The distortion of Shiva Linga in modern discourse and Why is it MANDATORY for you to understand the real meaning of Shiva Linga.
Excerpt from the book “The Land of the Lingam” by Arthur Miles.
It was in the 17th century that the word “Hindu” was coined (from the “Sindhu River”) in the English Language. The advent of European traders and Christian missionaries can be traced long back, but the actual translation (read mistranslation) of “Hindu” Sanskrit texts to English by Western scholars started in the mid-17th century.
While the Islamic regime believed in physically decimating Hindu temples and forceful conversions, it is the British who displayed much more cunning acumen and started interpreting our ancient texts as per their understanding, to suit their agenda. The ideological damage that was done to Hindu culture by the British and propagated further by westernized scholars is irreparable.
One such mistranslation was translating the word “lingam” as “a male sexual organ.” The fascination of the western world with the male phallus would be amusing had it not been used to systematically misinterpret the most holy emblems of Hinduism. The literal Sanskrit meaning of the word Lingam was and still remains, “a mark”, “a symbol” and the vedantic meaning of Lingam has been “source of origin” or “formless.”
The first documented debate about Shiva Linga occurred in 1900 when a sole Hindu scholar from India was invited to Paris to attend the Congress of History of Religions. A German religious expert Mr. Gustav Oppert, presented a paper on the origin of the Shâlagrâma-Shilâ. He authoritatively declared that the worship of Shiva Linga in India referred to the worship of the phallic emblem of the male.
Swami Vivekananda, after overcoming his shock at this trivial explanation, famously gave an impromptu rebuttal to Oppert. Swami Vivekananda referred to Atharva Veda Samhita and explained to the western audience that Shiva Linga actually refers to the beginless and endless Stambha or pillar of light, and the phallic representation was a manifestation of someone’s imagination. This was entirely new to the audience and Swami Vivekananda established himself as the authentic voice of Hindu culture.
Unfortunately, the efforts of true scholars like Swami Vivekananda were morphed by the assault of Western scholars who continued interpreting the Sanskrit texts to suit their vested interests and were supported ably by liberal Indians. One such example was an Indian Philosopher who chaired the elitist “Professor of Ethics and Eastern Religion” position in the University of Oxford between 1936 to 1952. This philosopher was the recognized as the “Comparative Religion Expert” in India and his writings (appeasement to the western translations) on Hinduism were used to present Hinduism to the rest of the world. Of course, Radhakrishnan would then become the first vice president and the second President of Independent India.
However let’s not delve in the past. Let bygones be bygones?
But one wonders what business and authority does The Economist, the premier international news and politics magazine have to call Shiva Linga a sacred penis-shaped lump of ice at Amarnath in an article that has nothing to with Hinduism?
When Hindus respond to this or vent their frustration at this deliberate distortion of their culture or to the likes Wendy Doniger, they are termed as extremists.
Even some of our own Gurus are woefully ignorant and they have even misinterpreted the misinterpretations of the westerners! Once cannot help but laugh at the irony.
However knowledge is power and the only way to know your culture is by self-effort. Otherwise you are at the disposal of the mainstream discourse or the spurious scholars who are dime a dozen. The intent is to light the spark and encourage people to read their own texts and form their own interpretations.
The Meaning of Shiva Linga: Why We Celebrate Shiva Ratri
Hinduism is an all-encompassing religion and accommodates
– the religious (bhakti) devotee by reciting stories in the Puranas,
-the mental contemplator (jnana yogi) by offering the Upanishads & Vedanta
– or the yogi by offering Pranayama and Yoga.
Let us evaluate the meaning of Shiva Linga from all three perspectives. The story in the Shiva Purana is as follows and the significance of worshiping Shiva Linga is explained at the end of the story.
Puranic Story – For the religious devotee: From the Shiva Puran:
Once the noble souls Brahma and Vishnu had an argument about who was more supreme. The argument escalated and both of them got ready for battle. The fight began and all the Gods were eclipsed by fear. Vishnu in great fury discharged the Mahesvara weapon over Brahma. Brahma retaliated and aimed the Pasupata weapon at the chest of Vishnu. The weapons rose high and created a brilliance similar to that of ten thousand suns. The two weapons of Brahma and Vishnu faced each other, ready for a clash. At that moment, Vishnu and Brahma were agitated and the Gods were frantic in a state of panic, feeling helpless. The Gods immediately sought the refuge of Shiva.
Shiva them appeared in the battlefield. The two weapons of Brahma and Vishnu faced each other, their flames enough to cause the untimely dissolution of the world.
Shiva then took the form of a huge column of fire and placed himself in between the two weapons hurled by Brahma and Vishnu. The Mahesvara and the Pasupata weapons fell into the huge column of fire and dissolved immediately. A silence prevailed in the battlefield.
Both Brahma and Vishu were distracted by this wonderful pillar like column of fire, that extended vertically without any end in sight.
They forgot about their fight and Brahma asked Vishnu, “What is this wonderful form? What is this column of fire that has risen up?”
Vishnu replied, “This column of fire is beyond the senses. We have to find its top and bottom. Nothing will turn up if we travel together.”
Jointly deciding to inquire into the nature of this mysterious column of fire, the two noble souls decided to split up. Vishnu pierced the earth and the netherworld, and still went further below, but he could not find the bottom. Brahma soared through the sky and atmosphere and still went further up, but he could not find the top. Both Brahma and Vishnu, after getting utterly exhausted, returned to the battlefield.
Then the column of fire split and from between it appeared Shiva. Seeing the visible form of Shiva that was known to them, both Vishnu and Brahma revered him and offered their obeisance. Once they had understood the nature of the infinite column of fire, they remembered their true nature and stood there humbly, embarrassed at their agitation that had almost brought the world to an end.
Both Brahma and Vishnu adored Shiva, and gratified at their devotion, Shiva spoke, “Henceforth this day will be famous as “Shivaratri”, the holiest of holy days pleasing to me. Devotees who are keen on acquiring me can worship me either as the Shiva Ling which will be represent the infinite form of the column of fire, or worship my idol in the embodied form of Shiva. I will bless them both.”
The Mental Contemplation of the Puranic Story
What happened in the Story? What is the pillar of light that Shiva has taken and how is it connected to the Shiva Linga?
In Hinduism, the supreme consciousness or Brahaman is the supreme deity and all gods emerge from him. In that consciousness, Shiva is that supreme God, who has two forms: manifest (visible as idol/shiva ling) and unmanifest (beyond forms representing the pillar of consciousness).
Shiva is ever compassionate and takes these forms to appease to both the kind of devotees: the pleasure seeker and the salvation seeker. No other God has two forms. Hence Shiva’s form is both manifest and unmanifest in view of him being the pure consciousness and also the embodied form that will bestow blessings for getting desires fulfilled.
For the seeker of boons: When you worship Shiva ling you are worshipping the nameless and formless column of fire that appeared between Vishnu and Brahma to preserve the equilibrium between all the three worlds. The Shiva ling is a small form that represents the huge column of fire that appeared. By worshipping the idol, you are manifesting the supreme reality as physical representation and asking for boons.
For the seeker of salvation: When you worship Shiva ling, you worship Shiva who is indivisible, all-pervading, eternal, auspicious, ever-pure, immortal essence of this vast universe, who is the undying soul seated in the chambers of one’s heart, also known as the Self or Atman. When you are worshipping Shiva Linga, you are going beyond physical forms and trying to understand it beyond limitations. This is for the salvation seeker.
Significance for the seeker of through Yoga- the esoteric explanation
The yogis know the truth about the story mentioned in the scripture. The yogis know the truth about the story mentioned in the scripture. Go back to the story when two Gods Brahma and Vishnu are going to cause destruction of the world? Remember that every act mentioned in the scripture has a deeper significance.
In the scriptures, Lord Brahma represents the mind, and Lord Vishnu represents the Prana or life force that sustains you. Whenever the mind and life-force are agitated, the individual feels helpless and the senses lose hope or get out of control. In such a case, Shiva represents that wisdom that is beyond mental construct (brought about by ego) and beyond breath control (brought about by yoga and meditation) which can restore equilibrium between the mind and the prana, thus taking you in state of peace, happiness and bliss.
That is why the yogi meditates on Shiva Linga.
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