I was recently reading an article by Sri Koteshwara Suryanarayana Rao in a magazine called Yugapurusha. It was an excellent article with lots of information on Saligramas. I thought of reproducing some interesting points from that kannada article here so it may benefit those interested in Saligrama worship.
Saligramas are essentially the shells of a kind of molluscs found only in the Vishnu Parvata in Nepal. The molluscs carve out stones in the mountain and make a shell like structure. They use this to lay their eggs. Once the young ones emerge, these small shells roll down from the mountain and fall into the Gandaki river flowing below. From this river, the holy Saligramas are collected.
Saligramas are typically the size of a gooseberry or a small lemon. It is the most sacred of forms in which Vaishnavas worship Lord Vishnu. It is believed in a Saligrama, there are thousands and thousands of forms of Vishnu present at any time.
(My addition – when we do daily puja, it is a ritual to perform “avahane” or inviting the Gods to come and occupy the idols that we use to worship them. For example, we touch the silver idol of Ganesha or Krishna and chant Om Gam Ganapataye Namah or Om Namo Narayanaya Om at least 24 times as a request for the Lord to energize the idol. But, the same is not done for Saligramas as it is believed that the Lord is always present in his full form in Saligramas at all times. Note that I am talking about the ritual associated with pujas and am not opening a discussion about the presence or absence of God in insentient or sentient beings)
Vaishnavas perform “abhisheka” to the Saligrama and accept the same as “theertha” or holy water.
There are 3 basic categories of Saligramas. Also, there are around 20 names used to differentiate the different types of Saligramas that are available. If one intends to keep a Saligrama at home and worship it, he needs to follow certain strict guidelines. Every day, the Saligrama must be given an abhisheka. Flowers and sandal-paste must be offered and naivedya must be done. There are certain Saligramas that are kept only in temples and mutts. For example, the Lakshmi Narasimha Saligrama and Ananta Saligrama fall under this category as the rituals associated with their worship are extremely strict for it to be possible in ordinary homes.
The Saligramas typically worshipped at home are Sudarshana, Gadadhara, Madhusudana, Lakshmi Narayana, Lakshmi Janardana, Vamana, Shridhara, Raghunatha, Ranarama, Rajarajeshwara. Smaller saligramas typically have 1 to 7 chakras or circles in them. The most “mild” Saligramas are Vasudeva, Lakshmi Narayana, Sankarshana and Sudarshana.
In Ananta Saligrama, there are up to 14 chakras and it is pitch black in color. The biggest among Saligramas is the Damodara. Sudarshana has only one chakra and is flat. Aniruddha Saligrama is green in color and it is also translucent in nature.