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Shiva Lingam - Symbolism and Signficance

Siva is worshipped both in his anthropomorphic form and his symbolic form, which is Sivalinga, depicted in sometimes as a simple column or more prominently as a column jutting out of a round base. The column stands symbolically for male reproductive organ and the base for the female reproductive organ. the lingam as a whole symbolizes the union between Purusha and Prakriti as the basis of all creation and manifestation. The columns are usually cylindrical and polished, but not necessarily in all cases. Sometimes we come across Siva lingas that are irregularly shaped or shaped like a cone. The sivalingas are usually made of stone. But worship of lingams made of crystals and glass is not uncommon. The Sivalinga of Amarntath temple is formed out of naturally formed ice stalagmite inside a cave.

The word lingam has several meanings in Sanskrit. One popular meaning is subtle as in case of linga sarira (subtle body). Anaother important meaning is male reproductive organ. In Sanskrit grammar it is also used to describe the gender. Symbolically, sivalingam also represents the union between energy and consciousness of God. In many temples of Siva, he is worshipped in the form of Sivalinga only. The most prominent among them are known as Jyotirlingas or effulgent lingas, which are considered to be 12, spread in various parts of India. The lingas are either man made or self-formed, that is formed on their own due to natural or divine activity. The latter are known as Svayambhu or self-created.

The antiquity of Sivaligam probably dates back to the Indus valley period and may be rooted in ancient fertility cults. Several phallic symbols and round stones were unearthed during the excavations at Indus valley sites, suggesting the possibility of fertility rites and worship of mother goddess and father god.. According to some scholars, the  sacrificial post (yupa stambha), mentioned in the Atharvaveda, is probably one of the earliest descriptions of God as a cylindrical object of infinite proportions.

The Puranas describe in detail the significance of Sivalinam. The identify it as the source of the Universe and Siva Himself  as the Supreme Lord of all. According to Skanda Purana, it personifies both the limitless sky and the all bearing earth, into which all things merge at the end of time. According to Linga Purana, the lingam is the highest of all, which is devoid of qualities and stands above the senses.

The lingam is worshipped differently by different sects of Saivism. According to the Shaiva Siddhanta, a prominent sect of Saivism, the linga should be worshipped as Sada Shiva, having five faces and ten arms, the five faces representing his five aspects. Veera Saivism distinguishes the individual soul (anga) from the Shiva (linga). At the time of creation both are separated from each other and at the end of creation or during liberation of individual souls, they are reunited again. the liberation of the individual soul said to happen through six stages of progressive disentanglement from the bonds of egoism, karma and ignorance. The sect also identifies three forms in whch Shiva can be approached, namely personal form (ishtalinga), thought or mental form (bhava linga) and real or universal form (prana linga).

There is a great deal of controversy as to what Sivalingam actually refers to. Some European scholars, like Monier Williams, because of their lack of understanding, described it as a phallic symbol. It is important to remember that Saivism is not a mere sexual cult. Many sects of Saivism emphasize the importance of asceticism, celibacy and austerity as the preconditions for attaining liberation. The Shivalingam may represent the male reproductive organ in a limited sense or spiritual sense, but such association in no way grants liberty to any follower of Siva to indulge in rites and rituals involving sex.

Speaking of the mistaken identity of Sivalinga with phallus, Swami Sivananda commented, "This is not only a serious mistake, but also a grave blunder. In the post-Vedic period, the Linga became symbolical of the generative power of the Lord Siva. Linga is the differentiating mark. It is certainly not the sex-mark. You will find in the Linga Purana: Pradhanam prakritir yadahur-lingamuttamam; Gandhavarnarasairhinam sabda-sparsadi-varjitam—The foremost Linga which is primary and is devoid of smell, colour, taste, hearing, touch, etc., is spoken of as Prakriti (Nature). "  (The Worship of Siva Linga. Lord Siva and His Worship. by Sivananda, Swami (1996).The Divine Life Trust Society. )

A similar sentiment is echoed by Christopher Isherwood in the following words, "It has been claimed by some foreign scholars that the linga and its surrounding basin are sexual symbols, representing the male and the female organs respectively. Well — anything can be regarded as a symbol of anything; that much is obvious. There are people who have chosen to see sexual symbolism in the spire and the font of a Christian church. But Christians do not recognize this symbolism; and even the most hostile critics of Christianity cannot pretend that it is a sex-cult. The same is true of the cult of Shiva.It does not even seem probable that the linga was sexual in its origin. For we find, in the history both of Hinduism and Buddhism, that poor devotees were accustomed to dedicate to God a model of a temple or tope (a dome-shaped monument) in imitation of wealthy devotees who dedicated full-sized buildings. So the linga may well have begun as a monument in miniature.…One of the greatest causes of misunderstanding of Hinduism by foreign scholars is perhaps a subconsciously respected tradition that God must be one sex only, or at least only one sex at a time." (Isherwood, Christopher. "Early days at Dakshineswar". Ramakrishna and his disciples. pp. 48.)

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