The Lingam (also, Linga, Shiva linga:
Sanskrit, meaning "mark," or "sign,") is a symbol for the
worship of the Hindu god Shiva. While its origins are debated, the use of this
symbol for worship is an ancient tradition in India extending back to the early
Indus Valley civilization. Shiva Linga is the holy symbol of Lord Shiva that
is considered sacred by the devotees of Lord Shiva. The word, ‘Lingam’
in Sanskrit means, ‘symbol’. Shiva Lingam, therefore means symbol
of Lord Shiva and is therefore considered most sacred by Shaivaites. Shiva Linga
has been worshipped in Hinduism since age immemorial. Worship of Shiva Linga
is regarded sacred and superior, according to the Shiva Mahapurana, and many
other sacred texts and tantra. This is because the form makes worship
simple while maintaining the truth that God does not have any definite form.
The Sanskrit term, transliterated as
linga has many meanings, generally as a mark, sign, or characteristic. It has
a number of specific uses in Sanskrit that are derived from this general meaning.
Vaman Shivram Apte's dictionary gives seventeen definitions of the term, including
* The image of a god
* A symptom or mark of disease
* A spot or stain
* A means of proof, a proof, evidence
* The effect or product which evolves from a primary cause
* The concept of grammatical gender
* The phallus
An example of the use of the word linga
in general Sanskrit usage to represent the concept of "sign" occurs
in this passage from the Bhagavad Gita:
kair liñgais trîn
gunan etãn | atïto bhavati prabho || 14.21 ||
This is translated by Swami Gambhirananda
as "O Lord, by what signs is one (known) who has gone beyond these three
qualities?" and by Winthrop Sargeant as "By what marks is he recognized,
Who has transcended these three qualities, O Lord?". In this quotation
the word liñgais is the instrumental plural form of linga,
so liñgais means "by marks" or "by signs".
An example of use of the word linga as
a technical term in philosophy is given in this passage from the Sankhya-Karika
which describes the role of attributes in recognition of objects perceived by
Perception is the ascertainment of objects
[which are in contact with sense-organs]; inference, which follows on the knowledge
of the characteristic mark (linga) [i.e., the middle term] and that
which bears the mark...."
The term lingam is sometimes used synonymously
for shivalingam, a specific type of icon or altar representing the god Shiva.
Structure of Shiva Linga
Most prevalent icon of Shiva and virtually
found in all Shiva temples, Shiva Linga is a rounded, elliptical, an-iconic
image that is usually set on a circular base. This is referred to as the yoni
(vaginal symbol) of Shakti (Parvati/Gouri), the consort / energy of Lord Shiva,
and is called the Gouripeetham, yonipeetham, Gouripatta
or simply peetha or peetham. According to some scholars the
Peetham represents Parashakti, the manifesting power of God.
Shiva Lingas are usually made of stone
that may either be carved or naturally existing - svayambhu, such as shaped
by a swift-flowing river. Shiva Lingas may also be made of metal, precious gems,
crystal, wood, earth or transitory materials such as ice. Some scholars say
that transitory Shiva Linga may be made of 12 different materials such as sand,
rice, cooked food, river clay, cow dung, butter, rudraksha seeds, ashes, sandalwood,
darbha grass, a flower garland or molasses.
Worship of the Phallus
According to some scholars, worship
of Shiva Linga in effect means worship of the reproduction function. For, they
say that the other meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘Linga’ is gender
in general and phallus (the male reproductive organ) in particular. They believe
that the base of the Lingam corresponds to the Yoni which mean vagina or the
female reproductive organ. Correspondence of Linga and Yoni in a Shiva Linga
is therefore interpreted as the representation of the process of copulation.
Scholars further opine that the Kalash (container of water) that is suspended
over the Shiva Linga from which water drips over the Linga also correspond to
the idea of intercourse.
Connecting the origin of Shiva Linga
to the early Indus Valley civilization, scholars opine that tribes of the Indus
Valley took to the togetherness of Lingam and Yoni in a Shiva Linga as the point
of energy, creation and enlightenment.
Types of Shiva Lingams
- Different ingredients by which
a Shiva Linga can be made up of
According to the different Puranas, Tantras
and other religious texts, a Shiva Lingam might be made up of different materials.
These Lingams are named according to the material they are made up of and features
they have. Like other Hindu rituals, using each of these materials are pure
philosophical symbolisms. Some of them are listed below:
It is made of eight metals and cures one of the leprosy.
It is made of a precious stone called vaidurya – lapis and protects one
from the enemy’s arrogant prattle
It is made of crystal and bestows fulfilment of all desires.
It is made of tagara metal and makes one’s life free from enemies, if
It is made of vitroil of sulphate and relieves one from the menace of enemies.
It is made of lead and makes the adorer invulnerable to foes.
It is made of butter and confers fame and wealth.
Lingam or Garika Lingam
It is made of a kind of grass – agrostis linaries and saves the adorer
from untimely or accidental death.
It is made of camphor and bestows emancipation.
It is made of magnet and confers siddhi – super natural powers.
It is made of a mixture of Ashtadhaatu (Sanskrit: eight specified holy
metals, viz., gold, silver, copper etc.), and bestows sarvasiddhi –
all supernatural powers.
It is made of the ashes obtained by burning pearls and confers auspiciousness
Lingam or Kamsya Lingam
It is made of an alloy of brass and bell metal and confers the release of soul
It is made of ash and confers all desirable merits.
Lingam or Sita Lingam
It is made of jaggery or sugar and confers blissful life when adored.
It is made of the tender leaves of bamboo, and confers a long line of genealogy.
It is made of rice flour and blesses the adorer with education.
It is made of milk and curd, on separating the entire quantity of water, and
blesses the adorer with property and happiness.
It is made of gold and confers mukti -- deliverance of soul from body.
It is made of silver and confers fortune.
It is made of grain and blesses bumper crops to the adorer.
It is made of fruits and blesses the owner of orchards with good crops of fruits.
It is made of a kind of acid fruit – Phyllanthus emblica, and bestows
It is made of three ingredients -- four parts of sandal paste, three parts of
kumkumam and two parts of musk. Size determines the quantity and cost to be
put in, but the ratio remains constant. If worship is made to that sandal paste
lingam, one gets blessed with Sivasayujyamukti - merging of his jivatma into
the Paramatma. Then the cycle of birth after death comes to dead end.
This is made of various kinds of fresh, fragrant, multi-coloured pleasant flowers.
It blesses the adorer with kingship and acquisition of land.
It is made of the dung of brown coloured cow. The adorer will be blessed with
wealth, if he worships that lingam.
It is made of fine sand and the worship confers the status of Vidhyadhara, belonging
to one of the denominations of worshipful angels, besides Shiva-sayujya
prapti (Sanskrit: being one with Lord Shiva).
It is made of mercury and bestows inestimable fortune.
It is made of a combination of grains of barley and the soil from the grazing
field of cows, and if adored, it confers santanaprapti in addition to wealth.
It is made of sugar candy and blesses the adorer with robust health and disease
free easeful life.
It is made of salt mixed with the powder of Hartal and Trikatukala. It blesses
the adorer with Vasikaranasakti -- the power that subdues other with the help
of spells and charms.
It is made with the paste of gingili seeds. The desires of the adorer are fulfilled,
Lingam as a symbol of
A. L. Basham says that linga have been
found in the Harappan remains, and provides these comments relating to the antiquity
of the symbol:
"... Shiva was and still is
chiefly worshipped in the form of the linga, usually a short cylindrical pillar
with rounded top, which is the survival of a cult older than Indian civilization
itself.... The cult of the linga, at all times followed by some of the non-Aryan
peoples, was incorporated into Hinduism around the beginning of the Christian
era, though at first it was not very important."
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami explains
in the lexicon section of his book, Dancing with Shiva:
"Shivalinga is the most prevalent
icon of Shiva, found in virtually all Shiva temples. It is a rounded, elliptical,
aniconic image, usually set on a circular base, or peetham. The lingam is
the simplest and most ancient symbol of Shiva, especially of Parasiva, God
beyond all forms and qualities. The Peetham represents Parashakti, the manifesting
power of God. Lingas are usually of stone (either carved or naturally existing,
swayambhu, such as shaped by a swift-flowing river), but may also be of metal,
precious gems, crystal, wood, earth or transitory materials such as ice. According
to the Karana Agama, a transitory Shivalinga may be made of 12 different materials:
sand, rice, cooked food, river clay, cow dung, butter, rudraksha beads, ashes,
sandalwood, darbha grass, a flower garland, or molasses."
Furthermore, there are instances in Hindu
lore where a rock or pile of sand has been used by heroic personages as a Lingam
or symbol of Shiva. For example, Arjuna fashioned a lingam of clay when worshipping
Shiva. Thus, it is argued, too much should not be made of the usual shape of
the Lingam. This view is also consonant with philosophies that hold that God
may be conceptualized and worshipped in any convenient form; the form itself
is irrelevant, the divine power that it represents is all that matters. Hindu
interpreters often use the underlying meaning of "sign" or "mark"
for the Sanskrit word linga as the basis for their commentaries. For example:
* The name Lingam appears as a name
of Shiva in the Shiva Sahasranama where it is translated by Ram Karan Sharma
as "(Identifiable as) a symbol of the origin of the Universe."
* Bansi Pandit, in his book, Hindu Dharma
said, that "Shivalinga means "Shiva symbol."
* Swami Sivananda, said that "Linga
means a mark, in Sanskrit. It is a symbol which points to an inference. When
you see a big flood in a river, you infer that there had been heavy rains the
previous day. When you see smoke, you infer that there is fire. This vast world
of countless forms is a Linga of the omnipotent Lord. The Siva-Linga is a symbol
of Lord Siva. When you look at the Linga, your mind is at once elevated and
you begin to think of the Lord."
Western commentators often use the concept
of "male generative organ" as the basis for their interpretations.
For example: - - *Monier-Williams provides one definition for lingam as: "The
male organ... esp. that of Siva worshipped in the form of a stone or marble
column...". - - *Gavin Flood's An Introduction to Hinduism refers to the
worship of Shiva "in his form as the Siva linga or 'icon' found in most
Hindu temples. The linga represents a phallus..."
Some scholars of the Hindu scriptures
say that Linga is merely an abstract symbol of the God. They point towards several
legends in Hinduism where a sundry rock or even a pile of sand has been used
by as a Lingam or the symbol of Shiva. Citing a particular instance they say,
Arjuna once fashioned a linga of clay when worshipping Shiva. Scholars of Puranas,
thus argue that too much should not be made of the usual shape of the Lingam.
Scholars say that the interpretation of Shiva Linga as an abstract form of God
is also consonant with philosophies that hold that God may be conceptualized
and worshipped in any convenient form. The form itself is irrelevant, as the
divine power that it represents is all that matters. Scholars thus say that
Sivalinga represent the formless Nirguna Brahman or the formless Supreme
In the book Hindu Dharma, Bansi Pandit
explains that "Shivalinga consists of three parts. The bottom part which
is four-sided remains under ground, the middle part which is eight-sided remains
on a pedestal and the top part which is actually worshipped is round. The height
of the round part is one-third of its circumference. The three parts symbolize
Brahma at the bottom, Vishnu in the middle and Shiva on the top. The pedestal
is provided with a passage for draining away the water that is poured on top
by devotees. The linga symbolizes both the creative and destructive power of
the Lord and great sanctity is attached to it by the devotees."
In Veerashaivism, Siva divides from His
Absolute state into Linga (Supreme Lord) and anga, individual soul, the two
eventually reuniting in undifferentiated oneness. There are three aspects of
* Ishtalinga, personal form of Siva,
in which He fulfills desires and removes afflictions -- God as bliss or joy;
* Bhavalinga, Siva beyond space and time, the highest divine principle, knowable
* Pranalinga, the reality of God which can be apprehended by the mind.
The soul(anga) merges with Siva(Linga)
by a progressive, six-stage path called shatsthala and this is called Shunyasampadane-
earning eternal nothingness.
According to Swami Dharmananda who is
a master of Yoga there is a mysterious power in the Linga, its shape has been
designed to induce concentration of the mind. Just as the mind is focused easily
in crystal-gazing, so also the mind attains one-pointedness, when it looks at
the Linga. That is the reason why the ancient Rishis and the seers of India
have prescribed Linga for being installed in the temples of Lord Shiva.
The great warrior Arjuna in epic Mahabharata
worshipped Linga for acquiring Pashupatasthra, great vedic scholar Ravana in
epic Ramayana worshipped Shiva to present his mother Atmalinga, legendary rishi
Markandeya and numerous rishis spread across timezones have worshipped the simplest
looking Linga. Rishis used to leave all materialism to attain spirituality and
a lump of soil in forest was what was required to worship and meditate. Scientifically
from Lingayatism or Veerashaivism it helps one relate to cosmic energy through
meditation of Istalinga worshipped by keeping it on palm.
Interpretation in the Tantras
According to different Tantra texts,
Lingam is a symbol of Shiva's phallus in spiritual form. They say, the lingam
contains the soul-seed within which lies the essence of the entire cosmos. The
lingam arises out of the base (Yoni) which represents Parvati according to some
or Vishnu, Brahma in female and neuter form according to others.
Interpretation in Puranas
Puranas, especially the Vamana Purana,
Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Skanda Purana, Matsya Purana and Visva-Sara-Prakasha
attribute the origin of Shiva Linga to the curse of sages leading to the separation
of and installation of the phallus of Lord Shiva on earth. Some also refer to
the endlessness of the lingam to be linked to the egos of Lord Vishnu and Lord
Possible Biblical Reference to
There is a portion of the Bible in which
the Hebrew patriarch Jacob appears to be performing something very similar to
a Lingam ceremony, in which a precious substance such as milk or oil is poured
on the stone artifice as a sacrificial intent. "And Jacob rose up early
in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set
it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.",(Ge 28:18).
Also: "And Jacob set up a pillar
in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured
a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.",(Ge 35:14). It is
sometimes pointed out that the term for oil or drink used in this verse is the
Hebrew Shemen, which appears like English word semen and thus seems to be appropriate
to the phallic nature of the Lingam.
Naturally occurring Lingams
A 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.
There is a great connection in marking
the forces of nature to be worshipped. The following description has various
forms of nature being worshipped as Linga.
The Vedas speak of the Ashta Murthys’
(forms) of Lord Shiva. Sarva, Bhava, Rudra, Ugra, Bheema, Pasupathi, Mahadeva,
Eashana are the eight Murthys of Shiva. Puranas explain the Adhistanas for these
eight forms, which are Sarva for earth, Bhava for water, Rudra for fire, Ugra
for wind, Bheema for space, Pasupathi for yajamana, Mahadeva for moon and Eashana
for Sun. Shiva is also called Pasupathi i.e. Lord Shiva with his enormous grace
on the Jeeva means pasu, cuts the Pasa or the string and makes it move free
to join him with devotion. In this way, his name Pasupathi is more meaningful.
Each of the following Kshethras (places) in India & Nepal connected to the
Lord ’s eight forms, so that the devotee can know clearly how the ancient
puranas took care to locate these places both geographically and spiritually.
Shiva, Brahma puranas are the main sources.
The following forms or forces of nature
are worshipped in their primal form only without any special idols representing
1. Sarva :- Bhoomi
Linga, Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu. It is in Shiva Kanchi Kshetra, where the Lord
is in the form of Kshiti Linga in the Ekamra tree ( Aamra ( Mango in Sankrit)
tree, which yield only one fruit per year). Parvathi worshipped this form first.
There is no Abhisheka done with water at this shrine, jasmine oil is used instead.
The Devi’s name here is Kamakshi. All the desires of the devotees are
fulfilled with her gracious eyes.
2. Bhava :- Jala
Linga, Tiruvanaikoil, (Jambukeswaram), Tamil Nadu. This temple is located on
the outskirts of Trichy, where Lord Jambukeswara is seated and showers all his
blessings to his devotees. This Kshethra is called Jambhukeswara Kshetra, also
known as Jala Linga. The devotees can see from the outside of Garbha Gruha the
water bubbles coming out from Panipetham. There is a Jambu tree, which is very
old and very big. The legends say Lord Shiva wanted to stay here along with
the Jambu tree. So the devotees treat this tree as sacred as the Lord.
3. Rudra:- Agni
or Thejo (Divine Light) Linga, Tiruvannamalai, Tamilnadu – Arunachaleswara.
In Tiruvannamalai, Lord Shiva is seated in the form of Thejolinga. The whole
mountain appears to be a Linga. As a result of Parvathi’s great penance,
a sharp spark of fire came from Arunachala and took shape as Arunalinga.
4. Ugra:- Vayu
Linga, Sri Kalahasti, Andhra Pradesh. The Sri Kalahasteeswara temple is situated
on the banks of Swarna Mukhi River in Sri Kalahasti. Spiritually elevated souls
only can see that there is a strong wind blowing around the Linga. Bhakta Kannappa
story is connected to this temple. Even animals got salvation by worshipping
this Lord. Three animals – Cobweb (Sree), Kala (snake), Hasthi (elephant)
prayed to God with utmost faith and devotion and attained Moksha. One can see
the symbols there on the Shiva Linga even today.
5. Bheema:- Akasha
Linga, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. This Kshetra is on the banks of Cauvery. We
don’t see any Murthy in the temple Garbha Gruha. The puranas speak of
this Kshetra very highly. No one can see the Lord’s Murthy, except the
highest spiritual souls. There is a space in the Garbha Gruha and many Abharanas
are decorated and the devotees assume the God is seated there. A very beautiful
Nataraja murthy is in outer Garbha Gruha for worship and for the satisfaction
of the devotees.
Yajamana(Lord) Linga, Kathmandu, Nepal. In Nepal, Pasupathinadha Kshetra is
famous and the Lord here is in human form. The devotee can see the God up to
his waist only. The Murthy is decorated with Gold Kavacha always. Nobody can
enter into the Garbha Griha except the Archaka (not even the King of Nepal).
Many devotees from all over the globe pray to this Lord with highest devotion
and get their wishes fulfilled.
Chandra Linga, West Bengal. Chandra natha Linga is situated in West Bengal 34
miles away from Chatagav City. Many sacred thirthas surround this Kshetra. The
texts of the Devi Purana lauded this Kshethra greatly.
Surya Linga, Konark Temple, Orissa. This Kshetra is in Orissa state near Puri
Jagannath Kshetra. Konark is now in ruins and the temple is in fragments and
now, devotees can’t see any God or Goddess here. The legend says that
Sri Krishna’s son Samba suffered once from leprosy and was cured by worshipping
the Sun God and the Linga here and since then this Kshetra became a remedy center
for all diseases. Even in these days the worship is going on with same faith
The Bijaleeshwar Mahadev (incidence
of Vashishtha in Rigveda) absorbs lightening and breaks into pieces, is then
restored by butter every 12 years.
Shivling (distorted form of the pronunciation
of Shiva Linga), 6543 meter high, is also a mountain in Uttarakhand
(the Garwhal region of Himalayas). It arises as a sheer pyramid above the snout
of the Gangotri Glacier. The mountain resembles a shivling when viewed from
certain angles, especially when travelling or trekking from Gangotri to Gomukh
as a part of a traditional Hindu pilgrimage.