Trimbakeshwar is one of the twelve famous jyotirlinga (pillar of light) of Lord Shiva. Located in the Brahmagiri hills of Nashik, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, Trimbakeshwar holds a place of specific importance in Hindu mythology. The Shiva Puran mentions the consecration of this holy place as the consequence of the pious and rigorous sage Gautam Muni’s efforts.
It is said that Gautam Muni had his ashram (hermitage) in the Brahmagiri hills. Once, the region experienced a terrible drought which caused rampant destruction. The crops failed, the ground water wells dried up, tress in the forests shrivelled up, animals began dying of hunger and starvation. Moved by the plight of the people and other living beings, Gautam Muni prayed to Varun Dev (god of water) for help. Pleased by his devotion Varun Dev granted Gautam Muni a well of plenty. It had limitless amount of food and water. Gautam Muni shared his gift with everybody and his fame spread far and wide. Jealous of Gautam’s popularity and prosperity some sages decided to defame him. They drove a cow into Gautam’s hermitage and arranged for it to die as the venerated tried to shoo it away with some Dhurba grass.
The cow, which is a holy animal according to Hindu philosophy, was worshipped next to Gods. The killing of a cow was and continues to be a taboo, and considered one of the most severe crimes requiring very high penance for atonement. Gautam and his hermitage was rendered impious by this event and he was asked to bring the river Goddess Ganga to come down to Brahmagiri to wash away the negativity caused. Gautam sat down to worship Lord Shiva. He arranged 10 million shivlingas and dedicated his entire spiritual power to please Lord Shiva. His prayers came to fruition when Lord Shiva came down from Kailash and made himself accessible to the sage. He asked Gautam to utter his heart’s fondest desire as a boon. Gautam asked for Goddess Ganga to be brought to Himgiri. He prayed that She would bless the region by flowing through the land eternally, bringing it sustained prosperity.
Lord Shiva granted Gautam’s wish and summoned Goddess Ganga. The Goddess agreed but prayed to Lord Shiva that She would want Him to stay with her there for all times. Lord Shiva granted Her wish. Ganga transformed herself into Gautami Ganga and began flowing through the region as Lord Shiva assumed the shape of a Jyotirlinga and rested there as Trimbakeshwar.
An alternate version of the legend has it that Lord Shiva had appeared here to end an altercation between Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma over which one of them was to be considered superior. Lord Shiva had transformed himself into a enormous pillar of light that pierced the three realms of Swarg (heaven) Dharti (earth) and Pataal (underworld). Unbeknowest to Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu, the pillar had no end at either end. They planned to try finding the ends of the pillar. It was decided, whoever was the first to find the end would be the superior between the two. Lord Brahma went skywards on his Swan and Lord Vishnu transformed into a Varaha (Wild boar) and began digging under the ground. They searched over millennia but in vain. Lord Vishnu realised the futility of the search and surrendered. Brahma though played smart. He found a Ketaki flower falling from above. He picked up the flower and asked it whence it came. The flower replied that it had fallen from the top end of the pillar. It was the most beautiful and fragrant flower in existence. Brahma solicited the help of the flower in his feud with Vishnu. Ketaki promised to help. When they met where the race started, Lord Vishnu accepted defeat but Brahma boasted that he had found the end. Ketaki provided false evidence. Furious with Brahma’s deception, Shiva appeared to the two of them and cursed Brahma that he would not be worshipped anywhere. On Vishnu he bestowed the boon f being worshipped and revered all through time.
Brahma retaliated by cursing Shiva that the jyotirlinga form Shiva had appeared there, would slip into the earth and forever be under the surface. All three of them are said to have then transformed into jyotirlingas, The Linga representing Shiva is said to be eternally sprouting water, symbolic of how Shiva’s promise to Gautami or Goddess Ganga to eternally accompany Her is fulfilled.
The Trimbakeshwar jyotirlinga is said to represent the three aspects of the divine trinity of creation (Brahma), protection (Vishnu) and destruction (Shiva). Since Shiva transcends and subsumes all three functions, he is the ultimate divine entity in Hindu mythology. The assemblage of the trinity was known to be such an auspicious event that all Gods and Goddesses pledged to visit the site every twelve years when Jupiter is in the Leo constellation, to pay their homage. Currently, when said stellar alignment occurs, this site receives plenty of devotees, carnivals and festivals are celebrated. It is believed this is one of the places where the deities grant every wish made by the pious.