Shaligram/Salagrama is an iconic in character. However in comparison, the linga may be a natural
object like the bana-linga found in the river Narmada, or carved by man in stone, gems
or clay or any material. But Salagramas are always only those which are naturally found
in the river Gandaki; they are never made by man.
It is interesting to that the great Samkara (632-664 A.D.) mentions in his
Vedanata-sutra-bhashya the worship of no other god other than that of Vishnu,
and that too in his Salagrama aspect (1,2,7 ‘yatha salagrama harih’; 1,2,14 ‘salagrama
iva vishnoh’; 1,3,14 ‘yatha salagrame vishnuh sannihitah, tadvat’), and not in iconic
forms. There is a wide-spread belief that the aniconic salagrama must necessarily
accompany the iconic representations; and the worship offered to the salagrama takes
precedence in the worship offered at home or in temples. It is a fact that in the
Vishnu shrines, salagramas are invariably placed in close contact with the ‘mula-murti’,
which worship is offered. Even in the celebrated temple of Vengadam (Tirupati-Tirumalai),
the group of salagramas always kept at the feet of the main deity in the sanctum partakes
of the principal worship daily; administrating a ceremonial bath to the salagramas is an
Salagrama is actually the name of the village on the banks of the river Gandaki, where the holy
stones are picked up. The name is derived from the hut (sala) of the sage Salankayana, who beheld
the form of Vishnu in a tree outside his hut (cf. Varaha-purana). This hut was on the banks of
the Gandaki, and it was in that particular spot that these sacred stones were found in abundance.
The stones were therefore called Salagrama.
The river Gandaki is a very ancient river; and the geologists say that it existed even
before the formation of the Himalayan ranges. It rises beyond the Himalayan ranges, probably
in Tibet, and flows (in the north-south direction) into Nepal, which is the southern valley
of the Himalayas, and India. The situation of the birth of the river is given as North 27 27
and East 83 56’; it courses in the south-western direction, and joins Ganga in a place called
Bhavatyapur in Bihar. It is an important tributary of the river Ganga. It is called Salagrami
or Narayani in Uttar-pradesh. It was known to the Greek geographers as Kondochetts.