What Is Shivling In Hinduism

The meaning of Shiva Ling or Lingam has become a subject of controversy in recent times. Hindus revere the ShivLing, considering it a symbol of the Hindu god Shiva, who is known as “The Destroyer” and also revered as an Ascetic god within the Trimurti. While early scholars of Hinduism did not emphasize the specific meaning of Shivling, in more recent times, some Hindu scholars have started offering their own definitions, particularly in response to foreign exposure to Hinduism. Despite Hindu scriptures defining Shivling as Shiva’s penis, Hindus insist that Shivling is not a male genital organ, indicating their discomfort with this interpretation. To delve into such matters, it is necessary to explore the historical context. Shiva Lingam, an emblem representing the Phallic (male erect reproductive organ), is considered a symbol by present-day Hindu scholars. Traces of Phallus or Shiva Lingam worship can be found in the Rig Veda, the oldest scripture of Hinduism. Rig Veda Mandal 7, Sukta 21, verse 5 mentions Shishnadeva, which is literally translated as “Penis worshippers” (Sishna+Deva), and we learn that the ancient Aryans were hostile towards these worshipers. However, the exact meaning remains unclear, as some scholars consider the term Shishnadeva to refer to “lewd people” or “unchaste people.” It is possible that these individuals were deemed unchaste due to their practice of Phallus worship. When confronted with the assertion that Shivling represents a penis, Hindus often respond by stating that the Sanskrit word “Shisan” is commonly used for penis rather than “Ling.” However, they would deny that the Rig Veda’s mention of Shishnadeva refers to penis worshipers, employing various justifications to defend their faith.

1. The meaning of Ling/Linga/Lingam

[Student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary 1893 edition, By V.S Apte, page 311]

ISKCON scholars have provided the following meaning,

“lingam — phallic symbol which is used in the worship of Lord Śiva.”  (source)

It is mentioned in Mahabharata,

📚Mahabharata 13.14.230-231📚
all creatures bear the signs that mark Mahadeva and his spouse. Hence, all creatures must be regarded as belonging to Maheswara. All creatures of the feminine sex, have sprung from Ulna’s nature as their cause, and hence it is they bear the mark of femininity that distinguishes Uma; while all creatures that are masculine, having sprung from Siva, bear the masculine mark that distinguishes Siva…”  (source)

What is the masculine characteristic that sets apart a male individual? It is undoubtedly the male organ (penis). Similarly, it is this distinguishing feature that is associated with Shiva as well. The base of the Shivling represents the Yoni, which translates to the vagina. The very meanings of ‘Ling’ and ‘Yoni’ should dispel any doubts regarding Shivling not being a male genital organ. There’s also a narration of a flood where the Goddess Ambika embraces the Linga (phallus) of Shiva to seek his favor and halt the deluge. And it is explicitly stated that this same Linga had once invoked feelings of bashfulness and love-sport inside her,

📚Skanda Purana 1.3a.4.30-33📚
After saying thus, Aṃbikā closely embraced the Liṅga. Although she was engulfed by the speedy flow, she did not let it go. The nipples of her breasts pressed so hard against the Liṅga that an impression was left appearing like a scar on it. Then (the goddess) respectfully bowed down to the Liṅga clinging to it. Remembering Sadāśiva, she experienced a thrill all over her body making her hair stand on end. She remained with her eyes closed and her heart engrossed solely in meditation. She was motionless and did not want to be separated even for a moment from that Liṅga which caused tremor, perspiration, protection, bashfulness and love-sport in her.”  (source)

2. Rishis cutting off Shiva’s penis

There are two main versions of how the Shivling originated. One indicates that the Shivling represents a male organ, while the other portrays it as an immeasurable cosmic pillar; both versions support the notion of Shivling symbolizing a penis. The emphasis on Shivling as a penis is noticeable in Hindu scriptures, resulting in various stories about its origin. The most frequently repeated tale revolves around Shiva assuming the Bhikshatana avatar, his “Supreme Beggar” form, appearing as a nude man. In the Daruvanam forest, where Rishis lived with their families, Shiva arrived fully unclothed, carrying a begging bowl, and some texts suggest he appeared before the wives and daughters of Rishis with an erect penis, which I consider an act of molestation. In the modern world, such behaviour would lead to sexual harassment charges and imprisonment. This incident angered the Rishis, who retaliated by assaulting Shiva (Bhikshatana) and cutting off his penis. In some versions, the penis fell due to a curse by sages and grew larger, causing havoc on the Earth. Seeking a resolution, the Rishis sought help from Brahma, who advised them to appease Shiva. Following Brahma’s counsel, the Rishis implored Shiva to withdraw his Ling. Shiva agreed, but on the condition that the Rishis create a pedestal resembling Parvati’s vagina, where the Ling could be placed, and they should start worshipping it. Following Shiva’s instructions, the worship of Shivling commenced.

Let’s delve into Hindu texts to explore different versions of Shivling’s origin,

📚Shiva Purana 4.12.8-51📚
Once the leading Brahmin devotees of Siva engrossed in the meditation of Siva went into the forest for bringing sacrificial twigs. In the meantime Siva himself assuming a very hideous form came there in order to test their devotion. He was very brilliant but stark naked. He had smeared ashes all over his body as the sole ornament. Standing there and holding his penis he began to show all sorts of vicious tricks. It was with a mind to do something pleasing to the forest-dwellers that Siva, favourite of the devotees, came to the forest at his will. The wives of the sages were extremely frightened at this sight. The other women excited and surprised approached the lord. Some embraced him. Others held his hands. The women were engrossed in struggling with one another…When the naked sage did not reply, the great sages told that terrible Puruṣa. “You are acting pervertedly. This violates the Vedic path. Hence let your penis fall on the ground.” When they said thus, the penis of that Avadhūta, who was Śiva of wonderful form, fell down instantly. That penis burnt everything in front; wherever it went it began to burn everything there. It went to Pātāla; it went to heaven; it went all over the earth; it never remained steady anywhere. “When the naked sage did…Brahmā said:— Let the gods propitiate goddess Pārvatī and pray. If she can assume the form of the vaginal passage that penis will become steady…The penis shall be drenched with that water, O great sages. When the sprinkling is made with Śatarudrīya mantras it will become stable. Pārvatī in the form of the Vaginal passage and an auspicious arrow shall form as the pedestal wherein the phallus shall be installed in accompaniment of the Vedic mantras…After propitiating Pārvatī and the bull-bannered lord and performing the rites mentioned before, the excellent penis became static… Śiva became delighted and so also Pārvatī, the mother of the universe. That phallus was held by her in that form then.”  (source)

📚Kurma Purana 2.38.52-54📚
The sages said: A certain highly brilliant person has entered the holy Daruvana along with his wife, who was very beautiful in all her limbs. But he was naked. The lordly person fascinated our entire women and daughters, with his charming personality. While his beloved defiled our sons. We heaped various imprecations and curses on him but they were defied and set at nought. He was beaten soundly by us. His Linga was struck down.”  (source)

📚Kurma Purana 2.39.1-3📚
[The sages said:] O lord of all immortal beings, tell us, how we can see the Pinaka-bearing lord once again. You are the saviour of those who seek refuge. [Brahma said:] Make an excellent Linga of the Lord resembling the Linga which was seen by you all and struck down on to the ground, and observing celibacy, worship it with respect along with your wives and sons, through the various Vedic observances.”  (source)

📚Brahmanda Purana 2.27.45📚
He [Shiva] was scolded and beaten. His Linga (?penis) was taken out. It is to alleviate his anger that we have sought refuge in you.”  (source)

📚Skanda Purana📚
Lord Śaṃbhu wandered about in the forest Dāruvana for the sake of begging alms. The sole lord of the worlds with quarters for his garments (i.e. naked), having the cluster of his matted hair loosened…At midday the sages, O brāhmaṇas, went to the sacred places (for bath) from their hermitages. At that very time, all the wives of those sages came there. On seeing Śaṃbhu they spoke to one another, “Who is this personage of uncommon appearance, who has come here in the form of a mendicant? We along with our friends shall give him alms.” Saying, “So be it”, they went home and joyously brought various kinds of food as alms…In this manner all young women gathered together at the place where Śaṅkara was (standing). The alms-bowl of Śaṃbhu was filled with cooked food of very good quality. Four types of foodstuffs with all the six tastes filled his bowl. When Śaṃbhu was desirous of returning to the Kailāsa mountain, all those wives of brāhmaṇas joyously followed him forsaking their domestic duties. With their minds attached to him, they walked on and on (after him)…When all those wives (of sages) had left thus, the excellent sages reached their hermitages and found them empty and vacant. They spoke to one another, “Where have all these women (our wives) gone? We do not know by what damned fellow they have been abducted.” Pondering and deliberating thus they searched here and there. Thereupon they saw that they had been following Śiva. On seeing Śiva, the sages angrily closed in upon him. Standing in front of Śiva, all of them said with impetuosity, “What has been done by you, O Śaṃbhu (who profess to be) detached and noble-souled? You are no doubt the kidnapper of the wives of others, i.e. of us, the sages.” Although rebuked thus, Śiva silently went on towards his mountain. Then that immutable Mahādeva was overtaken by the sages. (They then cursed him thus:) “Since you are the abductor of (our) wives, be instantaneously a eunuch.” Thus cursed by the sages, his penis fell down on the ground. As soon as it reached the ground, it became very large immediately and it increased in size (enormously). From beneath and above, the Liṅga covered the seven Pātālas in an instant. Then it pervaded the entire earth and enveloped the firmament. All the heavens were covered. Then it rose beyond the heavens…Viṣṇu and the Lotus-bora god Brahmā both of whom were (gods) of exalted fortune, heard this. Viṣṇu went to the nether worlds and Brahmā went to heaven.”  (source)

📚Vamana Purana 6.57-67📚
The sex-god reached there also and stared at Sankara. In order to defend him from his encounter, lord Sankara started running from there. The sex-god chased them and at the end of such a race lord Mahadeva entered into a dense forest known as Daruvana. The household hermits used to live there with their wives. Having seen lord Sankara there, the hermits saluted him with sheer obeisance and the lord asked for alms from them. All hermits kept mum and did not respond to Sankara. O NSrada! lord Sankara then began to stool in all hermitages. Having seen Mahadeva enter into the asrama all, wives of Bhargava and Atreya except most chaste Arundhati and Anusuya (their mind having dedicated to their husbands) became sensuous and ejaculated. The enchanted, sensuous and passionate women of asrama then followed lord Mahadeva wherever he went. As the (she) elephants follow the intoxicated male-elephant, the wives of hermits began to run after lord Mahadeva and contravened all the rules of the household. O sage! Having seen such a phenomenon, Bhargava and Arigirasa hermits blew a curse that his penis (linga) fall down on the earth. Mahadeva’s penis then fell down on the ground and it penetrated the earth where it so fell. Mahes’vara then vanished from there. The fallen penis then penetrated the land and entered into the nether world. Its upper portion had penetrated the cosmos.”  (source)

📚Linga Purana 1.29.5-42📚
In order to propitiate the lord of Devas, the sages performed a terrible penance in the Daru forest. They were accompanied by their wives, sons and sacrificial fires…Rudra, wanted to test the sincerity of the dwellers of the Daru forest…Thus in order to test their faith, and sportively too, he assumed a deformed but attractive appearance. He had three eyes and two hands. He was nude, and dark in complexion. Even in this form he was extremely handsome. He was smiling and singing, with seductive play of his eyebrows, thereby creating feelings of love in the hearts of women. He the destroyer of cupid, the lord of extremely handsome features increased their sexual feelings On seeing a man of deformed features, black-red (in colour), even the chaste women followed him with great enthusiasm…One of them, on seeing him did not know that her upper and lower garments had stripped off. Others in their excitement could not distinguish between their kinsmen and the multi-branched trees though they were familiar…Due to the Maya of Rudra even the chaste ladies fell down in an awkward posture with their clothes loosened and their tresses dishevelled, in the very presence of their husbands…On seeing the crowd of women and Rudra in this situation the brahmins, leading sages began to say harsh words. Their powers of austerity were ineffective against Rudra…Thus deluded the sages of Daruvanam did not understand Rudra. They spoke harsh words to Rudra who thereupon disappeared. In the morning all those sages with perplexed minds and blurred thinking went from Daruvana to Brahma of noble soul…they informed him about what had happened in that holy Daru forest…He stood up with palm joined in reverence and bowed to Rudra. He then spoke hurriedly to the sages who had their abodes in Daru forest. Fie upon you all who had attained excellent treasure, O brahmins, but had unluckily wasted it. The man with a Linga who had been seen by you all without Lingas, the person of deformed features was the supreme lord himself.”  (source)

📚Skanda Purana📚
After saying thus, Pārvatī, the goddess, beloved of Śaṅkara, became furious. She held Śaṅkara by the hand. The lady of slender limbs took away the serpent Vāsuki from his neck. Similarly she removed many other ornaments also. The infuriated lady hurriedly took away the ornaments of Śaṃbhu. His crescent moon and his excellent elephant hide were removed. The serpents Kaṃbala and Aśvatara that had been worn by Maheśa as ornaments were removed by the great goddess laughingly with tricky words. Even his loincloth was taken away laughingly with the utterance of tricky words. At that time the Gaṇas and the friends (of Pārvatī) felt embarrassed and ashamed…O splendid lady, what has been done by you? You are born of a (good) family, O slender-limbed one. Why do you behave like this? If you know for certain, O lady with excellent eyebrows, that I have been defeated by you, do like this. Give me the loincloth alone. Give me the loincloth only. It does not behove you to do otherwise. On being told thus by Śaṃbhu, the Yogin, Pārvatī, the chaste lady of charming face, laughed and spoke these words: “What have you to do with a loincloth? You are a sage of sanctified soul. (Some time back) you wandered through Dāruvana with the cardinal points alone for your garment (i.e. you were naked). Under the pretext of begging for alms, the wives of the sages were enchanted. While you were going, you were greatly adored by them. Your loincloth fell down (penis?) there…”  (source)

📚Skanda Purana 6.258.1-20📚
When the Daughter of Mountain became engrossed in a great and terrible penance, Hara who had been overwhelmed by Kandarpa (god of Love) roamed over the earth in the Tirthas, cool shades of trees, rivers, streams everywhere. Mahesvara indulged in sprinkling his body with water. Still the Lord oppressed by Kama, did not attain happiness anywhere…Mahesa adopted a handsome form and (roamed about on her banks)…As he passed through the abode of sages at will, he displayed fickle and rash movements of his limbs…Even as he roamed about thus, the wives of the sages became infatuated and mentally fancied him in the form of their husbands…The handsome features of the Lord enraged them further. They shouted ‘Let this fellow be held and beaten. Who is this wicked fellow that has come here?’ Uttering thus, they took up wooden sticks and rushed at him. Afraid of those noble sages, he fled away…When they all could not catch hold of Mahesvara, the angry Brahmanas cursed Siva thus: ‘It was on account of your Linga (penis) that you came to the hermitages like a thief. Since you have abducted other men’s wives, let your Linga fall on the ground. O Tapasa (ascetic), this terrible curse will affect you immediately.’ As soon as this (curse) was uttered, the tremendous fire of the curse adopted an adamantine form, cut off the Linga of Dhurjati and made it fall on the ground. The almightly Lord swooned with his body smeared with blood.”  (source)

📚Skanda Purana📚
When due to humiliation of Dakṣya for not being invited to Yajña, Satī…got consumated by death, Kāmadeva taking his bow and arrow of flowers in hand arrived there swiftly. Seeing the invincible Kāmadeva, Śiva then put him as an arrow onto his bow. Apparently out of fear Śiva disappeared. Then he, i.e., Kāmadeva moving about here and there, reached the hermitage of Vālakhilya which was bearing a beautiful look with a good tree outside it. Vālakhilya’s wives then got a glimpse of the handsome Kāmadeva. The group of same women began to embrace the worshipable Liṅga following it up with kissing and repeated touching…The Sage saw change in the women manifesting all the possibility of their going wayward. Unaware as he was, the great soul simply got enraged with Mahādeva. Heated up with distress, he (i.e., the Sage) therefore, to save his wives took out his curse on the worshipable Liṅga of Śiva saying ‘let this worshipable Liṅga fall down for having caused such evils/sins’. A mere sight of the worshipable Liṅga which is reason enough for causing deceit among women is an immediate enemy of the body. Hence, there should be a downfall for this and let this Liṅga fall down.”  (source)

📚Devi Bhagavatam Purana 4.20.36-37📚
O King! When Mahâdeva, being infatuated with Kâma, went into the forest of Bhrigu and becoming naked, began to copulate, the ascetic Bhrigu, seeing him in that state, exclaimed “O You are very shameless” and cursed Him thus:- Let your penis drop off just now. Mahâdeva, then to satisfy his thirst for passion, began to drink the water of the lake Amrita Vapî, dug by the Dânavas.”  (source)

📚Padma Purana 6.255.26-40📚
Having gone near the door of the house of the magnanimous Śaṅkara and seeing very fierce Nandin with a spear in his hand, he said (to him): “I, the brāhmaṇa Bhṛgu, have come to see Hara, the best god. Quickly announce me (i.e. my arrival) to the magnanimous Śaṅkara.” Hearing the words of him, Nandin, the lord of (Śiva’s) attendants spoke harsh words to the great sage of an unlimited splendour: “The lord is not in the vicinity. Śaṅkara is sporting with goddess (Pārvatī). O best sage, go back if you desire to live.” Thus repudiated by him the (sage) of a great penance remained there, at the door of the great lord, for many days. “Since he, arrogant due to the company of a woman, thinks lightly of me, he shall have the form of clitoris. Approached (i.e. overcome) by vice he slights me, a brāhmaṇa! Reduced to an impious state, he will not be adored by brāhmaṇas. Therefore, all the food, water, flowers and oblations offered to him will undoubtedly be useless.” The very lustrous one, having thus cursed Śaṃkara honoured by the world, said to the very fierce attendant, Nandin, holding a spear, O king: “May Śiva’s devotees, having ash, phallus and bones be impious and out of the Vedic fold.” The sage, having thus cursed Rudra, Tripura’s killer, went to Brahmā’s world…”  (source)

📚Skanda Purana📚
Similarly the angry lady spoke to Rudra: ‘O Hara, while you are in Daruvana, the infuriated sages will curse you (as follows). ‘Oh! Kapalika, O insignificant one, you desire to carry off our wives. Hence this accursed Linga (penis) of yours, O Rudra, will fall on the ground.’ Bereft of manliness, you shall be afflicted with the curse of the sages. Your wife stationed on the banks of Ganga will console you.”  (source)

3. Shiva’s Self-Castration

There is also a tale that describes how Shiva voluntarily allowed his penis to fall down. In this narrative, Brahma sought Rudra/Shiva’s assistance in creating living beings. In response, Shiva immersed himself in water, and Brahma waited for an extended period. Growing impatient, Brahma proceeded to create living beings on his own. When Shiva emerged from the water and realized that Brahma had already created all living beings, he became extremely angry and decided to cast off his penis, considering it no longer necessary.

📚Mahabharata 10.17.17-26📚
After the creatures had multiplied and the Grandsire had become well pleased, the first-born rose from the water and beheld the living creation. He saw that diverse kinds of creatures had been created and that they had multiplied by their own energy. At this sight, Rudra became angry and caused his procreative limb to disappear in the bowels of the Earth. The unfading Brahma, soothing him by soft words, said unto him, “O Sharva, what wert thou doing so long within the water? For what reason, also hast thou caused thy limb of generation to disappear in the bowels of the Earth?” Thus questioned, that lord of the universe wrathfully answered the lord Brahman, “Somebody else has created all these creatures! What purpose then would be served by this limb of mine? I have by my austerities, O Grandsire, created food for all these creatures. These herbs and plants also will multiply like those that will subsist upon them!” Having said these words, Bhava went away, in cheerlessness and rage, to the foot of the Menjavat mountains for practising severer austerities.”  (source)

A Hindu scholar named Swami Parmeshwaranand wrote,

“According to the account given in the Dharmasamhita of the Shiva Purana, during the ekarnava state before creation, Brahma approached Shiva-Rudra and beseeched him to create the universe, Shiva agreed and entered into the vast ocean in order to prepare himself for the enormous task. However, he did not come out of the ocean for a considerably long time. In the meantime, Brahma became fretful; he could not wait any longer and therefore brought about his own creation. When, later, Shiva-Rudra emerged out of the water, he found that the creation had already accomplished. He, there, cut off his generative organ as it was no longer necessary and threw it down on the earth. Since then the Linga became the form in which Shiva came to be worshiped.”- [source – Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas, Vol 1, By Swami Parmeshwaranand, Page 1239]

4. Importance of the Shivling in worship

📚Padma Purana 1.17.262-265📚
Then Gāyatrī, the giver of boons said to Rudra: “Those, men, who will worship your genital organ (in the form of phallus) even though it had fallen, being purified and earning merit thereby, will share (i.e. enjoy) heaven. That state which men get by worshipping your genital organ (in the form of phallus), cannot be had in (i.e. by) maintaining sacred fire or offering oblations into it. Those who will, in the early morning worship your genital organ (in the form of phallus) with a bilva-leaf, will enjoy the world of Rudra.”  (source)

📚Shiva Purana 1.16.104-107📚
The phallus is united with vagina and vagina is united with phallus. For the sake of perpetual enjoyment here and hereafter the devotee shall worship the phallic emblem which is lord Śiva Himself. He is the sun giving birth and sustenance to the worlds. His symbol is justified in the coming into existence of things. Persons should worship Śiva, the cause of birth, in his phallic form. That which makes the Puruṣa known, is called Liṅga, the symbol. The unification and fusion of the symbols of Śiva and Śakti is thus called Liṅga.”  (source)

📚Linga Purana 1.21.1-3📚
Vishnu said: Obeisance to you, O deity of holy rites, of infinite splendour…the trident-bearer, of excellent penis deserving worship, the staff-holder and of dry and arid semen.”  (source)

📚Shiva Purana 1.9.43-44📚
The phallic symbol and the symbolised Śiva are non-different. Hence this phallic emblem is identical with me. It brings devotees quite near to me. It is worthy of worship therefore. O dear sons, if phallic emblem of this sort in installed I can be considered installed, though my idol is not installed.”  (source)

📚Devi Bhagavatam Purana 9.41.48-59📚
Laksmi always remains there with the greatest gladness where conch-shells are blown, where there are conchsells, the S’alagrama stone, the Tulasi leaves and the service and meditation of Laksmi are daily done. Where the phallic emblem of Siva is worshipped…”  (source)

📚Varaha Purana 72.10📚

”People who seek pleasures sacrifice to me in my form as linga (phallus)…”  (source)

📚Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.2-3📚

”Prajapati said to Himself: “Well, let Me make a firm basis for it (semen).” So He created woman. Having created her, He worshipped her bottom portion. Therefore one should worship the bottom portion of a woman. He (Prajapati) extended His organ that projects and with it impregnated her.”  (source)

5. Pictures of some Shivlings bearing striking resemblance to Penis

An ancient lingam 200 B.C old found at Aradhanarishwara Temple at Indabettu village in Dakshina Kannada district. Source:

Divinely sculpted: A second century BC idol of Lingodbhava cult of Lord Shiva, the first of its kind found in South India, at Gudimallam temple in Chittoor district. Source:

  • Ek Mukha Lingam, Aghapura, Bharatpur, Rajasthan. First Century A.D

  • Rishikesh Shivling

  • Devipuram Shivling, Andhra Pradesh

  • Khmer style Shivling, Cambodia

  • Believed to be Shivling, Vishnupad temple in Gaya

The stone pillar of the Fu Nan period, 6th century CE. It is at the Museum of Vietnamese History, Hochi Minh city, Vietnam. Source: