What is the Shiva Lingam Symbol?

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The Shiva Lingam, also referred to as Linga or Shivling, is a cylindrical structure worshipped by Hindu devotees. Made out of various materials, this symbol is an aniconic representation of the deity Shiva who is highly revered in Hinduism. It looks similar to a short pillar and appears in temples and shrines throughout India.

So why do the Hindus worship the Shiva Lingam and what’s the story behind it? Let’s take a quick detour back in time to find out where this symbol came from and what it signifies.

History of the Shiva Lingam

Shiva lingam history

The exact origin of the Shiva Lingam is still debated, but there are many stories and theories regarding where it came from.

  • Shiva Purana – one of the 18 major Sanskrit texts and scriptures, the Shiva Purana describes the origin of the Shiva Lingam to be in the indigenous Hindu religion of India.
  • The Atharvaveda – according to the Atharvaveda, the most likely origin of linga worship was the ‘stambha’, a cosmic pillar found in India. It was believed to be a bond that joins the earth and heaven.
  • Ancient Yogis of India – the yogis state that the Shiva Lingam was the first form that arose when creation took place and the last before creation was dissolute.
  • Harappan Discoveries – it’s said that Harappan discoveries found ‘pillars that were short and cylindrical and had rounded tops’ but there’s no evidence to show that the Indus Valley Civilization worshipped these as lingams.

Therefore, there’s no saying where or when exactly the Shiva Lingam originated since it was found in several places at different times in history.  It has, however, been a symbol of worship for many thousands of years.

Types of Shiva Lingas

There are several types of Lingas that have been found. These can be categorized depending on the materials used to make it. Some were made from sandalwood paste and river clay whereas others were made from metals and precious stones like gold, mercury, silver, precious gems and white marbles. There are roughly 70 different Shiva Lingas that are worshipped all over the world and have also become pilgrimage locations.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most commonly worshipped types of Shiva Lingams:

  1. White Marble Shiva Linga: this lingam is made of white marble and is said to be highly beneficial for anyone with suicidal inclinations. Worshipping it causes positive changes in one’s mind and prevents the desire to attempt suicide by removing all negative thoughts.
  2. Black Shiva Linga: regarded as a sacred and holy form of lingam, the Black Shiva Lingam has extremely protective energies. In the past, it was found only in temples but it’s now to be seen in individual home temples of devotees. Made from a cryptocrystalline stone which is found only in the Narmada River, the Black Shiva Lingam is useful in resonating the energies of all the elements such as water, fire, air, earth and stone. It’s also highly useful in activating kundalini energies, enhancing the feeling of unity, promoting positive inner transformation, while treating impotence and fertility at the same time.
  3. Parad Shiva Linga: this type of Shiva Lingam is of crucial importance to Hindu devotees and worshipped with complete devotion and belief. It’s believed to strengthen a person physically, spiritually and psychology, while also providing protection from natural calamities like disaster and the evil eye. The Hindus also believe that worshipping the Parad Shiva Linga gives prosperity and good fortune.  

Symbolism and Meaning of the Shiva Lingam

The Shiva Lingam consists of 3 parts and each of these parts symbolizes a deity. Here’s what each element stands for: 

  • The bottom part: this part has four sides and remains underground, out of sight. It’s symbolic of Lord Brahma (the Creator). This part is said to represent the Supreme Power which contains the entire universe within it.
  • The middle part: the middle part of the Lingam, which sits on a pedestal, is 8-sided and represents Lord Vishnu (the Preserver).
  • The top part: this section is the one that’s actually worshipped. The top is rounded, and the height is just about 1/3 of the circumference. This part symbolizes Lord Shiva (the Destroyer). There’s also a pedestal, an elongated structure, has a passage for draining the offerings such as water or milk which are poured on top of the Lingam. This part of the Lingam is said to symbolize the universe.

What the Shiva Lingam Means In Hinduism

This symbol has given rise to many different interpretations. Here are some:

  • According to the Puranas (ancient texts of India), the Shiva Lingam is a cosmic fire pillar that’s said to represent the infinite nature of Lord Shiva with no beginning or end. It represents superiority over all the other deities such as Vishnu and Brahma which is why these deities are represented by the lower and middle sections of the structure, while the top section symbolizes Shiva and his superiority over all others.
  • The Skanda Purana describes the Shiva Lingam as ‘the endless sky’ (a great void which holds the entire universe in it) and the base as the Earth. It states that at the end of time, the whole universe and all the deities will finally merge in the Shiva Lingam itself.
  • According to popular literature, the Shiva Lingam is a phallic symbol representing the genitals of Lord Shiva which is why it’s considered a symbol of fertility. Many pour offerings on it, asking to be blessed with children. In Hindu mythology, it’s said that unmarried women are prohibited from worshipping or even touching the Shiva Lingam since this will render it inauspicious. However, nowadays it’s worshipped by men and women alike.
  • The Shiva Lingam is also used for meditation practices since it improves concentration and helps to focus attention. This is why the ancient seers and sages of India stated that it should be installed in all of Lord Shiva’s temples.
  • For Hindus, it’s an all-radiant symbol that helps devotees to communicate with Lord Rama who worshipped the Lingam at Rameshwaram for its mystical powers.

Shiva Lingam Gemstone

Shiva Lingam is also the name given to a type of hard crypto-crystalline quartz, with a banded appearance. It receives this unique color from the impurities within its composition. The stone is typically banded with brown and white hues, and is a mixture of basalt, agate and jasper gemstones.

The stone is believed to be sacred and is named after Lord Shiva. It’s typically found in India and is often shaped into elongated oval forms, much like the Shiva Lingam image. The lingam stones are collected from the sacred Narmada River, polished and sold to spiritual seekers around the globe. They are used in meditation and carried around throughout the day, bringing good luck, fortune and prosperity to the wearer. The stones are also still used in religious rituals and healing ceremonies.

The stone is believed to have many healing and magical properties and is popular among those who believe in the powers of crystals.

Shiva Lingam in Use Today

The Shiva Lingam stone is often used in jewelry by Hindus and non-Hindus alike. It’s a favorite among lovers of bohemian designs. The stone is often crafted into pendants, or used in rings, earrings and bracelets with the belief that it enhances strength, creativity and balance.

In Brief

Today, the Shiva Lingam remains an emblem of supreme generative power and continues to be revered with offerings including water, milk, fresh fruit and rice. Although many may see it simply as a block of stone or just a phallic symbol, it holds much more meaning to the devotees of Lord Shiva who continue to use it as a medium to connect with their god.

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