Śivaliṅga

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Sivalinga, ZivaliGga, shivalinga


Śivaliṅga literally means ‘emblem of Śiva’.

With regards to the origin of the Śivaliṅga, the Liñgapurāṇa[1] states that when Viṣṇu and Brahmā were puffed up with arrogant pride about their powers, ignoring Śiva, he appeared before them as a pillar of fire of infinite length and challenged them to find out the extremities. They failed to do so and had to accept his superiority. This pillar of fire came to be known as liṅga because all the creatures merge in it at the time of dissolution.[2]

Significance of the Word Śivaliṅga

Śiva, the third god of the Trinity, is generally worshiped in the aniconic form of the liṅga. Literally, Śiva means auspiciousness and liñga means an emblem. Hence Śivaliṅga means an emblem of auspiciousness.

Śivaliṅga, Symbol of Supreme God

Since both the words, Śiva and liṅga, also mean the Supreme God into whom the whole universe dissolves at the time of pralaya<Pralaya means or withdrawal of the created world.</ref> and ‘sleeps’ in Him till the next cycle of creation, Śivaliṅga is the symbol for that Supreme God. Since God[3] is nirākāra and nirguṇa[4] a uniformly rounded surface like the Śivaliṅga can be the best visible representation of that God.

Śivaliñga

Significance of Śivaliṅga as an Emblem

With regards to the liṅga, the emblem of Śiva universally venerated, some explanation is needed. Literally Śiva means auspiciousness and Liṅga means a sign or symbol. Hence the ‘Śivaliṅga’ is just a symbol of the great God of the universe[5] who is all-auspiciousness. As already explained, ‘Śiva’ means the one in whom the whole creation sleeps after dissolution. ‘Liṅga’ also means the same thing, a place where created objects get dissolved during the disintegration of the created universe. Since, according to religion, it is the same God that creates, sustains and destroys the universe, the Śivaliṅga represents symbolically God Himself.

Śivaliñga, Ancient Symbol

Whether the Śivaliñga is the final product of the yupastambha[6] as the yāgaśālā[7] evolved gradually into the temple, or is a replica of the Buddhist stupa, there is no clinching evidence to prove it. However, it is an undeniable fact that it is an extremely ancient symbol.

It is interesting to note that the liṅgas have been described as emblems of the Devi, Gaṇapati and Narasiñha also and worshiped as such. The sculptured images of Śiva and Pārvatī worshiping a liṅga, in the Kailāṣanātha temple of Ellora[8] adds some mystery, leading to the supposition that the liṅga may be a very ancient object of reverence, not necessarily considered an emblem of Śiva.

Denominations of Origin of Śivaliṅga as an Emblem

Whether the Śivaliṅga is a phallic emblem or not is a moot point. Phallic sects have existed in all countries and in all civilizations. It is quite likely that the phallic sects of an aboriginal civilization were absorbed into religion and the worship itself was elevated to honor the Father-Mother-Principle of creation. This is one view. That it is a remnant of the Vedic yupastambha, to which sacrificial victims used to be tied, is another view. According to this view, the temple is a metamorphosis of the Vedic yāgaśālā.[9] That it is an imitation of the Buddhist stupa is another guess that is sometimes hazarded but not substantiated, since Śivaliṅgas have been found even in the pre-Buddhistic civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.

The icon of Paraśurāmeśvara at Guḍimallam[10] being an exact replica of the phallus, gives us this impression. The word liṅga[11] seems to confirm it. However there are many Śivaliñgās,especially of the svayambhu or udbhavamṅrti[12] which do not at all resemble the phallus. Śiva for instance, is said to have manifested himself as a great altar of gold from which sprang forth a blazing fire.[13] before Aśvatthāma.

Even supposing it does, one may surmise that certain non-Vedic sects wherein phallic worship might have existed as in many ancient civilizations of the world, were absorbed into the Vedic culture, and the same elevated to represent the father-mother principle at the cosmic level. Since God is beyond name and form, and since we cannot conceive of an abstract principle like Him, without the aid of concrete symbols, a rounded surface is perhaps the nearest approach to him.

Classification of Śivaliṅga as per One Belief

Classification of Liṅgas

Liṅgas are broadly divided into two classes:

  1. Akṛtrima - natural
  2. Kṛtrima - man-made

Akṛtrima Liṅgas

The former include the svayambhu liñgas[14] and the bāṇaliñas, made of quartzi-ferous substances and naturally available in certain rivers, mainly the Narmadā in Madhyapradesh. These bāṇaliṅgas are of various sizes, shapes and color. They are considered holy always not needing the rites of consecration or invocation and so on.

Classification of Śivaliṅga as per Other Belief

Śivaliṅgas may be of two types. They are:

  1. Cala - movable. They are the ones that can be kept in one’s home and worshiped.They may also be carried on the body as the Vīraśaivas or liṅgāyats do. They do not normally need the customary installation rites or a permanent abode. Such cala-liṅgas may be made of several materials such as metals, clay, precious stones or even wood. The metals recommended are gold, silver, copper and bell-metal. Precious stones that may be used are rubies, pearls, corals, topaz, emerald and even diamond.
  2. Acala - immovable. The acala-liṅgas are the ones made of stone and fixed in the sanctums of the temples for worship.

Acala Liṅgas

These liṅgas are in two pieces:

  1. The pedestal called pīṭha or yoni
  2. The liṅga proper

Segments of Śivaliṅga

These liṅgas are in two pieces:

  1. The pedestal called pīṭha or yoni
  2. The liṅga proper

This liṅga can be further divided into three parts:

  1. The lowest part is square and is called ‘Brahmabhāga’.
  2. The middle part is octagonal, represents Viṣṇu and hence called ‘Viṣṇubhāga’.
  3. The topmost part is cylindrical and is called ‘Rudrabhāga’.

Rudrabhāga is this part above the ground level and is worshiped, the other two being below. The Brahmabhāga is buried in the ground whereas the Viṣṇubhāga is encased inside the pedestal.

Types of Rudrabhāga

  • The topmost part known as the pujābhāga has certain lines called the brahmasutra, without which the liṅga is considered unfit for worship. Sometimes the face of Śiva is carved on the pujābhāga. Such a liṅga is called ‘īśvaraliṅga’.
  • If the whole figure is carved, it becomes known as ‘Rudraliṅga’.
  • There are liṅgas which have the cylindrical part treated with the design of fluted facets. These are called ‘dhārāliṅgas’. The fluted facets may vary from 5 up to 100.
  • If the image of Śiva is carved on the middle portion of the liṅga, it is called ‘Liṅgodbhavamurti’.

Relevance of Material of Liṅgas and their Fruits

Liṅgas made of different materials are recommended for worship to fulfill different kinds of desires. For instance:

  • The worship of a pearl-liṅga can result in the elimination of sins.
  • Worship of topaz can give prosperity.
  • Liṅgas made of wood, the following trees are considered suitable:
  1. Red-sandalwood
  2. Babul
  3. Pine
  4. Bilva
  5. Few others coming to the acala or the immovable liṅgas, they are the ones made of stone and fixed in the sanctums of the temples for worship.


References

  1. Liñgapurāṇa chapters 17 to 20
  2. līyate asmin; layarh gacchanti
  3. God means the Supreme, as Brahman.
  4. Nirguṇa is without any particular form or specific qualities.
  5. God of universe is called ‘Mahādeva’.
  6. Yupastambha means Vedic sacrificial post.
  7. Yāgaśālā means Vedic sacrificial shed.
  8. Ellora is in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra.
  9. Yāgaśālā means sacrificial shed.
  10. Guḍimallam is in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.
  11. Liṅga means indicating the generative organ of man.
  12. It means self-manifested type.
  13. Mahābhārata, Śauptikaparva 17.13, 14
  14. Svayambhu liñgas means naturally emerging out of the earth.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore