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A Shiva lingam with tripundra.

A lingam (Sanskrit: लिङ्गम्, IAST: liṅgaṃ, lit. "sign, symbol or mark"; also linga, Shiva linga) is an abstract or aniconic representation of the Hindu deity Shiva, used for worship in temples, smaller shrines, or as self-manifested natural objects.[1][2] The lingam is often represented as resting on disc shaped platform called a yoni[3] or pitha.[4][5][6] Lingayats wear a lingam, called Ishtalinga.[7][8]

Definitions in different Hindu traditions[edit]

Lingam as interpreted in Shaiva Siddhanta tradition which is a major school of Shaivism. Upper and lower part represents Parashiva and Parashakti perfections of Lord Shiva.

According to Shaiva Siddhanta which is one the major school of Shaivism (Shaivism is one of 4 major sampradaya of Hinduism), Lord Shiva has 3 perfections: Parashiva, Parashakti and Parameshwara.[9] The upper oval part of the Shivalingam represent Parashiva and lower pedestrial part of Shivalingam or pitha represent Parashakti.[10] In Parashiva perfection, Lord Shiva is absolute reality which is beyond human comprehension and is beyond all attributes. In this aspect Lord Shiva is timeless, formless and spaceless. In Parashakti perfection, Lord Shiva is all-pervasive, pure consciousness, power and primal substance of all that exists and it has form unlike Parashiva which is formless.[11][12][13][14]

The lingam is a column-like or oval (egg-shaped) symbol of Shiva, the Formless All-pervasive Reality, made of stone, metal, or clay. The Shiva Linga is a symbol of Lord Shiva – a mark that reminds of the Omnipotent Lord, which is formless.[15] In Shaivite Hindu temples, the linga is a smooth cylindrical mass symbolising Shiva. It is found at the centre of the temple, often resting in the middle of a rimmed, disc-shaped structure, a representation of Shakti.[16] In traditional Indian society, the lingam is seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of Shiva himself.[16][17]


Terracotta Shiva Linga figurines found in excavations at Indus Valley Civilization site of Kalibangan and other sites provide evidence of early Shiva Linga worship from circa 3500 BCE to 2300 BCE.[18][19]

Anthropologist Christopher John Fuller wrote that although most sculpted images (murtis) are anthropomorphic, the aniconic Shiva Linga is an important exception.[20] Some believe that linga-worship was a feature of indigenous Indian religion.[21]

There is a hymn in the Atharvaveda that praises a pillar (Sanskrit: stambha), and this is one possible origin of linga worship.[21] Some associate Shiva-Linga with this Yupa-Stambha, the sacrificial post. In the hymn, a description is found of the beginning-less and endless Stambha or Skambha, and it is shown that the said Skambha is put in place of the eternal Brahman. The Yupa-Skambha gave place in time to the Shiva-Linga.[22][23] 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).[23]

The Hindu scripture Shiva Purana describes 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.[24] Lord Shiva is pictured as emerging from the lingam – the cosmic pillar of fire – proving his superiority over the gods Brahma and Vishnu.[25] This is known as Lingodbhava. The Linga Purana also supports this interpretation of lingam as a cosmic pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva.[25][22][23][26] According to the Linga Purana, the lingam is a complete symbolic representation of the formless Universe Bearer – the oval-shaped stone is the symbol of the Universe, and the bottom base represents the Supreme Power that holds the entire Universe in it.[27] A 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." [28] According to Jaggi Vasudev the lingam is considered the first form to arise when creation occurs, and also the last form before the dissolution of creation.[29]

Following are the verses which praises a pillar 'Skambha' in Atharvaveda:

  • यस्य त्रयसि्ंत्रशद् देवा अग्डे. सर्वे समाहिताः । स्कम्भं तं ब्रूहि कतमः सि्वदेव सः ।। Atharvaveda Kanda 10 Sukla 7 verse 13

Meaning: Who out of many, tell me, is that Skambha. He in whose body are contained all three-and-thirty Deities?[30][31]

  • स्कम्भो दाधार द्यावापृथिवी उभे इमे स्कम्भो दाधारोर्वन्तरिक्षम् । स्कम्भो दाधार प्रदिशः षडुर्वीः स्कम्भ इदं विश्वं भुवनमा विवेश ।। Atharvaveda Kanda 10 Sukla 7 verse 35

Meaning: God the Pillar of the support (Skambha) is holding both earth and the heaven and it is holding the vast atmosphere. Pillar of the support (Skambha) is holding 6 directions and Pillar of the support is pervading this entire universe.[30][32]

Historical period[edit]

A lingam with a swastika at the Katas Raj Temples in northern Pakistan.
Mural painting depicting Shiva with the lingam in the Palace of Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur.

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.[33]

The oldest example of a lingam that is still used for worship is in Gudimallam. It dates to the 2nd century BC.[34] A figure of Shiva is carved into the front of the lingam.[35]

Mentions in scriptures[edit]

  • रुद्रो लिङ्गमुमा पीठं तस्मै तस्यै नमो नमः । सर्वदेवात्मकं रुद्रं नमस्कुर्यात्पृथक्पृथक् ॥ Rudrahridaya Upanishad 23rd verse

Meaning: Rudra is meaning. Uma is word. Prostrations to Him and Her. Rudra is Linga. Uma is Pitha. Prostrations to Him and Her.[36][37][38]

  • पिण्डब्रह्माण्डयोरैक्यं लिङ्गसूत्रात्मनोरपि । स्वापाव्याकृतयोरैक्यं स्वप्रकाशचिदात्मनोः ॥ Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad 1.81

Meaning: The microcosm and the macrocosm are one and the same; so also the Linga and Sutratman, Svabhava (substance) and form and the self-resplendent light and Chidatma.[39][37][40]

  • निधनपतयेनमः । निधनपतान्तिकाय नमः । ऊर्ध्वाय नमः । ऊर्ध्वलिङ्गाय नमः । हिरण्याय नमः । हिरण्यलिङ्गाय नमः । सुवर्णाय नमः ।सुवर्णलिङ्गाय नमः । दिव्याय नमः । दिव्यलिङ्गाय नमः । भवाय नमः। भवलिङ्गाय नमः । शर्वाय नमः । शर्वलिङ्गाय नमः । शिवाय नमः । शिवलिङ्गाय नमः । ज्वलाय नमः । ज्वललिङ्गाय नमः । आत्माय नमः । आत्मलिङ्गाय नमः । परमाय नमः । परमलिङ्गाय नमः ॥ Mahanarayana Upanishad 16.1

Meaning: By these twenty-two names ending with salutations they consecrate the Sivalinga for all – the Linga which is representative of soma and Surya, and holding which in the hand holy formulas are repeated and which purifies all.[41][42][43]

  • तांश्चतुर्धा संपूज्य तथा ब्रह्माणमेव विष्णुमेव रुद्रमेव विभक्तांस्त्रीनेवाविभक्तांस्त्रीनेव लिङ्गरूपनेव च संपूज्योपहारैश्चतुर्धाथ लिङ्गात्संहृत्य ॥ Nrisimha Tapaniya Upanishad Chapter 3

Meaning: Thus after worshipping with nectar (Ananda Amrutha) the four fold Brahmas (Devatha, Teacher, Mantra and the soul), Vishnu, Rudra separately and then together in the form of Linga with offerings and then unifying the linga forms in the Atma Jyothi (Light of the soul) [44][45][46]

  • तत्र द्वादशादित्या एकादश रुद्रा अष्टौ वसवः सप्त मुनयो ब्रह्मा नारदश्च पञ्च विनायका वीरेश्वरो रुद्रेश्वरोऽम्बिकेश्वरो गणेश्वरो नीलकण्ठेश्वरो विश्वेश्वरो गोपालेश्वरो भद्रेश्वर इत्यष्टावन्यानि लिङ्गानि चतुर्विंशतिर्भवन्ति ॥ Gopala Tapani Upanishad 41st verse

Meaning: The twelve Adityas, eleven Rudras, eight Vasus, seven sages, Brahma, Narada, five Vinayakas, Viresvara, Rudresvara, Ambikesvara, Ganesvara, Nilakanthesvara, Visvesvara, Gopalesvara, Bhadresvara, and 24 other lingas reside there[47][48][49]

  • तन्मध्ये प्रोच्यते योनिः कामाख्या सिद्धवन्दिता । योनिमध्ये स्थितं लिङ्गं पश्चिमाभिमुखं तथा ॥ Dhyanabindu Upanishad 45th verse

Meaning: The midst of the Yoni is the Linga facing the west and split at its head like the gem. He who knows this, is a knower of the Vedas.[50][51][52]

  • मात्रालिङ्गपदं त्यक्त्वा शब्दव्यञ्जनवर्जितम् । अस्वरेण मकारेण पदं सूक्ष्मं च गच्छति ॥ Amritabindu Upanishad 4th verse

Meaning: Having given up Matra, Linga and Pada, he attains the subtle Pada (seat or word) without vowels or consonants by means of the letter ‘M’ without the Svara (accent).[53][54][55]

  • There is a repeated mention of lingam in the Tirumantiram, a Tamil scripture. Some verse:[56]
  1. Jiva is Sivalinga;The deceptive senses but the lights that illume. Tirumantiram 1823
  2. His Form as Uncreated Siva Linga His Form as Sadasiva Divine. Tirumantiram 1750
  • Lingashtakam Strotram,[57] Jyotirlinga Stotram[58][59][60] and Marga Sahaya Linga Sthuthi[61][62] are praising and asking for blessing from Lord Shiva in form of lingam
  • Whatever the merit in any sacrifice, austerity, offering, pilgrimage or place, the merit of worship of the Shivalinga equals that merit multiplied by hundreds of thousands. Karana agama 9. MT, 66[63]


The Saiva Agamas says "one can worship this Great God Shiva in the form of a Lingam made of mud or sand, of cow dung or wood, of bronze or black granite stone. But the purest and most sought-after form is the quartz crystal (Sphatika), a natural stone not carved by man but made by nature, gathered molecule by molecule over hundreds, thousands or millions of years, grown as a living body grows, but infinitely more slowly. Such a creation of nature is itself a miracle worthy of worship."[64][65] Hindu scripture rates crystal as the highest form of Shiva lingam.[66]

Karana Agama, a Shaiva Agama, states in 6th verse that "A temporary Shiva Lingam may be made of 12 different materials: sand, rice, cooked food, river clay, cow dung, butter, rudraksha seeds , ashes, sandalwood, dharba grass, a flower garland or molasses."[67][68]

Carved Lingam[edit]

Emerald Lingam is carved out of emerald, a precious green gemstone.

Parad Lingam is made from solidified mercury.[69]

Spatika Lingam is made of quartz, a colourless or white mineral.

Naturally occurring lingams[edit]

Spatika (quartz) lingam illuminated by laser at Kadavul Temple.
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.[70]

In Kadavul Temple, a 700-pound, 3-foot-tall, naturally formed Spatika(quartz) lingam is installed. In future this crystal lingam will be housed in the Iraivan Temple. it is claimed as among the largest known sphatika self formed (Swayambhu) lingams.[71][72] Hindu scripture rates crystal as the highest form of Siva lingam.[73]

Shivling, 6,543 metres (21,467 ft), is 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 lingam when viewed from certain angles, especially when travelling or trekking from Gangotri to Gomukh as part of a traditional Hindu pilgrimage.

A lingam is also the basis for the formation legend (and name) of the Borra Caves in Andhra Pradesh.[74]

Banalinga are the lingam which are found on the bed of the Narmada river.[75][76]

Bhuteshwar shivling is a natural rock shivling in Chhattisgarh whose height is increasing with each passing year.[77][78] Sidheshvar Nath Temple's shivling is also a natural rock lingam in Arunachal Pradesh. It is believed to be the tallest natural lingam[79][80][81]

Lingam with carving[edit]

Mukhalinga is a lingam with one or more faces of Lord Shiva carved on it. They have generally have one, four or five faces.[82][83]

In Lingodbhava lingam, Lord Shiva's image is carved on the lingam which describes tale of Lingodbhavata where Vishnu and Brahma try to find start and end of the lingam[84][85]


Many describe the lingam as a phallic symbol, such as Varadaraja V. Raman (who argues that many devouts do not see it as such any longer)[86] and S. N. Balagangadhara.[87] Among the deniers of this theory are Swami Vivekananda[88] and Swami Sivananda (who considers the interpretation to be a mistake).[27]


See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]