Shiva linga at the centre of the universe by Anantashakti (digitally enhanced by MC)

In Hinduism a linga or lingam is a stone pillar or a carving which most observers say has a phallic shape.

Some parochial scholars and Freudians associate this essentially Shaivite image with mere sexuality.

The British missionary William Ward criticized the linga as a sign of a supposedly debauched Hindu religion.¹ For many Hindus, this colonial critique probably would be taken as Ward projecting his own repressed fears and desires onto Hindus and Hinduism as a whole.

Indeed, in Hindu metaphysical thought the linga is said to represent the generative aspect of creation, while the yoni represents the mysteries of the cosmos and, especially, those of cosmic origins.

My only critique of the Hindu spiritualization of the phallus would be more along the lines of its potential for sex-role stereotyping, which appears whenever Hindu culture implies that men are more this and women are more that, which to my mind is bogus.

The Indologist Wendy Doniger notes that Islamic armies destroyed countless representations of the linga in their 11th-century invasion of the Indian subcontinent. These iconoclast Muslims saw the lingam as idolatrous representations of the penis. Wikipedia relates that

They took pride in destroying as many lingams and Shiva temples as they could, reusing them to build steps for mosques, in a region stretching from Somanath (Gujarat) to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) to Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu).²

A Buddhist Stupa (above) may have influenced the later iconography of the Hindu Shiva-linga, according to Swami Vivekananda (Wikipedia)

Sound familiar?

Overzealous protestants – especially followers of John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli – did the same thing to Catholic icons during the 16th-century Reformation.

A sad fact resulting in the destruction of countless objects of religious art.



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