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Dharma Files: Analysing the ‘phallacy’ of the Shiva-linga

The ‘discovery’ of a Shiva-linga on the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi has raised a number of questions on what it stands for

Antique Shivalingam with Nagabharanam idol seized in Chennai. ANI

The declare {that a} Shiva-linga might have been found on the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi has raised some questions on what it stands for. The subject is essential contemplating the feedback made on it on social media. The professor of a faculty in Delhi, on seeing its image, puzzled whether or not Lord Shiva had been circumcised. Another voice on social media appeared to wonder if it spouted semen, maybe as a result of it was claimed to be a fountain by the opposing celebration. More just lately, a woman from Jaipur appeared to offer a foreplay dimension to the modifications in its measurement talked about at varied occasions. And so on.

What is critical right here is the temptation to take it, some would say mistake it, for a phallic image, which is its chosen interpretation in Western Indology. This tendency to take it as a physique half, due to this fact, on the a part of some could also be attributed to the way in which Western Indology tends to view it. This results in the following query: To what extent is that this description justified?

Sometimes it’s argued that the phrase itself stands for the penis. This is problematic as a result of the time period is used to indicate gender in Sanskrit, and extra usually stands for a mark or signal. Thus the phrases similar to masculine, female, and neuter gender in Sanskrit are Pullinga, Strilinga, and Napunsakalinga. It is evident that translating these phrases through the use of the phrase penis will result in hilarious outcomes. The use of the phrase Varna and its obvious translation as color, equally, created critical issues in Indology from which it’s nonetheless attempting to emerge.


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At a non secular somewhat than verbal stage, a Hindu, basically, finds the interpretation of the time period linga as a phallus jarring, to say the least. Mahatma Gandhi famous that he first learnt from a guide by a missionary that it had any “obscene” significance. This radical divergence in understanding the importance of the Shiva-linga is a hanging instance of how the insider’s and the outsider’s perspective may differ on some extent. The outsider might affiliate it with a fertility cult. In Hindu lore, nonetheless, the Shiva-linga represents the axis mundi, the pillar upholding the universe because it have been. In the Puranas it represents the pillar of fireplace or gentle, the shape through which Shiva appeared when the three gods of the Hindu trinity — Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva — have been competing amongst themselves to find out who was the best amongst them. Shiva proved his pre-eminence as a result of the opposite gods couldn’t uncover the start or the tip of the pillar, which the linga represents.

It shouldn’t be that the Shiva-linga has not been typically interpreted as a physique half. According to 1 scholar, it occurs about 10 per cent of the time. Thus this doesn’t occur usually, nonetheless, even when it occurs its understanding continues to be an elevated one. For occasion, within the Mahabharata, sage Upamanyu states that using the linga and yoni to depict Shiva and Parvati implies that they pervade all beings. Ramakrishna states that we worship Shiva on this kind to hope for launch from the method of rebirth. In a Yogic context, the linga represents the conversion of sexual into religious vitality. Paradoxically, the upright however unshed penis symbolises religious ascent led to by celibacy. Alberuni, the Muslim savant, information that based on one account it denotes Shiva, as a result of when Shiva was ordered by Brahma to create imperfect human beings, Shiva refused to take action, and indicated his displeasure by chopping off the image of creation and procreation.

The restoration of the Shiva-linga on the Gyanvapi mosque wouldn’t be full till we additionally recuperate its correct which means from the obfuscations underneath which it has been buried. It is value reflecting on the next remark by David Frawley at this level: “The Shiva-linga is a part of an enormous pure symbolism of ascending cosmic vitality. Such linga kinds embody mountains, fireplace, bushes, standing stones, pyramid, Sun, Moon, lightning, and OM. It’s sexual discount by trendy students is a part of their sexual obsession general.”

In a overview of two books by Wendy Doniger — The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009) and On Hinduism (2014) — in Foreign Affairs (September-October 2014), Ananya Vajpeyi notes how Doniger “argues that the lingam, an emblem of the Hindu deity Shiva that’s present in temples ought to be understood ‘unequivocally as an iconic representation of the male sexual organ in erection, in particular as the erect phallus’.” The shock the Hindu feels within the face of such misrepresentation may solely be in comparison with that of the Christian, upon being advised that when the Christian participates within the mass on Sunday she or he is practising cannibalism, because the Christian then consumes the flesh (wafer) and blood (wine) of Jesus Christ.

The creator, previously of the IAS, is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal Canada, the place he has taught for over thirty years. He has additionally taught in Australia and the United States and at Nalanda University in India. He has printed extensively within the fields of Indian religions and world religions. Views expressed are private.

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