The Baidyanath Temple is one of the Jyotirlingas, one of twelve Hindu temples of particularly special importance to the deity Shiva. It is traditionally the ninth temple of the list, though not necessarily in either importance or in order to be visited. Per the Jyotirlinga legend, Shiva appeared on the spot as a beam of light. Although the Baidyanath Temple in Deoghar is generally recognized as the actual Baidyanath Temple, there is some question as to whether or not this is the correct location identified in the ancient list. Nevertheless it is one of Jharkhand’s most poular Hindu pilgrimage destinations.
The city of Deoghar is an old settlement in Eastern India, and not a lot is known about its origins. Its connection to the Jyotirlinga legend, while uncertain, can be traced back at least as far as the 13th century, when many of the city’s temples were constructed. Nevertheless, it is one of the three recognized Jyotirlingas where there is some measure of doubt.
The story of Baidyanath draws on a legend regarding the demon king Ravana. Ravana, seeking to solidify his power and the strength of his kingdom of Lanka, beseeched Shiva to aid him. Shiva, impressed by Ravana’s show of piety, ultimately granted his request and entrusted the demon with a linga.
The other gods, nervous that this would make Ravana too powerful, made a plan to relieve the demon of the powerful relic. Through an elaborate ploy, they tricked Ravana into handing over the linga to the deity Vishnu disguised as a Brahmin. Vishnu promptly placed it at Baidyanath, from where it could never be removed and taken back to Lanka. Although he often returned to worship at the linga, Ravana could never get control of it or make use of its power.
In later years, the town of Deoghar was identified as Baidyanath, and a complex of temples eventually grew up around the site where the linga was believed to be located. During the British occupation, Baidyanath was the site of some controversy as the English forced pilgrims to turn over their donations to the East India Company. This practice was quickly abandoned and the temple survived the rest of the colonial era in relative peace. Despite the uncertainty of the location, Deoghar has since grown to be among the most popular of the Jyotirlingas for pilgrims.
The Baidyanath Temple is architecturally the most unique of the Jyotirlingas and one of the more unusual in India. According to available information, temples have stood on the spot for at least two thousand years, though the current structure is only a few centuries old. It stands at the center of an immense complex of over twenty temples which represent many deities of the Hindu pantheon. The most striking feature of the complex is the veritable forest of immense, sparkling white pyramid domes that crown every shrine.
The interior of the main temple to Shiva boasts a wealth of artistic treasures, including a famous jewel carved to look like a lotus flower. The lingam is buried in the ground at the heart of the temple, and only a fraction of it can be seen at ground level. It is arguably the single most sacred spot in Jharkand province.
The Baidyanath Temple stands at the very center of Deoghar, a little under 200 miles northwest of Kolkata. A very popular pilgrimage destination, it is open year-round. As of this writing no other visitor information was available. Web: www.babadham.org (official website).
Deoghar is absolutely packed with temples, most clustered in the immediate vicinity of the Baidyanath Temple. Among the most popular are the Rikhia Ashram, where people from around the world come to study yoga. One particularly popular site is actually about a mile away just outside of town: the Naulakha Temple, which is famous for its immense size and amazing stone carvings.