Sahasralinga, Sirsi – Thousand Shivalingas In Shalmala River

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Nandi sculptures and Shivalinga in Shalmala river at Sahasralinga, Sirsi
Nandi sculptures and Shivalinga in Shalmala river at Sahasralinga, Sirsi

Sirsi is the heart of Uttara Kannada nested in the lush green Western Ghats. Almost every road from here takes you to a scenic place. This time while visiting Sirsi, we decided to take a few small trips from around the town. We have already introduced you to Vibhuti Falls, Yana Rock, and Mirjan Fort. Now, come to Sahasralinga an ancient site on the riverbed of river Shalmala.

Multiple Shivalinga's in river at Sahasralinga, Sirsi
Multiple Shivalinga’s in river at Sahasralinga, Sirsi

Sahasralinga at Sonda near Sirsi

Shivalinga on the banks of Shalmala river
Shivalinga on the banks of Shalmala river

About 17 km from Sirsi, near the village of Sonda, quietly flows the river Shalmala. Surrounded by forests a part of this river hides an incredible heritage and a piece of history.

Nandi Statue at Sahasralinga, Sirsi
Nandi Statue at Sahasralinga, Sirsi

The bed of Shalmala River has huge rocks – some of them can be called boulders. In dark grey color, they seem to be hard granite stone.

Close-up of a carved Shivalinga in Shalmala river
Close-up of a carved Shivalinga in Shalmala river

The big and small stones have Shivalingas carved on them. Legend is that there are more than a thousand Linga’s hence the name Sahasralinga. Most of them even have the Nandi – Shiva’s vehicle carved on them. Some stones here even have more than one Shivalingas. Some of them were half finished and I could see the outline of the Shivalinga carved on them. As I walked in the knee-deep waters of the river, I was surprised to see a Shivalinga or two on almost every rock. Two huge boulders on the side had Nandi carved on them.

Naga Stone at Sahasralinga, Sirsi
Naga Stone at Sahasralinga, Sirsi

I also found some Naga images here including one of the Nag Devi. How can Shiva be represented without Nandi and Nag?

Nag Devi sculpture at Sahasralinga
Nag Devi sculpture at Sahasralinga

I also saw few stones piled on each other balanced on the rocks. It reminded me of my trip to Spiti Valley and the Inukshuk I saw in Canada. Some symbols are so universal.

Legend of Sahasralinga

A small board at Sahasralinga tells the story of the place.

Shivalinga's in Shalmala river top view
Shivalinga’s in Shalmala river top view

The king of Sonda or Swadi Akasappa Nayaka has no children. He was advised by a priest to make 1008 Shivalingas to be blessed with children. So, the king had every stone at the bed of Shalmala River converted into a Shivalinga.

The story goes that he then had children. So, these Shivalingas are votive Linga’s as in something made to get something in return. In Hindi, we would call them Ichhapoorti Shivalingas or wish-fulfilling Shivalingas.

Shivalinga's carved on rocks in Shalmala river at Sahasralinga, Sirsi
Shivalinga’s carved on rocks in Shalmala river at Sahasralinga, Sirsi

Not much is known about the history of these thousand and eight Shivalingas.

The Nandi sculpture in the image below is the largest one here. I guess it is about 6 ft tall, 12 feet long and 5 feet thick. Potentially weighing a few tons. Therefore I suppose all these sculptures were in-situ carved on the rocks existing on the river bed.

Giant Nandi or Basava sculpture carved on the rocks
Giant Nandi or Basava sculpture carved on the rocks

Some of the large rocks on the river bed also have carvings depicting mythological stories. Like the image below, in the background, a Nandi and Shivalinga can be seen.

Carvings on rocks in the river bed
Carvings on rocks in the river bed
Nandi carving on a large rock
Nandi carving on a large rock

When to visit Sahasralinga

Best time to see these Shivalingas is from October to March when there is less water in River Shalmala. During the monsoon, most of these Shivalingas are submerged in the monsoon-fed river.

The public transport does not take you to the spot. So we hired a cab to visit the place. The surroundings are lush green. One can enjoy walking around and can explore birding, flora & fauna.

There is a shop that caters to basic needs of visitors like drinking water, snacks or munchings.

Cursory google search did not reveal anything new that has not been heard about the place. High time the Government and/or its arms like ASI carries out/encourages research up and down-stream the river to discover more of this valuable heritage. For example, there is no exact number of Shivalingas found in this river bed.

Cable-stayed bridge over Shalmala river
Cable-stayed bridge over Shalmala river

Cable Bridge

Nearby there is a cable-stayed bridge leading to the village across the river. Go on a walk on the cable bridge to get a top view of the river and a better view of the landscape.

Landscape view from Cable bridge
Landscape view from Cable bridge

I wish some effort was made to keep the river and its banks clean. It is pathetic to see anything being thrown in the river and the dirty banks of the river.

Stroll on Cable Bridge near Sahasralinga, Sirsi
Stroll on Cable Bridge near Sahasralinga, Sirsi

I am still trying to find what the significance of making Thousand or more Shivalingas in one place is. I am sure there was a logic or a reason to it as these are found in many places in India and other places that followed Hinduism. Some of these places are:

I am sure there are more places that have similar Lingas. You wonder if they were all carved to get a wish fulfilled or if it was a way devotees thanked the Lord when their wishes were fulfilled.

Is it possible that there was a tradition of carving so many Shivalingas?

Following are some more Tourist Places to visit in and around Sirsi, Karnataka.

Sahasralinga pin

Sirsi Marikamba Temple

This 17th CE temple in red and white belongs to the presiding deity Sri Marikamba Devi. The Temple is considered one of the Shaktipeeth temples dedicated to Devi. You can see the local Kavi art displayed on its walls.

Banavasi

Banavasi is known for the rural tourism projects. Historically, it was the capital of Kadamba kings who ruled from here.

9th CE Madhukeshawara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the main attraction of Banavasi besides its serene rural life. Temple is stone is full of idols, the main ones include that of Parvati and Nandi.

Banavasi is well known for fresh sugarcane jaggery that you can taste as fresh as possible.

Banavasi is about 20 km from Sirsi.

41 COMMENTS

  1. anu ji, there is 0ne 1000 linga temple and a site having 1000 shivalingas in tamil nadu, near salem. i had visited this place 2 years back when i had gone for an international seminar in tiruchengode in the district. check the dtails. om namah shivaaya 1

  2. Very happy to read about the Sirsi shivalingas on the auspicious day of Shivaratri today (Feb 13, 2018). More than 1000 Siva Lingas and other rock relief carvings of Vishnu, Lakshmi, Brahma, Rama, and Hanuman are also found along a 150m stretch of the Stung Kbal Spean River in Cambodia, which I visited two years ago. This place is about 25 KM away from the main Angkor group of monuments. It is commonly known as the “The River of a Thousand Lingas“. The motifs for stone carvings are mainly Siva lingas, depicted as neatly arranged projections that cover the surface of a sandstone bed rock, and linga designs.The carving of vestiges began with the reign of King Suryavarman I and ended with the reign of King Udayadityavarman II; these two kings ruled between the 11th and 12th centuries. The 1000 lingas are attributed to a minister of Suryavarman I during the 11th century, and these were carved by hermits who lived in the area. Inscriptions at the site testify to the fact that most of the sculpting was done during the reign of Udayadityavarman II who also consecrated a golden linga here in 1059 CE. The archaeological site in Kbal Spean river was discovered in 1969 by a French ethnologist Jean Boulbet. But further exploration was cut off due to the Cambodian Civil War. The site regained prominence for safe visits from 1989.

  3. There is another set of saharashlingas i have noted some are :
    1.Pateshwar temple in Satara
    2.Kotilingeshwara temple,Kolar
    3.Somnathapura near Hampi.
    4.Gorakshanath cave temple but only 108 shivlings

  4. I have literally never heard of this place or knew that these statues existed. How cool to see such art in a river. My favorite is probably the Giant Nandi.

  5. So interesting to see carvings of gods and goddesses on the stones in the river, from years ago! The place looks quite intriguing, even though I am not really a religious person. Love how you’re exploring our beautiful country so extensively!

  6. There are just so many gods and stories in India, it’s always hard to follow. I enjoyed visiting Hampi a lot and there were also many carvings into stones. It’s impressive 1008 … and also interesting, as you mentioned was it done when the wish was fulfilled or was it made to fulfill the wish? To visit this place the season really is important, otherwise it’s all hidden. Thank you for showing us such a special place!

    • Melanie – if you remember the 3-4 main Gods of India – Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, and Ganesha, you are doing good. Yes, to see Sahasralinga you need to go during the dry season, else the sculptures stay submerged.

  7. What a legendary site. I’ve always been fascinated about the many legends and myths in India. It was so nice to read about my most ‘lustful’ country which I’ve not visited. It’s quite sad to read that the river is not maintained, there should create more awareness to stop this. And those carvings though. There are so much to keep one busy in Sahasralinga

  8. Oh wow, such incredible rock carvings unassumingly there in the river and banks! Sahasralinga sounds like a really interesting place to visit – thanks for the tip on October to March; yes, I can imagine the monsoon would submerge everything worth seeing!

  9. I made it to Marikamba and Banvasi but not this. Such a big loss for me. The story is interesting. I saw similar lings in Cambodia. Ekambarnathar Temple in Tamil Nadu has 1008 lingas but those are inside temple complex and not out in open.

    • Indrani – there should always be another reason to come back :-). I am yet to go to Cambodia which I assume is very similar to this one. Inside the temple complexes, there are many examples of 1008 lingas.

  10. What an amazing place. It looks like a wonderful mixture of art, nature and spiritualism. I’d never heard of such a thing before! Did the king get everything he wanted from the act?

  11. The carved stoned are fascinating, I wonder how they got there? They are very interesting carvings. They must be beautiful to see up close and quite tranquil in the river.

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