Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shivalinga and Phallus

"In the context of puja, does Shivalinga denote or connote anything other than Shiva, in particular "phallus"? Does ShivaLinga ‘mean’ phallus? No, of course not. (‘Linga’ might, but not ‘Shivalinga’. But I will come to this.) Does the word mean ‘the phallus of Shiva’? Yes it does. In what way, precisely? The only way of answering this question is to circumscribe the reference first. Let us assume the existence of an entity ‘named’ Shiva. Let us assume too that he has a phallus. Then Shiva Linga names the phallus of Shiva. However, if it refers to such a *unique* entity as ‘the’ phallus of Shiva there can be only one such. (Shiva does not have infinite number of phalluses; and Shiva is an entity different from Durga, Ganesha and, say, a mortal called Balu.) So, do we do puja to this *unique* entity? That cannot be the case: there are finitely many shiva lingas in India and outside. So, what we do puja to is not a *unique* entity which is ‘the’ phallus of Shiva but a ‘form’ (or ‘representation’) of this unique entity.

What kind of a ‘form’ is this? It cannot connote or denote the ‘material’ of which ‘the’ phallus is made of. Whatever be the material out of which ‘the’ phallus of Shiva is constructed, it cannot be simultaneously constructed out of stone, aluminium, marble and so on. So, it will have to be the ‘shape’ of ‘the’ phallus of Shiva. Therefore, if something is to be a ‘Shiva linga’ at all, it *must* have a shape of ‘the’ phallus of Shiva and that shape must be invariant across Shiva lingas.

The very same devotees of Shiva, however, do puja to ‘Jyothirlinga’ and ‘Aatmalinga’ too. They are Shiva Lingas as well. Either one denies, pace the above argument, that these two are Shiva Lingas at all, or one has to say that these Lingas have the same ‘shape’ as ‘the’ phallus of Shiva. Neither of these two possibilities is true. The first is empirically false (both synchronically and diachronically); the second is to literally ‘see’ phallus where there is none, in ‘light’.

The only possible conclusion: Shivalinga cannot possibly refer to the ‘shape’ of ‘the’ phallus of Shiva. It is a *form*, which has little to do with the ‘shape’ of Shiva’s Penis. (Of course, no one has seen the ‘shape’ of that particular penis except S B!) Thus, for the lack of an alternative (at this stage of the discussion), we have to settle for the following: ShivaLingam is the ‘form’ in which we do Puja to Shiva. Apparently, this mind-numbing (linguistic and philosophical) tour merely tells us what our grandmothers told us in all their simplicity: we do puja to Shiva in the form of Linga.

Of course, one can go further in such a discussion along any number of other lines. It is not my intent and, I presume, neither yours to do so. Hopefully, this goes some way to clarifying the question you raised. The issues and the disputes are not so arbitrary any more than they are merely questions of alternate readings or etymological fights. Other substantial issues are involved and it is not an ‘undecidable’! "

Hindu lamers sell a different story, along with modern scholars, who smuggle in Christian experience of Indian traditions as 'facts'.

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