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"Linga" and "Shivling" redirect here. For the mountain, see Shivling (Garhwal Himalaya). For other uses, see Linga (disambiguation).
Traditional flower offering to a lingam in Varanasi

The lingam (also linga, ling, Shiva linga, Shiv ling, Sanskrit: लिङ्गं,liṅgaṃ, meaning "mark", "sign", or "inference"[1][2]) is a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples.[3] In traditional Indian society, the linga is rather seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of God, Shiva himself. [4][4][5][6][7]

The lingam is often represented alongside the yoni, a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy.[8] 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".[9]

Linga represents Cosmic Egg ('Brahmanda' in Sanskrit) who has no beginning nor end. It is believed that this changing world ('Jagat' in Sanskrit) merges or dissolves into the Formless in the end. So, the Linga is the simplest sign of emergence and mergence.[10][11]

Definition and meaning[edit]

Sivalingam at the Sri Meenakshi temple in Madurai

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[12] dictionary provides the many definitions:

  1. A mark, sign, token, an emblem, a badge, symbol, distinguishing mark, characteristic
  2. A mark of realism
  3. A symptom, mark of disease
  4. A means of proof, a proof, evidence
  5. (In logic) The hetu or middle term in a syllogism
  6. The sign of gender or sex
  7. The male organ of generation
  8. The genital organ of Siva (phallus)
  9. Gender (in gram.)
  10. The image of a god, an idol
  11. One of the relations or indications...which serve to fix the meaning of a word in any particular passage
  12. (In Vedānta philosophy) The subtle frame or body, the indestructible original of the gross or visible body
  13. A spot, stain
  14. The nominal base, the crude form of a noun
  15. (In Sāṅ. phil.) Pradhāna or Prakṛiti
  16. The effect or product (that which is evolved out of a primary cause and itself becomes a producer).
  17. 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.[13] Lord Shiva is pictured as emerging from the Lingam – the cosmic pillar of fire – proving his superiority over gods Brahma and Vishnu.[14] This is known as Lingodbhava. The Linga Purana also supports this interpretation of lingam as a cosmic pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva.[14][15][16][17] According to Linga Purana, the lingam 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.[18] 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." [19] 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.[20]



Lingobhava Shiva: God Shiva appears as in an infinite Linga fire-pillar, as Vishnu as Varaha tries to find the bottom of the Linga while Brahma tries to find its top. This infinite pillar conveys the infinite nature of Shiva.[14]

Anthropologist Christopher John Fuller conveys that although most sculpted images (murtis) are anthropomorphic, the aniconic Shiva Linga is an important exception.[21] Some believe that linga-worship was a feature of indigenous Indian religion.[22]

There is a hymn in the Atharvaveda which praises a pillar (Sanskrit: stambha), and this is one possible origin of linga-worship.[22] 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.[16][17] 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).[17]

Historical period[edit]

A Shiva lingam worshipped at Jambukesvara temple in Thiruvanaikaval (Thiruaanaikaa)
A 10th-century four-headed stone lingam (Mukhalinga) from Nepal

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.[23]

1008 Lingas carved on a rock surface at the shore of the Tungabhadra River, Hampi, India

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.[24] A figure of Shiva is carved into the front of the lingam.[25]

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.

Modern period[edit]

In 1825 Horace Hayman Wilson's work on the lingayat sect of South India attempted to refute ridiculous British notions that the lingam graphically represented a human organ and that it aroused erotic emotions in its devotees.[26]

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."[27] According to Jeaneane Fowler, the linga is "a phallic symbol which represents the potent energy which is manifest in the cosmos."[3] 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.[28] 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.[29]

Ramakrishna practiced Jivanta-linga-puja, or "worship of the living lingam".[30][31] 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.[16][17][32] 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.[33] 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.[17]

According to Swami Sivananda, the view that the Shiva lingam represents the phallus is a mistake;[18] The same sentiments have also been expressed by H. H. Wilson in 1840.[34] The novelist Christopher Isherwood also addresses the interpretation of the linga as a sex symbol.[35] The Britannica encyclopedia entry on lingam also notes that the lingam is not considered to be a phallic symbol;[5]

According to Hélène Brunner,[36] 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.[37]

Naturally occurring lingams[edit]

Lingam in the cave at Amarnath

An ice lingam at Amarnath in the western Himalayas forms every winter from ice dripping on the floor of a cave and freezing like a stalagmite. It is very popular with pilgrims.

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.

A lingam is also the base for the legend of formation (and name) of the Borra Caves in Andhra Pradesh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Spoken Sanskrit Dictionary
  2. ^ A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary
  3. ^ a b Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices, by Jeanne Fowler, pgs. 42–43,
  4. ^ a b Mudaliyar, Sabaratna. "Lecture on the Shiva Linga". Malaysia Hindu Dharma Mamandram. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "lingam". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Since the late 19th century some scholars have interpreted the lingam and the yoni to be representations of the male and female sexual organs. To practicing Hindus, however, the two together are a reminder that the male and female principles are inseparable and that they represent the totality of all existence. 
  6. ^ Isherwood, Christopher (1983). Ramakrishna and His Disciples. Early days at Dakshineswar: Vedanta Press,U.S. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-87481-037-0. 
  7. ^ Sivananda (1996 (web edn. 2000)). Lord Siva and His Worship. Worship of Siva Linga: The Divine Life Trust Society. ISBN 81-7052-025-8.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich Robert (1946). Campbell, Joseph, ed. Myths and symbols in Indian art and civilization. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 126. ISBN 0-691-01778-6. But the basic and most common object of worship in Shiva shrines is the phallus or lingam. 
  9. ^ Jansen, Eva Rudy (2003) [1993]. The book of Hindu imagery: gods, manifestations and their meaning. Binkey Kok Publications. pp. 46, 119. ISBN 90-74597-07-6. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Apte, Vaman Shivaram (1957-59). The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Revised and enlarged ed.). Poona: Prasad Prakashan. p. 1366.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ Chaturvedi. Shiv Purana (2006 ed.). Diamond Pocket Books. p. 11. ISBN 978-81-7182-721-3. 
  14. ^ a b c Blurton, T. R. (1992). "Stone statue of Shiva as Lingodbhava". Extract from Hindu art (London, The British Museum Press). British Museum site. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  15. ^ "The linga Purana". astrojyoti. Retrieved 10 April 2012. . It was almost as if the linga had emerged to settle Brahma and Vishnu’s dispute. The linga rose way up into the sky and it seemed to have no beginning or end. 
  16. ^ a b c Harding, Elizabeth U. (1998). "God, the Father". Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 156–157. ISBN 978-81-208-1450-9. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Vivekananda, Swami. "The Paris Congress of the History of Religions". The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Vol.4. 
  18. ^ a b Sivananda, Swami (1996). "Worship of Siva Linga". Lord Siva and His Worship. The Divine Life Trust Society. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Linga – A Doorway to No-thing". 18 July 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  21. ^ The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and society in India, pg. 58 at
  22. ^ a b N. K. Singh, Encyclopaedia of Hinduism p. 1567
  23. ^ Dominic Goodall, Nibedita Rout, R. Sathyanarayanan, S.A.S. Sarma, T. Ganesan and S. Sambandhasivacarya, The Pañcāvaraṇastava of Aghoraśivācārya: A twelfth-century South Indian prescription for the visualisation of Sadāśiva and his retinue, Pondicherry, French Institute of Pondicherry and Ecole française d'Extréme-Orient, 2005, p.12.
  24. ^ Klaus Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism 2007 SUNY Press p111
  25. ^ Hinduism and the Religious Arts p. 47 by Heather Elgood
  26. ^ p132
  27. ^ Carus, Paul (1969). The History of the Devil. Forgotten Books. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-60506-556-4. 
  28. ^ Hinduism and Modernity by David James Smith p. 119
  29. ^ Flipside of Hindu symbolism, pp. 86–87, by M. K. V. Narayan,
  30. ^ Ramakrishna Kathamrita Section XV Chapter II
  31. ^ Jeffrey Kripal, Kali's Child 159–163
  32. ^ Nathaniel Schmidt (Dec 1900). "The Paris Congress of the History of Religion". The Biblical World 16 (6): 447–450. doi:10.1086/472718. JSTOR 3136952. 
  33. ^ Sen, Amiya P. (2006). "Editor's Introduction". The Indispensable Vivekananda. Orient Blackswan. pp. 25–26. During September–October 1900, he [Vivekananda] was a delegate to the Religious Congress at Paris, though oddly, the organizers disallowed discussions on any particular religious tradition. It was rumoured that his had come about largely through the pressure of the Catholic Church, which worried over the 'damaging' effects of Oriental religion on the Christian mind. Ironically, this did not stop Western scholars from making surreptitious attacks on traditional Hinduism. Here, Vivekananda strongly contested the suggestion made by the German Indologist Gustav Oppert that the Shiva Linga and the Salagram Shila, stone icons representing the gods Shiva and Vishnu respectively, were actually crude remnants of phallic worship. 
  34. ^ Wilson, HH. "Classification of Puranas". Vishnu Purana. John Murray, London, 2005. pp. xli–xlii. 
  35. ^ Isherwood, Christopher. "Early days at Dakshineswar". Ramakrishna and his disciples. p. 48. 
  36. ^ Hélène Brunner, The sexual Aspect of the linga Cult according to the Saiddhāntika Scriptures, pp.87–103 in Gerhard Oberhammer's Studies in Hinduism II, Miscellanea to the Phenomenon of Tantras, Vienna, Verlag der oesterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1998.
  37. ^ Balagangadhara, S. N. (2007). Antonio De Nicholas, Krishnan Ramaswamy, Aditi Banerjee, ed. Invading the Sacred. Rupa & Co. pp. 431–433. ISBN 978-81-291-1182-1. 


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]