“Saaligraama” (Shaligram/Salagramam), also called ‘Salagrama’ is a sacred stone preserved in many Hindu households as an object of worship. It is worshipped as representative of Lord Vishnu. It is usually not displayed in the open, but taken out and put back, preferably in a box after puja.
The salagrama is passed on through generations and was not supposed to be bought or sold, as it is considered a priceless possession. Any house which has a salagrama should strictly observe the Dharmic traditions, worship God daily and maintain the sanctity of the house at all times.
The salagrama stones are available exclusively along the river Gandaki (Kali) in the vicinity of a village of the same name in Nepal. Its surface is smooth and is generally oval in shape, with certain marks on its surface and one or more holes. The markings on the surface resemble the ‘chakra’ (a series of lines together resembling a wheel), ‘shankha’ (Conch shell) or gada (the mace), all appurtenances of Lord Vishnu. Whoever found them in the beginning was able to recognize them as unique and thought that they possessed divine qualities because of the markings referred to above and he must have brought them down to the plains of India to introduce them as a representation in reality of Lord Vishnu. It may be that he was not aware of the geological aspect of its formation. The stones, depending on the markings, were identified as representing the different ‘avatars’ of Lord Vishnu (Narasimha, Makara, Matsya etc.)
The scientific explanation for these stones is that they are fossilized remains of creatures from the ocean called ‘ammonites’ which became extinct 65 million years ago in what geologists call the ‘Cretaceous’ era, around the same time when the dinosaurs became extinct. During this period, they believe that there existed an ocean they called the sea of Tethys. This salt water ocean separated two large chunks of land mass, both of which moved towards each other and collided. As a result of this collision, there was an upheaval in the ocean and its bed was pushed up to form a chain of mountains from the Himalayas to the Alps. The entire marine life at the time was thus destroyed and the creatures remained buried inside land mass and they became fossilized. Similar marine life was buried deep elsewhere which turned into petroleum, on which we depend so much in our lives. Thus it is evident that the Himalayas was once underneath an ocean by the fact that fossils and sedimentary rocks resembling sea beds have been discovered in the foothills, which are not completely covered by snow. What lay beneath the ice at higher levels of the mountain is anybody’s guess.
Many of the rivers originating in the Himalayas were formed due to the melting of glaciers and did not carry any debris initially and thus they carried waters of the purest form. Downhill, the force of their descent gradually eroded the soil along their course and portions of the sedimentary rocks loosened and joined the streams. The rolling of the stones caused smooth surfaces on them and roundish shapes. This was particularly the case along the river Gandaki near a place called Shaligram on the banks of the river Gandaki.
Fossil stones similar to the Salagrama were found in Europe. The ammonites were thought to be petrified coiled snakes and were called ‘serpent stones’ and were considered to be due to the actions of Saints like St. Patrick and were believed to have healing powers. Thus the Saligrama is worshipped for six values of life – Righteous Living, creation of wealth, protection, sound health, pleasures and spiritual attainment. There is not much known about its curing powers scientifically, but the books suggest that partaking of the water used to bathe the stone every day will result in good health.
As Lord Krishna stated in the Bhagavadgita, it is much more difficult to focus on God in the unmanifested state than God with form, due to human beings having the need to perceive via the senses. The presence of lines and markings in the stones must have led people who found the stones to believe that they were manifestations of God. The presence of these shilas in houses entails that the possessor follows strict rules relating to the practice of the religion thus ensures that the place where it is worshipped does not harbor evil minds.