Baidyanath Jyotirlinga temple, also known as Baba dham and Baidyanath dham is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the most sacred abodes of Shiva. It is located in Deoghar in the Santhal Parganas division of the state of Jharkhand, India. It is a temple complex consisting of the main temple of Baba Baidyanath, where the Jyotirlinga is installed, and 21 other temples.
According to Hindu beliefs, the demon king Ravana worshipped Shiva at the current site of the temple to get the boons that he later used to wreak havoc in the world. Ravana offered his ten heads one after the another to Shiva as a sacrifice. Pleased with this, Shiva descended to cure Ravana who was injured. As he acted as a doctor, he is referred to as Vaidhya (“doctor”). From this aspect of Shiva, the temple derives its name.
As per Shiv Mahapuran, once Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and Vishnu (the Hindu God of saving) had an argument in terms of supremacy of creation. To test them,Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga. Vishnu and Brahma split their ways to downwards and upwards respectively to find the end of the light in either directions. Brahma lied that he found out the end, while Vishnu conceded his defeat. Shiva appeared as a second pillar of light and cursed Brahma that he would have no place in ceremonies while Vishnu would be worshipped till the end of eternity. The jyotirlinga is the supreme partless reality, out of which Shiva partly appears. Thejyothirlinga shrines, thus are places where Shiva appeared as a fiery column of light. Originally there were believed to be 64 jyothirlingas while 12 of them are considered to be very auspicious and holy. Each of the twelve jyothirlinga sites take the name of the presiding deity – each considered different manifestation of Shiva. At all these sites, the primary image is lingam representing the beginningless and endless Stambha pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva. The twelve jyothirlinga are Somnath inGujarat, Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andra Pradesh, Mahakaleswar at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh, Kedarnath in Uttarakhand, Bhimashankar inMaharastra, Viswanath at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Triambakeshwar in Maharastra, Baidyanath at Deoghar in Jharkhand, Nageswar at Dwarka in Gujarat, Rameshwar atRameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Grishneshwar at Aurangabad in Maharastra.
According to the stories narrated in the Shiva Purana, it was in the Treta yuga that the demon Ravana, king of Lanka, felt that his capital would not be perfect and free from enemies unless Mahadeva (Shiva) stays there forever. He paid continuous meditation to Mahadeva. Ultimately Shiva got pleased and permitted him to carry his lingam with him to Lanka. Mahadeva advised him not to place or transfer this lingam to anyone. There should not be a break in his journey to Lanka. If he deposits the lingam anywhere on the earth, in the course of his journey, it would remain fixed at that place forever. Ravana was happy as he was taking his return journey to Lanka.
The other gods objected to this plan; if Shiva went to Lanka with Ravana, then Ravana would become invincible, and his evil and anti-vedic deeds would threaten the world.They never liked to see Lord Shiva as his protector. They devised a plan for outwitting Ravana. They requested Varuna (the god of water) to enter into the belly of Ravana, on his way back from Mount Kailash. So, on his way back, Ravana felt a severe urge to release water. He began looking for a man to whom he could temporarily entrust the lingam. Lord Vishnuappeared before Ravana in the guise of a Brahmin. Unaware of the mystery, Ravana handed over the lingam to the Brahmin. Unfortunately, Ravana could not ease himself soon. Meanwhile, the Brahmin placed the lingam at this place which was and which is now Baidyanathdham. Ravana tried hard to remove the lingam from the spot where it had been placed. He could not turn out the lingam even an inch. This made him frustrated. He used violence but he only succeeded in pushing the lingam by thumb and damaging it. Later on he felt guilty of his doings and begged for forgiveness. The Gods were happy that the Shiva linga had not reached Ravana’s place. He returned to Lanka but visited daily to worship the lingam. This continued forever. The place where Ravana descended on the earth is identified with the present Harilajori about four miles north of Baidyanathdham. The place where the lingam was kept is now Deoghar and the lingam itself is known to all as Baidyanath Jyotirlingam. According to other traditions, the ‘LINGAM’ (Lord Shiva) lay neglected after the death of Ravana until it was noticed by a rude hunter, Baiju, who accepted it as his God and worshiped it daily; proclaiming to the world, as the Lord of Baiju (Baidyanath).
There are 22 temples in the same campus of different Gods and Goddesses among which Lord Shiva is empowered as being supreme. Modern concepts ascribe that the shrines are of both old and new styles. The temple of Shiva, Baidyanath faces the east, and is 72 feet tall, and it is lotus shaped. According to religious belief this temple has been built by Vishwakarma, the architect of gods. There are three parts of this temple; i.e., the main temple, the middle part of the main temple, and the entrance part of the main temple. The main temple is beyond historical dates. It has been visited since the age of Rama, the king of Ayodhya. The top contains three ascending shaped gold vessels that are compactly set, which were donated by Maharaja of Gidhaur, Raja Puran Singh. Besides these pitcher shaped vessels, there is a ‘PUNCHSULA’ (Five knives in Tridenta shape), which is rare. In the inner top there is an eight petaled lotus jewel (CHANDRAKANTA MANI). The main ‘LINGAM’ (Lord Shiva) is also very rare. To the east of the northern verandah of the temple there is a large vat into which flows the water and milk offered as ablution. The lingam is of a cylindrical form about 5 inches in diameter and projects about 4 inches from the center of a large slab of basalt. It is not possible to ascertain how much of the lingam is buried. The top is broken and has uneven surface. There are different porches in the temple. One porch leads to the cell where the lingam is fixed. The second porch is in front with a row of pillars spanned by blocks of basalt and on the right side there is a sandstone image of a bull. There are bells fixed in the ceiling and pilgrims are supposed to pull the bell-ropes to announce their approach to the divinity. The courtyard has eleven other temples, mainly of Maa Parvathi, Maa Kali, Maa Jagat Janani, Kal Bhairav and Lakshminarayan. Maa parvathi temple is tied up with the main temple, with huge red sacred threads which is unique and worthy of reverence, showing the unity of Shiva and Shakti.
On a normal day, the worshipping of Baidyanath Jyotirlingam begins at 4 AM. The temple doors open at this time. During 4:00am to 5:30 am, the Head priest worships with Shodashopachar. Locals also call it Sarkari Pooja. Then the devotees begin their worship of the Shivalinga. The most interesting tradition is that priests of the temple pour kuchcha Jal upon the lingam first, and later on the pilgrims pour water and offer flowers and Bilva leaf, upon the lingam. The Puja rituals continue till 3.30 PM. After this the temple doors are closed. In the evening at 6 PM the doors are opened again for devotees/ pilgrims and the process of worshipping begins again. At this time Shringar Puja takes place. The temple closes at 9:00 pm on the normal day, but during Holy Shravan month, the timings are extended. Unlike Somnath or Rameshwaram or Srisailam, here the devotees can get satisfaction by offering Abhishek themselves on Jyotirlinga. The pandas who perform different poojans for devotees are very important persons. They have a union called Dharmarakshini Sabha. The devotee can also buy Peda as prasad from Babadham. Peda is a local speciality of Deoghar. Babadham has a regular and well maintained office to accept offerings and donations.
The Matsyapuran narrates the place as Arogya Baidyanathitee, the holy place where Shakti lives and assists Shiva in freeing people from incurable diseases. The Madan Madhavi, a manuscript preserved in the archives of Maharaja of Gidhaur, provides information related to the political and cultural history of Gidhaur Raj. It includes a description of Babadham as well. This whole area of Deoghar was under the rule of the Kings of Gidhaur who were much attached with this temple. Raja Bir Vikram Singh founded this princely state in 1266. In 1757 after the Battle of Plassey the officers of the East India Company paid their attention to this temple. An English man, Keating was sent to look at the administration of the temple. Mr. Keating, the first English collector of Birbhum, took interest in the administration of the temple. In 1788, under Mr. Keating’s order Mr. Hesilrigg, his assistant, who was probably the first English man to visit the holy city, set out to supervise personally the collection of the pilgrim offerings and dues. Later, when Mr. Keating himself visited Babadham, he was convinced and forced to abandon his policy of direct interference. He handed over the full control of the temple to the hands of the high priest.
Millions of pilgrims visit this shrine every year. It is famous for the mela of Shraavana (a month of the Hindu calendar), between July and August. About 7 to 8 million devotees visit the place from various parts of India and offer holy water of Ganges to the deity collected from Sultanganj, which is almost 108 km from Deoghar and Baidyanath. The water is also brought by the Kānvarias, who carry the water in Kavadi, and walk all the distance, on bare foot. You will find large crowds walking all the way carrying water. An unbroken line of people in saffron-dyed clothes stretches over the full 108 km for the month. The pilgrims are called Dak Bam and they do not stop even once in their journey from Sultangunj, located at Bhagalpur district to Vaidyanath. Pilgrims to the temple later visit the Basukinath temple.