August 7, 2023.
Shaligrams, revered by Hindus and Buddhists for over 2,000 years, are enigmatic ancient fossils of ammonites, an extinct class of sea creatures related to modern squids. These mystical stones hold great significance in the religious and cultural traditions of South Asian communities, particularly in the remote region of northern Nepal known as the Kali Gandaki River Valley of Mustang.
The Origin and Significance of Shaligrams Shaligrams, originating from the Kali Gandaki River Valley of Mustang in northern Nepal, are primarily perceived as manifestations of the Hindu god Vishnu. According to mythology, the stones were created through two legends. In one, Vishnu, disguised as her husband, was cursed by the goddess Tulsi, transforming him into a river stone in the Kali Gandaki. In another legend, the stones are physically formed by a celestial worm called vajra-kita, responsible for their characteristic spiral formations.
Shaligrams as Living Gods and Community Members The intrinsic consciousness attributed to Shaligrams has led to their veneration as living gods by Hindus and Buddhists alike. Devotees keep these sacred stones in their homes and temples, where they are treated with reverence as active community members, signifying the deep spiritual connection between people and nature.
The Shaligram Pilgrimage
The sacred pilgrimage to Shaligrams is a revered tradition among South Asian and global Hindu diasporas. The journey commences in the village of Jomsom in Mustang, with pilgrims embarking on a five-day trek northeast to the revered temple of Muktinath. The trek takes pilgrims through the breathtaking landscapes of the Himalayas, where they carefully search for Shaligrams in the fast-moving waters of the Kali Gandaki River.
The Impact of Climate Change and Human Activities
Despite the rich spiritual heritage surrounding Shaligrams, their existence is now under threat due to climate change and human-induced activities. Climate change has led to faster glacial melting, altering the course of the Kali Gandaki River and affecting the appearance of Shaligrams. Moreover, gravel mining in the region is exacerbating the problem, making it harder to find these sacred fossils.
Looking to the Future
As Shaligrams become rarer, the pilgrimage tradition faces uncertainty. The Himalayan region, once abundant with these sacred stones, now struggles to maintain its significance in the face of changing environmental conditions. Nonetheless, the devotees remain hopeful and dedicated to preserving their cultural heritage and spiritual connection with these ancient fossils.