IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


10th August, 2023 Culture

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  • Shaligram stones, revered by Hindus and Buddhists for over 2,000 years, are facing a dire threat due to climate change.
  • These ancient fossils, believed to embody the divine presence, have been a central part of religious practices in Nepal's Kali Gandaki River Valley.
  • However, the effects of climate change, including glacier melting and gravel mining, are altering the course of the river and leading to a decline in the availability of Shaligram stones.


The Sacred Significance of Shaligram Stones

  • Religious Significance: Shaligram stones are viewed as manifestations of the Hindu god Vishnu and are venerated by Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Himalayan religion of Bon. They are considered living gods and are actively integrated into homes and temples.
  • Origin Myths: Two legends are associated with the mythology of Shaligram stones. In one, the goddess Tulsi transforms herself into the Kali Gandaki River, and Vishnu becomes a Shaligram stone as a result of deception. The second legend involves celestial worms called vajra-kita, which are believed to shape the stones' distinctive features.

The Shaligram Pilgrimage

  • Pilgrimage Route: The Shaligram pilgrimage takes place in the Himalayas, mainly between April and June and late August to November, avoiding monsoon rains and snowfall.
  • Mustang's Divisions: The pilgrimage route is divided into Upper and Lower Mustang. The village of Kagbeni, located on the banks of the Kali Gandaki, is a significant stop where pilgrims search for Shaligrams in the riverbed.
  • Muktinath Temple: The pilgrimage culminates at Muktinath, a temple site revered by Hindus, Buddhists, and Bon practitioners. The temple complex includes a shrine to Vishnu, water spouts, and a natural gas vent symbolizing different sacred elements.

Identification and Types

  • Physical Features: Shaligram stones come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. They often display intricate patterns on their surfaces. The markings are revered as symbols of different manifestations of Lord Vishnu.
  • Types and Forms: Shaligram stones are classified into different categories based on their appearance and characteristics. Common types include Shila Shaligram, Chakra Shaligram, and Shaligram representing various avatars of Lord Vishnu.

Worship and Rituals

  • Purification: Before worship, Shaligram stones are ritually purified with water, milk, and other sacred substances to cleanse them of impurities and negative energies.
  • Offerings: Devotees offer various items such as flowers, incense, fruits, and sweets to the Shaligram as a sign of reverence and devotion. Water from the Gandaki River is also used in worship.
  • Mantras and Prayers: During worship, specific mantras and prayers dedicated to Lord Vishnu are chanted. These invoke the divine presence and seek blessings.
  • Meditation and Contemplation: Many followers engage in meditation and contemplation while gazing at the Shaligram stone. This practice is believed to deepen the connection with Lord Vishnu and promote spiritual growth.
  • Shaligram stones play a crucial role in various Hindu rituals, including weddings, housewarming ceremonies, and important life events.

Symbolism and Philosophy

  • Unity of Creation: Shaligram stones symbolize the interconnectedness of all life forms and the universe. They remind devotees of the divine presence in all aspects of existence.
  • Non-Duality: Shaligram worship emphasizes the concept of non-duality (Advaita), teaching that the individual soul and the divine are ultimately one.

Climate Change Threats

  • Glacier Melting: The Kali Gandaki River is fed by meltwater from the Southern Tibetan Plateau. With the accelerated melting of glaciers due to climate change, the river's volume is decreasing, affecting its course.
  • River Course Alteration: The changing course of the river is diminishing the availability of Shaligram stones. The fossil beds, essential for the formation of Shaligrams, are shifting away from the river's path.
  • Gravel Mining: Human activities, such as gravel mining, are exacerbating the changes in the river's course and contributing to the scarcity of Shaligrams.

Implications for Pilgrimage and Tradition

  • Reduced Availability: Climate change-induced alterations to the river's course are resulting in fewer Shaligram stones being found during pilgrimages, posing a challenge to the religious practice.
  • Cultural Impact: The dwindling availability of Shaligrams impacts the cultural and spiritual practices of devotees, who see these stones as a connection to the divine.
  • Hope for the Future: Despite the challenges, pilgrims remain hopeful that they will continue to find Shaligram stones during their journeys, keeping alive the ancient tradition.


The threat posed by climate change to Shaligram stones underscores the delicate balance between natural landscapes and sacred traditions. As glaciers melt and rivers shift, the tradition of Shaligram worship faces significant challenges. However, the enduring faith of pilgrims and the commitment to these ancient practices offer hope that the connection between humanity and the divine, embodied in the form of Shaligram stones, will persist against the changing backdrop of the Himalayas.


Q. What is the significance of Shaligram stones in Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Himalayan religion of Bon, and how do these traditions venerate these ancient fossils? (250 Words)