The Baba Baidyanath Temple at Deoghar has a remarkable history. The temple has been noted is several ancient scriptures to modern history books. The History of Jyotirlinga goes back to the Treta Yuga, at the time of Lord Rama.
According to the stories narrated in the Shiva Purana, it was in the Treta yuga that Ravana the king of Lanka, felt that his capital would not be perfect and free from enemies unless Mahadeva (Shiva) stays there forever. He paid continuous meditation to Mahadeva. Ultimately Shiva got pleased and permitted him to carry his lingam with him to Lanka. Mahadeva advised him not to place or transfer this lingam to anyone. There should not be a break in his journey to Lanka. If he deposits the lingam anywhere on the earth, in the course of his journey, it would remain fixed at that place forever. Ravana was happy as he was taking his return journey to Lanka.
The other gods objected to this plan; if Shiva went to Lanka with Ravana, then Ravana would become invincible and his evil and anti-vedic deeds would threaten the world.
On his way back from Mount Kailash, it was time for Ravana to perform sandya-vandana (evening prayer) and he could not carry out sandya-vandha with Shiva linga in his hand and therefore searched for someone who could hold it for him. Vishnu then appeared as a shepherd who was rearing sheeps nearby. Ravana requested Ganesh pretending as shepherd to hold the linga while he completes sandya-vandana and also guided him not to place the linga on ground at any movement.
Ganesha warned Ravana about leaving the linga on the bank of the river and walking away if he doesn’t return soon. Vishnu, pretending to be vexed by Ravena’s delay, set the linga down on earth. The moment linga was kept down, it got fixed to the ground. When Ravana after returning from Sandya-vandana tried to move the linga, but he could not. Ravan failed miserably in his attempt to uproot the linga. The Gods were happy with Shiva linga not reaching Ravana’s place.
Deoghar has been recognized in the Ancient Verses. ‘Baidyanatham chithabhoomau’ [sivmahapuran kotirudra samhita 1/21-24] is the ancient verse that identifies location of vaidyanth jyotirlinga. According to which Baidyantham is in ‘chidabhoomi’, which is the ancient name of Deoghar.
In Dwadasa jyothirlinga sthothram, Adi Sankaracharya has praised Vaidyanath jyothirlinga in verses. According to him, Vaidyanath jyotirlinga is located at Prajwalika nidhanam (meaning funeral place i.e., chithabhoomi) in the North-Eastern part of the country.
In the 8th century A.D., the last Gupta Emperor Adityasena Gupta ruled this region. The Babadham temple has been famous since then.
During Mughal Period, Raja Man Singh, the brother-in-law of Akbar created a Pond at Deoghar which is known as Mansarovar.
Pilgrimage to Baidyanath was well recognized in the Muslim period as well. There is an interesting account of the pilgrimage to Baidyanath in the Khulasati-t-twarikh written between 1695 and 1699 A.D.
From the writings of Khulasati-t-twarikh it is evident that the importance of Babadham temple has been well admitted by all.
In the 18th century, the Maharaja of Gidhaur faced political turmoil. He had to fight against the Nababs of Birbhum. Under the Muhammadan government, the chief priest appears to have paid a fixed rent to the Nabab of Birbhum, and the administration of the temple seems to have been left entirely in the hands of the priest. For a few years the Nabab ruled over Babadham. Subsequently, the Maharaja of Gidhaur defeated the Nabab and Babadham was brought back under his rule till the East India Company came in.
In 1757 after the battle of Pallsy the officers of the East India Company paid their attention to this temple. An English man, Keating was sent to look at the administration of the temple. Mr. Keating, the first English collector of Birbhum, took interest in the administration of the temple. In 1788, under Mr. Keating’s order Mr. Hesilrigg, his assistant, who was probably the first English man to visit the holy city, set out to supervise personally the collection of the pilgrim offerings and dues. Later, when Mr. Keating himself visited Babadham, he was convinced and forced to abandon his policy of direct interference. He handed over the full control of the temple to the hands of the high priest.