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Hinduism Liṅga and Yoni
by
Benjamin J. Fleming

Introduction

The liṅga (meaning mark, sign, phallus) is best known as the emblem of the Hindu god Śiva, most often rendered today as a cylindrical form, set into an oval, round, or square base. Liṅgas feature prominently in Śaivite myths, rituals, sacred sites, and pilgrimage, as well as in South and Southeast Asian art and philosophy. The yoni (meaning vulva, womb, source) is less prominent in the primary sources, and it has been most often studied in connection to the liṅga, as well as related issues such as sexuality in religion, goddess traditions, and Śiva’s śakti or female counterpart. The category of “liṅga and yoni” evokes the sexual union of the divine couple Śiva and Pārvatī, with the liṅga as the phallus of the god, and the yoni as the vulva of the goddess, perpetually in divine copulation. Scholars have long interpreted the setting of the cylindrical liṅga into its base in such terms, often with little regard to the primary sources. In the epics and purāṇas, for instance, one finds surprisingly little precedent for the pairing of liṅga and yoni (see Mahābhārata, 13.14.230–3, and Śiva Purāṇa, 4.12.17–53). Even in later ritual sources, the base is more typically assigned the mundane label of pīṭha (base), albeit at times interpolated as Śiva’s śakti or female consort. Thus, it remains unclear whether the liturgical object worshipped by Śaiva Hindus is consistently understood in this way, when this interpretation originated, and whether it reflects the perspectives of a limited set of ritual specialists or more widely diffused beliefs among practitioners. Although little has been done to explore such questions, the sexual nature of the iconography has been widely assumed in the West, and the category of “liṅga and yoni” has had a disproportionate place within Western scholarship on Hinduism since colonial times. Accordingly, this article begins with the historiography of the topic, with special attention to the reification of the category within Western scholarship. The majority of the article is geared toward pointing readers to the relevant primary sources (e.g., iconographical, mythological, ritual, philosophical, epigraphical), in the hopes of facilitating further study that may open up new perspectives.

Scholarly and Other Approaches

Hindu ideas about the liṅga are richly attested in Sanskrit and other South Asian sources, including mythological, ritual, and philosophical literature. References to the pairing of liṅga and yoni, however, are surprisingly rare. Also relatively rare, and understudied, are discussions of the yoni in its own right; it is unclear, for instance, the degree to which the term is an emic concept akin to the liṅga. Nevertheless, the category of “liṅga and yoni” has been common within Western scholarship on world religions since at least the British colonial scholarship of the 19th century, and it has had an influence on the manner in which Hinduism has been received in the West, particularly in the popular imagination; the sexual overtones asserted by 19th-century British scholarship were popularized particularly by early occultists and, more recently, New Age traditions. The pairing of the liṅga and the yoni was also pivotal for late-20th-century attempts to recover the significance of divine femininity and sexuality within religions, as pursued within the framework of gender studies, often reinterpreting earlier ideas about phallic religion and sex worship in psychological terms. Parallel to these developments, there has been a steady stream of historical studies on the origins and development of the liṅga, oriented toward the problems posed by specific material and literary data from ancient and medieval periods.

Orientalist Scholarship

Western scholarship during the colonial period, often referred to as “Orientalist scholarship,” had a limited understanding of the textual, material, and documentary evidence for the liṅga and interpreted it primarily in terms of phallic worship, often on the model of ancient Greek religion (especially in relation to the Greek god Priapus). The pairing of liṅga and yoni fascinated British intellectuals of the 19th century, as evidenced in Moor 1810, Knight 1865, and Westropp 1885. Many attempts were made to understand Indian society and culture broadly through this sexualized category and, furthermore, to theorize phallic worship as a universal phenomenon of which the Hindu example was but one instance, perhaps the most ancient. Interestingly, the category of “liṅga and yoni” finds little precedent in 18th-century French scholarship on Hinduism; scholarly works such as d’Hancarville 1785 and Sonnerat 1782, however, shared a concern for phallicism in world history and may have influenced their later British counterparts in this regard. Nonetheless, Victorian sensibilities may have had as much to do with the reification of the category of “liṅga and yoni” as anything derived from the Indian sources. Indeed, the British obsession with this category took damaging and negative heights, especially in Miles 1933, where it is used to make sweeping claims about India’s moral derogation. Cutner 1953 makes similarly unsubstantiated assertions, even as the author follows earlier scholarship in interpreting the liṅga and yoni in the context of sex-worship and the origins of religions. Many of the studies discussed in this section, whether approaching the topic positively or negatively, are shaped by an implicit cultural hegemony and long-standing European biases toward “the East.” These early studies, however, did much to entrench ideas about the liṅga and yoni into both academic and popular discourse, as well as to shape Indian ideas about the biases of Western scholarship. The legacy of such work remains with us to the present day.

  • Cutner, H. A Short History of Sex-Worship. London: Watts, 1953.

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    Examination of world religions through the lens of sex, with a chapter on India. Characteristic of the negative tone is the assertion that “India can be truly called the land of the lingam and the yoni, for very little else is thought about by millions of Hindus” (p. 99). Example of the popular diffusion of ideas common in colonial-era scholarship. Originally published in 1940.

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  • d’Hancarville, Pierre. Supplément aux Recherches sur l’origine, l’esprit et les progrès des arts de la Grèce. London: B. Appleyard, 1785.

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    One of the first major publications that made images of ancient Hindu temple sculpture widely available in Europe. Early attempt to compare Greek, Egyptian, and Indian art. Discusses a myth about the “Lingam de Vanajouren” featuring a ritual with a thousand small clay liṅgas thrown into the Ganges. Discussion of liṅga iconography includes no mention of the yoni.

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  • Knight, Richard Payne. A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, and Its Connection with the Mystic Theology of the Ancients. London: T. Spilsbury, 1865.

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    Early articulation of the view that phallic worship was central to “primitive religion,” written by a prominent British intellectual, who served as trustee of the British Museum and Member of Parliament. Characterizes Hindu worship as “the union of the male and female organs of generation, which, under the title of the Lingam, still occupies the central and most interior recesses of their temples or pagodas.”

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  • Miles, Arthur. The Land of the Liṅgam. London: Hurst & Blackett, 1933.

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    Infamously offensive project from the late colonial period claiming a link between liṅga-worship and syphilis in India (p. 20). The book remains banned in India to the present day, and it has helped to shape Indian writers’ suspicions about Western scholarly interpretations of the liṅga and Śaivism.

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  • Moor, Edward. The Hindu Pantheon. London: T. Bensley, 1810.

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    First serious English-language treatment of Hinduism by a British Indologist living in India. Detailed attempt to compile relevant textual and iconographical evidence, remaining widely consulted for over a century. Early attempt to make sense of the “mysterious” liṅga and yoni, suggesting that the origins of the liṅga are likely “philosophical,” and while “offensive” are not “criminal.”

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  • Sonnerat, Pierre. Voyage aux Indes Orientales et a la Chine. Paris: Froulé, 1782.

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    Early, influential travelogue/ethnography by a French official and naturalist, famously proclaiming India as the root of the world’s religions. Surveys history, languages, religions, and customs of India. One of the earliest Western examinations of the liṅga, with no mention of the yoni. Widely circulated in French and German (in 1783) translation.

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  • Westropp, Hodder M. Primitive Symbolism as Illustrated in Phallic Worship. London: George Redway, 1885.

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    Extensive monograph building on the Anthropological Society of London presentation of 1870. Situates the category of liṅga and yoni within the context of world history and phallic worship. Presents India as part of a living “primitive” tradition shared with the West’s past. Cited recently by Pillai 1994 (see Other Approaches) to assert the hegemony of liṅga-worship from a Śaivasiddhānta perspective.

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Gender Studies and Psychological Approaches

While colonial writers did much to reify the category of liṅga and yoni into a Western scholarly lexicon, it has been further explored in more recent scholarship on gender and psychology—albeit in a more positive manner. The roots of these newer approaches can be seen in some of the early-20th-century psychological writers. Brown 1915, for instance, offers an early example of the integration of earlier colonial scholarship into research on psychology. Hirschfeld 1926–1930 explores gender in Asian religion through this category. What had been viewed as potentially threatening or offensive among British Oriental scholars is fully embraced by scholars of gender studies and psychology: the category is flipped on its head, while often still maintaining the basic construct. While being more nuanced than the work of some of the early writers in these fields, Gross 1978 and Doniger O’Flaherty 1980 interpret the pairing of liṅga and yoni as an expression of the androgynous. Writing from the perspective of Jungian psychology, in particular, Monic 1987 describes the category as an expression of the “union of the masculine and the feminine.” Employing a more sophisticated Jungian framework, Michael 1982 explores references to the liṅga among Virāśaivas. Benveniste 1990 and Richards 2004 present interpretations of the female phallus through the category of liṅga and yoni. Many of the more recent studies, however, have been received in negative terms among contemporary adherents of Hinduism, in part due to the association with the older scholarship that sexualized the liṅga and yoni to depict Hinduism as “primitive.” Finally, Hofstätter 2006 offers a detailed overview and critique of gender and psychoanalytical writings about liṅgas, taking some of these critiques into account.

  • Benveniste, Daniel. “Tantric Art and the Primal Scene.” San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal 9.4 (1990): 39–55.

    DOI: 10.1525/jung.1.1990.9.4.39Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the work of Ajit Mookerjee especially from a psychoanalytic perspective. Argues, among other things, that “the liṅga and yoni represents the fantasy of the female phallus.”

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  • Brown, Sanger. “The Sex Worship and Symbolism of Primitive Races.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 10.5 (1915): 297–314.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0075093Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents the pairing of the liṅga and yoni as a “leading Dogma” among modern Hindus, and employs it to understand the subconscious underpinnings of abnormal psychological conditions.

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  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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    An exploration of Indo-European myths about sex and androgyny, with particular focus on Hindu mythology. Includes myths focusing on independent traditions about liṅgas and yonis, such as Indra’s curse of one thousand yonis.

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  • Gross, Rita M. “Hindu Female Deities as a Resource for the Contemporary Rediscovery of the Goddess.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 46.3 (1978): 269–291.

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    Survey of Hindu myths and iconography through the lens of feminist criticism. Addresses topics such as androgyny, bisexuality, and the divine feminine. Interpretation of liṅga and yoni stresses the importance of the yoni within Vaiṣṇava mythology and as an object of veneration in its own right.

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  • Hirschfeld, Magnus. Geschlechtskunde auf Grund dreißigjähriger Forschung und Erfahrung bearbeitet. 5 vols. Stuttgart: Julius Püttmann, Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1926–1930.

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    In this early work in gender studies in Asian culture, the Jewish-German scholar Hirschfeld attempts an anticolonial critique of culture. He employs liṅga and yoni as a model for “primitive” sexuality and directly compares this to modern sexuality in a positive way. He especially espoused the idea that liṅga-worship predates Śaivism, and thus can be employed, more broadly, as a model of pan-Asiatic sexuality.

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  • Hofstätter, Elisabeth. “Shiva und Narcissus—Eine Studie zum Problem der Übertragung psychoanalytischer Theoriebildungen auf den indischen Kontext am Beispiel der Narzissmus theorie von Sudhir Kakar.” In Die Bibel in ihrer Auslegung. Edited by Gottfried Adam, Ulrich Körtner, and Wilhelm Pratscher, 193–214. Wiener Jahrbuch für Theologie 6. Münster, Germany: LIT, 2006.

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    Gives an overview of psychological and gender studies addressing the liṅga and especially as it is received in the psychoanalytic framework of Sudhir Kakar, with some discussion and critique of Wendy Doniger’s writing as well.

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  • Michael, R. Blake. “‘Lin̄ga’ as Lord Supreme in the Vacana-S of Basava.” Numen 29.2 (1982): 202–219.

    DOI: 10.1163/156852782X00033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A nuanced exploration of the term liṅga especially within the context of sayings (vacana) of the founder of the Liṅgayat or Virāśiva movement. Employing a Jungina lens, the author explores the liṅga as a phallic archetype but specifically attempts to go beyond this interpretation and highlight the depth of the liṅga’s theological meaning of transcendence and as helping the devotee identify his or her physical bodies to the broader cosmos. The Liṅgayats are well known for rejecting temple worship typically associated with Hindu Śaivas.

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  • Monick, Eugene. Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine. Toronto: Inner City, 1987.

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    Employing a Jungian psychological lens, Monick explores and examines phallicism in world religions. Select passages in translation from the purāṇas, for instance, are juxtaposed with Jung’s assertion that the “phallus is the source of life and libido.”

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  • Richards, Stella. “Baba Iaga and the Great Phallic Goddess.” San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal 23.1 (2004): 54–66.

    DOI: 10.1525/jung.1.2004.23.1.54Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Psychological, historical, and paleoanthropological study of phallic worship related to goddesses in premodern cultures. The pairing of liṅga and yoni here provides a structural basis for an impressionistic but interesting analysis of phallic goddesses in a range of religions.

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Historical Approaches

Whether interested in phallic worship and world religions, or in recovering feminine and sexual aspects of the divine in religion, the studies cited under Gender Studies and Psychological Approaches largely presume the category of “liṅga and yoni” as an essential or ahistorical feature of Hinduism. Closer examination of the material and literary evidence, however, reveals a more puzzling picture, in which the yoni is far less prominent than one might expect (e.g., Kramrisch 1981, cited under Mythology). As noted, scholars often point to the placement of the liṅga in its base (pīṭha) as exemplifying the pairing of the two in sexualized terms. Yet the standard base is a late iconographic convention, initially developed perhaps in the late Gupta period, when the liṅga began to take on the abstract form common today (e.g., Banerjea 1935, Banerjea 1956, Mitterwallner 1984). Prior to this time, liṅgas took various forms (e.g., with one or multiple faces) and were set upon altars. Such problems have been the focus of historically oriented studies on the topic in the fields of art history, South Asian studies, and religious studies. Most historical studies of the iconography of the liṅga have focused on its origins and early iconography in the Kuṣāṇa and early Gupta periods; Banerjea (Banerjea 1935, Banerjea 1956) and Mitterwallner 1984, for instance, consider the iconographic shifts from early phallic imagery to the more abstracted, cylindrical prototype common in later periods. Synthetic studies geared toward the historical contexts of its reception and adaptation, and its place within the different streams of Śaiva thought and popular Hinduism, include Mitterwallner 1984, Śrinivasan 1997, Bakker 1997, and Doniger 2009. Considering its evolving role in Śaiva ritual, Fleming 2009 has attempted to present various streams of mythology and explain their rise to prominence in medieval times. Finally, Bonazzoli 1978 and Bonazzoli 1980 give an entirely different perspective, pointing to textual and iconographic sources where the liṅga represents a goddess or even other gods rather than Śiva, and thus suggesting a reconsideration of the liṅga/yoni dichotomy.

  • Bakker, Hans T., ed. Vākāṭakas: An Essay in Hindu Iconology. Gonda Indological Studies 5. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1997.

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    Overview of evidence for an influential dynasty, contemporaneous with the Guptas, which helped to shape Śaivism, Vaiṣṇavism, and Buddhism (e.g., Ajanta caves). Important materials pertaining to liṅgas include a reference to Śiva’s “phallic aspect” eulogized in the Mahābhārata. Also discusses iconographic evidence for non-liṅga-centered cults surrounding Śiva.

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  • Banerjea, Jitendra Nath. “The Phallic Emblem in Ancient and Mediaeval India.” Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art 3 (1935): 36–44.

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    A good introduction to early liṅga iconography and myths, written two decades before his magnum opus (Banerjea 1956) and featuring less monolithic ideas about the liṅga.

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  • Banerjea, Jitendra Nath. The Development of Hindu Iconography. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1956.

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    Detailed guide to Indian art, including liṅgas depicted in coins and sculpture. Argues astutely that liṅga iconography was transformed over time. It began as a graphic phallus but was abstracted and simplified, in part, because the Brahmins presiding over Śaiva iconography were uncomfortable with the phallic imagery. Contains an interesting description of a Bengali liṅga out of which a four-armed goddess emerges (see Bonazzoli 1980).

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  • Bonazzoli, Giorgio. “Devīliṅga: A Note.” Purāṇa 20.1 (1978): 121–129.

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    An initial discussion of Devī and other liṅgas, with both textual and iconographic examples of female and other non-Śiva liṅgas.

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  • Bonazzoli, Giorgio. “A Devī in the Form of a Liṅga.” Purāṇa 22.1 (1980): 220–231.

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    In this follow-up to Bonazzoli 1978, the author further explores both textual and iconographic examples of female liṅgas. Demonstrates that, within certain medieval circles, the liṅga form could represent the goddess and may have been fairly widespread. Also looks at the pervasiveness of liṅgas dedicated to other gods such as Viṣṇu.

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  • Doniger, Wendy. The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin, 2009.

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    General history of Hindu culture with a focus on post-Vedic sources, spanning literary, archaeological, and epigraphical evidence. Discusses the mythology, history, and iconography of liṅgas as well as śākta traditions, some pertaining to the yoni. Despite some inaccuracies, the work is helpful for understanding the liṅga’s importance to Śaivism and Hinduism more broadly.

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  • Fleming, Benjamin. “The Form and Formlessness of Śiva: The Liṅga in Indian Art, Mythology, and Pilgrimage.” Religion Compass 3.3 (2009): 440–458.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00141.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief introduction to the mythology, iconography, theology, and pilgrimage traditions of Śiva, including the question of the debate surrounding the relationship of the liṅga to phallic imagery. Outlines two major streams of myths about liṅgas and their related pilgrimage centers.

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  • Mitterwallner, Gritli von. “Evolution of the Liṅga.” In Discourses on Śiva: Proceedings of a Symposium on the Nature of Religious Imagery. Edited by Michael Meister, 12–31. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

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    Outlines the “evolution” liṅgas from graphic phalli to abstraction in pre-Kuṣāṇa-Gupta times. Argues that “lower pīṭhas of circular or oval shape with a small liṅga in the form of a conical fingertip may have given rise to the late conception of the union of the liṅga and pīṭha (or yoni) as male and female principles under Tantric influence” (p. 26).

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  • Śrinivasan, Doris Meth. Many Heads, Arms and Eyes: Origin, Meaning and Form of Multiplicity in Indian Art. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997.

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    Examines a wide spectrum of Hindu art and literature with excellent photographic documentation. Explores the origins and development of early liṅga iconography in both art and text. Arguing against traditional scholarly views that liṅga-worship arose from non-Vedic groups, Śrinivasan conjectures that it has Vedic roots, albeit apart from any direct evidence.

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Other Approaches

Discussion of the liṅga and yoni has not been limited to academic settings. Colonial-era scholarship on the topic, for instance, immediately fostered interest among occultists and other New Age thinkers; in some cases, influential studies (e.g., Jennings 1889, Avalon 1918, and Daniélou 1991) were by intellectuals who, with a foot in both worlds, did much to spread an understanding of Śiva and liṅgas in the West, through studies as well as translations of primary sources. Discussion of the topic has also flourished at the intersection of devotional and scholarly perspectives on Hinduism, among both Indian and non-Indian adherents. Whereas the occultists’ reverie in the sexual aspects of the liṅga and yoni often obscures, exaggerates, or misrepresents the Hindu sources from which they draw inspiration, some “insider” accounts can be motivated by apologetic aims, seeking to desexualize the liṅga or to dissociate liṅga-worship from Hinduism. While markedly different in their approaches to the sexuality of the liṅga, these perspectives are sometimes remarkably similar in their understanding of liṅga-worship within the history of world religions. Vivekananda 1970–1973 contends that phallus-worship was wholly outside the political boundaries of India, while Pillai 1994 and Tagare 1996 present somewhat anachronistic readings of the premodern evidence for liṅgas, even as they offer wide-ranging and useful surveys of the relevant sources. Jean Louis Gabin writes on the topic as a devotee of a Śaiva saint, Swami Karpatri, arguing against the oversexualization of the liṅga and yoni within the thought of an important 20th-century figure (Gabin, et al. 2009).

  • Avalon, Arthur. Shakti and Shākta: Essays and Addresses on the Shākta Tantrashāstra. London: Luzac, 1918.

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    Written by John George Woodroffe under a pseudonym, this classic early work on śākta traditions inspired the growth and study of tantra in the West. Covers a number of well-known and obscure texts that may be identified with Śaiva ritual traditions and includes some discussion of yantras (diagrams) symbolizing the liṅga and yoni.

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  • Daniélou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India. Rochester, NY: Inner Traditions International, 1991.

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    General overview of Hindu myth and ritual, including a section on liṅgas. Assertions of the category of liṅga and yoni are primarily based on the Liṅgopāsanā-rahasya, a 20th-century Hindi work attributed to Svami Karpatri, of whom the author was a devotee. First published under the title Hindu Polytheism (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964).

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  • Gabin, Jean Louis, ed. The Liṅga and the Great Goddess. Varanasi, India: Indica, 2009.

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    Presentation of two works of Swami Karpatri, a 20th-century Śaiva guru centered in Varanasi, in original Hindi with an English translation. Gabin’s introduction includes an extensive critique of the translations of the Liṅgopāsanā-rahasya in Daniélou 1991, with special concern for contesting the sexualized depiction of the liṅga and yoni.

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  • Jennings, Hargrave. Phallism: A Description of the Worship of Lingam-Yoni in Various Parts of the World, and in Different Ages. London: Hargrave Jennings, 1889.

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    Privately printed occultist work employing the category of “liṅga and yoni” to analyze phallic worship across different cultures, placing it at the origins of religion. Author wrestles with phallicism in Christianity (e.g., the Christian cross), but asserts the supremacy of Christian morality over so-called primitive traditions such as Hinduism, Judaism, and ancient Greek religion.

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  • Pillai, Vidwan G. M. Muthuswamy. “Śiva Liṅga Worship.” Śaiva Siddhanta 28.3–4 (1994): 1–10.

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    Essay discussing Śiva liṅgas from a primarily Śaivasiddhānta perspective, albeit with reference to the 19th-century scholar Hodder Westrop (see Orientalist Scholarship). Of special value for the Tamil sources surveyed and discussed.

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  • Tagare, G. V. Śaivaism: Some Glimpses. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1996.

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    Concise monograph covering a broad range of iconographic and literary sources about Śiva and liṅgas, particularly useful for its treatment of purāṇic materials. Introduces a number of helpful sources for the study of liṅgas but reflects apologetic concerns that result in some anachronistic readings of premodern sources.

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  • Vivekananda, Swami. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 9 vols. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1970–1973.

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    Assemblage of works by the renowned Bengali lawyer and Ramakrishna devotee. Traveled to the West in the late 19th and 20th centuries to lecture on Hinduism. In a talk delivered in 1900, he argues that the phallic aspects of liṅga-worship are tantric Buddhist and found primarily in Nepal and Tibet (see, especially, Volume 4). Available online.

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Art and Iconography

While a number of the synthetic studies noted here draw on material evidence, there is also a rich body of scholarship that focuses more exclusively on the art and iconography of the liṅga. Much attention has been given to its origins, focusing on the experimental phases of the Kuṣāṇa and Gupta periods before standardization and homogenization took hold. Consistent with the patterns of attestation in the primary evidence, however, there is less art-historical focus on the yoni.

General Studies and Overviews

There have been substantial overviews of the art and iconography throughout the 20th century that have helped shape and influence the study of liṅgas. Rao 1914 and Kreisel 1986, for instance, analyze some of the earliest examples of liṅgas, with various attempts at classifying their iconography; these studies map out an early history of the Śaiva religion through detailed examination of the primary sources in stone. Biardeau 1993 asserts connections between Vedic, Kuṣāṇa, and medieval iconography associated with sacrificial posts and liṅgas. The art of later medieval periods is the focus of Filliozat 1998 and Mallmann 1963. Mallmann explores some aspects of Śaiva and liṅga iconography in the Agni Purāṇa, while Filliozat construes a general iconography and meaning of liṅgas from an Āgamic source. Agrawala 2008 has also looked at how the liṅga functions within various iconographic sources. Finally, Brown 1991 examines liṅgas in Southeast Asia.

  • Agrawala, Prithvi Kumar. “Liṅga.” In Kalātattvakośa: A Lexicon of Fundamental Concepts of the Indian Arts. Vol. 6. Edited by S. Chattopadhyay and N. C. Panda, 193–266. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    A detailed examination of the meaning of liṅga within different systems. Gives examples where different kinds of bases such as the vedi or piṇḍika are considered the goddess.

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  • Biardeau, Madeleine. “The Yūpa (Sacrificial Post) in Hinduism.” In Asian Mythologies. Edited by Yves Bonnefoy and translated by David White under the direction of Wendy Doniger, 811–813. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

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    Biardeau argues for iconographic, mythic, and ritual continuities with the Vedic yūpa and the liṅga and yoni. Largely assuming the category, she states, “The classical liṅga is found only in association with its yoni.” She draws attention to the threefold division of the liṅga (Brahmā = base, Viṣṇu = ground, and Śiva = top) as seen in Āgamic sources as well as to purāṇic myths of the Liṅgodbhava (“apparition of the liṅga”).

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  • Brown, Robert L. “Indian Art Transformed: The Earliest Sculptural Styles of Southeast Asia.” In Panels of the Seventh World Sanskrit Conference. Vol. 10, Indian Art and Archaeology. Edited by Ellen M. Raven and Karel R. van Kooij, 40–53. Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1991.

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    Overview of the early development of Hindu art in Southeast Asia, with convincing speculations about the unique styles innovated whole cloth, without any period of experimentation. Includes a section focused on liṅgas, stressing strong ties with kingship.

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  • Filliozat, Pierre-Sylvain. “Rituels sanscrits et temples de Śiva du Sud de l’Inde.” Comptes-rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 142e année 1 (1998): 87–105.

    DOI: 10.3406/crai.1998.15836Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes an examination of the iconography and theological meaning of liṅgas as laid out in the Ajitāgama, a well-known Śaivasiddhānta text. The text favors the term pithikā rather than yoni when describing the base on which the liṅga sits.

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  • Kreisel, Gerd. Die Śiva-Bildwerke der Mathurā-Kunst. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1986.

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    The most extensive survey of early liṅga iconography, covering a broad range of the stone artifacts typically identified as Śaivite. Perhaps the single most helpful photographic collection of the Mathurā corpus of sculptures, which date primarily from the Kushan and Gupta eras.

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  • Mallmann, Marie-Therese de. Les Enseignements Iconographiques de l’Agni-Purāṇa. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1963.

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    Influential examination of Hindu iconography in relation to the imagery of the Agni Purāṇa, which includes sections dedicated to Śiva (especially the form of Sadāśiva), liṅgas, and devī. Mallmann successfully demonstrates the strong Āgamic influence on this purāṇa.

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  • Rao, T. A. G. Elements of Hindu Iconography. Madras: Law Printing House, 1914.

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    Classic work on Hindu art, gathering an array of texts and artifacts. Volume 2, Part 2, deals with the art and iconography of Śiva. Some of the treatments are outdated but remain valuable as a reference. Rao brought the “Guḍimallam liṅga” from Andhra Pradesh to the attention of scholars.

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Case Studies

A number of case studies have highlighted different aspects of specific liṅgas or kinds of liṅgas. Agrawala 1956, Srivastava 1981–1982, Sarma 1994, and Meister 2009, for instance, give case studies on individual liṅgas and consider their iconography within experimental stages of artistic development. Meister also, importantly, draws some iconographic parallels with earlier Buddhist plant motifs. Finally, Bühnemann 2007 also looks at liṅgas within a Buddhist context, this time outside the Indian subcontinent.

  • Agrawala, R. C. “Two Interesting Śaiva Terracottas in the Bikaner Museum.” Artibus Asiae 19.1 (1956): 61–65.

    DOI: 10.2307/3248541Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Short study of late-Kuṣāṇa-era relief sculptures from northwest India (near Raṅgamahal), featuring an interesting eka-mukha (i.e., one-faced) liṅga with attendants. The author interprets a symbol above the head of the figure as a yoni, although this is possibly a simple flower garland, as is common in relief carvings of the period.

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  • Bühnemann, G. “Śivaliṅgas and Caityas in Representations of the Eight Cremation Grounds from Nepal.” In Pramāṇakīriḥ: Papers Dedicated to Ernst Steinkellner on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday. Vol. 1. Edited by Birgit Kellner, et al., 23–35. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2007.

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    Focuses on the unusual combination of liṅga and caitya in representations of cremation grounds in Nepalese paintings. Such representations appear as part of mandalas but also on the pedestals of stone sculptures of fierce deities. The combination of liṅga and caitya is only found in Nepal.

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  • Meister, Michael. “Exploring Kāfirkot: When Is a Rose Apple Not a Rose?” Pakistan Heritage 1 (2009): 109–127.

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    Looks at the development of liṅga iconography in 6th- to 7th-century Pakistan (in Kāfirkot above the west bank of the Indus River). Draws probable connections between the liṅga and the Jambū or Jack fruit plant, common in Buddhist iconography.

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  • Sarma, Inguva Karthikeya. Paraśurāmēśvara Temple at Gudimallam: A Probe into Its Origins. Nagpur, India: Dattsons, 1994.

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    Detailed study of the Guḍimallam liṅga. Extensive photographic record of recent excavations of the sculpture’s base. Dates the work early (3rd century BCE) on the basis of stone quality and iconographic details. Also includes medieval inscriptions/translations from about the 9th century CE, giving us insight into the important reception history of the piece.

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  • Srivastava, A. K. “Śiva-liṅga with Gaṇas, a New Find from Mathura.” Artibus Asiae 43.3 (1981–1982): 236–238.

    DOI: 10.2307/3249838Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief article introducing an early Kuṣāṇa-era stone mukha-liṅga (liṅga with a face) from the Mathura district in North India. Includes four detailed plates. Suggests an early precedent for Śiva’s relationship with his gaṇas (i.e., demonic followers).

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Mythology

Traditions about liṅgas are widespread in the literary record of ancient and medieval Śaiva mythology, as preserved in the Sanskrit epics and purāṇas, as well as in Tamil and other vernacular traditions. Doniger O’Flaherty 1981, Doniger 1993, Deleury 1992, and Davis 2002 offer excellent examples of purāṇic traditions dedicated to the liṅga and its worship, richly illustrating its centrality within the Śaiva cosmos. Sarma 1973 and Shulman 1978 explore the mythology of South India, where liṅga-worship bears unique characteristics and qualities not found in northern traditions. The pairing of liṅga and yoni is also present in Śaiva mythology, but far less extensive—and certainly less dominant than one would expect from its popularity in Western scholarship. The single instance where the pairing is evoked in the purāṇas occurs in the Śiva Purāṇa (4.12.17–53), as cited and discussed by Doniger O’Flaherty 1981, although questioned by Kramrisch 1981. In support of the prominence of the pairing, Doniger O’Flaherty 1981 also cites a passage from the Mahābhārata (13.14.230–3), along with Nīlakaṇṭha’s commentary; apart from the interpretation by this 17th-century commentator, however, it is unclear whether the iconographic pairing can be read back into the Mahābhārata. In short, the most ancient attestation of the category of “liṅga and yoni” is far from concrete, and its prominence in early Śaiva mythology is limited and remains open to debate. One does find evidence of the category, however, in later ritual materials (see Ritual and Philosophy) and in contemporary Hinduism, such as among the oral myths of modern śūdra potting communities of Varanasi discussed by Caughran 1999.

  • Caughran, Neema. “Śiva and Parvati: Public and Private Reflections of Stories in North India.” Journal of American Folklore 112 (1999): 514–526.

    DOI: 10.2307/541487Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An ethnographic study of myths and rites of a śūdra (low-caste) potter community in Varanasi. One such myth compares a lump of clay and the potter’s wheel with the liṅga and yoni, with clear sexual overtones.

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  • Davis, Richard. “Origins of Liṅga Worship.” In Religions of Asia in Practice. Edited by D. Lopez, 150–161. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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    Insightful introduction and translation of classic Śaiva myth about the origins of liṅga-worship. The myth shows Pāśupata influence from the 8th century CE and is part of the Dāruvana (Pine Forest) myth cycle. Viṣṇu figures prominently in this myth from the Kūrma Purāṇa, originally a Vaiṣṇava text.

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  • Deleury, Guy. Les Grands Mythes de l’Inde: Ou l’empreinte de la tortue. Paris: Fayard, 1992.

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    Useful overview of Hindu mythology, especially from the purāṇas. Section on Śiva places liṅga and jyotirliṅgas (liṅgas of light) mythology within the broader context of Hinduism. Includes some contextualization of liṅga and yoni theory, as well as an examination of related 18th- and 19th-century French scholarship.

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  • Doniger, Wendy. “The Scrapbook of Undeserved Salvation: The Kedāra Khaṇḍa of the Skanda Purāṇa.” In Purāṇa Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Text. Edited by Wendy Doniger, 59–81. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

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    Explores the logic of the redaction and composition of the Kedāra Khaṇḍa of the late Skanda Purāṇa tradition. Many of the stories explored focus on the unintentional worship of liṅgas by unlikely devotees of Śiva.

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  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. Śiva the Erotic Ascetic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.

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    Good introduction to the myths of Śiva from epic and purāṇic sources—a number of which pertain to Śiva’s liṅga. First published in 1973 as Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Śiva.

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  • Kramrisch, Stella. The Presence of Śiva. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

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    This rich monograph contains a chapter on the two major myth cycles dedicated to liṅgas: the Dāruvana and Liṅgodbhavamūrti. Drawing from her impressions of primary sources, Kramrisch downplays the yoni as a category, pointing, for instance, to a single, relatively minor source (Śiva Purāṇa, 4.12.17–53).

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  • Sarma, C. R. The Rāmāyaṇa in Telugu and Tamil, a Comparative Study. Madras: Lakshminarayana Granthamala, 1973.

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    Study of the important vernacular retellings of the Rāmāyaṇa, especially those of Raṅganātha and Kaṃpan. Śiva is a more prominent figure in these versions than in the “Vālmīki” version; episodes such as Rāmā’s veneration of Śiva liṅgas, for instance, are treated in some detail.

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  • Shulman, David. “The Serpent and the Sacrifice: An Anthill Myth from Tiruvārūr.” History of Religions 18.2 (1978): 107–137.

    DOI: 10.1086/462810Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An insightful discussion of South Indian liṅga traditions associated with anthills, serpents, and the stock figure of Kāmadhenu, the divine, wish-fulfilling cow. The article explores primarily Tamil literary and popular sources with notes about Sanskrit parallels.

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Pilgrimage and Sacred Geography

Important elements uniting the iconographical and mythological traditions surrounding the liṅga and yoni are practices of pilgrimage and discourses about sacred geography. There are prominent sacred pilgrimage networks associated with liṅgas, such as the twelve jyotirliṅgas (Fleming 2009, Yamaguchi 2008), and sites associated with the yoni form part of a major network associated with śākta traditions, the fifty-one śākta pīṭhas dedicated to the goddess (Patel 1994, Sharma 2001, and Shin 2010). Bisschop 2006 and Fleming 2009 discuss the prehistory and development of pan-regional pilgrimage networks of liṅgas, exploring the interconnection of major sites in relation to the history of Śaivism. Bakker 1996 and Eck 1983 focus on Varanasi, a city sacred to Śiva, whereas Yamaguchi 2008 considers the twelve jyotirliṅgas through a focus on a site near Ellora. Patel 1994, Sharma 2001, and Shin 2010 offer interdisciplinary analyses of pilgrimage places associated with liṅgas and goddesses, including the yoni center in Assam, which forms part of the fifty-one śākta pīṭhas. Shulman 1980 explores the sacred landscape of South India through myths of local temples, many of which house liṅgas.

  • Bakker, Hans T. “Construction and Reconstruction of Sacred Space in Vārāṇasī.” Numen 43.1 (1996): 32–55.

    DOI: 10.1163/1568527962598368Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A detailed and insightful overview of pilgrimage sites dedicated to liṅgas in ancient Varanasi. The author masterfully combines literary, archaeological, and epigraphical data to explore the changing religious and political landscape of the city and the different varieties of Śaivism flourishing there.

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  • Bisschop, Peter. Early Śaivism and the Skandapurāṇa: Sects and Centres. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 2006.

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    A detailed study of sacred pilgrimage networks dedicated primarily to Śaiva liṅgas in the early medieval period. Draws heavily from the early Skanda Purāṇa tradition and includes a critically edited section of the text (chapter 167).

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  • Eck, Diana. Banaras, City of Light. New Delhi: Penguin India, 1983.

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    An accessible introductory study focusing on the sacred Hindu city of Varanasi and Śaivism, with a particular focus on liṅgas such as Viśveśvara and Avimukteśvara. Considers Varanasi’s ancient past, but with primary emphasis on late medieval and modern traditions about Śiva.

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  • Fleming, Benjamin. “Mapping Sacred Geography in Medieval India: The Case of the 12 Jyotirliṅgas.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 13.1 (2009): 51–81.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-009-9069-0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Survey of purāṇic and other sources related to the twelve jyotirliṅgas, a prominent set of liṅgas located throughout the Indian subcontinent. Explores the spread and growth of liṅga-worship, and the importance of sacred geography to the evolving theology of Śaivism in the 12th to 14th centuries.

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  • Patel, Kartikeya C. “Women, Earth, and the Goddess: A Shākta-Hindu Interpretation of Embodied Religion.” Hypatia 9.4 (1994): 69–87.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1527-2001.1994.tb00650.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Asserts the category of śākta pīṭha, or pilgrimage spots related to the goddess, as a theoretical discussion point about the divine-feminine in Hindu mythology. The yoni is discussed as one of the major pilgrimage spots in Assam.

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  • Shin, Jae-Eun. “Yoni, Yoginīs and Mahāvidyās: Feminine Divinities from Early Medieval Kāmarūpa to Medieval Koch Behar.” Studies in History 26.1 (2010): 1–29.

    DOI: 10.1177/025764301002600101Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent study focusing on the interweaving of local, pan-Indian, purāṇic, and tantric traditions related to goddess and yoni worship at Nīlācala in Assam. Addresses the problems of dichotomous contrasts such as local/pan-Indian and purāṇic/tantric.

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  • Sharma, Kamal Prashad. Maṇimahesh Chambā Kailāsh. New Delhi: Indus, 2001.

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    Detailed discussion of North Indian liṅgas and pilgrimage centers. Connections drawn between the eighty-four siddha yogis and specific liṅgas serving as monuments to teachers. Includes mention of the yoni pīṭha, one of the fifty-one śākta pīṭhas, located in Assam.

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  • Shulman, David Dean. Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in South Indian Śaiva Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

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    Explores the rich mythologies of pilgrimage centers in South India by drawing on local māhātmya literature. Includes a number of fascinating examples of South Indian liṅga traditions such as myths about liṅgas and monkey tails.

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  • Yamaguchi, Shinobu. “The Twelve Jyotirliṅga Temples in Modern Hinduism.” Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies/Indo-Gaku Bukkyō-Gaku Kenkyū 57.1 (2008): 268–275.

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    A short introductory article in Japanese, describing the phenomenon of the famous twelve jyotirliṅgas. Focuses primarily on the pilgrimage center of Ghuśmeśvara (alternatively named Ghṛṣneśvara), near Ellora, and its mythology.

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Ritual and Philosophy

Ritual and philosophy are important for understanding the place that liṅgas and liṅga-worship hold within the Śaiva universe. Within the Śaiva traditions, ritual and philosophy are generally treated side by side, and their study is inextricable. The relevant discussions are primarily attested in texts known as Āgamas, but also secondarily in purāṇas and other sources, which explore the complex soteriological systems associated with liṅgas. Research on Āgamas, often pursued under the problematic rubric of “tantra,” is often highly specialized, but its importance for understanding the liṅga and yoni cannot be understated.

Ritual Literature

Ritual literature is particularly rich with respect to liṅgas. However, as noted by Brunner-Lachaux 1998, the place of the yoni within such scholarship has yet to be taken up in much detail. Davis 1991 offers the best survey of Āgamas and related materials; the study is accessible and recommended as an entry point into these materials. Brunner 2007 and Hikita 2005 give insight into the liturgical complexities of Śaiva worship, highlighting important perspectives from both Śaivasiddhānta and Pāśupata traditions. Stern 1934 and Urban 2001 offer illuminating discussions of the ritual connections between kings and liṅgas in Southeast Asia. Biardeau 2004 draws parallels between Vedic sacrificial posts (the yūpa), liṅgas and yonis. Finally, Brunner-Lachaux 1998 directly addresses the issue of the sexualization of the liṅga in medieval sources, though says little about the category of liṅga and yoni overall.

  • Biardeau, Madeleine. 2004. Stories about Posts: Vedic Variations around the Hindu Goddess. Translated by Alf Hiltebeitel, Marie-Louise Reiniche, and James Walker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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    Biardeau explores evidence about the Vedic sacrificial post or yūpa. While secondary to her broader discussion, the author speculates on continuities between the yūpa and the category of liṅga and yoni: for instance, she compares it to the post’s ringed top (caṣāla). Additional continuities are made through examination of myths drawn from late tantric-influenced texts such as the Devī-Bhāgavata Purāṇa, as well as Āgamic sources. Originally published in 1989 as Histoire de poteaux: Variations védiques autour de la déesse hindoue (Paris: École Française d’Extrême Orient).

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  • Brunner, Hélène. “Maṇḍala and Yantra in the Siddhānta School of Śaivism: Definitions, Description and Ritual Use.” Translated by Raynal Prévèreau. In Maṇḍalas and Yantras in the Hindu Traditions. Edited by Gudrun Bühnemann, 153–178. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2007.

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    Detailed discussion of Āgamic ritual traditions from the Śaiva Siddhānta school. Notes a variety of rituals, some of which center on liṅgas while others do not. Points to the complex, synchronic history of Śaiva ritual practice.

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  • Brunner-Lachaux, Hélène. “The Sexual Aspects of the Liṅga.” In Studies in Hinduism II. Edited by G. Oberhammer, 87–103. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1998.

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    Asserts the sexual nature of liṅgas based on late Āgamas (Śaivasiddhānta). A rare study tackling the important task of collecting relevant primary sources. Recognizes the yoni as a separate category, apart from the liṅga, and notes that pīṭha is the primary term employed by the sources for the base.

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  • Davis, Richard. Ritual in an Oscillating Universe: Worshiping Śiva in Medieval India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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    An accessible and learned overview of ritual sources related to the installation of liṅgas and the initiation (dīkṣā) of Śaiva practitioners.

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  • Hikita, Hiromichi. “Liṅga Worship as Prescribed by the Śivapurāṇa.” In From Material to Deity: Indian Rituals of Consecration. Edited by Shingo Einoo and Jun Takashima, 241–282. Delhi: Manohar, 2005.

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    An overview of liṅga-worship as presented in the purāṇas, and especially as portrayed by the Śiva Purāṇa. Includes a very detailed discussion of the ritual processes involving the installation of liṅgas.

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  • Stern, Philippe. “Le temple-montagne khmèr, le culte du linga et le Devarâja.” Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 34 (1934): 611–616.

    DOI: 10.3406/befeo.1934.4983Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Intriguing discussion of the relationship between mountains, temples, liṅgas, and the cult of divine kingship (devarāja) beginning in the 8th and 9th centuries in Khmer. An important article for understanding the extent to which Śaiva and liṅga rituals were entrenched within the political fabric of premodern Southeast Asia.

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  • Urban, Hugh B. “The Path of Power: Impurity, Kingship, and Sacrifice in Assamese Tantra.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69.4 (2001): 777–816.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/69.4.777Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sociopolitical analysis examining the relationship of local indigenous and pan-Indic Sanskrit traditions in tantric ritual in Assam. Social structures are examined through the lens of Foucault and Bataille. Includes an important Kāmākhyā temple, which houses a representation of a yoni.

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Philosophy and Soteriological Systems

As noted by Dasgupta 1991, it is often difficult to separate philosophy and its concern for systems of soteriology and liberation from the Śaiva ritual material that shares many of the same goals. As richly demonstrated by Sanderson (Sanderson 2006, Sanderson 2009), the connections between the rituals and the philosophy of the different Śaiva schools are complex and synthetic. An understanding of these traditions helps to place the worship of the liṅga into its broader theological and philosophical perspectives.

  • Dasgupta, Surendranath. A History of Indian Philosophy. Vol. 5, Southern Schools of Śaivism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991.

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    An excellent and detailed, if somewhat dated, discussion of the philosophy of various Śaiva schools, including Śaivasiddhānta and Pāśupata Śaivism. Includes an interesting analysis of the term liṅga as indicating ashes smeared on the body of the Pāśupata ascetic, rather than having anything to do with phallicism. Originally published in 1922.

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “The Lākulas: New Evidence of a System Intermediate between Pañcārthika Pāśupatism and Āgamic Śaivism; Ramalinga Reddy Memorial Lectures, 1997.” Indian Philosophical Annual 24 (2006): 143–217.

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    A rich overview of previously unavailable ritual and doctrinal materials for the study of medieval Śaiva traditions. Offers some interesting views on the kinds of liturgical objects employed by Śaiva ritualists, the liṅga being the best-known (but not the only) form.

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “The Śaiva Age.” In Genesis and Development of Tantrism. Edited by Shingo Einoo, 41–348. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, 2009.

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    Extensive examination of especially śākta traditions within Śaivism. Includes a “Yoni triangle” derived from early Śaiva and Buddhist sources and recontextualized within the context of Bengali śākta traditions.

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Epigraphical Evidence

Epigraphical evidence is important for understanding the history of most branches of Indian history, including the history of the liṅga. The following is a selection of some of the inscriptional sources that give insight into the history of liṅga-worship in South and Southeast Asia. Mirashi 1977 and Chakravarti 1939 highlight the significance of major pan-Indic pilgrimage centers in the 11th century CE. Regmi 1983 and Bhandarkar 1931 examine liṅgas as memorial objects to the deceased. Boechari 1959 and especially Coedès 1937–1966 collect some of the wealth of inscriptional sources from Southeast Asia, demonstrating the importance of this region of Asia to the general study of liṅgas and their history.

  • Bhandarkar, D. R. “Mathura Pillar Inscription of Chandragupta II.” Epigraphia Indica 21.1 (1931): 1–9.

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    Epigraphical study of liṅgas described as the “dwelling place of the teachers.”

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  • Boechari, M. “An Inscribed Liṅga from Rambianak.” Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 49.2 (1959): 405–408.

    DOI: 10.3406/befeo.1959.1491Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief epigraphical study of an inscribed liṅga from Indonesia, dated around the 9th century CE. Under discussion is a set of liṅgas thought to have served as boundary markers.

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  • Chakravarti, N. P. “A Note on the Halayudha Stotra in the Amareśvara Temple.” Epigraphia Indica 25.4 (1939): 173–185.

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    An 11th-century pan-Indic list of five liṅgas that may have links to the development of the twelve-jyotirliṅgas tradition.

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  • Coedès, George, ed. Inscriptions du Cambodge. 8 vols. Paris: EFEO, 1937–1966.

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    Contains a wealth of inscriptions in Sanskrit and other language from about the 5th to 13th centuries CE, together with a French translation. Numerous inscriptions describe Śaiva rituals and liṅgas. One, for instance, suggests that the “light of Śiva” takes the form of a liṅga.

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  • Mirashi, V., ed. Inscriptions of the Śilāhāras. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum 6. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1977.

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    Includes an 11th-century copperplate inscription attributed to a Śilāhāra king named Nāgārjuna. The plate references grants for the promotion of Śiva worship, including the donation of twelve kīrttanas to Śiva. Mirashi interprets these as the twelve jyotirliṅgas of Śiva.

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  • Regmi, D. R. Inscriptions of Ancient Nepal. Vol. 1. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1983.

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    Includes descriptions of two Nepalese liṅga inscriptions from the 4th to 5th centuries CE: one dedicated to king Naravarmmā, another to his wife Kṣemasundarī, both in Lazimpat. A third inscription possibly related to a memorial liṅga is mentioned. Offers a general discussion of liṅga iconography in Sanskrit sources.

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Primary Sources and Translations

Editions and translations of primary sources offer an ideal entry point into the materials and themes discussed in this entry, allowing the reader to get a sense of how the various theories noted here relate to the themes as discussed in the primary source materials. Doniger O’Flaherty 1975 is an accessible collection, widely used in undergraduate teaching. The most concerted effort to bring the popular purāṇic materials into translation has been undertaken by the Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology series published by Motilal Banarsidass. It initially began with the Śiva Purāṇa (Shastri and Kunst 1969–1973), includes the Liṅga Purāṇa (Shastri, et al. 1973), and also offers a nearly complete translation of the massive Skanda Purāṇa (Tagare 1992–2003). While the translations are not always accurate and bear traces of interpolation, they are an excellent starting place for the uninitiated: keep in mind, however, that consultation with printed Sanskrit texts and manuscripts will render a more accurate understanding of these rich premodern sources of Śaiva and liṅga mythology. More recently, Bakker and Isaacson 2004 offers a new edition and synopsis of an early form of the Skanda Purāṇa; the second volume, in particular, offers a wealth of information about the early mythology of liṅgas situated in the ancient city of Varanasi. Fewer so-called tantric materials have appeared in accessible translations. Ritual materials relevant to the study of the liṅga and the yoni include Brunner-Lachaux 1985 and Acharya 2007. Magee 1995 offers an inspired translation of one of the few primary sources dedicated to the yoni. Finally, Anekaprakarṇe is a collection of daily rites, recitations, and prayers that includes mantras and mudrās for the liṅga and yoni. An examination of such instances will help to clarify the pervasiveness of the category within the broader framework of popular practice and the influence of late tantric therein.

  • Acharya, Diwakar. “The Saṃskāravidhi: A Manual on the Transformatory Rite of the Lakulīśa-Pāśupatas.” In Mélanges tantriques à la mémoire d’Hélène Brunner. Edited by Dominic Goodal and André Padoux, 27–48. Pondicherry, India: Institut français de Pondichéry, 2007.

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    Sanskrit edition and annotated English translation of the Saṃskāravidhi, potentially important to the early ritual and doctrinal history of Pāśupata Śaivism. Based on Nepalese palm-leaf manuscripts. Includes a brief introduction to the work, copious textual parallels, and extensive notes. Suggests that the liṅga is part of this early ritual tradition.

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  • Anekaprakarṇe. Ms. Coll. 390, Item 2514. Penn in Hand: Selected Manuscripts.

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    A collection of sixteen short texts, each part of a daily retinue of rites and prayers. The last in this series, called the Navārṇavā, is a popular collection of praises and mantras for domestic use that the devotee recites for the attainment of powers, restitution, and propitiation. This includes mantras and mudrās to the yoni and liṅga and is drawn from a larger, unnamed tantric source.

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  • Bakker, Hans T., and Harunaga Isaacson, ed. The Skandapurāṇa. Vol. 2A, Adhyāyas 26–31.4: The Vārāṇasī Cycle: Critical Edition with an Introduction, English Synopsis and Philological and Historical Commentary. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 2004.

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    Detailed English synopsis of a portion of the early Skanda Purāṇa focusing on the sacred center of Varanasi, with Sanskrit text and notes. Includes myths about the appearance or establishment of various liṅgas around the city, many falling from the Cow Heaven. Special focus on the liṅga Avimukta.

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  • Brunner-Lachaux, Hélène, trans. Mṛgendrāgama: Section des rites et section du comportement, avec la vṛtti de Bhaṭṭanārāyaṇakaṇṭha. Pondicherry, India: Institut Français d’Indologie, 1985.

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    Excellent French translation and Sanskrit edition of a classic Śaivasiddhānta work, along with copious notes and introduction. A number of rituals describe the installation and establishment of the liṅga and other supports for the god Śiva.

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  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit. London: Penguin, 1975.

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    Popular and useful sourcebook of translated excerpts from key works of Hindu mythology, covering major mythic themes related to the liṅga, including those of the Liṅgodbhavamūrti (form arising from the liṅga) and the Dāruvana (Pine Forest). Widely used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • Magee, Michael, trans. The Yoni Tantra. Harrow, UK: Worldwide Tantra Series, 1995.

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    English translation of a 17th-century ritual text dealing with the veneration of the goddess. The text is of an explicitly sexual nature with reference to the liṅga and yoni throughout. An impressionistic translation, albeit giving the general flavor of the text.

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  • Shastri, J. L., et al. The Liṅga Purāṇa. Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology 5–6. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1973.

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    Translation of an important, understudied purāṇa containing a wealth of mythology dedicated to Śiva and to liṅgas, demonstrating their importance to Śaiva ritual and worship. This printed edition is likely a late redaction, yet contains elements of early traditions and bears traces of its long process of historical redaction.

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  • Shastri, J. L., Arnold Kunst, eds. The Śiva Purāṇa. Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology 1–4. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1969–1973.

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    Translation contains myths related to liṅgas and speaks about Śiva avatāras. The only purāṇic passage about liṅga-worship noted by scholars to suggest liṅga-yoni as a unit (Doniger O’Flarherty 1981 and Kramrisch 1981, both cited under Mythology), translated in Shastri and Kunst: “If my penis [liṅga] is supported in a vaginal passage [yoni] there will be happiness. Except Pārvatī, no other woman can hold my penis. Held by her my penis will immediately become quiet” (4.12.45–6).

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  • Tagare, G. V., ed. and trans. The Skanda Purāṇa. Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology 49–66. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992–2003.

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    A useful translation of the late Skanda Purāṇa, which contains a wealth of myths about liṅgas, their origins, and their importance. Based on printed editions of the Sanskrit text, this is the only available translation of this text. While generally accurate, the translator adds some unnecessary interpolations.

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LAST MODIFIED: 06/26/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195399318-0115

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