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Lingam (Sanskrit: लिंगम्, IAST: liṅgaṃ, .lit sign, symbol or mark), linga, Shiva linga, ling or Shiva ling, is an abstract or aniconic representation of the Hindu deity, Shiva, used for worship in temples, smaller shrines, or as self-manifested natural objects. In traditional Indian society, the linga is seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of Shiva himself.
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. 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. There is an inclination to reduce the Shiva linga and Shakti yoni, the two main Tantric symbols of ascending and descending forces – which are often represented by upright conical stones for the Shiva linga and ring stones or basis for the Shakti yoni – to merely the male and female sex organs, which is but one of their many reflections, and their erotic glorification. There is a tradition of Tantric sexuality of mithuna which uses sacred sex as part of Yoga practice. But it is not the only practice of Tantric Yoga, much less the highest, and when done is integrated into a much larger array of practices.
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.
Anthropologist Christopher John Fuller wrote 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 that 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 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. 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).
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. Lord Shiva is pictured as emerging from the Lingam – the cosmic pillar of fire – proving his superiority over the 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 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. 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."  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. In the Mahabharata, at the end of Dwaraka Yuga, Lord Shiva says to his desciples that in the coming Kali Yuga, He would not appear in any particular form, but instead as the formless and omnipresent.
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.
Debates around Lingam as phallic symbol
In 1825 Horace Hayman Wilson's work on the lingayat sect of South India attempted to refute British notions[specify] 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 Shaiva (or Shiva-worshipper) connected with indecent ideas, nor with sexual love". In contrast, Jeaneane Fowler believes the linga is "a phallic symbol which represents the potent energy which is manifest in the cosmos". Some scholars, including David James Smith, believe that throughout its history the lingam has represented the phallus; others, including N. Ramachandra Bhatt, believe the phallic interpretation to be a later addition. M.K.V. Narayan distinguishes the Siva-linga from anthropomorphic representations of Shiva, and notes its absence from Vedic literature, and its interpretation as a phallus in Tantric sources.
According to David Frawley, "However, the Shiva linga is not phallus worship and the Aryans, like all ancient cultures, worshipped standing-stones, which is the real origin of the worship of Shiva lingas. Moreover, the Indian spiritual tradition has emphasized Brahmacharya or celibacy, which is all such a passage indicates. The Shiva linga, which is not limited to the Dravidians, is just another form of Vedic pillar worship."
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 interpretation 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 this 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 were also expressed by H. H. Wilson in 1840. Diana Eck believes that translators of Shiva Purana erroneously translated linga as "phallic emblem". She compares the mistranslation "as inadequate as it would be an interpretation of the Christian Eucharist that saw the rite first and foremost as ritual cannibalism, eating the body and drinking its blood".
According to J. Donald Walters, "The Shiva lingam has been mistakenly interpreted by Westerner scholars to represent the 'phallus'. In fact, the lingam has a deeply inward and spiritual meaning; it has nothing to do with phallic fantasies, stimulated by Freudian symbolism. The lingam, considered as a symbol of spiritual inwardness, represents-again-the spine. And it is more than a symbol. To argue against the Western explanation for the lingam would be to give it more dignity, even as a mis-conception, than it deserves. No devout Hindu thinks of it in that way, even if-one suspects-few Hindus really understand what the lingam means. One might point out, however-to show the absurdity of the western explanation ”that if the lingam were really a symbol of fertility as is claimed, it ought more properly to have been assigned to almost any other deity than Shiva, the god of destruction". This is not to say that there is no correspondence whatever between the phallus and the spine. The phenomena they represent are simply opposites to each other. The phallus draws the energy outward, toward physical creativity, The spine, by contrast, draws the energy inward, toward the renunciation of physical desire, and indeed of all material desires. The Shiva lingam, then, represents an alternative to physical pro-creation: energy rising inwardly up the spine, and an accompanying mental withdrawal from egoic entanglements. The Shiva lingam represents what religion most needs: an inward focus, and rising energy in the spine.
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 such as S. N. Balagangadhara have disputed the sexual meaning of lingam.
According to Alain Daniélou, "The lingam is an external sign, a symbol. However, it must be considered that the lingam is of two kinds: external and internal. The cruder organ is the exterior, while the subtle organ is the interior one. Simple folk worship the external lingam and concern themselves with its rituals and sacrifices. The goal of the image of the phallus is to waken the faithful to knowledge. The immaterial lingam is not perceptible to those who see only the surface of things. The subtle and eternal lingam is perceptible only to those who have attained knowledge" (Linga Purana, 1.75.19-22,) "Those who practice the ritual sacrifices and faithfully worship the physical lingam are not capable of controlling their mental activity by meditating upon its subtle aspect.... Those who have not yet gained awareness of the mental sex organ, the subtle sex organ, must worship the physical sex organ, and not the reverse" (Shiva Purana, Rudra Samhita, 1.12.51-42). By domination of the sexual instinct, we can acquire physical and mental prowess. Through sexual union, new beings can come into existence. This union represents a link between two worlds, a bridge where life is embodied and where the divine spirit is incarnated. The form of the organs that accomplish this ritual is the most important of symbols. They are the visible form of the creator. "By worshiping the lingam, one is not deifying a physical organ; one simply recognizes an eternal and divine form manifested within the microcosm. The human phallus is the image of the causal form present in all things. Those who wish not to recognize the divine nature of the phallus, who understand nothing of the importance of the sexual rite, who consider the acts of love as vile and contemptible or as a simple physical function, are certain to fail in their attempts at spiritual or material realization. To ignore the sacred character of the phallus is dangerous whereas by worshiping it one obtains pleasure (bhakti) and liberation (muktir ("Lingopasana Rahaysa").
Naturally occurring lingams
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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 linga when viewed from certain angles, especially when travelling or trekking from Gangotri to Gomukh as part of a traditional Hindu pilgrimage.
- Axis mundi
- Hindu iconography
- Spatika Lingam
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