Shaivism’s Shiva Lingam.

©2014. Secular African Society. All Rights Reserved.

Shaivism (Sanskrit: शैव पंथ, śaiva paṁtha) (Tamil: சைவ சமயம்) is the oldest of the four major devotional sects of Hinduism, the others being Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism.

Shaivism is a pan-Hindu tradition widespread mostly across all of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Other areas where it’s notably practiced include parts of Southeast Asia especially Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Traditionally, the Sanskrit word śaiva means “relating to the god Shiva”. Followers of Shaivism, called “Shaivas”, “Saivas” and also “Saivites”, accordingly revere Shiva as the Supreme Being.

Shiva is the oldest worshiped Lord of India, and the primary deity of Shaivism. He is considered the Supreme God within the sect and is the patron god of arts and yoga. Other attributes of him include limitless, omniscient, transcendent, unchanging and formless; the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is. He is also a householder with wife Parvati and two sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. The Sanskrit word śaiva is the adjective that characterises certain beliefs and practices of Shaivism. It is both the term that describes the sect of Shaivism and members of the sect.

Shiva and Parvati.

Although most sculpted Indian deity images are anthropomorphic, the deity Shiva is usually worshipped in the aniconic form of lingam, a vertical rounded column.

10th CE four-headed Nepalese stone lingam on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, California.

A Lingam is the representation of Shiva, for worship, in temples. In traditional Indian society, it is considered the symbol of energy and potentiality of the God. It is often represented alongside the yoni, a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy.

Linga-Yoni. Cat Tien sanctuary, Lam Dong province, Vietnam.

The union of lingam and yoni represents the “indivisible two-in-oneness of male and female, the passive space and active time from which all life originates”.

Traditional flower offering to a lingam in Varanasi

There have been many famous lingams throughout history. In 1026, the second Somnath Temple was sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni, who looted it of gems and precious stones and destroyed the famous Shiva lingam therein. The roof of the Temple was supported by fifty-six golden pillars, ornamented with precious stones and pearls. Several thousand gold and silver statues stood round the gigantic Shiva idol and in its interior, the priests had concealed an immense number of precious stones. Mahmud broke the idol with his own hand. The remains of the temple was later demolished by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in a successive Islamisation campaign in 1706.

Somanatha Temple Prabhas Patan, Gujarat, from the Archaeological Survey of India, taken by D.H. Sykes c.1869

Islam came to the Indian subcontinent as the enemy of the but, unleashing mass slaughter, plunder, destruction of temples and enslavement of Polytheists in large numbers. Islam’s assault on Indian frontiers began during Caliph Omar with the attack and pillage of Thana in 636, only four years after Prophet Muhammad’s death and three years before the nascent Islamic army set foot for Egypt. During the Islamic incursions into India, to expand the fundamentalist frontiers of Islam, the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples which had co-existed peacefully for centuries, was the norm. Till date, the vestiges of Hindu culture along with temples in ‘Islamic areas’ of the Indian subcontinent remain under systematic colonial attack. In Kashmir, 208 Hindu temples have been systematically pulverised in the last two decades.

Hinduism’s message is one of tolerance, co-existence, and metamorphosis; one compatible with secularist ideals. Islamic fundamentalism (which is the greatest existing threat to this way of life) on the other hand is static and incompatible with all sects of Hinduism, all other religions and ‘moderate’ non-fundamentalist Islam. The enriching and simply divine message of unionism between female and male energies of lingam and yoni that Shaivism provides, as well as the sensual ancient timeless artistry that the religion bestows human civilisation with; give a glimpse into one of humankind’s earliest and most advanced civilisations, the threat this progressive civilisation has faced over time, and the potent forces that continue to threaten it.

An innocuous Shiva lingam may be the bigot’s worst nightmare, but to the progressive, it is an enriching artistic sight to behold.

©2014. Secular African Society. All Rights Reserved.

1 thought on “Shaivism’s Shiva Lingam.

  1. A very interesting article and very scholarly.

    You can also point out the Sanskrit definition of linga. It was foolishly misinterpreted to mean phallus. It is no such thing. It is a refined word which means “mark”, “sign”, or “inference”. “Lingatvat” is designating or naming something.

    It is significant for philosophy to understand the nature of a formless absolute. Formlessless cannot be worshipped, so a lingam is manifesting.

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