Random Musings-Part 32- The Worship of Shiva Linga
Shiva Linga means “Shiva’s Symbol”. Here Shiva refers to Para-Brahman. Adi Shankara defines the word Shiva as “the very nature of Chit & Anand”. Hence, Shiva refers to Para-Brahman, who is One without a second, without form and without attributes. And this Nirguna Brahman is worshiped through a symbol- the Linga. Further, the Linga is not only a Symbol of Para-Brahman, it is Brahman itself. Linga Purana says “Lingas sakshaan Maheshwarah”. In other-words, Shiva Linga is Para-Brahman itself which is available as Linga (Saguna Brahman) for worship.
The Shiva Linga can be divided into two portions-
1. The vertical Shaft that is called as Linga
2. The Horizontal Platform that is called as Yoni or Adishtana
There are broadly three ways in which the symbolism of Linga and Yoni and their mutual relationship can be understood-
1. The more popular understanding is that, the Yoni or pedastal represents Shakti and the Linga/Shaft represents Shiva- “linga vedi mahadevi lingam sakshat maheshwarah”. Hence, Shiva Linga denotes the Union of Shiva-Shakti or Purusha-Prakriti. Hence, Shiva-Linga as a whole is Para-Brahman itself who is depicted in his Saguna aspect as Shiva & Shakti in Cosmic Union.
2. According to another interpretation, the Shaft/Linga portion is called as “Rudra Bhaga”, the Adhishtana portion is called as Vishnu Bhaga and the portion hidden below the Pedastal is called as Brahma-Bhaga. Hence, Shiva-Linga as a whole represents Para-Brahman itself which manifests as the trinity in Saguna aspect. Upanishads say that the Universe is born out of Brahman, is sustained in Brahman and finally dissolves in Brahman. Hence, Shiva Linga represents Para-Brahman who is creator (Brahma), sustainer (Vishnu) & destroyer (Rudra) of Universe. Linga purana also says that “layanaal lingam ity uktam”.
3. The third interpretation is a Samkhyan interpretation. According to this view, “Linga” is another name for Prakriti or Pradhana. Hence, the Shaft/Linga represents Prakriti and the Adhishtana represents Purusha. This Purusha is called as “Lingin”- the bearer/supporter of Linga/Prakriti. In Vedanta, the Prakriti is called “Maya” and is described as “Ishwara-Aashrita” i.e. supported by Ishwara. Hence, Shiva Linga as a whole represents Para-Brahman in Saguna aspect as Purusha who is bearer of Prakriti or Shiva/Ishwara who is bearer of Shakti/Maya. The Shaft portion signifies that the whole Universe which is Prakriti is born out of & sustained in Brahman, who is the substratum of Universe.
Hence, in all three interpretations, the imagery of Shiva-Linga represents Para-Brahman who is Nirguna & beyond perception but has himself manifested as Linga- a perceivable form (i.e. as Saguna). It is to be noted that the interpretation of Linga=Phallus and Yoni=Vagina has practical application only in certain Tantric Sadhanas like Shiva lata mudra. In such Sadhanas, the Sadhaka self identifies himself with Bhairava & his partner with Bhairavi. And their Sexual Union leads to Samadhi. Only in such Sadhana, that the first symbolism of Cosmic Union of Shiva & Shakti translates practically into Sexual Union of Bhairava & Bhairavi.
(The blog-post is written with inputs from the book Devata Rupa Mala, Part 4, by S.K.Ramachandra Rao)