Shiva is one god who’s as celebrated in popular culture as he’s revered in the holy scriptures. It’s probably not very surprising. Shiva is said to have a rather human temperament: one moment he’s the soft-hearted Bholenath, and the next an ill-tempered Rudra.
Mahadev also finds a dedicated place in temples and prayer rooms alike. No matter which deity a family worships, Shiva still holds a special place in the puja room, often as a lingam. A lingam is the power-vested, oval-shaped or column-like symbol of Lord Shiva.
Most lingams are said to be vested with divine power through the chanting of mantras. However, the most potent ones are known to have originated on their own (swayambhu lingams), when Shiva appeared as a fiery column of light to protect his devotees. According to Shiva Purana, Shiva pierced the three worlds of Swargaloka (heaven), Bhuvarloka (earth), and Patalaloka (underworld) to end an argument regarding the supremacy of creation.
Today, there are 12 temples in India, where Shiva is known to have appeared as a jyotirlinga (fiery column of light). Each temple has its own legend as to how the jyotirlinga came to be. But the one common theme running through most of these legends is that Shiva protected his devotees in this form. Here’s Soulveda delving into these special legends behind the 12 temples.
A confluence of Rivers Kapila, Hiran and the mythical Saraswati runs along Somnath, making it a pilgrimage centre. The waters of this confluence are considered holy, for Soma–the moon god–is known to have bathed in this river to regain his lustre. The story behind this belief is present in the Prabhasa Khanda chapter in Skanda Purana. According to this legend, Soma was married to 27 daughters of Daksha Prajapati, but loved Rohini above others. Displeased by Soma’s negligence towards his other wives, Daksha cursed him to lose his radiant beauty, plunging the world into lifelessness.
An upset Soma came down to the town of Prabhas to bathe in the River Saraswati and pray to Shiva. Lord Shiva then blessed Soma with brightness once more. Upon the request of Lord Brahma–who feared the world would turn lifeless without Soma’s radiance–Shiva decided to remain eternally in Prabhas as a jyotirlinga to continue protecting Soma. So, that’s how the town of Prabhas came to be known as Somnath.