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Shiva Lingam: Why Lord Shiva is Seen as a Sign of Fertility

The Shiva Lingam, a symbol of Lord Shiva, stands as one of the most enigmatic and profound icons in Hindu spirituality. Revered for millennia, this sacred emblem is not only a representation of divinity but also a potent symbol of fertility. Understanding why Lord Shiva, the destroyer and regenerator, is seen as a sign of fertility requires delving into the mythological, philosophical, and cultural dimensions of Hindu tradition.

Shivling: The union of Lingam-Yoni

As per Hinduism, the lingam (phallus) and the yoni (vulva) is the most widely used fertility symbol. The ‘yoni’ stands for the female genital organ and represents the creative power of Goddess Shakti. Lingam is the phallus of Shiva, which represents the male power of procreation. 

A Shivling usually depicts a ‘lingam’ standing over the ‘yoni’. This union of Lingam and Yoni symbolizes the critical union of male and female. This Shivling is believed to be the source of everything that represents new life. It also symbolizes the unity of the opposite and the oneness of male and female.

According to the Hindu legends, When Lord Shiva’s consort Sati Devi died, he carried her body across the universe. Her various organs fell on different parts of the earth. The places where her organs fell became ‘Shakti Peeths’. There are 51 Shakti peeth across the country, where her different organs fell

Her vulva fell in Assam, India. That’s where the famous Kamakhya temple is located. As per the belief, every year in the month of June, Goddess Kamakhya goes through her annual menstruate. During this time, the water of Brahmaputra near the temple becomes red. The temple is closed for darshan for three days. The ‘yoni’ inside the sanctum is covered with cloth. The temple is opened on the fourth day when the cloth is found to be soaked. This fluid soaked cloth is distributed to the devotees.

The Symbolism of the Shiva Lingam

The term “lingam” derives from the Sanskrit word for “mark” or “sign.” In the context of Lord Shiva, it signifies the formless and infinite nature of Shiva, transcending all physical forms. The Shiva Lingam typically appears as a smooth, cylindrical stone, often placed within a yoni—a circular base representing the feminine principle, Shakti. This conjunction of lingam and yoni epitomizes the union of the masculine and feminine energies, symbolizing creation and fertility.

Mythological Origins

Several myths highlight the connection between the Shiva Lingam and fertility. One prominent story involves the gods seeking Lord Shiva’s intervention to save the world from chaos. In response, Shiva manifested as an infinite pillar of light, demonstrating his boundless power and presence. This pillar, later represented as the Shiva Lingam, symbolizes the cosmic axis around which the universe revolves. As a result, the lingam embodies the source of all creation, a fertile ground from which all life emerges.

History of treating gods as a sign of fertility

In the times of Aryans, the Brahmins were believed to have the power to invoke a primal abstract force by performing a ritual, which was called ‘yagna’. During these yagnas sacred hymns were chanted and offerings were made to the fire god into a fire altar. This was often done for the purposes of getting off-spring and power. In Hindu texts, there are several examples of Putrakameshti Yagna, performed with a desire to have a son. This yagna was performed to pray to God for blessing them with children. During these days, there were no permanent shrines. Over a period of time, due to the intermingling of cultures, there was a shift to worshipping the idols and thus huge temples were created.

History of treating gods as a sign of fertility

The Story of Treating Shiva as a Sign of Fertility

The story of treating Shiva as a sign of fertility is rich with mythology, symbolism, and cultural practices that have evolved over thousands of years. This narrative weaves together the threads of ancient beliefs, divine myths, and the profound connection between the natural and spiritual worlds.

The Beginning: Shiva’s Ancient Roots

The Beginning: Shiva's Ancient Roots

The first evidence of Shiva as a sign of fertility comes from the pre-Vedic era. During the digging at the sites of the Indus Valley civilization, a seal was obtained. The seal shows a naked man sitting in Bhadrasana (yogic throne position). The man is shown with an erect penis, wearing horned headgear, and surrounded by several animals. However, since we have not been able to decipher that script, so we can only guess what the image on the seal represents. But most experts believe it to be an early form of Lord Shiva. The reason behind their claim is that this particular image captures at least three attributes of Shiva: Shiva as Pashupati, lord of animals; as Yogeshwara, lord of yoga; and as Lingeshwara, lord of the phallus (erect male sexual organ).

Vedic Times: Rudra’s Dual Nature

As the Vedic civilization (circa 1500–500 BCE) emerged, Shiva appeared in the hymns as Rudra, a fierce and formidable god. Although primarily a god of storms and destruction, Rudra also possessed a healing aspect. The Vedic texts often implored Rudra for blessings of health, offspring, and agricultural prosperity. This duality of destruction and renewal in Rudra laid the foundation for Shiva’s later association with fertility.

The Union of Shiva and Parvati

The post-Vedic period and the Puranic texts (circa 300–1500 CE) brought about a more detailed and complex depiction of Shiva. One of the most significant myths from this era is the story of Shiva and Parvati. Parvati, the daughter of the mountain king Himavan, was deeply in love with Shiva. Through intense penance and devotion, she won Shiva’s heart and married him.

Their union was symbolic of the balance between asceticism and fertility, the masculine and feminine principles. Parvati represented the earth’s fertility and nurturing aspects, while Shiva embodied the ascetic and transformative powers. Their marriage symbolized the harmony of these forces, essential for creation and life.

The Birth of Kartikeya

From the union of Shiva and Parvati came Kartikeya (also known as Skanda or Murugan), who is revered as the god of war and fertility. His birth story underscores Shiva’s role in procreation and fertility. According to legend, the gods needed a powerful warrior to defeat the demon Tarakasura. Shiva and Parvati’s son, Kartikeya, was born with extraordinary powers and fulfilled this divine purpose. His worship is especially popular in South India, where he is seen as a patron of fertility and youth.

The Shiva Lingam and Yoni

The Shiva Lingam, a symbol of Shiva’s generative power, became a focal point of worship. The lingam, a smooth, cylindrical stone, often rests within a yoni, representing the feminine principle. This conjunction signifies the union of Shiva and Shakti (Parvati), the male and female cosmic energies. The lingam and yoni together epitomize the creative and regenerative powers of the universe.

The worship of the Shiva Lingam involves various rituals, such as the Abhishekam, where the lingam is bathed with milk, water, honey, and other substances. These offerings symbolize the nurturing and sustaining aspects of nature, further reinforcing Shiva’s connection to fertility and life.

Tantric Traditions

Tantric traditions, which flourished around the 5th century CE, deepened the symbolism of Shiva and his connection to fertility. Tantra emphasized the unity of Shiva (the static, masculine principle) and Shakti (the dynamic, feminine principle). The rituals and teachings of Tantra often involved the worship of the Shiva Lingam and Yoni, focusing on the sacred union of these energies to achieve spiritual and material fulfillment, including fertility.

Medieval Bhakti Movement

The Bhakti movement, which gained momentum between the 7th and 17th centuries, emphasized personal devotion to deities, including Shiva. Bhakti saints and poets composed numerous hymns celebrating Shiva’s attributes, including his role as a fertility god. They portrayed Shiva as a compassionate deity who grants devotees health, prosperity, and progeny.

Shiva as a Sign of Fertility

The Shivling

In Indian society, where the topic of sex is taboo, fingers have been pointed at the phallic representation of Lord Shiva as the Shivling. But the fact remains that giving is actually a symbol of fertility. To make a sense of this abstract mythological image, one needs to connect the dots by combining the stories, rituals and the symbol. These three things – i.e. the stories, the symbols, and the rituals, especially the ones deemed sacred, put together, construct for a people a way of making sense of the world.

The power of Procreation

All religions realize and respect the power of procreation of fertility. It is due to this power of procreation that life exists and is carried on. In all religions, this power of procreation or fertility is represented with some kind of symbols, rituals, or prayers. Sometimes these symbols of fertility included things that can be animated or not animated. They could even be diagrams or hand gestures. Though they vary from culture to culture and faith to faith, the common thing is that they are called fertility symbols. It is the process of procreation that powers life. This power of procreation is celebrated through fertility rituals in almost all religions. During these rituals, the power of procreation is honoured by worshipping gods of fertility, which are ingrained in the daily life of Hindus.

Lord Shiva – Hindu Fertility God

Hindus greatly honour the power of procreation. This is one reason, why the Hindu texts mention several fertility gods. 

Lord Shiva is mainly associated with death and destruction. He is believed to be an ascetic and meditates in the Himalayas. Among his many forms, one of the most common form, which symbolizes Lord Shiva in his phallic form, popularly called Lingam.

Goddess Parvati is believed to be his principal consort, but interestingly Shiva is also shown as also a consort to many Hindu Goddesses commonly referred to as Shakti. The phallus of Lord Shiva is shown merged with the vulva of Shakti. The combined power of Shiva’s phallus and Shakti’s vulva is what is called Shivling.

The Shivling is believed to be the most powerful fertility symbol in Hinduism. This is the sacred union of Shiva and Parvati or better still union of Shiva and Shakti.

Shiva is also shown wearing the river Ganga in his matted locks and the moon on his head. He wears garlands of serpents called Naaga. Ganges, moon and serpents are all symbols of fertility and associated with fertility rituals in Hinduism.

Other forms of Shiva as symbols of fertility

Bhairava

According to the Hindu tests, one more form of Shiva is the Bhairava. There are in all 8 principal Bhairavas. One of these Bhairavas, Unmatta Bhairava is associated with fertility. He is worshipped as the god of fertility by the Hindus.

Unmatta Bhairava is shown in naked form, wearing a garland of skulls and displaying his erect organ. The devotees, most of which are women and young girls place their forehead on the genital as a part of their worshipping. It is believed, by doing so, women will be blessed with the power of fertility. They will get a good husband and will be able to bear children and girls will find husbands. The temple of Unmatta Bhairava is one of the most sanctified religious sites in the city of Kathmandu, Nepal.

Kaali

 Lord Shiva is believed to be the consort to most of the Hindu Goddesses. When Shiva is shown in a calm manner, his consort is Parvati. But when Shiva assumes a ferocious form, his consort is goddess Kaali.

As per Hindu texts, the goddess Kali is depicted as a terrible goddess standing upon Shiva. According to the tantric interpretation, Kali stands upon Shiva not to symbolize the erotic sentiments. The images and idols of Kali standing upon Shiva is a symbol of procreation.

Serpents

 Serpents or Naags are believed to be one of the most powerful fertility symbols. That is why many Hindu gods are seen wearing a garland of snakes, sitting on the pedestal of Naga, or are protected by the hood of a many-headed snake.

Moon

The different phases of the moon over a month can be correlated with the fertile stages of a woman. Hence, the moon is shown as a feminine symbol of procreation. The moon god symbolizes beauty and fertility. According to Hindu mythology, Moon good bedded his guru’s wife and also helped Indra, the king of gods to corrupt Ahalya, wife of the great saint, Maharishi Gautam.

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