“Shaivism is intimately connected with the Shiva lingam. This is a beautiful symbol that in the highest sense represents consciousness.” -Swami Satyananda
The Shiva lingam is an ancient symbol consisting of a pillar, column, or standing stone and a ring or circle in which the standing stone is placed. The pillar symbolizes the Shiva principle (consciousness) and the ring is the symbol of the Shakti principle (energy, power of consciousness). The Shiva lingam represents the union of these two principles, a union that governs all of creation. The Shiva lingam expresses the idea that Shiva and Shakti are inseparable and timeless. It is the prime symbol of both Shaivism and Shaktism, and of Tantra in general.
One aspect worth mentioning: The Shiva lingam is not a representation of the human genitals. Rather, the sexual organs are one of the expressions or manifestations of the universal forces (masculine and feminine principles) represented by the symbol.
We can say that the Shiva lingam is a representation of the idea found in Tibetan Buddhism, “samsara (the cycle of rebirth) and nirvana (liberation) are born together.”
The same truth is expressed in the words of Ramakrishna, “Brahman is Shakti; Shakti is Brahman. They are not two. These are only two aspects, male and female, of the same Reality, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss.”
In Shaivism, the Shiva lingam is the symbol of Lord Shiva and the lingam puja helps devotees reveal the light of consciousness that they are. Shiva as a column of light without beginning and end represents the light of consciousness as the background of the entire creation. A Shiva lingampuja is a ritual for honoring the light of consciousness. According to the Tantric tradition, each lingam puja takes the devotee step-by-step to the Eternal Truth.
Worshipping the Shiva lingam at home
Purification stage: Before starting the puja, the devotee takes a bath and puts on freshly washed clothes.
Opening prayers: The devotee recites hymns praising Lord Shiva or chants the mantra “om namaha shivaya” or does japa with “om namah shivaya.” Then, the devotee sits in front of the lingam and blows a conch or rings bells. This indicates the beginning of the puja.
Panchamrit abhishek – the libation of five holy liquids over the lingam: The libation can consist of any five of the following – water from the Ganges River, honey, sugarcane juice, milk, yogurt, ghee, seawater, coconut water or milk, fragrant oils, rose water, or other precious liquids. Usually, only cow’s milk is used. While pouring the liquid, the mantra“om namah shivaya” is uttered. Some devotees utter the Lord’s name 108 times and some 1008 times. There is no fixed rule. Abhishek is a symbol of the purification of the soul.
Cleaning and “cooling” of the lingam: After the panchamrit abhishek, the lingam is cleaned with water from the Ganges. (This might not always be possible, normal water may be used.) After this, the lingam is smeared with sandalwood or vermillion paste and is bedecked with flowers. In some Shiva temples, cooling liquid constantly drops from a pot hung above the lingam.
Offerings: Next, fruit, sweets, and coconuts are offered to Lord Shiva. Camphor and incense are lit. The devotees sing praises to Lord Shiva.
Conclusion of the puja: The ringing of bells or blowing of a conch indicates the end of the puja. White ash (vibhuti) is rubbed on the forehead and is also distributed to devotees. (In worship connected with Lord Shiva, vibhuti it is a symbol of purity and is one of the main sacraments given during pujas in all Shaivite temples and shrines; another meaning of rubbing the holy ash on the forehead is as a reminder to devotees to cast away selfish, worldly desires and redirect their attention towards the Divine Truth. It evokes the story of how Shiva burned Kama (the god of desire) to ashes when Kama attempted to break Shiva’s focus on the Divine Truth.
Prasad: The fruit, sweets, and coconuts used during the puja are distributed as prasad (blessed food).
During every Shivaratri (new moon), a Shiva lingam puja is performed. According to the Shiva Purana, sincere worship of Lord Shiva yields merits, including spiritual growth, for devotees.
Although different substances can be used for libation, the Shiva Purana says that performing the abhishek of the Shiva lingam with six different dravyas (substances) including milk, yogurt, honey, ghee, sugar, and water while chanting special hymns from the Vedas (Sri Rudram, Chamakam, and Dasa Shanthi) is the best way to worship Lord Shiva. According to the mythology, each of the dravya used in the abhishek blesses a unique quality in the devotees:
Milk is for the blessing of purity and piousness.
Yogurt is for prosperity and progeny.
Honey is for sweet speech.
Ghee is for victory.
Sugar (sugarcane juice) is for happiness.
Water is for purity.
In our case, as spiritual aspirants we can pray in this way while we are doing the libation of the 6 holy liquids:
While we pour the yogurt, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with a fruitful spiritual life (realization of moksha in this life).
While we pour water, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with purity (to purify our negative samskaras and vasanas).
While we pour ghee, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with courage and perseverance on the spiritual path.
While we pour honey, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with compassionatespeech.
While we pour milk, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with the milk of devotion.