The Shiva Linga or Lingam is a symbol that represents Lord Shiva in Hinduism. As the most powerful of deities, temples are built in his honor that includes a Shiva Linga, representing all the energies of the world and beyond.
In Sanskrit, Linga means a "mark" or a symbol, which points to an inference. Thus, the Shiva Linga is a symbol of Lord Shiva: a mark that reminds of the Omnipotent Lord, which is formless. Shiva Linga speaks to the Hindu devotee in the unmistakable language of silence. It is only the outward symbol of the formless being, Lord Shiva, who is the undying soul seated in the chambers of your heart. He is your in-dweller, your innermost self or Atman.
The ancient Hindu scripture "Linga Purana" says that the foremost Linga is devoid of smell, color, taste, etc., and is spoken of as Prakriti, or Nature itself. In the post-Vedic period, the Linga became symbolical of the generative power of Lord Shiva.
The Linga is like an egg and represents the Brahmanda (the cosmic egg). Linga signifies that the creation is affected by the union of Prakriti and Purusha, the male and the female powers of Nature. It also signifies Satya, Jnana, and Ananta—Truth, Knowledge, and Infinity.
A Shiva Linga consists of three parts. The lowest of these is called the Brahma-Pitha; the middle one, the Vishnu-Pitha; the uppermost one, the Shiva-Pitha. These are associated with the Hindu pantheon of gods: Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer).
The typically circular base or peetham (Brahma-Pitha) holds an elongated bowl-like structure (Vishnu-Pitha) reminiscent of a flat teapot with a spout that has had the top cut off. Within the bowl rests a tall cylinder with a rounded head (Shiva-Pitha).
The Shiva Linga is most often carved from stone. In Shiva Temples, they can be quite large, towering over devotees, though Lingum can also be small, close to knee-height. Many are adorned with traditional symbols or elaborate carvings, though some are somewhat industrial looking or relatively plain and simple.
The Holiest Shiva Lingas of India:
Of all the Shiva Lingas in India, a few stand out as holding the most importance. The temple of Lord Mahalinga at Tiruvidaimarudur, known also as Madhyarjuna, is regarded as the great Shiva temple of South India.
There are 12 Jyotir-lingas and 5 Pancha-bhuta Lingas in India.
Jyotir-lingas: Found in Kedarnath, Kashi Vishwanath, Somnath, Baijnath, Rameswar, Ghrusneswar, Bhimshankar, Mahakal, Mallikarjun, Amaleshwar, Nageshwar, and Tryambakeshwar
Pancha-bhuta Lingas: Found in Kalahastishwar, Jambukeshwar, Arunachaleshwar, Ekambareshwar of Kanjivaram, and Nataraja of Chidambaram
The Quartz Shiva Linga:
The Sphatika-linga is made of quartz. It is prescribed for the deepest kind of worship of Lord Shiva. It has no color of its own but takes on the color of the substance which it comes in contact with. It represents the Nirguna Brahman, the attribute-less Supreme Self or the formless Shiva.
There is a mysterious or indescribable power (or Shakti) in the Linga. It is believed to induce concentration of the mind and help focus one's attention. That is why the ancient sages and seers of India prescribed Linga to be installed in the temples of Lord Shiva. For a sincere devotee, the Linga is not merely a block of stone, it is all-radiant. It talks to him, raises him above body-consciousness, and helps him communicate with the Lord.
Types of Shivalinga:
As per Karanagamam, one of the Agama Sastras, the Shiva lingams are classified into six types depending on how they came into existence. They are:
Swayambhu lingams that are believed to have been self-manifested.
Daiviga lingams are those that are believed to have been installed and worshipped by Goddess Parvathy and other celestial Gods (Devas). They continue to exist in the present day and on earth, but their origin is traditionally ascribed to the Gods.
Manusha lingams are those that have been installed by human patrons (rulers, chieftains, wealthy people etc.) in historical times.
Arshaga lingams are those that are believed to have been installed and worshipped by sages of yore (like Agasthiyar).
Rakshasa lingams are those that are believed to have been installed and worshipped by Asuras and Daityas (demons or demi-gods who oppose the Devas). For example, lingam installed by Ravana.
Bana lingams are those lingams that are found on the banks of rivers.
The term “Bana” has two meanings – it refers to water and to the demon (Asura) named Bana. It is believed that the demon Bana had worshipped millions of small lingams and had dropped them in several rivers like Ganges, Gandaki, Gomukhi, etc. These lingams can still be found on the banks of the rivers.
There is also reckoning of the relative merits of these lingams. The lingams of the Swayambhu, Daiviga and Arshaga types are considered to be the best (uttama) and rest of the varieties are of middling quality (madhyama).