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Traditional flower offering to a Lingam in Varanasi

The Lingam (also, Linga, Shiva linga, Tamil லிங்கம், Sanskrit लिङ्गं liṅgaṃ, meaning "mark" or "sign") is an aniconic[citation needed] representation of the Hindu deity Shiva, used as a symbol for worship in temples.



Shiva means auspiciousness and linga means a sign or a symbol. Hence the Shiva Linga is regarded as a "symbol of the great God of the universe who is all-auspiciousness."[1] Shiva is also regarded by some as one in whom the whole creation sleeps after dissolution.[1] Further, Linga is taken to mean the same thing—a place where created objects get dissolved during the disintegration of the created universe. Since, according to Hinduism, it is the same god that creates, sustains and withdraws the universe, the Shiva Linga, represents symbolically God Himself.[1]

The Sanskrit term लिङ्गं liṅgaṃ, transliterated as linga has many meanings, including 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 other definitions of the term, including these examples:[2]

  • A false or unreal mark; a disguise
  • A symptom or mark of disease
  • A spot or stain
  • A means of proof, a proof, evidence
  • The sign of gender or sex
  • Sex
  • The male organ of generation
  • Grammatical gender
  • The genital organ of Shiva worshipped in the form of a phallus.
  • Image of a god; an idol
  • The subtle frame or body, the indestructible original of the gross or visible body (in Vedanta philosophy)


Some associate Shiva-Linga with the famous hymn in the Atharva-Veda Samhitâ, sung in praise of the Yupa-Stambha, the sacrificial post. That hymn describes the beginningless and endless Stambha or Skambha, and states that Skambha is put in place of the eternal Brahman. In the Linga Purâna the same hymn is expanded in the shape of stories, meant to establish the glory of the great Stambha and the superiority of Mahâdeva.[citation needed]

Some believe that Shiva Lingam represents male genital organs. Others believe that this is a misinterpretation, stemming from the time that Indian literature came into hands of foreign scholars.[3]

There are shrines in India; where the 'Bhrahman'/Linga is not in the cylindrical form; for example one of the 'Asta dasha Jyothirlanga' the Thriyambakeshwar at Nasik, Maharastra is not cylyndrical, rather it is in a form of a small circular pit inside which three blocks of the same stone form a triangle - indicating the Trinity ( Brahma, Vishna & Maheswara / also interpreted as the three eyes of Shiva).Another such example is the 'Linga' at Mahanandi - Near Nandyal, Andhra Pradesh; where the Linga is not a complete covered stone; but is rather with sharp edges in irregular forms. The Gokarna Shetra, the shape of Linga is irregular.


Shiva is worshipped in varied forms. Shiva as the divine and universal being is worshipped in form of Lingam, representing absolute and single power of this universe. In this visible aspect, Lord Shiva appears with three eyes and matted hair, wearing a garland of snakes and skulls. He wears tiger and deer skins, and holds drums, horns, and a trishul (three headed spear) in his hands. But in his original form, Shiva is the param braham – the supreme creator and he himself is the triad. The supreme Shiva is Rudra (or hollow) and is formless. This supreme Shiva is represented by the Shiva Lingam and is pronounced by the universal word ॐ Om (Aum).



Hindu Puranas state that Shiva-Linga is the source of the universe. Skanda Purana reveres Shiva-Linga as the supreme being, in whom the universe originates and into whom it finally merges.

आकाशं लिंगमित्याहु: पृथ्वी तस्य पीठिका। आलय: सर्व देवानां लयनार्लिंगमुच्यते ॥ (स्कन्द पुराण)

The endless sky (the universe) is Linga, and the Earth is its base. At the end of time, the universe and all Gods merge in Linga.

The Linga Purana states:

प्रधानं प्रकृतिर यदाहुर्लिगंउत्तम । गंध-वर्ण-रसहिंनं शब्द-स्पर्शादिवर्जितं ॥

meaning: the foremost Lingam, which is devoid of colour, taste, hearing, touch, et cetera, is spoken of as Prakriti, or nature.

Shaiva siddhanta

According to the 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.[4] Four of his five faces are sometimes shown emerging from the column of the linga (as in the Nepalese face-linga, or mukhalinga, in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco that is illustrated in this article), but his fifth and upper face is generally not shown in sculpture.

An open-air Hindu Lingam from Lepakshi


In Veerashaivism, Shiva 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 Shivalinga.[citation needed]

  • Ishtalinga, personal form of Shiva, in which He fulfills desires and removes afflictions—God as bliss or joy;
  • Bhavalinga, Shiva beyond space and time, the highest divine principle, knowable through intuition;
  • Pranalinga, the reality of God which can be apprehended by the mind.

The soul (anga) merges with Shiva(Linga) by a progressive, six-stage path called shatsthala. This is called Shunyasampadane- earning eternal nothingness.

Interpretation as phallus

The view of lingam as phallus has been debated by several scholars and philosophers. One of the earliest scholars to give this interpretation this was Monier Williams.


One of the interpretations of linga as phallus was from Monier Williams, Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University. However, Monier Williams wrote in Brahmanism and Hinduism that the symbol of linga, is "never in the mind of a Saiva (or Shiva-worshipper) connected with indecent ideas, nor with sexual love."[5]

Swami Vivekananda gave a lecture at the Paris Congress of the History of Religions[6][7] in 1900 during which he refuted the statements of some Western scholars that referred to Shiva linga as phallic worship. Vivekananda's words at the congress were in connection with the paper read by Mr.Gustav Oppert, a German Orientalist, who tried to trace the origin of the Shalagrama-Shila and the Shiva-Linga to phallicism. To this Vivekananda objected,[8] adducing proof from the Vedas, and particularly the Atharva-Veda Samhita, to the effect 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.[9][6] 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.[6]

According to Swami Sivananda, the view that the Shiva Lingam represents the phallus is a mistake; [10]

This is not only a serious mistake, but also a grave blunder. In the post-Vedic period, the Linga became symbolical of the generative power of the Lord Siva. Linga is the differentiating mark. It is certainly not the sex-mark. You will find in the Linga Purana: Pradhanam prakritir yadahur-lingamuttamam; Gandhavarnarasairhinam sabda-sparsadi-varjitam—The foremost Linga which is primary and is devoid of smell, colour, taste, hearing, touch, etc., is spoken of as Prakriti (Nature).

The same sentiments have also been expressed by H. H. Wilson [3]:

Although, however, the Linga holds a prominent place...the spirit of the worship is as little influenced by the character of the type as can well be imagined. There is nothing like the phallic orgies of antiquity: it is all mystical and spiritual. The Linga is twofold, external and internal. The ignorant, who need a visible sign, worship Śiva through a 'mark' or 'type'--which is the proper meaning of the word 'Linga'--of wood or stone; but the wise look upon this outward emblem as nothing, and contemplate in their minds the invisible, inscrutable type, which is Śiva himself. Whatever may have been the origin of this form of worship in India, the notions upon which it was founded, according to the impure fancies of European writers, are not to be traced in even the Śaiva Puráńas.

The novelist Christopher Isherwood also addresses the misinterpretation of the linga as a sex symbol as follows[11]

It has been claimed by some foreign scholars that the linga and its surrounding basin are sexual symbols, representing the male and the female organs respectively. Well — anything can be regarded as a symbol of anything; that much is obvious. There are people who have chosen to see sexual symbolism in the spire and the font of a Christian church. But Christians do not recognize this symbolism; and even the most hostile critics of Christianity cannot pretend that it is a sex-cult. The same is true of the cult of Shiva.
It does not even seem probable that the linga was sexual in its origin. For we find, in the history both of Hinduism and Buddhism, that poor devotees were accustomed to dedicate to God a model of a temple or tope (a dome-shaped monument) in imitation of wealthy devotees who dedicated full-sized buildings. So the linga may well have begun as a monument in miniature.…One of the greatest causes of misunderstanding of Hinduism by foreign scholars is perhaps a subconsciously respected tradition that God must be one sex only, or at least only one sex at a time.

The Britannica encyclopedia entry on linga also notes that the linga is not considered to be a phallic symbol;[12]

The linga was originally understood as a representation of the phallus, as sculptures from the early centuries of the Common Era make clear, but many—probably most—modern Hindus do not think of the linga in these terms. In fact, the stylization of the linga into a smooth cylindrical mass asserts a distinctively aniconic meaning, quite by contrast to the murtis (deities in image form) that serve otherwise as the most important foci of Hindu worship. This interplay is found in Shaivite temples, where the linga is apt to be at the centre, surrounded by a panoply of murtis.

According to Hélène Brunner, [13] 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.[14]

Naturally occurring lingams

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

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.

Shivling (6543m) 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 Shiva linga when viewed from certain angles, especially when travelling or trekking from Gangotri to Gomukh as a part of a traditional Hindu pilgrimage.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Harshananda, Swami. "Sivalinga". Principal Symbols of World Religions. Sri Ramakrishna Math Mylapore. pp. 6–8. 
  2. ^ Apte, Vaman Shivaram (1957-59). The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Revised and enlarged edition ed.). Poona: Prasad Prakashan. pp. 1366. 
  3. ^ a b Wilson, HH. "Classification of Puranas". Vishnu Purana. John Murray, London, 2005. pp. xli-xlii. 
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Carus, Paul. The History of the Devil. Forgotten Books. pp. 82. 
  6. ^ a b c Vivekananda, Swami. "The Paris Congress of the History of Religions". The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Vol.4. 
  7. ^ Nathaniel Schmidt (Dec, 1900). "The Paris Congress of the History of Religion". The Biblical World 16 (6). 
  8. ^ 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." 
  9. ^ Harding, Elizabeth U. (1998). "God, the Father". Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 156–157. ISBN 9788120814509. 
  10. ^ Sivananda, Swami (1996). "Worship of Siva Linga". Lord Siva and His Worship. The Divine Life Trust Society. 
  11. ^ Isherwood, Christopher. "Early days at Dakshineswar". Ramakrishna and his disciples. pp. 48. 
  12. ^ "linga". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. 
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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. 


  • Basham, A. L. The Wonder That Was India: A survey of the culture of the Indian Sub-Continent before the coming of the Muslims, Grove Press, Inc., New York (1954; Evergreen Edition 1959).
  • Schumacher, Stephan and Woerner, Gert. The encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and religion, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Hinduism, Shambhala, Boston, (1994) ISBN 0-87773-980-3
  • Ram Karan Sharma. Śivasahasranāmāṣṭakam: Eight Collections of Hymns Containing One Thousand and Eight Names of Śiva. With Introduction and Śivasahasranāmākoṣa (A Dictionary of Names). (Nag Publishers: Delhi, 1996). ISBN 81-7081-350-6. This work compares eight versions of the Śivasahasranāmāstotra. The preface and introduction (English) by Ram Karan Sharma provide an analysis of how the eight versions compare with one another. The text of the eight versions is given in Sanskrit.

Simple English

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