In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jyotirliṅga Tradition: Pilgrimage, Myth, and Art

  • Introduction
  • Liṅgodbhavamūrti in Text and Stone
  • Southeast Asia and Jyotirliṅgas

Hinduism Jyotirliṅga Tradition: Pilgrimage, Myth, and Art
Benjamin J. Fleming
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0217


A jyotirliṅga (“liṅga of light”) is one of the foremost ways that the deity Śiva has been represented in mythology and art. It is an important sub-type of the deity’s liṅga (mark, sign, phallus). A well-known example is the network of twelve pilgrimage sites spread across the Indian subcontinent. In their related mythology each site accounts for a theophany of Śiva in light form, descending from heaven and remaining at the pilgrimage center in the form of a liṅga. The development and growth of this pilgrimage network within the sacred topographies of Śiva is relatively understudied, but new scholarship in the Purāṇas and Śaivadharma traditions as well as the archaeology of individual sites connected to these texts are helping to alleviate this paucity. Beginning in roughly the 10th century, fire and light imagery is integrated into different forms of Śaiva ritual, myth, and art as part of a strategy to popularize Śaivism. While the theme ‘God is light’ (numen lumen) is ubiquitous across religious traditions, its integration within Śaivism occurred for particular historical, theological, and sectarian reasons. One is the development of mythic themes related to light and fire as seen through the liṅgodbhavamūrti (form arising from the liṅga) and Devadāruvana (Pine Forest) mythemes. The earliest example of the liṅgodbhavamūrti likely dates to the 7th century, while the Devadāruvana can be traced to the Mahābhārata (Book 10.17). A second reason for the development of fire and light imagery is seen through the Śaiva encounter with Gupta period images of the Buddha’s fiery form and Buddhist commentarial literature. In addition, Śaiva encounters with universalizing tendencies within Islam, especially seen through the rise of Viśveśvara (Lord of the Universe) in Vārāṇasī, informed this developing tradition. Scholarship and sources about jyotirliṅgas can be structured around three major categories: the network of twelve jyotirliṅgas, the liṅgodbhavamūrti, and the Devadāruvana. Each of these categories has a diverse body of textual, inscriptional, art historical, and archaeological sources.

The Twelve Jyotirliṅgas: Networks and Individual Sites

The cult of the twelve jyotirliṅgas is perhaps the best-known modern manifestation of Śiva’s light form. Until recently, there has been little concerted scholarly effort to understand the formation of this group of pilgrimage centers and to understand how they might fit into the broader picture of Śaiva sacred topography or within Hinduism more generally. Scholarship on the history and development of Śaiva sacred topography is in its relative infancy with only a handful of studies addressing this topic in any meaningful way. Cecil 2018, Hatley 2014, Bisschop 2006, Feldhaus 2003, and Sharma 2001 have all addressed aspects of Śaiva pilgrimage networks. Fleming has specifically addressed this issue with respect to the cult of twelve jyotirliṅgas in a number of studies (Fleming 2007, Fleming 2009, Fleming 2014) and offers the first detailed study of the cult of jyotirliṅga within Śaiva Purāṇic and stotra literature. He considers the cult’s value as a strategy for medieval paṇḍitas to map Śiva onto India’s sacred geography. Mirashi 1977 presents an 11th-century inscription mentioning twelve temples sacred to Śiva, while Kafle 2015 examines 7th century CE rites related to liṅga and other forms of Śaiva worship in which the number twelve is extremely important.

  • Bisschop, Peter. Early Śaivism and the Skandapurāṇa: Sects and Centres. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 2006.

    A study of sacred pilgrimage networks associated with early Śaivism, and especially those associated with liṅgas. This monograph draws extensively from the early Skandapurāṇa tradition, especially chapter 167. He presents, for instance, a critically edited edition of this chapter.

  • Cecil, Elizabeth Ann. “Mapping the Pāśupata Landscape: Narrative, Tradition, and the Geographic Imaginary.” Journal of Hindu Studies 11.3 (2018): 1–19.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiy002

    Examination of pilgrimage networks, both real and imagined, within sacred landscapes in early Purāṇic narrative traditions conceived by Pāśupata Śaivas. She especially looks within the early or “authoritative” Skandapurāṇa tradition. Article mentions the network of jyotirliṅga pilgrimage sites as a late example within developing Śaiva sacred topographies. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Feldhaus, Anne. Connecting Places: Region, Pilgrimage, and Geographical Imagination in India. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403981349

    One section gives an overview of sacred networks of pilgrimage sites in the state of Maharashtra and their meaning in the religious life of Hindus. These networks include the twelve jyotirliṅgas since its modern manifestation places five of the sites in Maharashtra, as well as the Aṣthavināyakas (eight Vināyakas) associated with Gaṇeśa.

  • Fleming, Benjamin J. “The Cult of the 12 Jyotirliṅgas and the History of Śaiva Worship.” PhD diss., McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, 2007.

    Fleming analyzes Sanskrit textual traditions associated with the network of 12 jyotirliṅgas within the Śivapurāṇa and stotra traditions, but also considers the broader theme of “light” (jyotir) as it relates to the history of Śaiva worship. He employs the tradition to demonstrate how Śaiva worship may have placed much more emphasis on liṅga worship in late medieval times than in the past when it was far more diverse.

  • Fleming, Benjamin J. “Mapping Sacred Geography in Medieval India: The Case of the 12 Jyotirliṅgas.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 13.1 (2009): 51–81.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-009-9069-0

    Considers textual and historical developments of the network of twelve jyotirliṅgas along with theoretical considerations of imagined landscapes within medieval Hinduism. Sources include the early Skandapurāṇa and Śivapurāṇa traditions (especially the Jñāna- and Koṭirudra-saṃhitās), the Liṅgapurāṇa tradition and the Tīrthavivecanakāṇḍa Lakṣmīdhara. The article explores the growth of liṅga-worship, and the importance of sacred geography to the evolving theology of Śaivism, especially in the 12th to 14th centuries.

  • Fleming, Benjamin J. “Manuscripts and Shifting Geographies: The Dvādaśajyotirliṅgastotra from the Deccan College as Case Study.” In Material Culture and Asian Religions: Text, Image, Object. Edited by Benjamin Fleming and Richard Mann, 59–72. London: Routledge, 2014.

    An overview of the evolving network of jyotirliṅga pilgrimage sites as told through the lens of two unique manuscripts of the Jyotirliṅgastotra at the Deccan College in Pune. The article considers how lists as written in material texts serve a pivotal role for integrating real and imagined sacred Śaiva landscapes in the medieval world.

  • Hatley, Shaman. “Goddesses in Text and Stone: Temples of the Yoginīs in Light of Tantric and Purāṇic Literature.” In Material Culture and Asian Religions: Text, Image, Object. Edited by Benjamin Fleming and Richard Mann, 195–225. London: Routledge, 2014.

    Investigation of the development of networks of yoginī pilgrimage traditions within a broader context of Śaiva sacred topography and wide distribution of yoginī temples across the medieval Indian landscape, especially the transition from esoteric Tantric traditions into popular Purāṇic sources.

  • Kafle, Niranjan. The Niśvāsamukha, the Introductory Book of the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā: Critical Edition, with an Introduction and Annotated Translation Appended by Śivadharmasaṅgraha 5–9. PhD diss., Leiden University, The Netherlands, 2015.

    Presentation of a 7th century CE Śaiva text demonstrating the development of liṅga worship. With respect to jyotirliṅgas, it will be a helpful resource for understanding the meaning of the number 12 within early Śaivism and explaining why it might have been employed as a structural basis for the pan-Indic network of jyotirliṅgas, especially within rituals, pantheons of gods, various otherworldly beings, astrology, and more.

  • Mirashi, V., ed. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. Vol. 6. Inscriptions of the Śilāhāras. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1977.

    Presents an 11th-century copperplate inscription—a donation of twelve Śaiva temples (kīrttanas) and promoting Śaiva worship. The plate was found in the Ṭhāṇā district of Maharashtra, north of Mumbai. The donation is attributed to Nāgārjuna, the Śilāhāra king. Mirashi interprets these as the twelve jyotirliṅgas that may signal the importance of the group within the developing sacred geography in Maharashtra and India more broadly.

  • Sharma, Kamal Prashad. Maṇimahesh Chambā Kailash. New Delhi: Indus, 2001.

    Sharma explores north Indian pilgrimage centers related to liṅga worship. He draws connections between the concept of eighty-four siddha-yogis and specific liṅga pilgrimage sites serving as monuments to teachers. The article also considers the pilgrimage network of fifty-one śākta-pīṭhas.

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