We have attained the BanaLinga ! Yet what is this mighty stone, inset within a shining Yoni of Silver ?
The easiest way to explicate it is to start with the very basic and work our way up from there. At its core, a ShivLing is an ‘aniconic’ embodiment of the Lord Shiva. It may also be understood, non-exclusively, as a Shaivite altar. We carry out oblations of milk and other associated libationary substances thereupon it. Which, as I have previously observed, correlates with reasonable directness to what we find fragmentarily attested in the Nordic corpus for the applications of the nourishing white fluid which maintains the strength of Yggdrasil’s limbs. This is because these altar-stones, in a similar manner to what we may presume for the Germanic Irminsul, are ‘resonancies’ of the Axis Mundi – the World Tree – and therefore our worshipful engagement with the Stone is, in our own loka-lized way, our engagement with securing the immanency of Cosmic Order (Rta, Orlog) here within this world of ours.
Yet whereas many forms of object may be utilized in broadly commensurate manner for these rites if they are Consecrated (including Trees, Sthambha pillars in the archaic Vedic way, and constructed shapes made of clay by the householder etc.) – the BanaLingam is different. Partially it is because the Stone is already Consecrated – and by Shiva’s own Hand (Siva Purana VII 2 36 59). Partially it is because whereas for most Murtis and other ‘representations’ or ’embodiments’ that we use for ritual – we ‘invoke’ / ‘invite’ the God to take up station within the object (Avahana) … with the Shivling of this type, there is no need – Lord Shiva is already to be found within the Stone. Which is ‘Self-Manifested’ (Svayambhu) as the result.
These come from the Sacred River of Narmada (‘Pleasure Bestower’ – ‘Narma’ and ‘-Da’ (as in ‘Dative’), respectively) – the stones of the river being shaped and crafted not by human hands but rather the Hands of the Divine through the flow of the river and the grinding action of other stones encountered therein. Particularly given the strong connection of Narmada to Lord Shiva (Which is said to flow from Him), it is not hard to see how these tangible manifestations of His Presence are regarded as so significantly Holy.
Now, I have said ‘BanaLingam’ here, and this is in the broad sense of the term. For there are actually two semi-coterminous forms of Lingam that are produced within the Narmada’s flows. The ‘crystalline’ lighter forms are occasionally referred to as Banalingams specifically, with Narmada lingams being a more general classification – however you also find the terms being used quite interchangeably, with other specific epithets utilized to distinguish the more crystalline ones.
Now, ‘Bana’ in Sanskrit means ‘Arrow’, a missile, a projectile that has a length and heft to it. Unsurprisingly, we also find it occasionally attested in rather direct reference to Shiva – as He is, after all, the Spear God, the Archer; and justly famed for His Arrows – as shall have been seen by any following the work on Orion and the Trikanda (‘Three-Arrow’) with which the space-situated Tripura (‘Three-Cities’ or ‘Three-Forts’) of a particular demon race were annihilated. There is some degree of linkage apparently attested between the latter (which is an archaic Vedic myth in its earlier formulations) and the more prominent Bana that we are about to encounter – although I have not personally reviewed the scriptural material which speaks to it, so we shall leave that aside for now.
More usually, the Bana-Lingam is said to be called such due to a boon bestowed to the demon also called Bana (Banasura) in response to this figure’s sustained devotion toward Lord Shiva. There are several (not-necessarily-exclusive) stories as to how the association between the Demon and the Lingams of the Narmada is supposed to have occurred. We shall not get into them here, except to note that the more common one is that these were tangible expressions of the Boon aforementioned – that of Lord Shiva’s protection and patronage (to rather gloss over some pointed particulars – including, in effect, becoming something of a ‘foster son’ to Him).
The other explanation which, as I say, I have not (yet) managed to view the direct scriptural source upon (it is purportedly in the Aparajitaprccha) … instead endeavours to link the Banalingams to that famed deed of Lord Shiva as Tripurantaka – the Destroyer of the Three Forts. The idea being that Shiva’s launching of His Projectile (the aforementioned Trikanda – ‘Three-Arrow’ – which I believe to be a resonancy and even perhaps ‘forerunner’ to the later Trishula iconography) against those Three Forts produced the Banalingams, as these Forts were under the domain of Banasura – and the Banalingams are, in effect, the shrapnel thusly produced via Shiva’s Weapon’s Impact.
This is rather intriguing for our purposes, as mineralogical analysis of the stone that is the Banalingam shows that they tend to be partially comprised of material of an extraplanetary origin. This is visible to us as the red iron oxide interleaved with the other more terrestrial and ‘stoney’ components. The source for this iron being a meteoric impact in the far-distant realms beyond human antiquity which struck near the Narmada’s eventual course, and combined with cataclysmic force with the terrain thereabouts to later find expression in these river-stones as they come down the course of the torrent.
Meteoric iron is, of course, itself a highly charged substance in a metaphysical sense – and it is my suspicion that the Vajra in the Vedas is quite pointedly resonant with this substance. We can tell this, in part, due to the mentions in the Vedas we find for the Vajra being in the form of a Meteor arkening (Arka-ening – अर्क) down from High Heaven to smite a demonic stronghold. Yet we can also discern this via the incredible hardness (indeed – ‘adamantine’ … ‘unsunderable’) of the Vajra in description – which therefore simultaneously also recalls the notion of meteoric iron, in the Bronze Age, being the major source of workable iron … capable of being turned into what must have seemed incredibly, almost supernaturally durable and efficacious weapons by the standards of the day.
Yet how does this commentary upon a Vajra speak to Shiva’s Mighty Weapon and its correlate impact and aftermath?
Well, it would be tempting to approach this matter circuitously – observing, for instance, RV II 33 3’s hailing of Rudra as wielding the Vajra; or that the Trishula is the Axis Mundi – and therefore, this Axis Mundi resonancy that we find in somewhat smaller stone form is additionally secured via this ‘Weaponized’ association.
But there is a more direct approach.
In the Upasad (‘Siege’) rite which ‘re-enacts’ Shiva’s Mythic Deed – the TriKanda is directly correlated with the Thunderbolt. Each of the Three Fires that are carried out in order to ‘resonate’ the myth in ritual format are, just as the Three Arrow components were, held to ’embody’ a particular God (or, at least, Energies that are hailed with the names of particular Vedic Gods – Agni, Soma, and Vishnu). The Weapon of Shiva is, therefore, ‘Divinely Imbued’. It is capable of doing what it does precisely because it is no mere arrow or spear – not even a divinely crafted one. Rather, it is literally a Divine Weapon. A Weapon that is, in a word, Divine – not just wielded by Divinity.
This is also, in part, how and why the Vajra is what it is – it is an immanent ‘spark’ of Rta (Brahman – Absolute , Cosmic Law) brought into this cosmos of ours so as to smite most vigorously as direct anathema those who are opposed to the Divine Law via their being and existence itself (i.e. demons). This is also why it requires Vak Devi (Cosmic Order Herself – the in-universe (also ‘vocal’) expression of this supernal and transcendental Absolute) in order to ’empower’ and to bring forth – an understanding that is evidently an archaic Indo-European one given the similar Greek awareness for Athena as being the only figure in possession of the ‘secret key’ which unlocks the storehouse for the Thunderbolt of Zeus.
In a related sense, we have the famed DeviSukta hailing that it is Vak Devi Who enables the Weapon of Rudra to work in carrying out Its Holy Work of “smit[ing] the Hater of Devotion” – and empowering the Male Whom She Loves (Kama) with the Ugra potency so necessary for the Great God to be Who and As He Is (c.f Adi Shankara’s observance in the Saundarya Lahari lacking empowerment and the ability to Overlord the Universe without His Shakti Devi – His Wife).
We find other mentions and manifestations of Divinity as Weaponry (or, at least, in the form of Weapons) elsewhere in the Hindu theology. Most prominent must surely be Devi being found (and worshiped) in Sword form. Although there is also logical conceptual space for the furtherance of the idea that the Axis Mundi is the Sky Father and/or Mother Goddess into the idea that the Axis Mundi as Weapon – i.e. the Trishula – is therefore likewise Him and/or Her.
And, as it would happen, this notion of the Axis Mundi being Both Shiva & Shakti is exactly what we find with the Banalingam. It is said to be Both Shiva And Shakti – with Shakti, again intriguingly, said to be the Red Iron.
We find this notion of the Banalingam being the Divine Couple referenced with reasonable directness in one of the Dhyana Mantras utilized in prayerful observance of the Lingam:
pramattaM shaktisaMyuktaM bANAkhya~ncha mahAprabhAM |
kAmabANAnbitaM devaM saMsAradahanakShamam ||
shRRi~NgArAdi-rasollAsaM bANAkhyaM parameshvaram |
evaM dhyAtbA bANali~NgaM yajettaM paramaM shivam ||
‘Shaktisamyuktam’ – Shakti (Devi – Power) Sam (‘Same’ / ‘Conjoint’ / ‘Together’ / ‘Joined’ / ‘Complete(d)’) Yuktam (‘Properly’, ‘Rightly’, ‘Justly’, ‘Organized’ (hence an understanding of arranged into military force), ‘Fittingly’, ‘Well’, ‘Joined’ / ‘Harnessed’, ‘Active’, ‘Clever’, ‘Intricate’, etc.) – being the quite key word there. ‘Together With His Shakti, Rightly Conjoined’.
But to bring it back to the previous discussion around the Weapon with which Lord Shiva unmade the Tripura, the Three Forts of the Demons – this is also hailed as being the ‘Pashupatastra’ (Pasupati Astra): the Weapon (Astra) of the Lord of Beasts (Pasu + Pati).
Why this interests me here is for a perhaps rather more personal reason. For you see, for some weeks now we have been carrying out a particular form of observance that has, as its genesis, a mythic effort by two famed Heroes to attain the Pasupati Astra for Their Own employment in a dire conflict that was raging about Them at the time. These Heroes are, of course, Arjuna & Krishna; the conflict is the epic Kurukshetra War that is the major focus of the Mahabharat; and in the course of that text They seek out via astral projection the Lord Rudra (Bhava) and both carry out Worship of Him and undertake a ‘Test’ of sorts in order to be granted His Mighty Arrow, the Pasupata Astra. I have looked at this in (somewhat) grander depth in my recent ‘Shiva, Krishna, Arjuna – And Attaining The Weapon Of One’s Dreams’.
Our ritual acts are directly predicated upon an emulation of Their great, grand – and ultimately entirely successful – exemplar.
And so therefore, I find myself marveling that on the very same day that we began an enhanced phase of combat operations in the conflict that we are engaged in … the same day that is the anniversary of Lord Skanda (Subramanya) Kartikeya successfully vanquishing the magic-shrouded and conditionally invincible Tarakasura (given the nature of the ‘condition’ upon that invulnerability – we may fairly say that the downfall of Tarakasur is rather directly the case of Love conquering, even and especially where it had seemed hopeless … to the point that a demon would stake its ill-begotten extension-to-existence entirely upon that perceived and seeming lack of hope) …
We receive this most tangible expression that Rudra, indeed, Cha Me – along with His Shakti, too.
We have Asked for a Weapon – We have ‘Cried Out’ for Victory
We Thank You, Lord & Lady Of This Universe Of Ours And Beyond (Ishvara & Ishvari) For The Granting Of This ‘Arrow’ (Bana) Unto Us – The Former, With Which The Latter Shall Surely Become Won !
नमो भवाय शर्वाय रुद्राय वरदाय च ।
पशूनां पतये नित्यमुग्राय च कपर्दिने ॥
नमो हिरण्यवर्णाय हिरण्यकवचाय च ।
भक्तानुकम्पिने नित्यं सिध्यतां नो वरः प्रभो ॥
JAI SRI RUDRA !
And Hail Also To His Shakti !
Jai Ardhanareshvara !