Linga in Sanskrit means symbol or sign. One of the first uses of the term ‘linga’ in association with Shiva is found in the Shvetasvatara Upanishad – it says that Lord Shiva, the Supreme Being, has no linga (sign or symbol). In simple terms, it is impossible to define Brahman or that is alinga.
Now it is not possible for a common man to pray to Brahman which is beyond any characteristic. Human beings need a form to worship. In Sanatana Dharma, each individual has the freedom to define the Supreme Being or Brahman in the most convenient way he/ she is comfortable.
When our ancestors stood in crude nature, what bewildered him most would have been the regenerative method – his own and those of animals around him. This must also have been the time when he was looking to give an expression to the Supreme Power. It is only natural that the male reproductive organ appeared to him as the ideal symbol as it represented strength and regenerative power.
The worship of Linga is not exclusive to Hinduism. Menhirs and Phallus have been worshipped by many ancient societies.
The Mahabharata says ‘Know everything, which is male, to be Ishana, and all that is female to be Uma; for this whole world, animate and inanimate, is pervaded by these two bodies. Shiva’s divine Linga is worshipped by the Gods, seers, Gandharvas and Apsaras.’ (Chapter 7, section 20, verses 22)
The greatness of this form of Shiva is based on the fact that the children bear neither the lotus symbol of Brahma nor of Vishnu’s discuss…but one marked with the male and female organs, the linga and yoni, originated from Mahadeva and Devi (Chapter 13, section 19, verses 78)
Puranas and Epics in Hinduism narrate in detail why Shiva is worshipped in the form of linga. It is said that the Supreme Being appeared before Lord Brahma and Vishnu in the form of a ‘pillar of fire’, which had no end and beginning. It is one among the many symbols of Brahman. There are numerous other incidents in the Puranas including the famous Deodar forest incident in which the wives of saints are attracted to Shiva and he castrates himself and leaves the Linga on earth as his symbol.
Many of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu is known to have worshipped the Shivlinga including Lord Ram, Parashuram and Krishna. When the mind is clear and is without prejudices, we will realize that the Linga form of Shiva is the most innocent form of Brahman that our ancestors had realized. It is pure and they got it from pure nature. Many of the forms that we worship today are the reflections of our mind, which is corrupted by ego, society and education. It is not pure.
That is why many people mention that Linga worship is a crude method and they are ashamed of it. Many are comfortable with the beautiful form of Brahman – that includes the handsome human form of Shiva, Vishnu and other gods. There is nothing wrong in worshipping Shiva and Vishnu in the handsome form because Brahman can be worshipped in any form.
An ancient Greek philosopher had said that if horses were to worship a god it would have the shape of a horse. All attempt whether it is Linga, human form or animal form is an attempt to give form to the indefinable Brahman.
We then strongly defend that my form is the true form and the other form is wrong without realizing that everything is Brahman.