The lingam (also, linga, ling, Shiva linga, Shiv ling, Sanskrit लिङ्गं, liṅgaṃ, meaning "mark", "sign", or "inference") is a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples. In traditional Indian society, the linga is rather seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of the God.
The lingam is often represented alongside the yoni, a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy. The union of lingam and yoni represents the "indivisible two-in-oneness of male and female, the passive space and active time from which all life originates".
Definition and meaning
The Sanskrit term लिङ्गं liṅgaṃ, transliterated as linga, has diverse meanings and uses, ranging from mark, sign or characteristic to gender. Vaman Shivram Apte's Sanskrit dictionary provides the many definitions:
- The Siva Linga is a symbol of Lord Siva
- Mysterious power or indescribable Sakti in the Linga
- Linga is symbolical of the generative power of the Lord Siva
- All forms are pervaded by Lord Siva. Every form is the form or Linga of Lord Siva
- Linga is primary and is devoid of smell, colour, taste, hearing, touch, etc.
- A mark, sign, token, an emblem, a badge, symbol, distinguishing mark, characteristic
- A false or unreal mark, a guise, disguise, a deceptive badge
- A symptom, mark of disease
- A means of proof, a proof, evidence
- (In logic) The hetu or middle term in a syllogism
- The sign of gender or sex
- The male organ of generation
- The genital organ of Śiva
- The image of a god, an idol
- One of the relations or indications...which serve to fix the meaning of a word in any particular passage
- (In Vedānta philosophy) The subtle frame or body, the indestructible original of the gross or visible body
- A spot, stain
- The nominal base, the crude form of a noun
- (In Sāṅ. phil.) Pradhāna or Prakṛiti
- The effect or product (that which is evolved out of a primary cause and itself becomes a producer).
- Inference, conclusion
The Hindu scripture Shiva Purana describes in its first section, the Vidyeshwar Samhita, the origin of the lingam, known as Shiva-linga, as the beginning-less and endless cosmic pillar (Stambha) of fire, the cause of all causes. Lord Shiva is pictured as emerging from the Lingam – the cosmic pillar of fire – proving his superiority over gods Brahma and Vishnu. This is known as Lingodbhava. The Linga Purana also supports this interpretation of lingam as a cosmic pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva. According to Linga Purana, Shiva लिङ्गं liṅgaṃ Shiva Lingam or Shiva Pindi is a complete symbolic representation of the formless Universe Bearer - the oval shaped stone is resembling mark of the Universe and bottom base as the Supreme Power holding the entire Universe in it. Similar interpretation is also found in the Skanda Purana: "The endless sky (that great void which contains the entire universe) is the Linga, the Earth is its base. At the end of time the entire universe and all the Gods finally merge in the Linga itself."  In yogic lore, the linga is considered the first form to arise when creation occurs, and also the last form before the dissolution of creation. It is therefore seen as an access to Shiva or that which lies beyond physical creation.
Anthropologist Christopher John Fuller conveys that although most sculpted images (murtis) are anthropomorphic, the aniconic Shiva Linga is an important exception. Some believe that linga-worship was a feature of indigenous Indian religion.
There is a hymn in the Atharvaveda which praises a pillar (Sanskrit: stambha), and this is one possible origin of linga-worship. Some associate Shiva-Linga with this Yupa-Stambha, the sacrificial post. In that hymn a description is found of the beginningless and endless Stambha or Skambha and it is shown that the said Skambha is put in place of the eternal Brahman. As afterwards the Yajna (sacrificial) fire, its smoke, ashes and flames, the soma plant and the ox that used to carry on its back the wood for the Vedic sacrifice gave place to the conceptions of the brightness of Shiva's body, his tawny matted-hair, his blue throat and the riding on the bull of the Shiva. The Yupa-Skambha gave place in time to the Shiva-Linga. In the Linga Purana the same hymn is expanded in the shape of stories, meant to establish the glory of the great Stambha and the supreme nature of Mahâdeva (the Great God, Shiva).
According to Shaiva Siddhanta, which was for many centuries the dominant school of Shaiva theology and liturgy across the Indian subcontinent (and beyond it in Cambodia), the linga is the ideal substrate in which the worshipper should install and worship the five-faced and ten-armed Sadāśiva, the form of Shiva who is the focal divinity of that school of Shaivism.
The oldest example of a lingam which is still used for worship is in Gudimallam. According to Klaus Klostermaier, it is clearly a phallic object, and dates to the 2nd century BC. A figure of Shiva is carved into the front of the lingam.
The lingam also figures importantly into various forms of Buddhism. Perhaps most notable is the use of penis images in the teaching of Drukpa Kunley, a Buddhist monk.
British missionary William Ward criticized the worship of the lingam (along with virtually all other Indian religious rituals) in his influential 1815 book A View of the History, Literature, and Mythology of the Hindoos, calling it "the last state of degradation to which human nature can be driven", and stating that its symbolism was "too gross, even when refined as much as possible, to meet the public eye." According to Brian Pennington, Ward's book "became a centerpiece in the British construction of Hinduism and in the political and economic domination of the subcontinent." In 1825, however, Horace Hayman Wilson's work on the lingayat sect of South India attempted to refute popular British notions that the lingam graphically represented a human organ and that it aroused erotic emotions in its devotees.
Monier-Williams wrote in Brahmanism and Hinduism that the symbol of linga is "never in the mind of a Saiva (or Siva-worshipper) connected with indecent ideas, nor with sexual love." According to Jeaneane Fowler, the linga is "a phallic symbol which represents the potent energy which is manifest in the cosmos." Some scholars, such as David James Smith, believe that throughout its history the lingam has represented the phallus; others, such as N. Ramachandra Bhatt, believe the phallic interpretation to be a later addition. M. K. V. Narayan distinguishes the Siva-linga from anthropomorphic representations of Siva, and notes its absence from Vedic literature, and its interpretation as a phallus in Tantric sources.
Ramakrishna practiced Jivanta-linga-puja, or "worship of the living lingam". At the Paris Congress of the History of Religions in 1900, Ramakrishna's follower Swami Vivekananda argued that the Shiva-Linga had its origin in the idea of the Yupa-Stambha or Skambha—the sacrificial post, idealized in Vedic ritual as the symbol of the Eternal Brahman. This was in response to a paper read by Gustav Oppert, a German Orientalist, who traced the origin of the Shalagrama-Shila and the Shiva-Linga to phallicism. According to Vivekananda, the explanation of the Shalagrama-Shila as a phallic emblem was an imaginary invention. Vivekananda argued that the explanation of the Shiva-Linga as a phallic emblem was brought forward by the most thoughtless, and was forthcoming in India in her most degraded times, those of the downfall of Buddhism.
According to Swami Sivananda, the view that the Shiva lingam represents the phallus is a mistake; The same sentiments have also been expressed by H. H. Wilson in 1840. The novelist Christopher Isherwood also addresses the interpretation of the linga as a sex symbol. The Britannica encyclopedia entry on lingam also notes that the lingam is not considered to be a phallic symbol;
According to Hélène Brunner, the lines traced on the front side of the linga, which are prescribed in medieval manuals about temple foundation and are a feature even of modern sculptures, appear to be intended to suggest a stylised glans, and some features of the installation process seem intended to echo sexual congress. Scholars like S. N. Balagangadhara have disputed the sexual meaning of lingam.
Naturally occurring lingams
Shivling (6543m) is also a mountain in Uttarakhand (the Garhwal region of Himalayas). It arises as a sheer pyramid above the snout of the Gangotri Glacier. The mountain resembles a Shiva linga when viewed from certain angles, especially when travelling or trekking from Gangotri to Gomukh as a part of a traditional Hindu pilgrimage.
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