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Fossilized seashell stones are called salagrama, and serves as non-anthropomorphic symbol of Vishnu.
Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligram Shila

Salagrama or Shaligram is a fossilized shell used in South Asia as an iconic symbol and reminder of the god Vishnu as the Universal Principle by Hindus of Vaishnavite and Smarthist sects.[1] Shaligrams are usually collected from river-beds or banks such as the Gandaki River in Nepal.[2] They are considered easy to carry and popular in certain traditions of Vaishnavism, as an aniconic representation of the divine. They are typically in the form of spherical, black-coloured Ammonoid fossils of the Devonian-Cretaceous period which existed from 400 to 66 million years ago.


Shaligramas are mostly black coloured stones with marks, and are the fossilized remains of now extinct sea dwelling ammonites. Hence they are found in river beds and other regions that were once underwater, the most popular being the Himalayas and Nepal. Historically, the use of Shaligrama (or Salagrama) Shilas in worship can be traced to the time of Adi Shankara through the latter's works. Specifically, his commentary to the verse 1.6.1 in Taittiriya Upanishad [3][4] and his commentary to the verse 1.3.14 of the Brahma Sutras [5] suggest that the use of Saligrama in the worship of Vishnu has been a well-known Hindu practice. A good number of false shaligrams too remain in circulation. Since they were underwater, the belief that these creatures only ate tulsi leaves is a myth.

The largest and heaviest Shaligrama can be seen at the Jagannath Temple,[citation needed] dedicated to Vishnu, at Puri in Odisha. The main ISKCON temple in Scotland, called 'Karuna Bhavan' is famous for housing the largest number of Shaligram Shilas outside of India.[citation needed]

The statue of Lord Vishnu in Ananthashayanam (partially sleeping posture on his snake) posture at the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram is also made from the Shaligrams of the Gandaki River.


Although Hinduism has many anthropomorphic murtis (images) of gods, aniconism is also represented with such abstract symbols of God as the Salagrama[1]


A Shaligrama – which has the marks of a shankha, Chakra, gada and padma arranged in a particular order – is worshiped as Keshava. With the change in the order of the four symbols, the name of the Shaligrama stone is also different and the images of such deities also have similar setting of the four symbols. The various orders and names are given for the twenty four permutations. These are well known names, which are the different names by which Lord Vishnu is known in the Hindu pantheon. The various versions of the Saligrama Shilas or stones vis-a-vis the order of the four symbols are:[6][self-published source?][7]

  1. Shankha, chakra, gada and padma – Keshava
  2. Padma, gada, chakra, shankha – Narayana
  3. Chakra, shankha, padma and gada – Madhava
  4. Gada, padma, shankha and chakra – Govinda
  5. Padma, shankha, chakra and gada – Vishnu
  6. Shankha, padma, gada, chakra – Madusudhana
  7. Gada, chakra, shankha and padma – Trivikrama
  8. Chakra, gada, padma, shankha – Vamana
  9. Chakra, gada, shankha, padma – Shridhara
  10. Gada, chakra, padma, shankha – Upendra
  11. Chakra, padma, shankha, gada – Hrishikesh
  12. Gada, shankha, padma, charka – Aniruddha
  13. Padma, chakra, gada, shankha – Padmanabha
  14. Shankha, gada, chakra, padma – Damodara
  15. Shankha, padma, chakra, gada – Sankarshana
  16. Padma, shankha, gada, chakra – Purushottama
  17. Shankha, chakra, padma, gada – Vasudeva
  18. Padma, gada, shankha, chakra – Narasimha
  19. Shankha, gada, padma, chakra – Pradyumna
  20. Padma, chakra, shankha, gada – Achyuta
  21. Gada, shankha, chakra, padma – Adhokshaja[8]
  22. Chakra, padma, gada and shankha – Hari
  23. Chakra, shankha, gada, padma – Janardana
  24. Gada, padma, chakra and shankha – Krishna

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jeanne Fowler, pp. 42–43, at Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices, by M. K. V. Narayan at pp. 84–85 at Flipside of Hindu Symbolism
  2. ^ "Taking the Lo road in Mustang, Nepal, The National". Retrieved 2016-04-06.
  3. ^ A. Mahadeva Sastri. Taittiriya Upanishad: with the commentaries of Sankaracharya, Suresvaracharya, and Sayana (Vidyaranya), pp. 80 (free download at:
  4. ^ "Taittiriya Upanishad", Chapter 1, Section 6, Verse 1 in The Taittiriya Upanishad, With the Commentaries of Śaṅkarāchārya (url:
  5. ^ George Thibaut. The Vedanta-Sutras with the Commentary by Sankaracarya: Sacred Books of the East, Volume 1, pp. 178 (url:
  6. ^ Debroy, Bibek; Dipavali Debroy (1992). The Garuda Purana. Shalagrama. p. 42. ISBN 0-9793051-1-X. Retrieved 2009-12-21.[self-published source]
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-08-19. Retrieved 2011-01-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Adhokshaja". 2 November 2015.

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