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The Lingam (also, Linga, Shiva linga Sanskrit लिङ्गं , meaning "mark" or "sign") is a symbol for the worship of the Hindu deity Shiva. The use of this symbol for worship is an ancient tradition in Indiamarker extending back at least to the early Indus Valleymarker civilization. The interpretation of what the symbol represents is the source of much debate.


The origins of the worship of the Shiva-Linga are unknown. Shiva-Linga has one complete purana which is dedicated to its form and origin. It may be a symbolic representation of self (Atma Linga) or of everything. Some associate it with the physical form of Pranava (Om). Oval form represents even the shape of the Universe including the existing space. The beginning of the oval form is A in OM and prolonged part is U in OM and M is the ending part of the linga. It is single shape of Trimurti. Praying Shiva Linga is considered as praying the Thrimurti in absolute form. Linga represents absolute and Single power of this universe. Some associate them with the famous hymn in the Atharva-Veda Samhitâ sung in praise of the 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. 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.

Another theory is that Shiva linga might have been originated from the erect memorial topes of Buddhists consecrated in the memory of Buddha. The very poor, who were unable to build big monuments, used to express their devotion to him by dedicating miniature substitutes for them. Scholars note that similar instances are still seen in the case of Hindu temples in Varanasimarker and other sacred places of India where those, who cannot afford to build temples, dedicate very small temple-like constructions instead. Scholars note that during the period of Buddhistic ascendancy the rich Hindus, in imitation of the Buddhists, used to erect something as a memorial resembling their Skambha and the poor in a similar manner copied them on a reduced scale and afterwards the miniature memorials of the poor Hindus became a new addition to the Skambha.


Siva means auspiciousness and linga means a sign or a symbol. Hence the Sivalinga is regarded as a "symbol of the great God of the universe who is all-auspiciousness." Siva also means one in whom the whole creation sleeps after dissolution. Linga also means 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 Sivalinga, represents symbolically God Himself.

The Sanskrit term लिङ्गं , 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:
  • 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)

Along with the basic meaning of lingam as "mark, spot, sign .. [or] characteristic", Monier-Williams explicitly explains lingam as: "The sign of gender.. organ of generation .. The male organ or Phallus (esp. that of Siva worshipped in the form of a stone or marble column which generally rises out of a yoni").

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:

 | atīto 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 is the instrumental plural form of , so 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 which describes the role of attributes in recognition of objects perceived by the senses:

Perception is the ascertainment of objects [which are in contact with sense-organs]; inference, which follows on the knowledge of the characteristic mark ( ) [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 Shiva.

In Tamil ilingu literally means "home is here", denoting a mound of clay Goddess Uma made to symbolize Mount Kailas and worship Shiva in it.


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. 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.

In 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 devotees."

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.
  • 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 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.

According to Swami Dharmananda,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 the Linga for acquiring the 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.

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.

Swami Vivekananda gave a lecture at the Paris Congress of the History of Religions 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, 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. 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.

According to Swami Sivananda,

Christopher Isherwood addresses the misinterpretation of the linga as a sex symbol as follows —

The Britannica encyclopedia entry on linga mentions, —

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, as has been argued by Hélène Brunner. Scholars like S.N.Balagangadhara have disputed the sexual meaning of lingam.


Wendy Doniger, an American scholar of the history of religions argues through the application of psychoanalysis, —

Wendy Doniger's knowledge and translation of Sanskrit has been questioned by Dr. Antonio De Nicholas, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York and Professor Michael Witzel of Harvard Universitymarker. The application of psychoanalysis in the study of Hinduism and its application on Shiva and Ganesha has come to be regarded as unreliable and out of date by academics including Antonio De Nicholas, Nicholas Kazanas—a European Indologist, S.N.Balagangadhara, professor at the Ghent Universitymarker in Belgiummarker and Yvette C. Rosser.

Naturally occurring lingams

A lingam at Amarnathmarker in the western Himalayasmarker 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 them.

  1. Sarva :- Bhoomi Linga, Kancheepurammarker, 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, Tiruvannamalaimarker, Tamil Nadu – 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 Kalahastimarker, 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, Chidambarammarker, 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 Lord is seated there. A very beautiful Nataraja murthy is in outer Garbha Gruha for worship and for the satisfaction of the devotees.
  6. Pasupathi:- Yajamana (Lord) Linga, Kathmandumarker, Nepal. In Nepal, Pasupathinadha Kshetra is famous and the Lord here is in human form. The devotee can see the deity up to his waist only. The Murthy is decorated with Gold Kavacha always. Nobody can enter into the Garbha Gruha 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.
  7. Mahadeva:- Chandra Linga, West Bengalmarker. Chandra natha Linga is situated in West Bengal 34 miles away from Chatagav City. Many sacred thirthas surround this Kshetra. Devi purana lauded this Kshethra greatly.
  8. Eashana:- Surya Linga, Konarkmarker Temple, Orissamarker. This Kshetra is in Orissa state near Purimarker 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 Surya 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 and devotion.

The Bijileshwar Mahadev(incidence of Vasishta in Rigveda) absorbs lightning and breaks into pieces, is then restored by butter every 12 years.

Shivlingmarker (6543m) is also a mountain in Uttarakhandmarker (the Garwhal region of Himalayas). It arises as a sheer pyramid above the snout of the Gangotri Glaciermarker. 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. Monier-Williams. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. p. 901. view page online
  2. Swami Gambhirananda. Bhagavadgītā. With the commentary of Sankaracarya. (Advaita Ashrama: Calcutta, Fourth Reprint 1997) ISBN 81-7505-150-7.
  3. Sargeant, Winthrop. The Bhagavad Gītā. (State University of New York Press: Albany, New York, 1994). ISBN 0-87395-830-6.
  4. Quotation from the as translated in: Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. (Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey, 1957; Twelfth printing 1989) ISBN 0-691-01958-4. p. 428.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Invading the Sacred, "Abusing Shiva and Ganesha" pp.53-59 & pp.146-151


  • 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. : Eight Collections of Hymns Containing One Thousand and Eight Names of Śiva. With Introduction and (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 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.

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