Written by Sulaiman Razvi
The meaning of Shiva Ling or Lingam has become a subject of controversy in recent times. Hindu reveres the Shiv Ling, They use Shiv Ling’s photo on their vehicles, shops and houses for blessings. Hindu god Shiva is considered ”The Destroyer” part of Trimurti and he is also considered the Ascetic god. The early scholars of Hinduism didn’t emphasize the meaning of Shiv Linga, it was only in recent time when Hinduism was exposed to foreigners that some Hindu scholars started giving their own definitions. When dealing with such issues we have to look deep into it’s history. Shiva Linga actually a Phallic (male erected generative organ) emblem is considered a symbol by today’s Hindu scholars. We can find traces of Phallus or Shiva Lingam worshipers in the Rig Veda which is the oldest scripture of Hinduism, however we read that the ancient Aryans were hostile towards these worshipers,
Rig Veda 7.21.5 …Let our true God subdue the hostile rabble: let not the lewd [ShishanDeva] approach our holy worship.
The Sanskrit word here is Shishan+Deva which means Penis Worshipers. The word Shishan (also spelled Sisna) means Penis. Maharshi Yaska explains this verse in his book Nirukta,
”May he, the noble one, defy the manifold creatures, let phallus worshippers not penetrate our sanctuary.
May he overpower them, i.e. the manifold creatures who are hostile to us. Let the phallus worshippers, i.e. the unchaste Sisna (phallus) is derived from (the root) snath (to pierce) not approach our sanctuary, i. e. our truth, or sacrifice.”-Nirukta 4.19
Now who else could this Phallus worshippers be other than the Shiva Lingam worshippers.
Unlike some modern Hindu scholars who refuse to give the actual meaning of Shiva Linga, the Tantra or Tantric tradition of Hinduism maintains that Shiv Ling represents the male sexual organ and is worshiped for virility (and for some other reasons also), they quote this passage as proof for Penis worship,
”Mahadeva [Shiva] said: A Sadhaka wishing to worship a yoni, which is the form of the cosmos, should cause an erection and insert it into that thing which is Sakti Herself. The vagina is Mahamaya and the penis is Sadasiva. Worshipping them, one becomes liberated while still alive; there is no doubt off it. One should offer bali, flowers and so forth. If incapable of this, worship with wine, O Durga. One should do pranayama and my six limbed puja in the yoni region. After reciting the mantra 108 times at the base of the yoni, one should rub the linga and the yoni together.”- [Source: http://www.tantric-goddess.org/yoni_tantra.htm ]
Yoni (Vagina) worship can also be found in the Upanishad, it is mentioned,
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.2-3 “Prajapati said to Himself: “Well, let Me make a firm basis for it (semen).” So He created woman. Having created her, He worshipped her bottom portion. Therefore one should worship the bottom portion of a woman. He (Prajapati) extended His organ that projects and with it impregnated her.”
Now let’s have a look at Mahabharata,
बहुरूपाः परजा दृष्ट्वा विवृद्धाः सवेन तेजसा चुक्रॊध भगवान रुद्रॊ लिङ्गं सवं चाप्य अविध्यत
तत परविद्धं तदा भूमौ तथैव परत्यतिष्ठत तम उवाचाव्ययॊ बरह्मा वचॊभिः शमयन्न इव
किं कृतं सलिले शर्व चिरकालं सथितेन ते किमर्थं चैतद उत्पाट्य भूमौ लिङ्गं परवेरितम
bahurūpāḥ prajā dṛṣṭvā vivṛddhāḥ svena tejasā. cukrodha bhagavān rudro liṅgaṃ svaṃ cāpy avidhyata. tat praviddhaṃ tadā bhūmau tathaiva pratyatiṣṭhata. tam uvācāvyayo brahmā vacobhiḥ śamayann iva. kiṃ kṛtaṃ salile śarva cirakālaṃ sthitena te. kimarthaṃ caitad utpāṭya bhūmau liṅgaṃ praveritam [Source]
Mahabharata Sauptika Parva 10.17 ”After the creatures had multiplied and the Grandsire had become well pleased, the first-born rose from the water and beheld the living creation. He saw that diverse kinds of creatures had been created and that they had multiplied by their own energy. At this sight, Rudra [Shiva] became angry and caused his procreative limb [Lingam] to disappear in the bowels of the Earth. The unfading Brahma, soothing him by soft words, said unto him, “O Sharva, what wert thou doing so long within the water? For what reason, also hast thou caused thy limb of generation [Lingam] to disappear in the bowels of the Earth?” Thus questioned, that lord of the universe wrathfully answered the lord Brahman, “Somebody else has created all these creatures! What purpose then would be served by this limb of mine? I have by my austerities, O Grandsire, created food for all these creatures. These herbs and plants also will multiply like those that will subsist upon them!” Having said these words, Bhava went away, in cheerlessness and rage, to the foot of the Menjavat mountains for practising severer austerities.”-Tr. Kisari Mohan Ganguly.
I will be explaining this briefly in this article. The purpose of quoting this passage from Mahabharata is to show that the word Linga/Lingam associated with Shiva represents his sexual organ.
The Meaning of Lingam
[Student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary 1893 edition, By V.S Apte, page 311]
Google translates also give the same definition for the word Linga.
ISKCON scholars give the following meaning,
”lingam — phallic symbol which is used in the worship of Lord Śiva.” [Source: http://www.prabhupada-books.de/gita/glossary/glossary_L.html]
It is mentioned in Mahabharata,
Mahabharata 13.14 …all creatures bear the signs that mark Mahadeva and his spouse. Hence, all creatures must be regarded as belonging to Maheswara. All creatures of the feminine sex, have sprung from Ulna’s nature as their cause, and hence it is they bear the mark of femininity that distinguishes Uma; while all creatures that are masculine, having sprung from Siva, bear the masculine mark that distinguishes Siva…
So what is that masculine mark that distinguishes a male person? Obviously the male organ (penis). And its that which distinguishes Siva also.
The Shiv Ling underwent physical changes over centuries, the Ling that we see today wasn’t in the same form 2000 years ago. Below are some images of Shiva Linga which dates back to ancient period,
An ancient lingam found at Aradhanarishwara Temple at Indabettu village in Dakshina Kannada district. [Source: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/professor-spots-ancient-lingam/article4205939.ece ]
Divinely sculpted: A second century BC idol of Lingodbhava cult of Lord Shiva, the first of its kind found in South India, at Gudimallam temple in Chittoor distric [Source: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/venerated-since-ages/article4493900.ece ]
[Ek Mukha Lingam, Aghapura, Bharatpur, Rajasthan. First Century A.D]
As you can see, these Lingams which are known to be the one of the oldest Lingams ever discovered completely resembles the male genital organ. The Gudimallam Lingam completely resembles penis while the Lingam found at Kannada district is smaller than Gudimallam. Details on Shiv Ling can mainly be found in the Puranas. The worship of Shiv’s Ling started after one of the Sage of Pine forests named Bhrigu cursed Shiva to be worshiped as Linga (Penis) in anger after he was dishonoured by Shiva. It is mentioned in Padma Purana,
”Bhrigu was sent to ascertain the preeminence of the three gods, on arriving at Kailasa he thus addressed Shiva’s door keeper [Nandi] ”Quickly inform Shankara that I, the Brahman Bhrigu, have come to see him.” But the door keeper [Nandi] said, ‘Stop, Stop if thou wishest to preserve thy life; for my lord cannot be approached at present, as he is engaged in amorous dalliance with Devi.’ The divine sage being thus denied access, waited some time at the gate of Shiva’s abode and at length incensed with anger imprecated this curse ”Since thou, O Shankara hast thus treated me with contempt, in consequence of thy preferring the embraces of Parvati, your forms shall on that account become the Lingam in the Yoni”- Padma Purana 6.255.6-43; 6.282.20-36
So we see that the angered Bhrigu cursed Shiva to be worshipped in the form of Linga (Penis) and Yoni (Female genital organ) which he loved the most. There is another story which shows that Bhrigu cursed Shiva when he saw him having sex in the forest.
Devi Bhagavatam 4.20.36-37 O King! When Mahadeva, being infatuated with Kama, went into the forest of Bhrigu and becoming naked, began to copulate, the ascetic Bhrigu, seeing him in that state, exclaimed “O You are very shameless” and cursed Him thus :– Let your penis drop off just now. Mahadeva, then to satisfy his thirst for passion, began to drink the water of the lake Amrita Vapi, dug by the Danavas.
The problem with the origin of Lingam worship is that there are different stories about its worship. According to Shiva Purana it was due to the curse by Sages not by Bhrigu that Lingam worship initiated, it also explains the worship of the Yoni (female genital organ) as well as the Linga being the cosmic pillar,
”Shocked by the appearance and behaviour of Shiva, the sages of the forest said to him, ‘You have acted perversely. That is contrary to the scriptures. Your sexual organ will fall to the ground’. When they had thus spoken, the sexual organ of this messenger of Heaven, who was none other than Shiva of the marvellous forms, at once fell to the ground. The phallus burned everything before it; wherever it went, all was consumed. It travelled through the under-world, in heaven and on the earth, never staying in one place. All the worlds and their inhabitants lived in anguish. The sages were struck with dismay. The gods, and the sages knew neither peace nor pleasure any more. [all the sages then went to God Brahma] and Brahma continued, ‘As long as this Phallus is not in a fixed position, no good can come to any of the three worlds. In order to calm its wrath, you must sprinkle this divine sexual organ with holy water, build a pedestal in the form of a vagina and shaft (symbol of the goddess), and install it with prayers, offerings, prostrations, hymns and chants accompanied by musical instruments. Then you shall invoke the god, saying, ‘You are present in everything that exists. The universe is but the form of yourself. O benevolent One! calm yourself and protect the world’. The sages therefore reverently approached Shiva who said to them, ‘The world shall not find peace until receptacle is found for my sexual organ. No other being except the Lady of the Mountain [ie., Parvati] may seize hold of my sexual organ. If she takes hold of it, it will immediately become calm’.- Shiva Purana, Kothi Rudra Samhita 4.12.17-46, Tr. Alain (Shiva Sharan)
This story is also supported by Kurma Purana II, chapters 38-39
There are more clear references of Phallic (Penis) worship in the Puranas wherein Hindu god Shiva himself commands his worshippers,
”Shiva said, ‘I am not distinct from the Phallus. The Phallus is identical with me. It draws my faithful to me, and therefore must be worshipped. My well beloved! Wherever there is an upright male organ, I myself am present, even if there is no other representation of me.”- Shiva Purana, Vidyeshwara Samhita 1, 9.43-44, Tr. Alain a.k.a Shiva Sharan.
”Those who practise ritual sacrifice and habitually worship the physical Linga are not capable of controlling their mental activity in meditating on its subtle aspect… Those who are not yet conscious of the mental, or subtle sexual organ, must worship the physical sexual organ, and not the contrary.” Shiva Purana, Rudra Samhita 2, 12.51-52, Tr. Alain (Shiva Sharan).
Devi Bhagawatam book 9, 41.48 Laksmi always remains there with the greatest gladness where conch-shells are blown, where there are conchsells, the S’alagrama stone, the Tulasi leaves and the service and meditation of Laksmi are daily done. Where the phallic emblem of Siva is worshipped… ”
Worship my Linga and do always meditate upon the form which you see just before you. When I am worshipped in the phallic form I will be delighted and will bestow different benefits upon all people, all that they wish for in their minds.- Shiva Purana, Rudra Samhita 2, 9.13-14, Tr. J.L. Shastri
Still some Hindus would argue that Shiva Linga is just a Symbol of Lord Shiva which does not represent his generative organ.
Yes, I agree with that but to an extent, it’s indeed a Symbol of Hindu god Shiva that represents the male and Shiva’s organ, The Shiva Purana explains this,
”The lord is the source of all enjoyment… For existence to be a perpetual joy, the follower must worship the phallus which is the god Shiva himself, the sun which gives birth to the world and upholds it. It is the symbol of the origin of all things. Shiva, the origin of all things, should be worshipped in the form of the phallus, through which the male principle is recognizable. The Phallus is thus the symbol of the god.”- Shiva Purana, Vidyeshwara Samhita 1, chapter 16.103-106, Tr. Alain (Shiva Sharan).
So this is how the Linga becomes the symbol of Hindu lord Shiva, and later it is considered only a symbol or cosmic pillar by modern Hindus. Modern Hindus base their claim that Linga is merely a symbol/cosmic pillar on what is known as Lingodbhava Myth, it is nothing more than just a myth since it can’t be taken as a substantial proof and majority of sources doesn’t support it. The myth goes like Brahma and Vishnu quarrels over who is the superior god then Shiva appears and becomes a pillar, then Vishnu becomes a Boar and digs the earth to find its beginning and Brahma becomes a swan and flies upwards to find its end, when they couldn’t find the beginning or end they return to the same place and accepts Shiva to be superior god and worships Shiva.
This may or may not be defining the meaning of Lingam but the story mentioned in Vamana Purana does mention that it was the male organ of Shiva, though it’s little different than this story,
Vamana Purana 6.57-84 Seeing Kama about to strike again, Shiva [Hara] fled to the Pine forest where he was pursued by Kama [Madana]. [but along the way], the wives of the Pine forest sages, seeing Shiva, became aroused themselves. They followed him everywhere like female elephants following male elephants.The sages then, angry at Shiva for captivating their wives, cursed Shiva’s Linga [Penis] to fall off. When it fell, the earth split open and Shankara became invisible…Because the earth was quite agitated, Brahma and Vishnu began to investigate [the beginning and end of Lingam]. But when they could not find the Linga’s begining or end, they decided to propitiate the great god. Hearing their words of praise, Shiva reappeared, asking them why they would propotiate him when his body was inflamed by Kama. Brahma and Vishnu requested that he withdraw his Linga from the earth, where it was causing havoc [for others]. Shiva agreed on the condition that the gods promise to worship the Linga [Penis]”.
Further this story is supported by other texts also refer to Shiva Purana, Kothi Rudra Samhita 4, 12.17-46 which I quoted above and also the stories mentioned in Skanda Purana I.1.6.25-44, The story goes like,
‘Owing to a curse by the forest sages, Shiva’s Linga [Penis] fell to the ground, where it continued to grow in size until it pervaded the entire universe. Both Brahma and Vishnu accepted his defeat at not finding the end of the Linga, but Brahma decided to cheat, saying that he had reached the top of the Linga’.
It is said that Shiva was cursed by Sages of Pine forest for seducing their wives, this is supported by Shiva, Brahma, Karma and Linga Puranas. A story mentioned in Shiva Purana says that Shiva went to the Pine forest only to seduce and enjoy the sages’ wives,
‘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.’- Shiva Purana, Dharmasamhita 10.187; 10.78-80
Shiva appeared naked with his penis erect before the wives of Sages, this is why the sages cursed him to be worshiped in the form of Penis for seducing their wives. There is another version of the Linga worship story, after Shiva was beaten up by sages for molesting their wives and his penis being torn off, Shiva disappeared from the place all people were terrified, terrible omen ensued. So Brahma advised them to make a Linga similar to the Penis (Linga) that was struck down and worship it the story goes like,
Shiva Purana, Kotirudra Samhita 4.12.8-13 ”Once the leading Brahmin devotees of Siva engrossed in the meditation of Siva went into the forest for bringing sacrificial twigs. In the meantime Siva himself assuming a very hideous form came there in order to test their devotion. He was very brilliant but stark naked. He had smeared ashes all over his body as the sole ornament. Standing there and holding his penis he began to show all sorts of vicious tricks. It was with a mind to do something pleasing to the forest-dwellers that Siva, favourite of the devotees, came to the forest at his will. The wives of the sages were extremely frightened at this sight. The other women excited and surprised approached the lord. Some embraced him. Others held his hands. The women were engrossed in struggling with one another. ” Tr. Board of Scholars, Edited by J.L. Shastri
Kurma Purana II.38.52 ”The sages said: A certain highly brilliant person has entered the holy Daruvana along with his wife, who was very beautiful in all her limbs. But he was naked. The lordly person fascinated our entire women and daughters, with his charming personality. While his beloved defiled our sons. We heaped various imprecations and curses on him but they were defied and set at nought. He was beaten soundly by us. His Linga was struck down.” Tr. Ganesh Vasudeo
TagareBrahmanda Purana I.2.27.45 ”He [Shiva] was scolded and beaten. His Linga (?penis) was taken out. It is to alleviate his anger that we have sought refuge in you.” Tr. G.V. Tagare
Kurma Purana II.39.1-3 “[The sages said:] O lord of all immortal beings, tell us, how we can see the Pinaka-bearing lord once again. You are the saviour of those who seek refuge. [Brahma said:] Make an excellent Linga of the Lord resembling the Linga which was seen by you all and struck down on to the ground, and observing celibacy, worship it with respect along with your wives and sons, through the varios Vedic observances.” Tr. G.V. Tagare
Different versions shows that it was due to the curse by Sage or Sages that Shiva’s Linga (Penis) fell down, but there is another story which shows that Shiva himself let his Penis fall down. There is a correlating story mentioned in Shiva Purana and Mahabharata which I have already quoted, and let me once again quote that passage,
Mahabharata Sauptika Parva 10.17 (Tr. Kisari Mohan Ganguly)”After the creatures had multiplied and the Grandsire had become well pleased, the first-born rose from the water and beheld the living creation. He saw that diverse kinds of creatures had been created and that they had multiplied by their own energy. At this sight, Rudra [Shiva] became angry and caused his procreative limb [Lingam] to disappear in the bowels of the Earth. The unfading Brahma, soothing him by soft words, said unto him, “O Sharva, what wert thou doing so long within the water? For what reason, also hast thou caused thy limb of generation [Lingam] to disappear in the bowels of the Earth?” Thus questioned, that lord of the universe wrathfully answered the lord Brahman, “Somebody else has created all these creatures! What purpose then would be served by this limb of mine? I have by my austerities, O Grandsire, created food for all these creatures. These herbs and plants also will multiply like those that will subsist upon them!” Having said these words, Bhava went away, in cheerlessness and rage, to the foot of the Menjavat mountains for practising severer austerities.”
We read in Shiva Purana that,
‘’He [Siva] agreed to this and laughed, for he was secretly amused, and he said to Brahma, ‘There is no good use for this Linga [Penis] except for the creation of progeny.’ And as he said this he broke it [His Penis] off and threw it upon the surface of the earth. The Linga broke through the earth down to the subterranean hell and went to the very sky. Vishnu sought the end of it below, and Brahma flew upwards, but they did not find the end of it, for all their vital effort. Then a voice arose out of the sky as the two of them sat there, and it said, ‘If the Linga of the god with braided hair is worshipped, it will certainly grant all desires that are longed for in the heart.’ When Brahma and Vishnu heard this, they and all the divinities worshipped the Linga [Penis] with devotion, with their hearts set upon Rudra (Shiva).”- Shiva Purana, Dharmasamhita 49:23b-46, 74-86
This is also supported by Varaha Purana 21.6-7. A Hindu scholar writes,
‘’According to the account given in the Dharmasamhita of the Shiva Purana, during the ekarnava state before creation, Brahma approached Shiva-Rudra and beseeched him to create the universe, Shiva agreed and entered into the vast ocean in order to prepare himself for the enormous task. However, he did not come out of the ocean for a considerbly long time. In the meantime, Brahma became fretful; he could not wait any longer and therefore brought about his own creation. When, later, Shiva-Rudra emerged out of the water, he found that the creation had already accomplished. He [Shiva], there, cut off his generative organ as it was no longer necessary and threw it down on the earth. Since then the Linga became the form in which Shiva came to be worshipped.”
This shows that it was actually a giant male organ of Shiva. So these stories which are slightly different than the story mentioned in Shiv Purana explain that the Linga was actually his male organ. Though there are different versions concerning the origin of Linga worship but all of them asserts that Linga or Lingam is actually Shiva’s male organ, besides all such clear references from Puranas there are many evidence like oldest Lingams which resembles the private organs, the name and meanings of Linga and Yoni to support this claim.
Notes & References:
- Student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary 1893 edition, By V.S Apte
- A partial translation of Padma Purana 6.255.6-43; 6.282.20-36 by a Hindu scholar named N.A Deshpande,
”Nandin, the lord of (Siva’s) attendants spoke harsh words to the great sage of unlimited splendour. ”The lord is not in the vicinity. Sankara is sporting with goddess (Parvati). O best sage, go back if you desire to live.” Thus repudiated by him the (sage) of a great penance remained there, at the door of the great lord, for many days. ”Since he, arrogant due to the company of a woman, thinks lightly of me, he shall have the form of clitoris.” Tr. N.A. Deshpande
- Gods of Love and Ecstasy, By Alain Daniélou.
Alain Danielou changed his name to Shiva Sharan after converting to Hinduism and ” translated some works of Swami Karpatri by whom he was initiated into Shaivism” http://en..org/wiki/Alain_Dani%C3%A9lowikipediau
A partial translation of Kothi Rudra Samhita, 12.17-46 by Swami Parmeshwaranand in his book Encyclopaedia of the Śaivism, Volume 1, page 134,
”The sages curse Shiva’s Linga[Penis] to fall to the earth. It burnt everything before it like a fire…All creatures were troubled and the sages went to desperation to Brahma who said to them, ”as long as the Linga[Penis] 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[Vagina] and then the Linga will become still. ”They honoured Shiva and he appeared and said, ”If my Linga[Penis] is held in a Yoni[Vagina] then all will be well. Only Parvati can hold the Linga and then it will become calm”
- I am providing some previous verses of Shiva Purana Kothirdura Samhita so that you may get sense of what happened
Shiva Purana, Kothirudra Samhita 4.12.10-18 He was very brilliant but stark naked. He had smeared ashes all over his body as the sole ornament. Standing there and holding his penis he began to show all sorts of vicious tricks…The wives of the sages were extremely frightened at this sight. The other women excited and surprised approached the lord. Some embraced him. Others held his hands. The women were engrossed in struggling with one another. Meanwhile the great sages came there. On seeing him engaged in perverse activities they were pained and infuriated… ‘You are acting pervertedly. This violates the Vedic path. hence let your penis fall on the ground.” Suta said:- When the said this, the penis of that Avadhuta, who was Siva of wonderful form, fell down instantly.” Tr. Board of Scholars, Edited by J.L. Shastri, 1970 Edition.
- Icakkimaymman Katai, By Barbara Schuler