the form of a shepherd tricked Ravana. He asked Varuna, the Lord of Sea to fill a pot with all the water in the world. A thirsty Ravana drank all the water in the world and had to go relive himself. In his haste, he placed the Shivling on the ground. It is this Shivling which is in the sanctum sanctorum of Baijnath Temple. And it is this legend that gave the town of Baijnath its name.
50 kilometres from Dharamshala lies the small and quiet town of Baijnath. The ancient and legendary temple of Shiva gave the town its name from 1204 AD. Inscriptions on the gate of the temple suggest a previous temple of Shivling existed even before this temple was created. Constructed in the Nagara style of temples, the Baijnath temple is wide, majestic and a glorious tribute to its deity. The Dhauladhar mountains stand guard and provide a beautiful backdrop to this mythical structure. Intricate, detailed figures of Gods, Goddesses and tales are carved on doors, walls and windows. Lord Shiva’s mount Nandi sits grandly in the small porch, preceding the sanctum. Rare images of deities, legends and gods cover the doorways and walls. Historians and art lovers will find those images interesting and unique as they aren’t found anywhere else in India.
With Dussehra coming up on us, the entire country celebrates the downfall of Ravana. But Baijnath doesn’t partake in burning the 10 headed King. It was Ravana who gave them the Shivling and out of respect for his actions, they do not burn his effigy or celebrate his downfall. Baijnath celebrates Maha Shivratri on a massive scale and the celebrations last for 5 days with fairs, ceremonies, rituals and dancing. Tourists and travelers can access Baijnath via Dharamshala by road, bus or taxi.
Photo by ciamabue