Shiva Lingam – Meaning and the myths
The Sanskrit word ‘Lingam’ means symbol. Thus the literal meaning of Shiva Lingam is the symbol of Shiva. The Supreme Shiva doesn’t have a form and every form is his form. The Shiva Lingam represents him, the Supreme Shiva¸ who is formless. The way when we see a smoke, we infer the presence of fire, the moment we see Shiva Lingam we immediately visualize the existence of the Supreme Shiva.
It has been a common myth that Shiva Lingam represents male genital organs. This is not only misleading but also base less. Such misinterpretations are done in later Vedic period and popularized much later, when Indian literatures actually came into hands of foreign scholars. It was difficult to interpret the language and a word may have different meaning depending on the context. Some of the easy interpretation may be misleading. And such misinterpretation may actually be welcome, if you want to find the defects in somebody else’s faith. This misunderstanding is can be one of the most glaring examples of such a situation. Misinterpretations of actual Sanskrit literature led to this false belief. Shiva Lingam is a differentiating mark; it is certainly not a sex mark.
The Lingam Purana states:
प्रधानं प्रकृतिर यदाहुर्लिगंउत्तम ।
गंध-वर्ण-रसहिंनं शब्द-स्पर्शादिवर्जितं ॥
the foremost Lingam which is devoid of colour, taste, hearing, touch etc is spoken of as Prakriti or nature.
The nature itself is a Lingam (or symbol) of Shiva. When we see nature, we infer the presence of its creator – Shiva. Shiva Lingam is the mark of Shiva the creator, Shiva the sustainer and Shiva the destructor. It also dispels another myth in which Shiva is considered only as a destructor.
Another authentic reference comes from Skanda Purana where lingam is clearly indicated as the supreme Shiva from where the whole universe is created and where it finally submerge.
आकाशं लिंगमित्याहु: पृथ्वी तस्य पीठिका।
The endless sky (that great void which contains the entire universe) is the Linga, the Earth is its base. At the end of time the entire universe and all the Gods finally emerge in the Linga itself.
आलय: सर्व देवानां लयनार्लिंगमुच्यते ॥
Now this should clarify the settle the doubts once and forever.
Forms of Shiva Lingam
Shiva Lingam is worshiped in two common forms – Chala (Moveable) Lingam and Achala (Non-Moveable or Fixed) Lingam.
Chala Lingam (Moveable Lingam)
The Chala Lingams may be kept in the shrine of one’s own home for worship or prepared temporarily with materials like sand, clay, dough or rice for worship and dispensed with after the worship. Another form of the Chala Lingams can also be worn on the body as a pendent in the necklace etc. Chala Lingams are often made of quartz, mercury or metals.
Achala Lingam (Fixed Lingam)
Achala Lingams (or fixed Lingams) are installed in temples and are un-moveable once they are installed. There are rigid rules for achala Lingams which must be followed. Achala Lingams must be offered prayers at fixed times and without failed and greater sanctity is maintained. Usually Lingams are made of black stones.
The Appearance and significance of Shiva Lingam
A Shiva Lingam is generally made up of black or white stones, marbles or metals or Quartz. A Shiva Lingam has three distinct parts which are considered as portions of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Lower part represents Brahma, the middle Vishnu and the upper and the most prominent represents Shiva. Thus Shiva Lingam represents all the three powers in one- as the Param Braham or Supreme Shiva.
Another interpretation considers Shiva Lingam to be divided in two parts – Shiva and Shakti. Thus Shiva Lingam are symbols to represent the aspects of the Supreme Shiva. From one view Shiva is Shiva and Shakti; from another view point Shiva is Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva himself).
Shiva Lingams made up of quartz have special significance. Such Lingams have no colour of its own but it takes the colour of any object that comes in its contact. The ling as such represents the attribute-less and formless supreme Shiva.
There is mysterious and indescribable power in Shiva Lingam to induce the concentration of mind. It is like the crystal glazing, mind easily attains one- pointedness by looking at the Shiva Lingam. This is the reason why ancient scholars and sages advocated the worship of Shiva Lingam and its installations in temples.
Listen to the message of Shiva Lingam and it will say:
“I am one without a second”.
Important Shiva Lingam across India
Shiva Lingam worship is one of the most popular forms of worship offered by Hindus. Every town, cities, villages, blocks will have at least on temple with Shiva Lingam. However, of all the Shiva Lingams, few carry special importance with them and have been referred in Vedas and Puranas. The important of them are:
- Jyotir Lingams: There are 12 Jyotirlingams are located in various parts of India. They are well documented in Puranas. They are:
- Panchbhut Lingams: The whole world consists of 5 basic elements – air, water, fire, earth and sky. The Panchbhut Lingam of Shiva represents these five elements. These Lingams are:
Worshipping a Shivlinga at home
Shivling or Shiva lingam connects a devotee with the Supreme Being – Lord Shiva. The lingam is the symbol of Lord Shiva and the lingam puja helps the devotee in understanding Lord Shiva. The Lord cannot be described but still we say he is without a beginning and an end and is without a form. It is difficult for a devotee to understand this formless nature. Therefore Lord Shiva appeared in the form of Jyotirlinga before Brahma and Vishnu. The Lingam thus is a symbol of Lord Shiva. Each Lingam puja, step by step, takes the devotee to the eternal truth – that he/she is part of the Supreme Being.
Before starting the Puja, the devotee takes a bath and wear freshly washed clothes. Hymns praising Lord Shiva or the mantra ‘om namaha shivayaa’ are repeated to create a mood for worship. Then, the devotee sits in front of the lingam and blows conch or ring bells. This indicates the beginning of the Puja.
First it is the panchamrit abhishek - the libation of five holy liquids over the lingam. The libation can consist of any five of the following – water from river Ganga, honey, sugarcane juice, milk, yogurt, ghee, seawater, coconut water or milk, fragrant oils, rose water or other precious liquids. Usually, only milk of cow is used. While pouring the liquid, om namah shivaya is uttered. Some devotees utter the Lord’s name 108 times and some 1008 times. There is no fixed rule.
After the panchamrit abhishek, the lingam is cleaned with water from Ganga. (This is might not be possible always so just normal water.) After this the lingam is smeared with sandalwood paste and is decked with flowers. Water and sandalwood paste is used to keep the lingam cool, as Lord Shiva is always in a highly inflammable state. In some Shiva temples, cooling liquid constantly drops from pot hung above the Lingam.
Next, sweets, coconut and fruits are offered to the Lord. Camphor and incense are lit and ‘arati’ is conducted. Some devotees fan the lingam and sing praises of the lord.
Finally, ringing of bells or blowing of conch indicates the end of Puja. White ash (vibhuti) is rubbed on the forehead and it is also distributed. Fruits, sweets and coconut are distributed as ‘prasad.’ Devotee Should take some amount of money , touch this money to his forehead and should ask for wish. After puja this money should be dropped in donation box of any temple.
Om Namah Shivay!