During the time of Lord Rama, there was a ten-headed demon king by the name of Ravana. Ravana wanted to make his capital, Sri Lanka, invincible with the presence of Lord Shiva. Through Ravana’s prayer, Lord Shiva granted him a Jyotirlingam to be taken to Sri Lanka, but only on the condition that wherever it was set down first, it would be permanently installed there. The Gods knew that if Ravana was to accomplish his goal, there would be dire consequences. By having Varuna, the God of Water, enter into the stomach of Ravana, it forced him to land on Earth with his vimana (flying chariot) to release the water. In simple terms, the Gods made Ravana have the urge to urinate. Thus, as Ravana descended to Earth, Maha Vishnu appeared in the guise of a brahmin. Ravana asked the "brahmin" to hold the Shiva Lingam temporarily and not let it touch the ground. As soon as Ravana left, Maha Vishnu set the Shiva Lingam on the ground and disappeared. Upon seeing what had happened, Ravana underwent penance to Lord Shiva by offering nine of his heads. Lord Shiva was pleased with his devotion and restored his heads back to him. This restoration could be compared to that of a doctor, hence, the Jyotirlingam is called, “Vaidyanath,” which means “physician.”
The Vishwanath Jyotirlingam is located in the holy city of Varanasi, also known as, “Kashi” or “Benares.” Varanasi is said to be the place where the first Jyotirlingam had ever manifested. It is the place where Lord Shiva appeared as a fiery pillar of light before both Brahma and Vishnu. Since Brahma and Vishnu were arguing over who was superior, they had a race to find the end of Shiva’s manifestation. As one could expect, Vishnu was victorious, as He declared that there was no end to Shiva, whereas Brahma had lied and said that He found the end. Because of this lie, Lord Shiva cursed Brahma to never be worshiped. The Vishwanath Jyotirlingam attracts many pilgrims, as it is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in all of India.
After Lord Rama had killed the demon king, Ravana, Rama felt discontent inside because He had killed a brahmin (Ravana was the great-grandson of Brahma). At the same time, Lord Rama also wanted to express His gratitude to Lord Shiva. Thus, Lord Rama asked Hanuman to go get a Shiva Lingam from Benares. But because Hanuman didn’t arrive in time for the auspicious moment of prayer, Sita Devi formed a Shiva Lingam out of earth that is now known as “Rameshwar,” the Lord of Rama. The Lingam that Hanuman brought back was also installed, and it is tradition to worship the Hanuman Lingam, also known as the “Kaasilingam”, before the worship of Rameshwar.
After the battle at Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Lord Krishna told the Pandavas to seek the Darshan of Lord Shiva. While chasing Lord Shiva in the form of a bull, Bhima grabbed onto Shiva’s tail so strong that His head flew off and landed in Nepal. The hind stayed in a place called Kedar, and it is here that Lord Shiva gave Darshan to the Pandavas. From this event, Lord Shiva promised to stay in Kedar in the form of a Jyotirlingam.
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