Lecture on the Shiva Linga E-mail

The concept of Shiva Linga in Hinduism is explained in this lecture, with emphasis on the etymological and historical background of the worship of this form of Lord Shiva as well as modern misconceptions about its meaning and symbolism. The worship of Lord Shiva as Linga began in antiquity and the philosophy of the Shiva Linga is described in length in the Agamas and Puranas of Hinduism.

Shiva Linga in Cambodia
Ancient Shiva Linga in Angkor, Cambodia

Shiva Linga

by S. Sabaratna Mudaliyar

Lecture at the Jaffna Hindu College Hall, Sri Lanka
February 21, 1913

Shiva Linga is a sacred object of worship among the 200 millions of Hindus who occupy the vast continent of India and the spicy isle of Ceylon. They represent a seventh part of the population of the whole world and they enjoy an unrivalled reputation for their ancient civilization. Their religion is admittedly the oldest of the existing religions and it is an undeniable fact that it has created an exceptionally high degree of spiritual fervor in the hearts of its adherents. The effect of the religion on its adherents could be easily gauged from the standard or morality maintained by them, and I am sure that a crime statistics of the different countries of the world would show the "Mild Hindu" to great advantage. The object of worship of such a people should not be attacked at random, and the feelings of the 200 millions offended for no mistake committed by them. I do not think that the propagation of any religion involves the necessity of offending the feelings of believers in other religions; but on the contrary, it is, I think, the duty of every believer in God that he does not in any way hurt the feelings of others who likewise believe in God, but in a different form. I am very sorry to find that this important duty of man is lost sight of by some of our Christian friends who would not scruple to call Shiva Linga, our sacred object of worship, a phallic emblem. If this is what is known as Christian principle, I will speak no more of it. Let it speak for itself.

But I am glad that this uncalled for and unpardonable attack on the part of a Christian writer has given the Hindus an opportunity to explain the true significance of Shiva Linga, and I therefore consider it my duty, as a Hindu, to lay before the public the little that I know of the subject.

Etymology of Linga

Before entering into an explanation of Shiva Linga, I have to say a few words on the meaning of the word Linga. Linga is derived from the Sanskrit root Lika which means to sculpt or to paint, and Linga means one that sculptures or paints. God being the Sculptor of the Universe, He is known as Linga, and this word has become ultimately to mean any form or symbol that represents Him. It has become in a later stage to mean any sign or symbol, in a general sense, and it is in this sense the word is used now. Refer to any dictionary, Sanskrit or Tamil and you will find the meaning of the word as a symbol or mark - a சின்னம், a குறி. The word is used in this sense by Lexicographers, Grammarians and Logicians; and it may even be found as a technical term used in this sense in Hindu Logic. Lingapattiam is the name of a commentary on the meanings of Sanskrit words, and one could clearly see in what sense the word is used as the title of that Book. But of course, in course of time, the word happened to convey other meanings as well and among them that of the generative organ, by the common law of degeneration of words which is not peculiar to Tamil or Sanskrit alone. Even then, this degenerated import of the word is not its chief meaning, but it is only a secondary one of very rare use. How the word happened to be used in this sense could itself be easily traced. There is an etymological rule in Tamil known as இடக்கரடக்கல் which is a form of decorum used in giving expression to objects which would not admit of open mention. The genital organ came to be referred according to this rule as இலிஙம் or குறி, and the use of these words in this sense has become a fashion in course of time. Not only the word Lingam but the word Kuri itself is used in this sense; but no one who has any idea of Tamil will contend that every Kuri is a genital organ. The word Kuri means punctuation, a brand mark, and I am sure that no punctuation will ever be said to represent a genital organ.

Another derivation, of the word Lingam is Ling, which means involution, and Gam, which means evolution. So, that Lingam is the principle of involution and evolution combined together, and such a combination can only be traced to God, the primordial cause of the whole Jagat.

It could thus be clearly seen that the radical meaning of the word Lingam does not in the least convey any sense applicable to the generative organ, but, on the contrary, the real meaning of the word may be found so sublime and so deep that it will immensely benefit one to scrutinize the word and learn its meaning analytically.

The Meaning of the Shiva Linga

So far for the word Lingam. I will now proceed to explain, as briefly as I can, the meaning of Shiva Lingam, but I must say at the outset that this object has a large stock of mysticism about it which can only be explained by an adept for whose qualifications I have the least pretence. Shiva Lingam is explained at great length by Shiva Agamas and several Puranas; and the Vedas themselves could be found to have their own explanation of Shiva Lingam.

It is the main principle of Hindu philosophy - and I am sure that principle is admitted by all religions -, that every particle of this great Jagat is moved by God. There cannot be any movement without God, and the existence of the universe would be altogether impossible without Divine energy. The principle of creation has been very minutely and systematically described in our sastras according to which Shiva Linga is the embodiment of the cosmic creation. There was the Nirguna Brahm; and there was the primordial cosmic element called Maya. What was the course taken by the Divine Energy in producing the cosmic world out of Maya? Maya is an extremely subtle matter without any form or shape, and it is of two kinds - Suddha Maya and Asuddha Maya - or the lower and upper Maya. This Maya is in the presence of Shivam or Nirguna Brahma and that of its Sakti or Divine Energy. This Sakti having energized Suddha Maya, the mundane egg of the universe was formed. This was Nadha or the principle of sound. This was what is known as Nama or name - the first expression of limitation. From this Nadha or Name came out Bhindu or Rupa i.e., the form - the second stage of limitation. This name and form - Nama and Rupa - is what is known as Omkara Pranava; and this is the seed and seat of all matter and force. The Nadha is represented by a line and the Bhindu by a disc. It is this Nadha or vibration that is known as Linga and Bhindu is what is known as its Pita. This Lingam with its Pitam or the principle of Name and Form is still beyond comprehension, and the form that could be comprehended a little better came out of the Bindhu above referred to in the order of evolution. This is what is known as Sadakkiam or SadaShivam. This is Rupa-Rupam, or with shape and without shape. From this SadaShivam came out Maheswara. With fully developed form, from him Rudra, in the region of Asuddha Maya, from him Vishnu, and from him, Brahma. These nine different phases or Navapitam are the different stages of evolution which the great God - or properly speaking - His Sakti - assumed in manifesting Itself to the souls - or in fact to excite their intelligence, and evolve this Jagat or universe out of Maya. The different actions in the region of Suddha Maya are performed by SadaShivam and Maheswara, while those in the lower Asuddha Maya by Rudra, Vishnu and Brahma - the Hindu triad. It could thus be seen what position the Nadha and Bhindhu hold in the order of cosmic evolution. These two principles as I have already said are known as Pranava - Nadha representing Nama, and Bhindhu representing Rupa - and it is this Pranava that is represented by Shiva Lingam. Nadham or the principle of egg - is represented by a line and Bhindhu, the next stage, by a disc. The line is the Linga and the disc is the Pita. We know that the principle of all writings in any language is embodied in this line and disc. Can we with any sense of correct knowledge call this Linga an emblem of generative organ? I am sorry that our critics are unable to form an idea of the creative principle except through the genital organ. You will see that in the order of evolution above out-lined, no fully developed form is manifested until the stage of Maheswara is reached. Is it possible then to call Nadha and Bhindhu which are far above the developed form of Maheswara as one of his organs?

The Different Forms of Shiva Linga

Shiva Linga again is said to be of three kinds - Vyaktam, Avyaktam and Vyaktavyaktam or Sakalam, Nishkalam, and Sakalanishkalam. The pure form of Sat, Chit and Anandham of Shivam is known as Avyaktam or Nishkala Lingam. The form to which name and form are particularly traceable is called Vyaktavyaktam or Sakalanishkala Lingam. It is this that is generally known as Sadakkiam or Shiva Lingam. The form in which name and form are fully developed is called Vyaktam or Sakala Lingam. Under this class of Vyaktalingams fall the 25 forms of Maheswara, such as Chandrasekara, Uma Maheswara, etc. These forms are fully developed and are said to embody the various limbs of a perfect form, such as head, face, hands, legs, etc. It is the embodiment of all these limbs that is called Maheswara Linga, and can we then say that the figure embodying all these limbs represents only one of such limbs - the phallus - and can we call the Avyakta and Vyaktavyakta Lingas which have no body or shape whatever, a phallus - a fully developed form?

This Sadakkiam or Shiva Lingam is again explained in the Agamas in five other forms; namely Shiva Sadakkiam, Amurti Sadakkiyam, Murti Sadakkiyam, Kartiru Sadakkiyam and Karma Sadakkiam. Of these five, the Murti Sadakkiya-Linga and Kartiru-Sadakkiya-Linga exhibit in their forms fully developed faces, and they are called Muka-Linga-Murti or Linga with face. May I ask our critics whether a phallus has a face?

The Shiva Linga that is generally seen in many of our temples is the form of Karmasadakkiam which embodies in it the jnana-lingam of Nadham and the Pita Lingam of Bhindu. This is what is known as Sadakkiam or the form of God in His capacity as the Agent of the five actions of Srishti, Stiti, Sankkaram, Thirobhavam and Anugraham. In other words, Shiva in His capacity as the Agent of Panchakrityam is known as Linga, meaning thereby the Sculptor of the universe, as already explained and as the primordial germ of the cosmic appearance. The Agamas explain at length that this Linga embodies in it the various differentiations of the Jagat known as He, She and It, and in fact they allot different portions of this Linga for the different differentiations. This form, again, embodies in it the Hindu Triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra as well as the Vyashti forms of Pranava which is the germ of the 96 elementary principles of the Jagat known as Tatvas. We may be able to learn a good deal of the cosmic principles and of their modes and methods of involution and evolution if we study under a competent preceptor the true meaning of Shiva Linga. I would refer you to a series of very valuable and interesting articles contributed to the Madras Siddhanta Dipika in 1906 and 1907 by Mr. Rangaswamy Aiyar under the heading "The inner meaning of Shiva Lingam". The sublime meaning of Shiva Linga may be found expounded in Tirumantram, Linga Puranam, Shiva Puranam, Vayusamhita Sutasamhita and several other Tamil works of great reputation, and the Agamas devote volumes to the excellence of Shiva Linga. If one could have a glimpse of the meanings of the several rites and ceremonies performed at a Linga-Stapana, one would be able to have a correct meaning of the sacred Shiva Lingam.

The Agamas again speak of seven kinds of Linga: Gopuram, Sikaram, Dvaram, Prakaram, Balipitam, Archalingam and Mulalingam. The Tower, the dome, the gateway, the courtyard round the temple, are all called Lingas as they represent Shiva-Sakti one way or the other, and are therefore entitled to our veneration and worship. Are these all to be called phallic symbols, I ask? It is again one of the important doctrines of the Hindu religion that we have to perform our worship of Guru, Jangamam, and Lingam. The Lingam herein referred to is a term which includes the various images of Shiva which we worship in our temples. Can we say that all these images are phallic symbols? Surely it does not require much research into the Hindu Sastras to have a general idea of the meaning of Shiva Lingam, and it is not possible to conceive how the critics came to make this unfounded and blasphemous allegation against our sacred object of worship which is replete with sound and solemn significance. It may be that a phallic emblem was considered sacred by ancient Romans or Greeks. But Hindus are neither Romans nor Greeks; and it is quite unreasonable and uncharitable to charge the Hindus with an idea for which they were in no way responsible. Evidently the ancient Romans or Greeks borrowed the Linga worship from the Hindus, and in their debased ignorance put a wrong construction on it, having misunderstood the language used by the Hindus in describing it. Are the Hindus to be taken to task on account of an idiotic mistake committed by foreign nations?

If we refer to the Puranas, we find Shiva Linga being further explained. When Brahma and Vishnu, in their arrogance, fought with each other for supremacy, the Lord Parameswara appeared in their midst in the form of a flame whose beginning or end they were unable to discover. This flame of immeasurable effulgence is called Linga. This Linga is said to represent the sacred fire of the Vedic Yajnas, while the temples stand for the sacrificial grounds. These temples again represent our hearts or Hridaya, and our Lord is said to abide in our hearts in the form of a Linga or a glow of effulgence, as the soul of our souls. Surely none of these significances of Shiva Linga has any reference to phallic emblem, and I challenge our critics to quote a single verse in any of our Sastras in support of their unfounded allegation.

I think I have said enough to convince you that the charge laid against our sacred object of worship is as unfounded as it is blasphemous. If you have a desire to be more fully informed of Shiva Linga you will do well to make a study of it under a competent Guru, and you will then be able to see how the incomprehensible and indescribable Shivam assumed this Linga form in order to make Himself known to us, and how this Linga form comprises in itself, in a very subtle manner, the most primordial germ of the whole Jagat -- in short how the unlimited Shivam started a limitation to benefit the innumerable souls. I hope, and I pray that you will all be benefitted by this.

Source: Light of Truth, Vol. XIII, No.10, April, 1913.

Quote of the Day

A man ought to live in this world like a lotus leaf, which grows in water but is never moistened by water; so a man ought to live in the world - his heart to God and his hands to work.

Swami Vivekananda
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