Interpreting symbolism of the Linga

Interpreting symbolism of the Linga:

Contrasting Freudian analysis with ideas of the Indian Linga Cult

By Manola K. Gayatri

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Contrasting Freudian analysis with ideas of the Indian Linga Cult    1



Vedic Antecedents    2

Upanisadic Reference    3


Penis Envy contrasted with the Linga-Yoni    7




This essay is a comparative study in myth, imagery, and ritual of the Linga cult in India between the third century BC and third century AD with Freudian theory of the twentieth century AD. I contrast Freudian phallocentric theory with the ideas that emerged within the linga cult in India from about the third century BC up to about the tenth century AD, but focusing mainly on the visual evidence from the third century BC to the third century



Freud penetrated the 20th century psyche and world with his theories of the phallus, its meaning, symbolism and domination of human behaviour, while for centuries, the linga had remained an everyday sight that was worshipped in India with many rituals and practices and beliefs around it. Freud’s most significant contribution to understanding behaviour was the emphasis he placed on how sexuality controlled people’s lives unconsciously. Though this very emphasis on sexuality was most brutally critiqued by even his ‘beloved son’ Jung, what Freud did was important. He brought the discussion of desire and sexuality into the public domain, into academia, into behavioural studies. He was the first to from the moorings of an academic discipline discuss sexual repression and its impact on people’s behavioural health.

If Semitic religions’ active destruction of paganism, removed the explicit imagery of the phallus from the western imagination, in the twentieth century Freud brought back attention to this powerful symbol, in his theories of how the psyche functions. The importance of the reclamation of this powerful symbol has been important. Whether people agreed with Freud’s theories or not, he is the reason behind the phallus and phallic symbolism being such an important part of modern discourse. It has influenced all fields of art and critical theory. Freud brought back the phallus from when it had been castrated from the Western imagination and discussed it in terms of sexual repression and later as a symbol of power.

His theories on sexuality were notably dominated by an emphasis on the phallus. Men were analysed in terms of their complexes with it, women by their lack of an organ symbolising the phallus. Finally an often glossed over statement he made is that the phallic object that was such a focus of desire was one that could never be possessed. His theories have impacted the reading of visual art and cultural symbols. To Freud all kinds of objects that were verticular and elongated (umbrellas, pendants, the cross, pens, snakes etc) were all phallic symbols. He propagated the Oedipus Complex theory, which he then said boys dealt with by developing of Castration Anxiety and girls with Penis Envy.

The phallic symbol has also dominated the Indian imagination. From the Harappan seal that depict a seated yogi with an erect phallus (Figure 1) and the discovery of many objects that could have been lingas in the Indus Valley Civilisation, to the Gudimallam linga (Figure 2.1) and Bhita linga (Figures 3.1- 3.3) in the second century, phallic worship has had an ancient following continuing on to this day. That the phallic object is representing a penis maybe read in the carvings of many of the free standing lingas because they have carved on them very anatomically clear phallic features (Figure 3.1). The linga came to be definitively associated with Siva by at least the second century BC, where the earliest Siva linga from Gudimallam has been identified. He is a deity that is worshipped in an aniconic form, the linga, and even other images of him also depict him as having an erect phallus.

Siva has been called the ‘erotic-ascetic’, a phrase coined by Wendy Doniger in her 1981 edition of Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva re-titled Siva The Erotic Ascetic. While Wendy Doniger does not specifically define erotic in her book, one might be given to understand that when she contrasts the Siva who makes love to Parvati for aeons, who arouses the sages wives and makes love to them in the Pine forest myth with the Siva who burns Kama for shooting an arrow at him while he is meditating, and who goes to do severe tapas after castrating himself, that she differentiates the sexual Siva from the ascetic, meditating one. Dr HS Shivprakash says that the binaries in Indian spirituality are not between the sacred and the sexual. Perhaps it is this crucial differentiation that is at the heart of the difference of phallic symbolism in Freudian and Indian thought even as we will see how intricately woven into spiritual practice and imagery is the sexual. Contrasting Freudian phallo-centric theory with those of the Linga cult, show us how phallic symbolism in the Linga cult, which in its earliest form was perhaps mainly a part of fertility cults developed and got invested with different powerful metaphysical ideas with time.


Based on the seal found at Harappa (Figure 1), it has been speculated that Saivism is 5000 years old. This conclusion by Sir John Marshall and others including A Aiyappan has come to be disputed. Doris Srinivasan says that all that can be said is that it is a ‘divine bull man’. Yet whoever might be the figure in question, the erect phallus that may be seen in the figure, is evidence to suggest that an erect phallus was a sacred symbol.

Also numerous linga like objects have been found at the sites, and scholars have speculated that this is evidence of what they say must be linga worship. If we accept these conclusions we might say that as early as in the Indus Valley Civilisation a divine figure, with an erect phallus, was venerated, and objects that might have been phallic symbols were also considered sacred.

Vedic Antecedents

In the Rig Veda (VII, 21, 5) Indra is prayed to not allow those, whose God is Sisna (phallus), to disturb the rites of the singers. A second reference to these followers of the phallic God, is when they, the singers, recount how they conquered the riches of a city after killing those whose God was Sisna. Both these references point out to the definite existence of a phallic cult in the Vedic times.i

Siva has also been linked with the Vedic god Indra, with whom he is said to share_his aspect as the phallic god of fertility. The Vedic Rudra is also said to be a precursor of Siva. A comparison with the Vedic Agni and Siva is made on the basis of them both bringing fire into the world. The following a tribal myth.”

Agnisur Dano (the demon god of fire) lived in a cave in the depth of a forest. A Baiga woman fell in love with him, for he was beautiful and light came from all parts of him. She slept with him and wanted to take fire from his mouth. When she bathed, he opened his mouth and fire issued forth from it. Thenceforth there was fire in the worldiii.

Siva’s linga after Siva is castrated by the Pine Forest sages is said to have burnt through the world destroying it. Or alternately, when as Rudra he castrates himself, his linga falls and then becomes a fiery column of light. Thus not simply Siva, but his fiery linga as well is associated with the Vedic Agni. As Vedic religion did not invest or theologically believe in the making of idols, visual evidence of these gods is hard to come by.

Upanisadic Reference

According to RG Bhandarkar, the Svetasvara Upanisad speaks of the god Isana as presiding over every yoni. (Svetasvara Upanisad 4.2). The lord presides over all forms and yonis. (Svetasavara Upanisad 5.2)iv


Freud first speaks about phallic symbols in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams. Phallic symbol is used purposefully to describe objects that appear in people’s dreams. If these objects could be identified as phallic symbols, then to Freud it indicated a repressed sexual desire. As this desire might be for an unattainable object, Freud speaks of the impossibility of either a man or a woman ever possessing the phallic symbol. He found the origins of this desire in the Oedipus Complex, where both a son and daughter desire their mother, see the father as both competition and a threat. For boys this leads to

Castration Anxiety where they fear that their father will castrate them and for girls, who do not have a phallus to be castrated, this leads to Penis Envy.

Castration Anxiety contrasted with Myths of Siva’s Castration

Castration anxiety is discussed by Freud in his writings on the Oedipus complex; it posits a deep-seated fear or anxiety in boys and men said to originate during the phallic stage of sexual development. It asserts that boys, when seeing a girl’s genitalia, will falsely assume that the girl had her penis severed, probably as punishment for some misbehavior. The boy then becomes anxious lest the same happen to him. Castration anxiety literally means the fear that one’s penis will be severed, but more profoundly it may symbolize his fear that like Sophocles’ tragic hero, Oedipus, he will lose both his power and the object of his desire, who is his mother. The boy is believed to thus harbour an unconscious wish to kill the father.

Indian myth has several stories of the origins of the linga, two important ones deal with the idea of castration.

According to the Varaha Purana 21.6, when commissioned by Brahma to produce creatures, Rudra at first says he is unable to produce creatures and plunges into the water. He practiced tapas, austere in creative fervour for a very long time. Rudra deeply immersed in the water, was absorbed in the task to which he had responded according to his yogic nature, believing that ‘one without fervent austerities is not able to produce creatures’. (Varaha Purana 21.7). Full of expectation Brahma waited all that time. Nothing happened, and Brahma turned to another being whose name was Daksa and made him creator of all living things and Daksa created all living creatures. At last Rudra rose from the waters and saw the living creation. At the sight be became angry tore out his phallus and caused it to fall into the ground, since no purpose would be served by it…Cheerless and in rage, Rudra went to the foot of Mount Mujavat to practice asceticism. (Mahabharata 10.17. 25-27)v

In this retreat (the Forest of the Deodar trees, also called Pine Forest by Wendy Doniger), sages, with their families lived the life of recluses, observing the established rites. The peace of the hermitage was interrupted when a young stranger appeared on the scene, a naked yogi smeared with ashes, holding out his begging bow for alms. Irresistibly fascinated, the wives and daughters of the rsis rushed to bring him fruits and other food. (Kurma Purana 2.37.1-13) He excited them so much that they were beside themselves. His attraction was such that he seemed extraordinarily handsome. (Linga Purana .29.10), or, on the contrary he looked horrible with terrific painted teeth. (Brahma Purana1.2.27.11)His penis and testicles were like red chalk, the tip ornamented with black and white chalk (Brahma Purana 2.27.12). The wives and daughters of the sages were driven mad with passion. They took hold of his hands, embraced him and lost all self-control. (Siva Purana 4.12.12-13)They had always been exemplary in their way of life, but now they knew no restraint. Their hair disheveled, shedding their ornaments and clothes (Kurma Purana.2.37.14-15), they could not tear themselves from the intruder. Sometimes he laughed, sang, and danced beautifully; sometimes he roared repeatedly (Brahma Purana; he was naked, his hair was horripilating, his penis was large (Mahabharata 13.1.4. 66-67).In this manner he sported with the wives and daughters of the sages.

The rsis bewildered, pained and infuriated asked the strange mendicant his name. He remained silent. Outraged and stupefied, the sages did not recognize him. (Siva Purana, JS.42.13-15). Some say the sages pulled out his phallus (Vimana Purana, SM 22.68), others that they made it fall by their curse (Siva Purana 4.12.17), still others that they ordered him to castrate himself (Skanda Purana 6.1.20). But it is also said that only he could do so (Brahma Purana

There are two recorded comments on the Deodar/ Pine Forest myth to indicate that Siva went to the forest with intentions of seduction.

When Siva failed to be satisfied by making love to Gauri, his wife, he then went naked into the Pine forest in the guise of madman, his linga erect, his mind full of desire, wishing to obtain sexual pleasures with the wives of the sages. (Siva, Dharmasamhita 10.187 and 10. 78-80)

The Mahabharata(13.17.39, Nilkantha on13.17.42) commentator says, “It is known tat Siva entered the Pine Forest naked in order to entice the wives of the sages.”

The two stories of castration indicate two reasons for Siva being castrated. In both cases there is enough indication to suggest that the castration is self-willed. In one case the castration occurs as procreation has been futile, and in the other because of lust. There are two definite reasons for the existence of the linga: to procreate and to satisfy desire. Furthermore in the first myth, Siva’s tapas, where he is erect underwater for many years, is undertaken with the goal to procreate. When this goal is frustrated or taken over by another, castration occurs and the linga burns through the world as a destructive force.

The linga of the great god fell. He threw it on the surface of the earth and vanished from the sight of the sages. All things moving and unmoving were destroyed. (Vimana Purana 22.68-69)

Contrasted with Freud’s castration anxiety, there is a surprising similarity. A young boy desiring his mother or an unattainable phallic object (For Lacan, women, who do not own phalluses, become phallic objects to be possessed), finds the object of his desire is already taken over by someone else, leading him to fear that his own phallus will be castrated for his immoral desire. Or read slightly differently, the boy feels castrated already because the masculine possessing of an object that he could have done, is done by someone else, rendering his phallus unnecessary. This emasculation could be read as a kind of castration.

The difference lies in what the castration does. Siva’s castration could have been read as emasculation if it had not been for the fact that this castration becomes an evidence of

Siva’s power. Firstly, only he has the power to castrate himself. He ‘allows’ the sages to castrate him. The whole incident is described as a test of the sages.

It was Siva’s purpose to enlighten the false sages by allowing them to humiliate him. It was an act of grace on his part (Brahma Purana, Siva Purana 4.12.11), but they were lost in anger (Vimana Purana, SM 22.67, 74). The Lord allowed himself to be assaulted and beaten by them. He accepted humiliation in the image that met the eyes of the sages.. He willed his linga to fall, and unwittingly, the sages were his instruments when they made it fall.

Secondly, Siva is definitely not emasculated by the castration.

Even though Siva castrated himself by his own hand when he rose from the waters, or by his will through the agency or the curse of the sages, or once again by his own hand, Siva is not a castrated god. The linga maybe restored to his body (Skanda Purana 6.1.47-52) or Siva might refuse to have it restored to his body (Skanda Purana indifferent to the question of the completeness of the anthropomorphic metaphor of his body.

Castration is a part of the self-revelation. It is in the linga that Siva is completely revealed. Even in his form as ardhanarisvar, Siva has been depicted with an erect phallus. As early as in the second century AD, when the Kushan ardhanarisvar with an erect phallus (Figure 8), is believed to have been made, Siva’s feminization or his containing of the feminine is not an emasculation. His phallus is very much in evidence. In fact it maybe speculated that the ardhanarisvar figure is itself carved on a linga. This suggests that the feminine contained within Siva is a revelation of the linga itself. One is even tempted to speculate if the linga itself may then be not be strictly masculine but contain within it the feminine too.

While the castration can be seen as a punishment in the Pine Forest myth, it takes on a complexity that cannot be easily explained simply by punishment. Siva does not suffer from the castration, the rest of the world does. Through the castration his true self is revealed to the sages. The castration of Siva becomes a site of spiritual revelation, an epiphanic moment for the sages. In the first myth, there is something interesting happening before and after the castration. Rudra, is meditating underwater, erect, focusing his energies on the creation that is to happen. After the castration, Rudra storms of to the mountains to do rigorous tapas. Asceticism is indulged in both before and after the castration. Importantly Siva’s asceticism is not a consequence of castration.

The Lingodbhava myth also shows the linga to be the site of gnosis, not simply for those who witness it, but for even he who is within the linga. Here the full form of Siva is revealed in the linga. While much later periods depict the lingodhbhava in an iconic form (Figure 9), the idea of Siva revealing himself, or coming out of the linga, has had visual representation as early as in the second century BC in the linga from Gudimallam (Figure 2.1) and one from the second century AD as well (Figure 2.2).

The fallen phallus of Rudra, transfigured as cosmic phallic pillar flaming upward from the netherworld into heaven, was the counter player of light from beyond. The pillar rose in the cosmic night in terrible splendor from immeasurable depths. In the darkness of the flood, it was seen by Brahma and Visnu. In the total homogeneity of the dissolved universe, Visnu and Brahma were arguing over their relative supremacy when they were interrupted suddenly by the super luminous glow of a strange pillar of fire. Joined by Brahma, Visnu sped toward the indescribable flaming light, which grew before their eyes into infinity, rending heaven and earth.

Overwhelmed and terrified by their unfathomable vision, the two gods sought the beginning and end of its burning intensity. Brahma, flying upward with the wings of his bird shape- the wild gander- could not see its top, nor could Visnu, diving down for a thousand years in his shape of a boar, see the bottom of that fire linga of him who is the light and destruction of the universe. Both of the bewildered gods returned exhausted to the level they had started from, and within the flaming linga they beheld Siva in golden glory. He illumined the dark flood, and the two gods, Visnu and Brahma, bowed before him. Thunderous laughter or the sound of AUM, issued from the pillar, filled the sky, and Siva dispelled their fear. (Vamana Purana 55.13-5; cf Linga Purana 1.17.32-59; cf Kurma Purana 1.25.67-101)™

Once again the revelatory nature of the phallic symbol is emphasized. Out of the darkness it emerges as light. Furthermore, after a search that goes upwards and downwards, and finally comes back to where it started God reveals himself in shining splendour. What is interesting here is the symbolism of Brahma and Visnu. They are both questioning their merit and arguing about who is superior. It is an argument that cannot find a conclusion between them. The forms they assume as swan and boar is of great interest as it maybe read as a symbolic representation of the spiritual versus the material. Read this way the phallic symbol emerging from the depths of the unconscious, is transfigured from a castrated phallus to a phallic pillar of light, and renders as irrelevant the question of the greatness of the spiritual versus the material. But before this revelation occurs, there has to be a period of struggle for ‘thousands of years’ as the boar and the swan follow their own paths seeking a beginning and an end. The castrated phallus of Rudra, itself undergoes a transfiguration as the castrated Rudra goes to perform tapas at Mount Mujavat for many thousands of years.

There are two important points of contrast in the lingodbhava myth the Freudian assumptions of phallic symbolism: castration is finally an act of empowerment and the phallic symbol is transformed from an organ of pro-creation or sexuality into gnosis. Apart from Brahma and Visnu’s enlightenment, Rudra-Siva himself has a gnosis. The castrated Rudra, who in a fit of anger went to meditate on Mount Mujavat, finds himself within this transformed phallic pillar of light as Siva. Perhaps this is why he laughs at the end, for laughter is perhaps at the heart of self- revelation and self-knowledge. It is a laughter that resounds with the cosmic vibrations of AUM. It is a laughter that happens after Brahma and Visnu bow to him, indicating that Rudra-Siva himself after his castration, his tapas and self-revelation, has seen the ‘light’ side of it all.

Penis Envy contrasted with the Linga-Yoni

In Freud’s later theories he began to discuss penis envy as a complex that girls developed because they did not have a biological phallus. The concept was introduced in his 1908 article, “On the Sexual Theories of Children”, but did not fully develop the idea until substantially later in 1914 when his work On Narcissism was published. Penis envy in Freudian psychoanalysis refers to the theorized reaction of a girl during her psychosexual
development to the realisation that she does not have a penis. Freud considered this realisation a defining moment in the development of gender and sexual identity for women. It is the parallel reaction to Castration Anxiety. Women were described in negation, in terms of not having the phallus. The vagina or yoni was not considered relevant and certainly not discussed in great detail.

Soon after the libidinal shift to the penis, he believed that the girl develops her first sexual impulses towards her mother. The girl realizes that she is physically not equipped to have a sexual relationship with her mother, as she has a clitoris, labia and vagina, rather than a penis. This leads to her desire for a penis, and the power that it represents. This is described as penis envy. Freud postulated that the girl sees the solution as obtaining her father’s penis. She develops a sexual desire for her father. The girl is then thought to blame her mother for her apparent castration (what she sees as punishment by the mother for being attracted to the father) assisting a shift in the focus of her sexual impulses from her mother to her father. Sexual desire for her father leads to the desire to replace and eliminate her mother. The girl identifies with her mother so that she might learn to mimic her, and thus replace her. The child anticipates that both aforementioned desires will incur punishment. The girl employs the defence mechanism of displacement to shift the object of her sexual desires from her father to men in general.

A marked difference in ancient Indian thought with the Penis Envy theory, is the emphasis that is placed on the yoni. While cults such as those in the second century BC, who worshipped the famous headless goddess with full breasts and her yoni on display, Lajja Gowri (Figure 4), evidently gave space for the yoni, Linga cults themselves saw the yoni as important. The linga on/ in the yoni is an aniconic form of the worship of Siva- Sakti. Visual evidence of this icon does not seem to be available in the period between 300 BC and 300 AD. One may however speculate that if the Kushan ardhanasrisvar (Figure 8) could be depicted with an urdhalinga, then there is a possibility that the form might have also contained a yoni._ But whether visual depictions existed in this period or not, the idea if one considers the mythical evidence seemed to exist. The idea of the linga-yoni is still contested in visual art scholarship. Many believe that the linga is simply placed on a pedestal that drains the offerings of oil, milk and water and that that pedestal is certainly not the yoni. It is also claimed that there is no reference to the yoni in connection with the linga in Indian texts. This is however not true. As early as in the composition of the Mahabharata this idea can be seen.

The sages cursed Siva’s linga to fall to the earth, and it burnt everything before it like a fire. Never still, it went to the underworld and to heaven and everywhere on earth. All creatures were troubled, and the sages went in desperation to Brahma, who said to them, ‘As long as the linga is not still, there will be nothing auspicious in the universe. You must propitiate Devi so that she will take the form of the yoni, and then the linga will become still. They honored Siva, and he appeared and said, ‘If my linga is held in the yoni, all will be well. Only Parvati can hold the linga, and then it will become calm.’ They propitiated him and thus linga-worship was established on earth. (Siva Purana 4.12. 17-52; Mahahbharata xiii.14.233; Nilkantha on xiii.14.228-31; Sonnerat, pg 179; Baldaeus, pgs 18-18)viii

Tantric tradition and Siva-Sakti cults also place emphasis on the yoni in particular relation to the linga. Agam in ixthe Tantra is the opposite of Shruti or revelation in Vedic texts. An Agam text declares that, ‘Sexual coitus is the highest watermark of yoga leading to first master of Yoga’. In the tenth century AD Tantraloka text, Abhinavagupta simply states that, ‘Sakti is the basin, Siva the phallus, their union, the supreme ground’.x According to Tantric ideology , reality is the result of the symbiotic interaction of various polar opposites, symbolized in Siva-Sakti that produce a creative tension.

In David Gordon White’s The Kiss of the Yogini, he discusses the importance of the yogini, her yoni and the fluis that belong to her. The fluid from the yoni is also important in tantric ritual as it is believed to bestow immortality. In tantric tradition and rituals yoginis were used as representative of the sacred female energy. The cakras are described in the tantric texts the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, in which they are described as emanations of consciousness from the supreme god head, an energy emanating from the spiritual which gradually turns concrete, creating these distinct levels of cakras, and which eventually finds its rest in the Muladhara cakra.. The energy that was unleashed in creation, called the Kundalini, lies coiled and sleeping at the base of the spine. It is the purpose of the tantric or kundalini forms of yoga to arouse this energy, and cause it to rise back up through the increasingly subtler cakras, until union with God is achieved in the Sahasrara cakra at the crown of the head. The Tantric sadhana of Laya
yoga works with the cakra system.xi

David Gordon goes on to describe how in Matsyendra’s Kaulajnananirnaya kamakala is mentioned twice relating it to a system of five cakras fully developed in later traditions, and identifying it with the nectar of immortality, kaulasadbhava. The following excerpt from the Siva Purana, connects yogic practice, the cranial vault, the production of nectar that is the root of immortality, and the sexual agitation circles of the Devi.

In the jewel area…is Siva Kamakalesvara…always in union with Kamakalesvari, established in the ajna cakra, always delighting in drinking female discharge. (Siva Purana 2.534)

The ajna cakra located in the cranial region is supposed to be the place where the nectar of immortality is produced internally through yogic practice. This nectar called rajas or female discharge in the Silpa Prakasa, is said to be synonymous with kaulasadbhava. In the Kaulajnananirnaya of Matsendranatha this is identified as the clan fluid or nectar that flows from the wombs of yoginis, goddesses and other female beings. These female deities arising, getting aroused in the cranial vault by the nectar they drink there, is all part of early accounts of the yogic process. It is circles of goddesses that originally formed the energy centres (cakras) of the subtle body.

In these traditions it is believed that the goddess, who is gratified by the fluid offerings made internally to her by the yogi, rises along his spinal column to converge in his cranial vault. In hathayogic practice the yogi converts and internally drinks this nectar to become immortal. The ‘jewel area’ mentioned in the Siva Purana is thought to be nothing but the clitoris. It is the kama bindu located just above the linga-pitham, and is where Siva drinks the feminine discharge. Linga pitham refers to the seat of the siva-linga and is considered to be the Godesses’s yoni. Reading the passage in this way, David Gordon suggests that the text is saying that Siva is drinking feminine discharge from the sexual orifice of the Goddess.

So the text in the Siva Purana, ‘In the jewel area…is Siva Kamakalesvara…always in union with Kamakalesvari, established in the ajna cakra, always delighting in drinking female discharge. (Siva Purana 2.534) ‘is translated thus, ‘In the clitoris, Siva always in union with the Goddess, who is in the energy centre of the cranial vault (ajna cakra) is always delighting in drinking female fluids.’

The author also interestingly cites the mukhalingas (Figures 6.1-6.4) as visual evidence of this practice. The sexual fluids of the rising Goddess, at the ajna cakra which is said to be the cranial vault located behind Siva’s third eye, is where the mystical transformation the Goddesses nectar into the nectar of immortality happens. If this theory is accepted, then as David Gordon White points out, the visual evidence of it in the form of the mukha lingas existed as early as the Ekamukha linga found in Mathura (Figure 6.1) and believed to be from the first century BC. Others such as the ekamukha linga on the relief from Mathura (Figure 6.2) believed to be from the first century AD also exist. These ekamukha lingas do not however stand on a yoni as the linga in/on yoni images begin to be made only at a later period, thus creating some problem for David Gordon White’s speculations on the possible visual evidence.

Alternately Stella Kramrisch offers a more ascetic idea. The five faces of a mukha or face linga in a linga such as the Bhita Panchamukha Linga (Figures 3.1-3.3) is said to be the visual equivalent of the five mantras or brahmanas called Taittirya Aranyaka, whose composition is assigned to the third century BC. Each face of the linga is the concretisation of the face of the deity of each mantra. While the Bhita linga is conventionally dated to the second century BC, there is speculation that due to the Kushan characteristics of the faces, this might possibly be from the Kushan period. The conventional dating of this terracotta Bhita linga is second century BC because most terracotta images found in Bhita were dated to then. Usually mukha lingas do not have the fifth head, which is supposed to be a metaphysical reality. That this shaft is meant to represent the phallus is quite clearly emphasized by the graphic carvings at the base of this terracotta image (Figure 3.1)

The tantric tradition behind this visualization has been discussed in explicit detail with reference to David Gordon White’s speculations. Stella Kramrisch referring to Wendy Doniger’s work simply says that the tantric tradition of the retention of sperm speaks of the seed ‘which is conducted upwards though the spinal cord to the brain and transformed and absorbed mentally as bodhicitta, the thought of awakening’. The idea of seed retention is very important in the iconography of Siva, because his urudhlinga (erect phallus) is a phenomena where arousal is held and the seed taken upwards (symbolized in the erect phallus always pointing up) showing Siva’s powers as a yogi. Thus the panchamukha lingas become a visual picturisation of transforming the sexually creative into the mentally/ spiritually creative.

Freud viewed, ‘ Maleness as combining, activity and possession of the penis, while femaleness as simply passivity.’xii Contrarily in Saiva thought, the linga is passive and inert and maybe brought into its creative potential only through the vital energy of the yoni. The urudhlinga though full of potentiality is a still erect force. For the potential of the linga to be actualized, the yoni is needed. ‘ In the essentially dualistic cosmic vision of tantrism the kinetic verve of the primordial female energy Sakti is supported by an indispensable correlative principle, Siva or the male principle. Siva is identified with cosmic consciousness and as the static substratum to all phenomena. Complementary and ‘opposite’ of the inert Siva, is Sakti, whose essential nature is to be active, creative, mobile, and to pulsate with the rhythm of life. Siva is the silent seer of all phenomena, the innermost focal point of the subjective self (consciousness or cosmic spirit) and Sakti is the phenomenon itself (matter or nature equaling prakriti). The whole universe lies extended between these two opposite yet complementary principles, and all creation is held to be a result of the creative play between them.’xiii

Wendy Doniger also interprets the Pine Forest myth in terms of Siva’s passivity.xiv As the sages’ wives get more and frenzied and excited, Siva in some versions of the myth remains passive and still. The phallus is erect but still, while, the women (read yonis?) are excited. Another tantric text shares a similar idea, “Siva is the cause of bondage, Sakti the cause of liberation. She is the life power of the universe; without her, who is symbolized in the letter i, Siva is Sava, a dead body.” This relationship is seen by Doniger as the Goddess reviving Siva through copulation, or sexual power.xv This can be seen in later picturisations of the Goddess as Kali, astride an inert Siva. In images of Kali astride or dancing over an inert Siva, she is usually seen as astride over his erect and visible phallus. (Figures 7.1-7.3). It is the active yoni dancing around the passive linga.

Thus the feminine far from suffering from Penis Envy or being passive, is actually shown as a dominating powerful force, whose essence is necessary for even the linga to be creative. The phallus is a potent force as long as it has the Sakti energy with it. The erect phallus of Siva, maybe a representation of the seed drawn up and evidence of the power of his tapas; but if this yogic practice is read through the Tantric tradition of the yoginis, then the power of that shift happening with the seed being drawn up and transforming into immortal nectar is due to the fluids of the Goddess.


In this essay we began with a discussion of the importance of the phallic symbol in Freud’s work and contrasted it with how the phallus was an important symbol in Indian tradition too. Looking at the possible origins of the phallic or linga cult in India, we saw how there is certainly evidence, both visual and literary, that phallic worship in India can be traced to the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Furthermore it continued through Vedic and Upanisadic times, with both texts making references to a phallic god and even his followers.

Freud’s theory of Castration anxiety was contrasted with how castration has been dealt with in the linga cult. Though Rudra-Siva in the first myth castrates himself after being denied the opportunity to pro-create, his castration is not an emasculation, a becoming of a girl that Freud’s little boy fears. In fact even when Siva becomes the half-woman god, Ardanarisvar, he is not emasculated: his erect, potent phallus is a powerfully manifested even in this form as visual evidence shows us (Figure 8). If one considers how the Ardanarisvar in Figure 8 appears to come out of a phallus too, then the phallus itself, the symbol of manhood, contains the feminine within it.

Nor does the castration become a sign of emasculation, when the Pine Forest sages castrate Siva, an action that he ‘allows’ them to do, indicating that the castration is self- willed. The castrated phallus turns its creative potential into a destructive fire that burns through the worlds. Establishing itself as a pillar of light it is later discovered by two arguing gods, who seeking the beginning and end of this pillar through their spiritual and material means, are finally bestowed with gnosis. We discussed how Rudra Siva discovers himself in this castrated phallus transformed into a phallic pillar of light. The phallic symbol in lingayat thought is thus not a symbol of repression but rather a symbol of gnosis.

In contrasting Freud’s theory of Penis Envy with the tantric beliefs that the Linga cult has had, we found that while Freud saw women and girls only in terms of not having a phallus, tantric tradition and later images of the linga on yoni place a great deal of importance on the yoni. In stark opposition to the Freudian view of that women’s sexuality is passive and the phallus active, the linga is believed to be a still potent force that gets actualized only through the feminine yoni. While the visual evidence of the aniconic linga-yoni do not appear in the Kushan or Pre- Kushan periods, we might be given to believe the idea of the yoni containing the linga appear as early as when the Mahabharata was written.

In conclusion I would like to say that the comparison between twentieth century Freudian ideas on the phallus and the symbolism of the phallus as it developed in the Linga Cult between the third century BC and fifth century AD show us that while Freud may have re-discovered the importance of the sexual drive through his theories on the phallus and created discourse on the symbolism of the phallus, the linga cult taking sexuality and desire at the outset, developed and released into the Indian imagination (especially through powerful visual sculpture and iconography of the linga between the second century BC and third century AD) powerful metaphysical ideas on how this desire and sexuality, depicted by the linga and later the linga yoni could be transformed into a site of gnosis. Whatever else the binaries in Indian religious tradition might have been it clearly was not between what was considered sacred opposed to the sexual.


Figure 1 Indus Valley Seal, about 2000 BC

Figure 2.1 Linga, Gudimallam. 2nd Century BC    Figure    2.2    Siva    in    front    of    linga,

Mathura, 2nd century AD

Figure 3.1 Terracotta Panchamukha Linga, Bhita. between 2nd Century BC to 2nd Century AD

Figures 3.1 and 3.2 Ibid

Figure 4 Lajja Gowri , Terracotta plaque, Uttar Pradesh. 2nd Century BC

Figure 5 Linga worship relief. Bhutesvara, Mathura. 1st Century BC.

Figure 6.2 Relief with Ekamukha Linga. Mathura. 1st Century AD

Figure 6.3 Ekamukha Linga, Aghapura, Bharatpur, Rajasthan. 1st Century AD

Figure 7.1 Later depiction of Kali on Siv-Linga

Figure 7.3 Folk painting of Kali from 19th Century AD, Orissa. (Source: Philip Rawson’s The Art of Tantra)

Figure 8 Sandstone,Ardanarisavar addorsed

to a Linga. Mathura. Kushan Period.    Figure    9    Lingodbhava    on wall of

Gokarnatesvar temple. Karatnataka

1 Bhandarkar RG, Vaisnavism, Saivism and Minor Religious Systems, pg 115 u O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger, Siva The Erotic Ascetic, pgs 85 & 90

  1. Elwin, Verrier. The Myths of Middle India. Oxford 1949, pg 113
  2. Bhandarkar, RG. Vaisnavism Saivism and Minor Religious Systems
  3. Kramrisch, Stella. The Presence of Siva, pgs 127-128
  4. Ibid. pgs 154-155
  5. Kramrisch, Stella. The Presence of Siva, pg 159
  6. O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Siva The Erotic Ascetic, pg 257
  7. Kingsley (1988) pg 122, referenced in Menzies, Jackie. Goddess Divine Energy, ‘Kali and the Wisdom Goddess ‘ pg 131.
  8. White, David Gordon. Kiss of the Yogini: Tantric Sex in its South Asian Context, pg 78
  9. Wikipedia on Chakras.
  10. Freud, Sigmund. The Id and the Ego, (1923) pg 145
  11. Khanna Madhu, Yantra: The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity, pg 67
  12. O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger, Siva The Erotic Ascetic, pg 175
  13. O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts, University of Chicago Press, 1980 Pg 116. Quoted in an article on the Goddess and Fertility: The Goddess as Enabler at


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