Shiva as Linga and Lingin & a sculpture in TN

The sculpture showing Shiva with a linga emerging behind him. Shiva is shown with four arms and is seated in maharajalilasana-mudra.

Published: 09th September 2021 12:07 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th September 2021 12:07 AM   |  A+A-

Shiva Lingin from Moovar Koil, Kodumbalur.

Shiva Lingin from Moovar Koil, Kodumbalur.

Kodumbalur, a village in Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu, is famous for Moovar Koil, a magnificent temple complex of the Irukkuvel period of the ninth century CE. The antiquity of the village goes back to the Tamil epic period of Silappatikaram where it is mentioned as Kodumbai, situated by the bund of a large tank on the way from Uraiyur (now a neighbourhood in Tiruchirappalli) to Madura (modern Madurai). Moovar Koil, meaning “three temples” in Tamil, is aptly named; while the temple complex originally consisted of three temples, only two have survived. Moovar Koil represents the glorious art tradition and sculptural style of the Irukkuvel period of ninth-tenth century CE.

The construction of the temple complex was sponsored by the Irukkuvel king Bhuti Vikramakesari, who consecrated the gods on behalf of himself and his two queens, Karrali and Varaguna. All three temples are dedicated to Shiva and present a varied and diverse iconography. Among the myriad images adorning the temple walls, Shiva is found as Bhikshatana, Ardhanarishvara, Dakshinamurti, Gangadhara, Vinadhara, Harihara, Kalari, Natesha, Tripurankata, Gajasmaharamurti, etc.

There is a very interesting sculpture showing Shiva with a linga emerging behind him. Shiva is shown with four arms and is seated in maharajalilasana-mudra. He holds a deer in his upper left hand while his upper right hand is placed over the top of a linga, the latter shown emerging behind his shoulder. His lower left hand is placed over his knees and his lower right hand is placed over Nandi; the latter is represented in his zoomorphic form sitting next to Shiva. Similar sculptures, though not very large in number, are also found in Aihole, Pattadakal, Ellora, Kanchipuram and a few other places.

What is the significance of the linga being shown with Shiva in this sculpture? Scholars have interpreted this icon as Lingadhara or Lingin. In Shiva-Purana, Lord Krishna asks Upamanyu what a linga is and how Shiva is a Lingin. And Upamanyu replies that the unmanifest is the linga and Shiva is Lingin since he commands the linga. In the linga lies the universe wherein it merges and dissolves. It has no beginning or end. Linga is the body of Shiva and it can do nothing itself without being commanded by Shiva. Linga-Purana explains Shiva as Lingin on similar lines stating he is the supreme and is characterised by linga. As Shiva is avyakta (unmanifest) and characterised thus, he is Lingin. The relationship between linga and lingin is also discussed in various philosophical texts (or mimamsas) in the context of anumana (inferences). Like the presence of smoke indicates fire, similarly, linga is a symbol or sign that indicates the presence of Shiva. In this manner, a linga acts as a container to contain Lingin (Shiva).

A reference to linga-lingini is also found in the famous Pallava inscription of King Mahendravarman I (580-630 CE) from the Tiruchirappalli Rockfort upper cave-temple. The relevant lines in the inscription are:

“Gunabhara naamani rajanyena lingena lingini jnanam
prathatam chiraya loke vipaksavritteh paravrittam”

Scholars have variously interpreted these lines and the attached conundrum. The intention here is not to discuss the inscription and its intricacies in detail, but to suggest that these lines may also be interpreted to mean that king Gunabhara was well versed in Shaivite texts and philosophy, allowing him to attain the knowledge of linga and lingin, which otherwise was not attainable commonly. And this knowledge let him turn back from hostile conduct and let it be known to the world.  

Shiva shown holding a linga over his shoulders in the Moovar Koil sculpture is also taken by scholars as a representation of the practice of carrying ishta-lingas or movable lingas in the Lingayat, Veerashaiva and Aradhya-Brahmin communities. In Veerashaiva literature, a jangama (moving linga) is considered superior to a stationary linga. While the earliest icon of Shiva carrying a linga goes back to the Kushan period, the Veerashaiva and Lingayat movements are placed much later in time. Also, both these sects did not have much influence in the Tamil Nadu region where our sculpture is located. This icon also has been associated with the Bharashiva kings, who as per inscriptions, carried a linga over their bodies (lingodvahana). However, here Shiva is not shown carrying the linga over his body with upraised arms; so, association of the icon with the Bharashiva dynasty may be contestable. 

In my opinion, this sculpture reaffirms Shiva’s association with linga. Shiva has been worshipped in linga (form) since the ancient period, and linga has been also associated with primitive phallus worship. This icon probably vindicates the disassociation of linga with that worship. It propagates a message that linga is as adorable to Shiva as for any devotee adoring a linga. It confirms that the linga and Shiva (Lingin) are inseparable, the former indicates the latter, and the latter is invoked within the former. While linga represents the nishkala (formless) aspect of Shiva, his bodily image represents his sakala (form) aspect. In this sculpture we find a conjoined view showing both the forms, nishkala and sakala or Linga and Lingin.

Saurabh Saxena, Founder of Puratattva, a documentation of heritage sites (


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