Jyotirlinga is made by two words – Jyoti meaning divine light and Linga meaning pillar. So, Jyotirlinga is a divine light pillar.
Once Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma found a pillar made of light. The pillar was so long that it was passing through all three worlds – Swargalok, Bhulok and Patallok. The beginning or end of the pillar was not visible.
Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma decided to go looking for its beginning or end. Vishnu flew down and Brahma went towards the top. After looking for a long time, Vishnu gave up and came back to the meeting point. When Brahma saw that Vishnu is admitting defeat, he thought that he might lie and say that he found the top of the pillar.
Brahma asked Ketaki flower to support him and the flower agreed. So, Brahma told Vishnu that he found the top of the light pillar and found Ketaki flowers there.
As soon as he said that, the pillar of light split open and Lord Shiva appeared. He admonished Brahma for lying and told him that he won’t be worshiped. Shiva cursed the Ketaki flowers too banning them from being used in any kind of worship.
Lord Shiva’s appeared in the form of a light pillar which is also known as Jyotirlinga. Over time, Lord Shiva appeared in the same form on Bhulok as well. As per the scriptures, there are 12 Jyotirlinga where a part of Lord Shiva lives.
There are interesting stories around each of the Jyotirlinga. Let’s see some below:-
1. Somnath in Gujarat
Daksha was the son of Brahma. He married his 27 daughters to Chandra, the moon god. Chandra loved one of the sisters Rohini very much. So much that Chandra started ignoring his other wives and started spending all of his time with Rohini.
Naturally, this angered his remaining 26 wives. They all went to their father Daksha and complained. Daksha then talked to Chandra and reminded him that he had 27 wives and he should take care of each one of them. Chandra agreed but later kept on spending all his time with Rohini only.
This angered Daksha too. He cursed Chandra that his body would perish. This impacted everyone since Chandra was the only source of light in the night sky.
Chandra and other gods went to Lord Brahma to get his help. Brahma asked Chandra to worship Lord Shiva and ask for his help.
As instructed, Chandra made a Shivlinga and started worshipping Shiva. This pleased Shiva, who appeared before him and told him to ask for a boon. Chandra asked Shiva to undo the curse upon him.
Shiva told him that the curse can not be undone, but he can minimize the effect. He blessed Chandra that once he perishes, he will again start regaining his body. Shiva also let Chandra live on his head so that no one else could harm him in his weaker state.
Thus the moon waxes and wanes. Since then Shiva is also known as Chandrasekhar and Somnath (Som means moon or Chandra).
Chandra made a temple where he worshipped Lord Shiva. The Shivlinga that he made transformed into a Jyotirlinga when Lord Shiva agreed to leave a part of himself there.
2. Mallikarjuna in Andhra Pradesh
Lord Shiva has his abode on Kailash where he lives with his wife Parvati and sons Kartikeya and Ganesha.
Once Lord Shiva and Parvati were trying to decide which of their sons would get married first. To resolve this they announced a competition that whoever goes around the world faster would get married first.
Kartikeya mounted his peacock and went off. Ganesha knew that he would not be able to overtake his brother while riding his mouse. So, Ganesha asked his parents to sit together, and he went around them saying that they are his entire world.
Shiva and Parvati were happy by this and decided to marry Ganesha. He got married to Riddhi and Siddhi before Kartikeya came back. When Kartikeya saw that Ganesha was already married, he was hurt and decided to go live elsewhere.
Kartikeya went to Mount Kraunja and made a home of himself there. Lord Shiva and Parvati missed their son a lot. So they decided to go and pacify him. Kartikeya got calmed, but he chose to live in his new home only. So, Shiva and Parvati too decided to leave a part of themselves to live near him.
They left a Jyotirlinga called Mallikarjuna there. Mallika another name of Parvati and Shiva is also known as Arjuna.
3. Mahakaleshwar in Madhya Pradesh
Once there was a demon called Dushana who built an army and was terrorizing everyone. One by one they were destroying the cities and villages.
When they were coming towards Ujjain, the sages who lived in the nearby forests saw the army. They started praying to Lord Shiva to come and save the city. Even when the demon army was destroying the forest and everything in their path, the sages kept praying.
Ultimately, Dushana and his army reached the sages and were about to kill them. Sages didn’t run away seeing the demons. They kept worshipping Lord Shiva. This pleased Lord Shiva and he appeared there himself.
Lord Shiva was angry and his wrath was directed towards the demon army. A bloody battle took place where Lord Shiva killed Dushana and his entire army.
A Jyotirlinga appeared in the place where Lord Shiva first appeared. His this fierce form is known as Mahakal since he came as Lord of Death. This is the reason why the idol in this temple is facing south, unlike all other temples. It is said that only in death one faces south. Lord Shiva is representing death itself and his idol is Dakshinmukhi or facing south.
4. Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh
Once the mountain range, Vindhya worshipped Lord Shiva to get his blessings. He made a Shivlinga from mud and started his worship. He kept worshipping for a long time. When Lord Shiva appeared in front of Vindhya, he asked Vindhya to ask for any boon.
Vindhya asked Lord Shiva to live on the mountain range. So, Lord Shiva created a Jyotirlinga where a part of him would live. This Jyotirlinga is situated on an island that is said to look like Om, and thus this Jyotirlinga is called Omkareshwar.
Soon the sages and other gods got to know about the visit of Lord Shiva. They too came and worshipped Lord Shiva. They requested Lord Shiva to live on the mainland as well, and Lord Shiva agreed.
He split the Jyotirlinga into two parts: Omkareshwar and Amaleswara. In the form of Omkareshwar, Lord Shiva lives on the island and Amaleswara lives on the mainland.
5. Kedarnath in Uttrakhand
After the war in Kurukshetra, the Pandavas went looking for Lord Shiva to seek his forgiveness for killing their kin and causing so much destruction.
They found Lord Shiva in Kedarnath. Lord Shiva was not ready to forgive the Pandavas, so he transformed into a bull and hid among the cattle. Pandavas still located him. Then Lord Shiva tried to hide underground. But Bhima pulled him out.
Later parts of Lord Shiva appeared in four other places. Together these five places are called Panch Kedar. It is said that Pandas made temples in all these five locations.
Kedarnath was the place where Lord Shiva first appeared. A Jyotirlinga containing a part of him appeared in Kedarnath.
6. Bhimashankar in Maharashtra
Once an asura named Bhima lived with his mother Karkati on Sahyadri Mountains. He was the son of Ravana’s brother, Kumbhakarna. When he grew up and found how his father was killed by Ram, he vowed to take revenge for his death.
He worshipped Lord Brahma and got immense strength as his boon. Once he got his boon, he started using his strength to terrorize innocent people.
Once he saw a sage worshipping a Shivlinga. Bhima asked the sage to start praying to him instead of Lord Shiva. When the sage refused, Bhima stabbed the Shivlinga with his sword.
That instant the Shivlinga split and Lord Shiva appeared himself. He turned the asura Bhima into ash. The place where Lord Shiva appeared now had a Jyotirlinga called Bhimashankar.
7. Kashi Vishwanath in Uttar Pradesh
Kashi, also known as Varanasi, is the second home of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Kailash is Lord Shiva’s home, but when he got married to Parvati, they chose to live in Kashi during the winter months.
Lord Shiva and Parvati loved their new home in Kashi. When Parvati’s parents saw their new home, they felt that it is not comfortable enough for their daughter. To please them, Lord Shiva asked one of his devotees to build them a suitable home.
When Parvati saw her husband’s loving gesture, she was elated. She appeared in the form of Annapurna and fed everyone in the city.
Once when Lord Shiva and Parvati were away from Kashi, Brahma brought a new king Divodasa to keep the city running smoothly. Divodasa asked Brahma to allow him to rule with full freedom and thus keep all the gods away from the city.
Brahma’s boon to Divodasa meant that Lord Shiva and Parvati could not come back to their favourite city.
Shiva really wanted to live in Kashi again, so he sent many messengers to request Divodasa to allow them. All the messengers who went to the city loved it so much that they started living in the city instead of returning to Shiva.
Ultimately, Shiva asked for Vishnu’s help. Vishnu went to Divodasa and told him how much Lord Shiva wanted to live in Kashi. By denying them, Divodasa is losing his mental peace and his chance at attaining Moksha.
So Divodas made a Shivlinga and placed it in a beautiful temple. Soon after that Lord Shiva and Parvati came back to Kashi and Divodas got Moksha.
8. Trimbakeshwar in Maharashtra
Once there was a severe famine and there was an acute food shortage. Sage Gautama was blessed by gods and he never had any shortage of food. He opened his ashram for everyone and fed everyone who came to him. His generosity caused other sages to feel jealous.
Other sages planned to hurt sage Gautama. They sent a weak cow to Gautama’s fields. When Gautama saw the cow he tried to feed the cow, but before he could help the cow, it died. That’s when all the other sages came out blaming sage Gautama for the cow’s death.
Sage Gautama was very sad about the death of the cow. He started worshipping Lord Shiva for penance. Gautama made over 100 Shivlinga and his worship pleased Shiva.
When Shiva came, Gautama asked him to send Ganga to wash away his sins. Lord Shiva told him that he committed no sin. Still, Lord Shiva asked Ganga to come down to the sage’s ashram.
Ganga came and was known as the Godavari there. Sage Gautama believed that all his sins were washed away.
In Trimbakeshwar the Jyotirlinga appeared with Godiva river. The Jyotirlinga has faces of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This is the only Jyotirlinga where all three deities appear together.
9. Baidyanath in Jharkhand
Ravana was a great Shiva devotee. Once he was worshipping Lord Shiva in Deoghar, also known as the home of gods. He wanted to please Lord Shiva and worshipped for a long time.
As the years went by, he increased the severity of his penance. Ultimately he started cutting off his ten heads one by one as a sacrifice to Lord Shiva.
Ravana kept severing his heads. When he was about to severe his tenth and the last head, Lord Shiva appeared in front of him. Lord Shiva healed Ravana.
Since Lord Shiva healed Ravana like a Vaidhya, he is worshipped as Baidyanath or Lord of healing.
Ravana asked Lord Shiva to come live in Lanka as his boon. Lord Shiva gave Ravana a Jyotirlinga with contained a part of him. Shiva told Ravana that wherever Ravana will place the Jyotirlinga, that place will become one of Lord Shiva’s home.
Other gods were worried that if the Jyotirlinga gets to Lanka, it would be next to impossible to defeat Ravana. So they all came up with a plan. Varuna or the god of water made Ravana urge to use a restroom. Since Ravana could not hold the Jyotirlinga while using the restroom, he asked a Shepherd to hold it for him.
The Shepherd was another god in disguise who placed the Jyotirlinga on the ground as soon as Ravana turned away. Once the Jyotirlinga was placed, Ravana couldn’t do anything. So he built a temple around the Jyotirlinga and went back to Lanka.
10. Nageshvara in Gujarat
Once there was an asura named Daruk who lived with his wife, Daruka. Daruka was a great devotee of Parvati and had received a boon from her. The forest where Daruk and Daruka lived moved wherever Daruka went.
Wanting to use it to terrorize innocents, Daruk asked his wife to move the forest on a small island. Daruk would then kidnap and bring his victims to this island.
Once he kidnapped a great Shiva devotee named Supriya. When Supriya was taken to the prison, he started chanting ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. He even encouraged other prisoners to chant the same.
Seeing his devotion, Lord Shiva decided to help them.
He appeared and killed Daruk. Where he appeared, a Jyotirlinga appeared, which was then called Nageshvara or Lord of serpents.
11. Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu
After Ram killed Ravana, he started his journey back towards Ayodhya. Before going home, Ram wanted to worship Lord Shiva to ask for his forgiveness for killing Ravana who was a great Shiva devotee.
Ram asked Hanuman to fly and bring a Shivlinga. Hanuman was gone for a long time, and the holy hour to perform the ritual was ending. So, Ram made a Shivlinga from sand and did his worship there.
When Hanuman finally came back, Ram worshipped that Shivlinga too.
The Shivlinga created by Ram is called Ramalinga and the one brought by Hanuman is called Vishwalinga. Both the lings are considered part of the Rameshwaram Jyotirlinga.
12. Grishneshwar in Maharashtra
Once there was a Brahman couple Brahmavetta Sudharm and his wife Sudeha. They were not able to have any children, even after many years. So Sudeha asked her husband to marry her sister, Gushma.
Gushma was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. Every day she would make a Shivlinga and immerse it in a lake nearby.
Soon Gushma had a son, and everyone was happy. Years went by and the son grew up and got married himself. Over the years, Sudeha started to be jealous of her sister’s son.
One day she killed her stepson and threw his body in the lake. Gushma performed her rituals like every day. When she went to the lake, she found her son well and alive through Lord Shiva’s blessings.
Gushma asked Lord Shiva to stay, and he agreed. He established a Jyotirlinga in the lake which is now known as Grishneshwar, meaning Lord of Compassion.
These 12 Jyotirlinga are said to have a living form of Lord Shiva. At each place, Lord Shiva appeared himself, and thus these places are said to be very holy.