Yoni and Lingam (Symbolism of the Masculine)

Updated on:
April 6, 2021
Aimee Hughes

You may have heard of the terms: “yoni” and “lingam” but what do they mean or symbolize? This is a brief overview of the historical, cultural, and spiritual view of both symbols.

Yoni and Lingam

The Yoni

The word yoni comes from the Sanskrit word which means source, abode, womb, vagina, or vulva. In Hinduism, it symbolizes the Hindu goddess Shakti, a feminine generative power and the consort of Shiva. She is the mother goddess, a personification of sacred femininity that represents power, strength, energy, and force.

It is believed that this power manifests mainly in females. Although it is also present in males, it is in its latent form. In the Hinduism branches of Shaktism and Shaivism, the yoni is thought of as nature’s gateway to all births.

The graphic symbol of the yoni is an inverted triangle where the three sides of the triangle represent the modalities of nature (the gunas).

It is a term that symbolizes:

  • The origin and feminine regenerative powers of nature
  • The female principle in all life forms
  • The earth’s seasonal and vegetative cycles
  • The origin of life

The yoni is a symbol that has been worshipped since the ancient times. It is the oldest spiritual icon in India and also many other cultures. It can be found in countries such as Nepal and Vietnam.

In Tantric or sexuality-related Sanskrit literature, yoni not only refers to the female genitalia or reproductive organs, it is also regarded as:

  • A divine symbol of sexual pleasure
  • The visible form of Shakti
  • The matrix of generation

Symbols Connected to Yoni

There are several other symbols that are connected to the yoni. For example:

  • The lotus – The lotus is an alternate yoni symbol that is commonly found in Hindu temples. 
  • The Lajja Gauri – This is an ancient icon found in India and South Asia. It is an icon that represents yoni but evolved over time with more complexity and context.
  • Kamakhya temple – The temple is one of the sacred pilgrimage sites for disciples of Shaktism. With no idols in the temple sanctum, it features a yoni-shaped natural rock with a fissure and natural water spring flowing over it. 

The Lingam

The term “lingam” or “linga” comes from the Sanskrit word which translates to sign, distinguishing symbol, evidence, and proof. In Hinduism, the lingam is a symbol of the god Shiva. 

It is a symbol of male creative energy, often stylized and representing the cosmic pillar which emanates its energy to the universe. The lingam is often depicted as combined with the yoni and revered as an emblem of generative power. 

The lingam often appears in private shrines and Shaivite temples across India. It is the symbol of the Shiva principle of endurance, strength, and stability. Although it may originally not have any connection to Shiva, it has been regarded as a symbol of Shiva’s creative energy since the ancient times and is widely worshipped as Shiva’s fundamental form.

For many Hindus, the lingam is not thought of as a male sexual organ but instead, a spiritual icon of their faith. The Shaivites too, do not regard the lingam as a phallus but regard the lingam-yoni as a symbol of the:

  • Creative powers
  • Cosmic mysteries
  • Axis of the universe
  • Metaphor for the spiritual truths of their faith 

In some parts of Sanskrit literature, lingam is regarded to be sexual and the phallus of Shiva while other parts of the literature does not. When regarded sexually, it refers to sexuality that is sacred and spiritual. Based on some interpretations, the Shiva lingam can be divided into:

  • Brahma-Pitha – This refers to the bottom part or circular base of the Shiva lingam.
  • Vishnu-Pitha – This refers to the elongated bowl-like structure on the top of the Shiva lingam.
  • Shiva-Pitha – This refers to the round-headed cylinder located in the middle of the bowl. 

The lingam can be made using materials that are temporary or more permanent. For example, it can be made from river clay, metal, stone, sandalwood paste, and precious gemstones. The size of the lingam can vary but there are precise rules that govern the height, width, and curvature of the top. 

Although the yoni and lingam are often depicted together, some interpret the lingam as an object on its own. In this interpretation, the lingam is not viewed as a phallus but an egg from which the universe was created. 

Another view states the lingam as a representation of two cosmic concepts: Gamya and Liya. In this view, the lingam signifies both source and destination or as the beginning and the end. 

In these interpretations, it shows that the lingam does not only represent Shiva but also Shiva as the supreme deity. This can also be seen in an icon known as the “lingodbhavamurti” which depicts Shiva emerging from a fiery lingam. 

Symbols Connected to Lingam

Some symbols that are connected or have evolved from lingam include:

  • Mukhalingam – A lingam that has Shiva’s face carved on it. It has several variations where Ekmukha lingam has one face, Chaturmukha lingam with four faces, and Panchamukha lingam with a total of five faces. 
  • Ashtottara-sata linga – This has 108 miniature lingams carved on the main lingam. 
  • Sahasra linga – This lingam has 1001 miniature lingams carved on it. 

When Yoni & Lingam Come Together

In Shavaism, a branch of Hinduism that is devoted to Shiva, the yoni is often shown with lingam, its masculine counterpart and a symbol of Shiva. In paintings and sculpture, the lingam is usually depicted as resting in the yoni. When yoni and lingam come together, they symbolize:

  • The merging of microcosmos and macrocosmos
  • The totality of all existence
  • Union of the feminine and masculine to create
  • The divine and eternal process of creation and regeneration
  • The cyclic creation and dissolution of the universe
  • Consciousness and action
  • The inherent unity and duality of life and death

Both yoni and lingam have much deeper meanings and take more reading and researching of the subject to understand the complex spiritual perceptions of both symbols. These two terms carry spiritual and emotional depths that each individual should explore as part of self-discovery. 

Aimee is a mindfulness enthusiast who's practiced yoga for 21 years. She earned her B.A. in French from Tulane University and a Doctorate in Naturopathy from Clayton College.
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