We have seen a lot many people lately, educated and unlike, find worshipping the Shivalinga a little….”embarassing”. This is simply because most of the times, the don’t know everything about it. Let’s have a look at the design first.
❒ Structure :
To understand the whole concept, we need to know that as per Sanatan Dharma, the whole frame of universal/cosmic reality compromises of three fundamental states :
• Evolution (Shrishthi)===========> Brahma (Creator)
• Existence (Sthiti)=============> Vishnu (Preserver)
• Involution (Samhara)==========> Shiva (Destroyer)
These three states operate in a cyclic process, in that order, throughout infinity. Each state is controlled by a God; thus Brahma the creator controls evolution, Vishnu the preserver controls existence and Shiva the destroyer controls involution.
The Shivlinga, is nothing but the symbolic representation of the unity of these three states of the universe/cosmos. It consists of three parts :
• The Square Base : It is made up of three layers at the bottom showing the three mythical realms (lokas) :
=> 1) Bhu Loka or Marthya Loka for the human inhabitants (Earth)
=> 2) Bhuvar Loka for the spirits (Bhut) and transcended souls (Hell)
=> 3) Svar Loka (Swarga Loga) for the Devas or Demi Gods (Heaven)
It symbolizes evolution, and thus, the place of Brahma.
• The Octagonal Round : It is present in the middle and shows the eight directions (Ashta-dikpala) [Astha=Eight, Dik=Direction, Pala=Guardian] :
=> 1) North, guarded by Kuber
=> 2) South, guarded by Yama
=> 3) Indra East, guarded by Indra
=> 4) West, guarded by Varun
=> 5) Northeast, guarded by Ishyayna
=> 6) Southeast, guarded by Agni
=> 7) Northwest, guarded by Vayu
=> 8) Southwest guarded by Niruthi
It symbolizes existence or perseverance, and thus, the place of Vishnu.
• The Cylinder : It is at the top with a spherical end, symbolizing involution or completion of the cosmic cycle, and thus, the place of Shiva.
Naturally, people ask, why the “linga”? Why the phallus? Let’s get to it.
First and foremost, as per Sanskrit, “linga” means symbol/sign. In the “Shvetasvatara Upanishad” it is said that Lord Shiva, the Supreme Being, has no linga (i.e. sign or symbol). What it means is that it is impossible to define Brahman (the one supreme, universal Spirit that is the origin and support of the phenomenal universe) or that is alinga.
So how does one pray to this Brahman who is beyond any definable/comprehensible characteristic? The answer to that is simple. In Sanatana Dharma, each individual has the freedom to define the Supreme Being/Spirit or Brahman in the most convenient way he/she is comfortable.
Now think back. What is the most astonishing miracle that living beings experience? The answer is simple…it’s the creation of a new life from two lives. It is only natural that the male reproductive organ appeared to people as the ideal symbol of expression of Supreme Being/Spirit as it represented strength and regenerative power. When a Linga is installed on a Yoni, it represents the union of Shiva and Shakti, and thus, the beginning of creation.
What is also represent is the harmony of energies in the cosmos. The balance of the male and female energies, the Ying and the Yang from China, the day and the night, the sun and the moon, the white and the black, the Devas and the Asuras and so on. Besides, phalluses and menhirs were worshipped in many ancient societies. Google will help you with that.
The Mahabharata itself states that Shiva’s linga was worshipped by many!
• Chapter 7, section 20, verse 22 : Know everything, which is male, to be Ishana, and all that is female to be Uma; for this whole world, animate and inanimate, is pervaded by these two bodies. Shiva’s divine Linga is worshipped by the Gods, seers, Gandharvas and Apsaras.
• Chapter 13, section 19, verses 78 : The greatness of this form of Shiva is based on the fact that the children bear neither the lotus symbol of Brahma nor of Vishnu’s discus; but one marked with the male and female organs, the linga and yoni, originated from Mahadeva and Devi.
In the Puranas, it is said : The Supreme Being appeared before Lord Brahma and Vishnu in the form of a ‘pillar of fire’, which had no end and beginning.
The incarnations of Lord Vishnu, viz, Lord Ram, Parshuram and Lord Krishna, are all known to have worshipped the Shiv Linga.
It is now that the society has come to revile sex and hence everything to do with it. Why, is a different matter for another post. 😉
But when one thinks with a clear mind without any prejudices, there is no other more appropriate form that signifies the Brahman and the basis of life itself in the cosmos.
Later on, due to influences of the society, people have become more comfortable with worshipping Shiva in his human complete form alongside Parvati. Xenophanes had even said that is horses or lions had hands, they would have created images of God akin to their own kind who were horselike or lionlike. So it’s all but natural for humans to resculpt gods in human images.
It doesn’t matter though. Like previously said, in Sanatana Dharma, each individual has the freedom to define the Supreme Being/Spirit or Brahman in the most convenient way he/she is comfortable. When one worships the Shiva-Linga, one is worshipping the trinity of Gods, the complete universal fundamental states and thus, the very existence of the Supreme Being. After all, everything is Brahman.