Colombo Telegraph

The Significance Of Shiva Lingam And Its Influence In Sri Lanka

By Ayathuray Rajasingam

Ayathuray Rajasingam

There is no recorded history as to the origin of Shiva Lingam. However, there are various explanations given to Shiva Lingam. Though Sri Lanka is blessed with five Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, the origin of Shiva Lingam in Sri Lanka is shrouded with mystery. The five Shiva temples are Thiruketheeswaram, Munneswaram, Naguleswaram, Koneswaram and Thondeeswaram. It is believed that Thondeeswaram temple in the South was engulfed by sea, apparently about more than nine thousands of years ago with the lost Continent of Lemuria known as Kumari Kandam. All these Ishwaram temples survived the ravages of time by foreign invaders, especially by the Portuguese who demolished these temples for purpose of utilizing the temple stones for the construction of Fort. Even during the period of the Dutch no action to rebuild these temples was initiated. It is during the British period, the great Saivite scholar Sri Arumuka Navalar took adequate measures to revive the Hindu Movement and to rebuild the temple. It is submitted that these Shiva temples existed long before the arrival of Vijaya to Sri Lanka. The Great Saint Thirumoolar is reported to have described that Sri Lanka as Siva Poomi, (meaning Lord Shiva’s land)  in his treatise on Saivism.

According to the Hinduism, it is believed that Shiva Lingam is a formation of the Hindu Trinity. Accordingly, the base layer represents Lord Brahma, the Central portion represents Lord Vishna and the uppermost portion represents Lord Shiva.

Another meaning is that Lord Shiva as the Supreme Being is believed is believed to be a pillar of fire which has no beginning and end. [There are stories about the futile exercises of Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma in finding out the bottom and the top respectively of Lord Shiva].

In addition, Swami Vivekananda answered the Westerners that the phallic symbol has no bearing at all with the concept of Shiva Lingam. He cited one of the ancient Hindu texts Atharva Veda which sung in praise of the Yupa-Stambha [cosmic column], the sacrificial post. The narration of Yupa-Stambha in the Atharva Veda relates to the beginningless and endless is described as Eternal Brahman, which is Shiva Lingam. [Swami Vivekananda’s explanation at the World Religious Conference held in Paris].

The origins of Shiva Lingam are as an oval representation of the Universe without beginning or end. Generally, the Lingam is in oval shape. The oval shape represents the Universe.

According to the Advaita philosophy the Shiva Lingam represents the formless Shiva which is referred to as Nirguna Brahman (i.e. Brahman without qualities). Shiva’s pure form permeates the whole creation. The formless Shiva is transcendent and cannot be described in words. However, it is said that Yogis have experienced Lord Shiva in this formless form and have described as Ultimate Bliss, the all loving reality. (There are two schools of thought on the notion of God. According to Advaita (or Monism or non-dualism) God is impersonal without qualities or form and is known as Nirguna Brahman. Advaita schools consider that the Souls are with God in all respects. According to Dvaita, God is personal, with exhibiting qualities, displaying a form and performing activities. Dvaita schools consider the Soul and God to be eternally distinct, though both are Brahman.).

Lingam is a symbol. It is something like Cross being the symbol of Jesus Christ. A symbol is a sign by which a faith or even a particular person is recognized. In Maha Bharatha there is reference to the worship of Lingam by Sage Vyasa. Sage Vyasa mentions that those who worship Lingam form of Lord Shiva becomes perfect with the direct knowledge of the Unity of Life and Supreme Energy as well as the indirect knowledge of the Unity of Life and Supreme Energy. Thus Sivalingam demonstrates the Unity of Life and Supreme Energy and not the union of opposite sexes as alleged by some foreigners.

Shiva Lingam is a symbol of union of the duality of Shiva (the Pure One) and Shakthi (sacred force or the cosmic energy). According to Hinduism Lord Shiva appears as Arthanareeswara which indicates the union of substance and energy – the Being and his Shakthi known as Energy. This union is the source of all the creation. Shiva and Skathi can be considered as a metaphor for union of the duality to represent the ultimate non-duality (creation) of the Universe. The true meaning is the eventual union of the duality (of you and me) into the non-duality (where God is seen in the form of Nirguna Brahman or absence of you and me and the Eternal Blissful presence of the Divine Awareness (Sat-Chit-Ananda). The representation as Sada Shiva demonstrates that the division between material and energy is superfluous and in reality all is one. He shows himself as being all that is male and all that is female through the form of Arthanareeswarar as being the inseparable unity. God is an unfolding creative process that may expand without limit.

Lingam is science. Sage Vasishta mentions the word ‘Jyotirupa’ which indicates the form of Jyoti (i.e. the fire). Sage Vasishta continues from that Jyotirupa everything which composes the Universe developed some 34,000 million years ago. This is an instance to show that Hindu sages have correctly described the creation of the Universe, which is in conformity with science.

Inner meaning : The sublime meaning of Shiva Lingam can be traced in Thirumanthiram, Shiva Puranam and in the Agamas. It is said that according to the Agamas there are seven kinds of Lingam, namely the Tower (Gopuram), the dome (Sikaram), the gateway (Dvaram), the Courtyard (Prakaram), the Courtyard, Palipeedam are considered as Lingams because they represent Shiva-Sakthi one way or other. If this is the description given according to Hindu thoughts, it is ridiculous to assert or allege that the Shiva Lingam represents a phallus. According to the Puranas the flame of immeasurable effulgence is called Lingam. It is this Lingam that represents the sacred fire and thus the temples stand for sacrificial grounds. Again it should be noted that these temples represent the hearts of the people and God abide by the hearts of the people in the form of Lingam or a glow of effulgence, as the Great Soul of the people’s souls.

The conclusion is Shiva Lingam is a sign of Purity. It started with an attempt to create idol of a Deepak (lamp). Now many Hatha Yogi practice concentration of tip of Deepak flame. The flame flickers due to wind. Hence an idol was created to practice concentration.

The stylization of the Lingam into a smooth cylindrical mass asserts a distinctively aniconic meaning, quite by contrast to the deities in image form (Murtis) that serve otherwise as the most important foci of Hindu worship. This interplay is found in Shavaite temples, where the Lingam is apt to be at the centre surrounded by a panoply of deities (Murtis).

Interpretation of Shiva Lingam

Though the concept of Shiva Lingam was in usage prior to the period of the Indus Valley Civilization, the Sanskrit language also mentions about Lingam in a different form. It is also said that the Lingam had its roots from the Sanskrit word ‘Lika’ meaning to sculptures. It could be interpreted to mean that God as the Sculptor of the Universe and hence he is referred to as Linga. Eventually the Sanskrit word ‘Lika’ turned out to mean any form or object or symbol that represented God. Similarly the philosophy of Shiva Lingam is described in the Agamas and Puranas in Hinduism. Shiva Puranam also mentions the Lingam as a symbol for realizing the nature of the object that the symbol represents – a shape given to the shapeless so as to elucidate the nature of the shapeless. Shiva Puranam asserts that the owner of the Lingam is the Supreme Being. The Lingam merely leads one to Lord Shiva – to auspiciousness.

Every religion, including Hinduism, asserts that every particle in this Universe is activated by God. Briefly, the existence of the Universe is totally impossible without the Divine Energy. It is at this juncture Hinduism deviates from other religions as to what God is or the nature of God. Generally, the other religions rely on a particular Prophet. No one knows the founder of Hinduism or when and where it was known or whether there is prescribed scripture. It ia a collection of revelations by the ancient sages. This is the beauty of Hinduism. The principle of creation has been described systematically in the Hindu Sastras. According to the Hindu Sastras, Shiva Lingam is the embodiment of the cosmic creation. The cosmic dance of Lord Shiva also illustrates this beautifully.

According to Hinduism, Brahman is the ultimate Supreme Being. It is either Nirguna Brahman or Saguna Brahman. Nirguna is without form and quality. There is also the primordial cosmic element known as Maya. One would tend to know the course of action taken by the Divine Energy in producing the cosmic world.

Out of Maya. Maya is an extremely subtle matter without any form. There are two aspects of Maya, namely Suddha Maya and Asuddha Maya – lower and upper Maya. This Maya is in the presence of Shivam or Nirguna Brahman and that of its Sakthi or Divine Energy. The Shakthi having energized Suddha Maya, the mundane egg of the Universe was formed. This was the principle of Sound known as Nadam or Nama (meaning name) and is considered as the first expression of limitation. It is from the principle of Sound, the form of limitation known as Bhindu or Rupa (form) arose which is considered as the second stage of limitation.

The combination of the principles of Sound and Form is still beyond comprehension. This combination of Sound (Nama) and Form (Rupa) is known as OMKARA PRANAVA. This is the seed and seat of all matter and force.

The principle of Sound (Nadam) is represented by a line and the Bhindu by a disc.

It is the principle of Sound (Nadam) is known as Lingam and the principle of Form (Bindhu) is known as its Peedam. The root of Sound (Nadam) is evolved from pure Maya by the will of Lord Shiva. From Nadam, the real Bindhu springs up. From the Bindhu, the real Sada Shiva originates and gives birth to Ishwara. Suddha avidya is developed from Ishwara.. The Universe originates from Bindhu and develop into various forms.

The Form that could be comprehended a little better, arose out of the Bindhu in the order of evolution. This is known as Sada Shivam. This is Rupa-Rupam or in other words is with Shape and without shape.

From this Sada Shiva, a fully developed form appears as Maheswara, and from him Rudra.

Sakthi assumed in manifesting itself to the souls to excite their intelligence and evolve this Universe out of Maya. Sakthi is with motion whereas Shiva is motionless. The transcendental Supreme Being is Shiva, whereas the manifested, immanent aspect of the Supreme is Sakthi. Shiva is attributeless whereas Sakthi is with attribute. (The word Sakthi derived from the root ‘Shak’ meaning the potential to produce an assertion of her inherent creative aptitude. It signifies the ultimate primordial creative power. It means power, force and feminine energy. Sakthi is energizing force of all divinity, of every being and everything.)

Now different actions in the region of Suddha Maya are performed by Sada Shiva and Maheswara, while those in the Asuddha Maya (lower) different actions are performed by Rudra, Vishnu and Brahma (the Hindu Triad).

Thus it could be seen the different positions of (Nadam and Bhindu). The combination of these two principles of Sound and Form are Pranava-Nadam. It is the Pranava that is said to be represented by Shiva Lingam. Line is Lingam and the Disc is Peedam.



  1. The complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
  2. Swami Vivekananda at the Paris Conference of the History of Religions
  3. Dance of Siva by S.Anandacoomaraswamy
  4. Lord Shiva by Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society
  5. Lord Shiva by Dr.(Mrs) Shantha N.Nair
  6. The symbolism & Worship of Shiva Lingam by V.Jayaram
  7. Shiva Linga by S.Sabaratna Mudaliyar
  8. Shiva Lingam – A symbol of science by Dr.P.Vartak.

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