The lingam (in Sanskrit – "symbol, sign") or linga or Shiva linga is the symbol of the god Shiva. It is the most popular form of worshipping the Shiva among Hindu people. Some use the term lingam as synonym for "shivalingam" which is a particular type of icon or altar representing Shiva.


The lingam consists of two parts. First there is a stylized phallus. It almost always lays on kind of pedestal called "yoni" (in Sanskrit - "womb, vulva, vagina, place of birth, source") which represents female sex organ. Together they symbolize the power of creative energy and fertility.


It would be wrong to see the lingam as purely sexual symbol. The lingam is the symbol of Lord Shiva and his generative power.

What's the origin of the lingam? There are scientists who believe that it was brought to India by some non-Aryan people. At the beginning lingam the Veddic Aryans were against the worshipping of lingam. But till the 1st–2nd century AD it became a common thing. In the Gupta period (sometimes also called "The Golden Age of India"), between 320 and 480 AD, the lingam lost most of its phallic realism it used to have.

Lingams are made of all sort of materials. Some lingams are made of sandalwood paste or clay. They are used only during certain rites. There are also those used in everyday life. They are made of wood, metal, gems or stone. There are special rules which determine how the lingam has to look, meaning its height, width and the appearance of the top.

Some lingams include the "mukhalinga", with one to five faces of Shiva carved on its sides and top. In the south of India there are the "lingodbhavamurti" lingams where Shiva emerges out of lingam. This should show that Shiva is superior over Vishnu and Brahma. There is also a lingam with cobra on its top.

Very special lingams are the "svayambhuva" ("self-originated") lingams. It is believed that they were created entirely by light. About 70 of them exist in India. They are important places of pilgrimage.

One example of such lingams is in the Amarnath Temple in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir located in the far north of the country. The lingam there is kind of stalagmite which is being formed every winter from ice dripping on the floor of a cave.

Amarntah lingam
Amarntah lingam

The lingam is worshipped with offerings that include flowers, fruits, water, milk, rice and different leaves.

The lingam can be worshipped in the temple but also at home. Here are few details about how it is done at home.

Before starting the Puja person has to take a bathe and dress in clean clothes. Hymns praising Lord Shiva or the mantra "om namaha shivayaa" are chanted. Person sits in front of the lingam. He then blows conch shell or ring bells. This actually starts the Puja.

First person does the "panchamrit abhishek". During it he pours any of five holy liquids over the lingam. Holy liquids are water from the river Ganges, honey, milk (only from cow), yogurt, ghee, sea water, different fragrant oils, rose water etc. When pouring the "om namah shivaya" is chanted. There is no rule but some people also speak the name of Lord Shiva 108 or 1008 times.

After the "panchamrit abhishek" lingam is cleaned with some water of the Ganges river or if that's not possible any other water will do.

Next the lingam is smeared with sandalwood paste and is decorated with some flowers. The sandalwood paste is used for special reason.

It is believed that it cools the lingam, as the Lord Shiva is in highly inflammable state all the time. For this reason some temples put the pot above the lingam. The pot contains a liquid which constantly drops and cools the lingam.

Then some offerings that for example can include sweets, fruits or a coconut are made to the Lord Shiva. Person lights camphor and incense. A Hindu ritual called "aarti" (ãrti, arathi, aarthi, or ãrati ) is performed.

With some ringing of bells or blowing of conch shell the pura is ended. "Vibhuti" or "white ash" is rubbed on the forehead and it is also distributed. The above mentioned offerings (sweets, fruits, coconut) are distributed as "prasad".