In many Shiva temples, one can see the image of Shiva emerging from a lingam, with images of a swan on the top and a boar at the bottom. Shiva in this form, is called Lingothbhavar. Usually, this image is seen behind (on the Western side) the Garbha Griham.

Lingothbhavar, Airavateeswara Temple, Darasuram, Tamil Nadu. Chola – 12th Century A.D

The story as per Shivapurana:
Shiva emerged from a lingam in his full form – viz, spanning the entire Universe. Brahma and Vishnu wanted to see the extremities of Shiva. Brahma took the form of a swan (Hamsa) and travelled skywards to see His head. Vishnu took the form of a boar and went underneath to see His feet. While Vishnu came back and admitted his defeat, Brahma lied to the assembled Devas that he had seen Shiva’s head. Angered by this lie, Shiva plucked the fifth head of Brahma. This being major sin (Brahma hathi) the skull stuck to his hand. According the Vaishnaviites, Shiva had to pray to Lord Vishnu to get over this curse.

While the Lingothbhavar is normally on the back (West) of the sanctum sanctorum, at Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakkal, (Chalukya – 8th century AD) it is on the front (East) wall. I do not have a picture of this, but in the photo above it is behind the priest’s shoulder (you can see only the crown).
Here is another Lingothbhavar at Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram

Click on thumbnail for more pictures of Temples of IndiaImage hosted by
by harisub
Thiruchendur: This image of Lingothbhavar with Brahma and Vishnu on either side is one of the myriad images on the gopuram at Thiruchendur.

Bhishma on a Bed of Arrows

Bhishma on a Bed of Arrows.

The area consisting of Aihole, Pattadakkal and Badami served as a crucible of temple architecture during the reign of Chalukyas.

The picture below is one of the many scenes sculpted on the pillars of the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakkal, Karnataka. The Virupaksha temple was built by Queen Lokamahadevi in AD. 745 to commemorate her husband, Vikramaditya II ‘s victory over the Pallavas.. The temple resembles the Kailashnatha temple in Kanchi which served as a model for this temple. The Virupakhsa temple in turn served as an inspiration for the Kailashnatha temple at Ellora (Cave 16) by the Rashtrakuta.

Bhishma or Bhishma Pitamaha was the grand old man of Mahabharata. He was the grand sire who was respected by both the Kauravas and the Pandavaas. Due to circumstances, he had to fight along with the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war against the Pandavas. Though physically he was with the Kauravas, his heart was with the Pandavas. Yet he discharged his duties as Commander of the Kaurava forces creditably.

Bhishma’s original name was Devavrata and he was the son of King Shantanu and Ganga . His father wanted to marry a fisherwoman, Stayavati, who insisted that only sons born to her should succeed Shantanu to the throne. To facilitate this, Devavrata took a vow of celibacy for life and also pledged to serve anyone who ascended the throne of Hastinapura. Due to this stringent vow, he came to be known as ‘Bhishma’. His father also gave him the boon of ‘Ichcha Mrityu’- the ability to choose one’s time of death.

Even on the tenth day of the battle of Mahabharata, the Pandavas are unable to make any headway., mainly due to the skill and valour of Bhishma. At this point, Shikhandi, who was born a woman, takes arm in front of Arjuna against Bhishma. Bhishma knew that Shikhandi was born a woman, who had a grudge against Bhishma because he had interfered in her marriage. Seeing Shikhandi, Bhishma refused to fight and is felled by Arjuna’s arrow. (It is believed that Bhishma himself had hinted at this ploy while Arjuna and Krishna met him the previous night.)

Arjuna’s arrows had already formed a bed and Bhishma did not fall to the ground. Arjuna used more arrows to form a pillow. Bhishma also requested for water. Arjuna sent an arrow into the earth and a fountain of pure water sprang up which Bhishma relished as Mother Ganga jal. Bhishma also advised Duryodhana to give up the fight and render justice to the Pandavas. Duryodahana did not comply.

As the battle raged, Bhishma held on till Uttarayana (winter solstice) – the auspicious time to die. Only after the victory of Pandavas did Bhishma breathe his last.

It is during his lying on the bed of arrows (called ‘Shara Shayya’) that he composed the Vishnu Sahasranamam- a prayer comprising the 1008 names of Lord Vishu which is recited in many Hindu homes, temples and religious occasions.

There is also a sculpture of Bhishma on a bed of Arrows in Angkor Vat. A beam of sunrays fall on the image of Bhishma on Winter solstice.

See the post

The mind of Bhishma is beautifully penned in the Bengali poem ‘ Bhishma’s Bed of Arrows’ by Jatindra Mohan Sengupta. A transcreation in English by Pradip Bhattacharya is available at:
More pictures at:

Stories in Stone

Ravana shaking Mount Kailash

Ravana Shaking Kailash, a pillar in Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakkal.
After severe penances and conquests, Ravana became very strong and arrogant. He went to Himalaya, defeated his half-brother, Kubera and usurped his Pushpaka Vimana . On his return, he was overflying Mt. Kailash. Nandi advised Ravana to circumambulate Kailash so as not to disturb Shiva and Parvati.
The arrogant Ravana said, “Who is Shiva?” and tried to shake the mountain. Though Parvati and her entourage were frightened, Shiva nonchalantly pinned down Ravana with his toes. Ravana wailed for mercy. Having humbled Ravana, Shiva released him. After this experience, Ravana became a great devotee of Shiva.
In another version, it is believed that Ravana’s mother, Kaikasi, herself a great devotee of Shiva, wanted to go to Mt.Kailash. Arrogant Ravan said that he could bring Kailash to her and attempted to lift it and transfix it in Lanka.
Epilogue: Ravana after becoming a devotee of Lord Shiva sang in His praise. Since he had no musical instruments to accompany his singing, some believe, he cut off one of his heads and an arm to make a stringed instrument with his thigh nerves. This is also believed to be the origin of musical instruments. In fact, an instrument called Ravanahatta (Ravan’s hand) is still in use in some parts of Rajasthan.
Other sculptures: the other famous figure of Ravana and Mt. Kailash is in Ellora (Cave 16)