This is a mythological story that establishes connections with two aspects related to Lord Shiva- Mahashivaratri festival celebration and Tryambakeshvar as the abode of Lord Shiva. The legend of Shiva Linga or ‘Lingodbhavamurthy’ is the story of effort to establish supremacy of power among the Hindu Trinity of Gods- Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, the Lord Shiva. This mythological legend states the efforts put by Brahma and Vishnu to discover the ‘Aadi’ or the beginning and the ‘Antha’ or the end of Lord Shiva. This mythological story of Shiva Linga (the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva) has been mentioned in the three of the 18 Puranas (the ancient sacred writings)- the Kurma Purana, the Vayu Purana and Shiva Purana.
The Story of Shiva Linga (Lingodbhavamurthy)
Once Brahma and Vishnu started fighting over the matter of the supremacy of their powers. All the gods got terrified and went to Shiva for help. Thus, Lord Shiva took form of a grand Linga (phallic representation of Shiva) which looked like a huge never ending pillar. Shiva asked both Brahma and Vishnu to measure the grand Linga and the one who could do this was to be proved superior than the other. Both of them decided to find each end of the gigantic Linga.
Lord Brahma took form of a swan and flew upwards to find the top end of the Shiva Linga. Lord Vishnu took form of a varah (boar) and went downwards to find the lower end of the Linga. Both of them went on and on in their search for finding the beginning and the end of the Shiva Linga. But could not find either of it.
On his way towards the top of Linga, Brahma met Ketaki flower. Tired by his endeavour, Brahma requested ketaki flower to lie and say that he had reached the top of the Linga where the flower had been residing previously. With this plan, Brahma returned along with Ketaki flower and claimed to have founded the origin of the Linga. Vishnu too had returned without any success in his task.
At this time, Shiva appeared before them in his full glory. He presented himself in between the giant Linga column. That’s why, the statue of Shiva in between the linga is also famous as Lingodbhavamurti – Linga meaning phallic representation of Shiva, Udbhava means to appear and Murti means statue.
Brahma and Vishnu got awestruck at the grand sight of glorious Lord Shiva. They bowed in front of him and accepted his supremacy. Lord Shiva explained to Brahma and Vishnu that both of them were born out of Him and that they three were then separated out into three different aspects of divinity – the Trinity!
Lord Shiva was very angry with Brahma as he lied about discovering the origin of the Linga. He cursed Brahma that no one ever would pray to him. Probably this is why there is hardly any Brahma temple of significance in India. Lord Shiva was also angry with the Ketaki flower and thus banned her from being used as an offering for any worship. Brahma, who is also a supreme deity, too cursed Shiva in retaliation. In his counter curse, Brahma told Shiva that he would be pushed in the earth in Linga form and would remain in that form at Sahyadri Mountain. Thus, Lord Shiva, in Linga form emerged at the eastern spur of Sahyadri ranges and made Tryambakeshvar his abode.
As it was on the 14th day of Krishna Paksha (new moon forniight) of Phalguna month when Lord Shiva first represented himself in the form of a Linga, the day was since then celebrated as Mahashivaratri – the grand night of Shiva.