In this research let’s address the origin of the term Liṅga and many misconceptions, and its usage across the literature. let’s start with a quick background into the origin of creation from Rśi Vaśiṣṭha’s Yoga. The eternal consciousness is termed as cit, and the eternal bliss of cit is called ānanda, in that arises śakti like a ripple in a calm ocean. Hence the terms cit:śakti and cit:ānanda. Both Yogasutras, and Saṃkhyā Schools term this duality as Prakṛti and Puruṣa. Śrī Śankaracharya in his Nirvana Satakam addresses Śiva as “Cit Ananda Rupa”, meaning, the eternal personification of Ananda/bliss. This union of cit:śakti and cit:ānanda is termed Liṅga. Why? Because Liṅga means the “first cause”, the “sign” that is represented as an ellipsoid of perpetual motion.
One should not infer that cit:śakti and cit:ānanda are two separate entities being held by a third entity. Nor should one infer that at some point in time these two entities unite. we will address this linguistic dilemma soon.
Let’s come to Yoga Sutras of Rśi Patañjali, who addresses the 3rd stage of consciousness in Samadhi as the ‘ānanda state‘ and marks the characteristics of this state with the term Liṅga YS2.19.
Let’s go further back to Vedas, the term Liṅga was first associated with Rudra/Sivā in Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda with the homage:
“śivāya namaha, sivaliṅgaya namaha”Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 10.16 1-2
“my salutation to that auspiciousness along with śakti, my salutations to all that represents this auspiciousness”.
From this liṅga state, all manifestation goes into a loop of perpetual motion, meaning an eternal loop of manifestation, sustenance, and dissolution back into the source, which is an ongoing process of infinite proportions, hence is not a singular linear event. Let’s look at few verses from the Yoga Sutras of Rśi Patañjali.
विशेषाविशेषलिङ्गमात्रालिङ्गानि गुणपर्वाणि | 2.19Patañjali Yogasutras : I.K Taimni Science of Yoga
viśeṣāviśeṣaliṅgamātrāliṅgāni guṇaparvāṇi | 2.19
viśeṣ: Particular; specific.
aviśeṣ: non-specific; archetypal; universal.
liṅgamātrā: a mere mark
āliṅgāni: (and) without mark or differentiating characteristic
Guna: of the Gunas.
parvāṇi: stages of development; states.
Liṅga: This word means a mark which serves to identify and in the present context Liṅga-mātra means a state of consciousness in which particular objects and even principles are mere marks or signs which serve to distinguish them from other objects. This stage of the Gunas corresponds to the supra-mental consciousness which transcends the intellect and is expressed through Buddhi or intuition. The corresponding stage in Samadhi is accompanied by ānanda which confirms the conclusion that this stage of the Gunas corresponds to the functioning of consciousness through the Buddhic vehicle or ānandamaya Kosa as it is called in Vedantic Terminology. But why is this stage of the Gunas called Liṅga? Because in the corresponding state of consciousness all objects and universal principles become part of a universal consciousness. They are seen, embedded as it were, in one consciousness, as parts of an indivisible whole. But they still have their identity, are still distinguishable or recognizable. Each object is itself and yet part of a whole. It is a condition of unity in diversity.
The next and the last stage of the Gunas is called āliṅga or without mark or differentiating characteristic. In this stage, the objects and principles lose their seperate identity. Consciousness becomes so predominant that they go out of focus, as it were. According to the highest conceptions of the Hindu Philosophy all objects, archetypes, everything in the manifestated Universe is a modification of consciousness–Brahma-Vritti. In the liṅga stage awarenss of objects exists side by side with the awareness of consciouness. In the āliṅga stage the former go out of focus and only awareness of the Divine Consciousness of which they are modifications remains. Suppose we have a number of objects made of gold- a ring, a bracelet and a necklace, placed on a table. We may see them merely as separate objects, as a child would see them.
Let’s describe a Liṅga: It is an arūparūpi (a:rūpa:rūpi), meaning a contradiction of having a form (rūpa), at the same time, not confined to any specific form (a:rūpa). So, a Liṅga is merely a sign to denote something, so if we say Śiva Liṅga, it denotes a mark or sign of Śiva. This mark or sign that denotes Śiva can be anything, it can be His place of residence, a place where Śiva bestowed His grace, or His physical attribute, or any entity associated with Śiva is called Śiva Liṅga (Śiva’s Mark). Liṅga of Pārvatī means the mark of Pārvatī, Bhairavi Liṅga means marks of Bhairavi,
Sarasvatī Liṅga marks the symbol of Sarasvatī. This is very similar to the term Śrīvatsā which means a mark/symbol on Viṣṇu’s chest that represents his śakti (Sri).
Since this union of cit:śakti and cit:ānanda is the first act, a Liṅga denotes the first signal/act, and their union is called āliṅgana – which is called sandhi/yoga. Now, here comes a twist in grammar, āliṅga also means the negation/mitigation of Liṅga, so dramatically one can say āliṅga means the disunion or a sign that denotes the separation of Prakṛti from Puruṣa. But, Śivā is iconified as āliṅgamurti, as shown in the image below. This image represents Śiva in the intimate company of Śakti. In this state, Śiva and Śakti are seen as one and are called Śivā (emphasis on ā). This āliṅga state represents the awareness of Divine Consciousness without any separation of Prakṛti and Puruṣa and all further diversification of Prakṛti. In common usage, āliṅga means to hug.
As we discussed, Liṅga denotes the first duality, meaning a duality of gender hence the terms pu:liṅga meaning masculine, and stri:linga meaning feminine, and together they are āliṅgamurti. Further, the innate Brahman is called ātmaliṅga TA10.16.2 in Yajur Veda. ātmaliṅga means the sign or insignia that denotes ātman (individual consciousness).
Prakṛti is the kṣhetra, where kṣhetra means the abode for all creation, so She is the womb where everything manifests, hence is called the Yoni. It’s called a womb because it holds the spark of divine consciousness which is termed Tejas. In this way, Yoni represents Prakṛti in a feminine sense, and Tejas represents the Puruṣa in a masculine sense. Hence a Liṅga also denotes the mark of masculinity, and so in Śiva Maha Puranam, Śiva‘s liṅga in hand falling off is treated as his masculine aspect which is Phallus falling on Earth. Again the term Śivaliṅga means Śiva’s Sign/Symbol/Mark. This is the reason for addressing all auspicious sites with temples as kṣhetras, because it holds the Tejas of the Divine. Only She as Śakti knows Śiva, only She is the witness to his dissolution (Maha:pralaya:sakshini). They are always together and never separate, yet Her māyā gives us the illusion of objects being separate, but together they are called Śivā. She is both māyā and the one who can remove the veil of māyā and make us witness Śiva. Hence She is Prakṛti to the Puruṣa, She is the wave and He is the Calm Ocean.
Some scholars also consider Liṅga as an iconification of the pineal gland due to its association with the metaphysical. Please note, that when we say phallus, we should not limit Liṅga to the human reproductive organ. That would be like saying that the Supreme Brahman, before the creation of realities, first thought of a human reproductive organ, how is that sensible? If Yajur Veda says ātmaliṅga does it mean ātma‘s male reproductive organ? Or if we say Jalaliṅga does that mean water’s reproductive organ? How is that sensible? Sages noticed the pattern of this union in everything, from the cosmic union, to the union of beings on Earth, and realized the phallus in the same sense, without the notion of embarrassment/shyness nor apprehension. But Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary is very clear to denote liṅga as Sing and Mark. So, without any censorship, Liṅga represents masculinity (not just biological) which is the Puruṣa and śakti‘s yoni/kshetra represents femininity, hence She is Prakṛti. This is why Sankara’s masculinity is also called Liṅga. Gudimallam Liṅga is a perfect example that dates back to the 1st Century BCE that is represented in the shape of a phallus.
The event marking the birth of Kartikeya, narrated in Ramayana by Vālmīki says, that Sankara’s Tejas when released, none including Agni and Ganga were able to retain it, at the end it had to be given back to Śakti. Hence, for all beings, Puruṣa is the father and Prakṛti the mother. The final destination of all is the Puruṣa and the means for this is Prakṛti. This Prakṛti (The śakti) is a dual-edged sword, it can take us to Puruṣa or it can immerse us deeper into the glimmer of Her māyā and samsara. Many temples (consecrated spaces) were also built to exhibit this sacred union without censorship, reluctance, or insecurity. Do all Śivaliṅgas designed to look like a phallus? No, Śivaliṅga or Śiva‘s Mark as we discussed can be anything that is Symbolic representing Śiva. It could be a human-shaped form, or a natural rock or ice formation, or it can be any natural or cosmic phenomenon, for example:
Jala liṅga: represents water
Agni liṅga represents fire
Vayu liṅga represents air/wind/life force
ātmaliṅga represents individual consciousness
Yajama liṅga represents the sole ownership of Śiva towards all of creation (Prakṛti – His Śakti),
in total there are 33 types of liṅgas.
Everything in Creation – from the largest to the tiniest – is forever in a perpetual motion (Śakti) of manifestation (Viṣṇu) and dissolution/implosion back into the source (Rudra). From this ellipsoid emerges a pulse in the form of a roar, this roar is called Rudra – which is very similar to the concept of Sabda:Brahman of Yoga and the Upaniṣhads. Across the Vedas, Rudra always encompasses a dual and contradictory role. The word Rudra means to weep, as Sāyaṇācārya, the magnificent commentator of the Vedas says, “the one who makes our enemies weep”, or the very affirmation of Him being auspicious (Śiva) RV10.92/KV4.5.10.
Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 10.16.1-2 sings the following homage:
Urdhvāya Namaha| Urdhvaliṅgāya Namaha| hiranyana Namaha| hiranyaliṅgāya namaha| suvarnāya namaha| survarnaliṅgāya namaha| divyāya namaha| divyaliṅgāya namaha| bhavāya namaha| bhavaliṅgāya namaha| sarvāya namaha| sarvaliṅgāya namaha| sivāya namaha| sivaliṅgāya namaha| jvalāya namaha| jvalaliṅgāya namaha| atmāyanamaha atmaliṅgāya namaha| paramāya namaha| paramaliṅgāya namaha.Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 10.16.1-2
Etathsomasya suryasya sarvalingam sthāpāyati pānimantram pavitram||
In Mahābhāratam Rśi Vyāsa says:
Vyasa says: Since he Great and Ancient and is the source of Life and its continuance, and since his Phallic emblem is everlasting he is for that reason called Sthānu.Mahābhāratam Itihāsa Drona Parva, Nārāyaṇastra-mokshana Parva, Section 203
He who adoreth any image of the Phallic emblem of that high-souled God always obtain great prosperity by that act
Are all Liṅga’s the same? No, they are not, because a Liṅga can be anything and of any shape. For example, it can be a natural stone or ice formation, or it can be a carved stone or metal, it can have human-like features, or it can be an unevenly shaped figure. A Liṅga can also be the representation of cosmic phenomena like Fire, Agni, Yama, Vayu, Yajamana, and more. A Liṅga can be a mark to anyone and not limited to Shiva alone. A Liṅga can represent Pārvatī, Bhairavi, Sarasvatī, Viṣṇu, and more. So, the conclusion is that, a Liṅga can represent a “union” or a “sign that represents a union”. A Liṅga with a face is called an Ekamukhalinga, similarly, a Liṅga with four faces is called Caturmukhaliṅga and consequently, Panchamukhaliṅga symbolizes five aspects of SadaŚiva (the eternal auspiciousness) and each has its own title, the direction it’s facing, and the hymn with which the homage is given, they are:
Sadyojātaṃ: West Facing representing Brahma riding Swan (Hamsa), sung using Trishtubh metre.
Vāmadevāya: North Facing representing Viṣṇu riding Garuda, sung using Trishtubh metre.
Aghore: South/Down Facing representing Rudra riding Bull (Nandi), sung using Brihati metre.
Tatpuruṣāya: East Facing representing Surya riding horse (Ashva), sung using Gayatri metre.
īśānaḥ: Top Facing represents Śakti– Resonance/Sound/Vibration riding a tortoise, sung using Brihati metre.
सद्योजातं प्रपद्यामि सद्योजाताय वै नमो नमः । भवेभवे नातिभवे भवस्व माम् । भवोद्भवाय नमः ॥ 10.17.35.17Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 10.17-21
वामदेवाय नमो ज्येष्ठाय नमः श्रेष्ठाय नमो रुद्राय नमः॒ कालाय नमः ॥ 10.18.36.15
अघोरेभ्योऽथ घोरेभ्यो घोरघोरतरेभ्यः । सर्वेभ्यस्सर्व शर्वेभ्यो नमस्ते अस्तु रुद्ररूपेभ्यः ॥ 10.19.37.19
तत्पुरुषाय विद्महे महादेवाय धीमहि । तन्नो रुद्रः प्रचोदयात् ॥ 10.20.37.20
ईशानः सर्व विद्यानामीश्वरः सर्वभूतानां ब्रह्माधिपतिर्ब्रह्मणोऽधिपतिर्ब्रह्मा शिवो मे अस्तु सदाशिवोम् ॥10.21.39.21
Liṅgodbhava= Liṅga + Ud + Bhavana (ud = to arise or sprout, bhava = expression). For those who are unable to comprehend A Jyoti (blaze/light) and an indefinite state of an ellipsoid, a form emerged to express itself. This expression is called Liṅgodbhava. This story is beautifully iconified in the Puráńic realm wherein both Brahmā and Viṣṇu seek to find the tip and the bottom of the Joyti Liṅga respectively riding their vahanas.