Indian art in close-up detail, £14.99
Length: 59.000 cm
Height: 35.000 cm
Asia OA 1872.7-1.119
Room 33: Asia
Linga and yoni
From eastern India, 18th century AD
The divine union of male and female
At the heart of every Shiva temple in India is the most powerful and important image of the deity. This is most often the linga, a smooth cylindrical shaft of stone that embodies the power of the god. Though early examples are explicitly phallic in form, later examples such as this one are far simpler. The smooth cylinder rises out of the vulva-shaped yoni, the female symbol of power. A snake coils around the shaft of the linga as a protective guardian. The uncarved underside of this example indicates that it was originally set in the ground in a shrine. During worship in the temple the linga may be lustrated or bathed with milk, yoghurt and honey, and adorned with flowers.
The iconography of Shiva includes both aniconic forms, as here, and iconic forms (represented in human form), such as Nataraja. Some sculptures combine both the aniconic linga with the iconic images of Shiva. Mukhalingas have one or more faces (mukha) emerging from the cylindrical shaft of the linga (1880-24). The myth of Lingodbhava similarly combines the aniconic with the iconic aspects of this great Hindu deity.
T. R. Blurton, Hindu art (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)