Most Shiva Lingam come from in the Narmada River, one of the 7 sacred sites in India. According to Hindu tradition, a pilgrim who washes in the sacred Ganges River the water will take away all of their sins, but if a pilgrim so much as glimpses the Narmada River, all one’s sins will be forgiven. Narmada translates from Sanskrit to mean, “the giver of pleasure.”
The stone found within the Narmada River have a number of different creation stories. According to one myth, Lord Shiva created the stones while destroying the wicked city of Tripura. His arrows rained down on the Earth and one of them fell in the Narmada River, splitting into many pieces and becoming river rocks. Because they were created by Shiva himself, they carried his Divine presence within them. In another myth, the first Shiva Lingam was a present from Shiva to his loyal devotee, the demon-king Bana. Bana had incurred the wrath of the other gods because of his wicked ways, but Shiva honored him anyway, and so this stone is sometimes called “Bana Lingam” rather than Shiva Lingam. In yet another myth, the Goddess Parvati personally shaped the first Shiva Lingam out of sand as a sign of her great love and devotion to her divine husband.
Many Hindu households, as well as temples, have a Shiva Lingam on an altar. They may be decorated with fresh flowers, bathed in incense and ghee (clarified butter), sung to with sacred songs and chants, and used as a focus during meditation. Natural Shiva Lingams are viewed as physical representations of the God himself, and very different than a carving created by a human. A statue has to be consecrated in order to be holy, while a Shiva Lingam stone is inherently holy. The most sacred Shiva Lingams are called swayambus, Sanskrit for “self manifesting,” meaning that they were naturally oblong and were not shaped by human hands, but rather by the god himself.