10th–13th century
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General Description

The Khmer kings of the 9th to 13th centuries constructed extensive temple complexes dedicated to the Buddha or to the Hindu gods, most often to Shiva. Shiva's role as the destroyer naturally incorporates the converse role of procreator, and it is thus, in the form of the linga (phallic symbol), that he is most often worshipped. In the central chamber of a temple the devotee venerates the god by praying, placing flowers and other offerings, and anointing the linga with water. As a symbol of fertility and a manifestation of Shiva, the linga often takes the simple form seen here.

The symbol of the linga derives from the story of the lingodbhava, when Shiva revealed himself before Brahma and Vishnu as a pillar of fire to exhibit his preeminence over those two other important deities. Neither Vishnu, in the form of Varaha diving into the sea to estimate the pillar's depth, nor Brahma, a hamsa (goose) flying into the air, could find the beginning or end of the pillar, thus establishing Shiva as the ultimate deity. The form of most lingas follows that of this example, with a square base representing Brahma, the octagonal midsection Vishnu, and the circular columnar upper portion Shiva, who presides over the other two divinities. The linga is generally set into a base known as the yoni, which represents the female genitals. When the linga is inserted into the yoni, the two lower square and octagonal portions are not visible, further symbolizing Shiva's dominance over the other two gods.

Adapted from

  • Nancy Tingley, "Linga," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 211.

Fun Facts

  • Small versions of lingas, for use on home altars, were sometimes made in precious metals or in crystal.

  • Linga sometimes take the form of natural uncarved stone.

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