On The Lingam Devi of Herga, Karnataka

As is often the case, I encounter a beautiful Devi depiction and She simply must have a post !

I had initially thought that this was a Kali murti (not least due to the beautiful blue-black visage) – but some searching indicates that no, this is instead a Durga … Durga Paramesvari [‘Highest Divine Empress’] , of the village of Herga , located in Havanje in Karnataka [South India].

Now, the dark colouration of the Murti (except where radiant gold has been utilized for key features – and it really is a beautiful contrast ! ), I have not found a definitive accounting for … although I would suspect offhand that it may have something to do with a reported belief in the Devi having initially come in the form of a Lingam. Which, given the usual style of stone for many ShivLings, may perhaps explicate Her Complexion here.

[As a slight update upon the above, an associate, A.K.V., had mentioned the dark and sky-like visage of JayaDurga as a likely reasoning]

Although instantly we find ourselves pondering the rather remarkable implication here – a Lingam is, usually, of Shiva … indeed, in devotional use, it is Shiva. And more to the point, it is correlate with a rather male saliency for He.

So how do we account for the possibility of a Devi in Lingam form, then? Surely this is a contradiction in terms?

As it happens, this is less ‘unique’ or ‘unprecedented’ than one might, perhaps, expect.

For a start, we are reminded of the situation found in the famed ‘Self-Manifested’ [Svayambhu] Lingams of Narmada. There, the mineral composition differs from the black we are, perhaps, more familiar with – and in addition to the stone, we find a heavy saliency of Meteoric Iron.

It is said that both Shiva and Shakti are resident within these Lingams – Shiva in the Stone, Shakti in the Meteoric Iron with its colouration resemblant (at least, upon my own) of Dried Blood.

Now, we can go further.

As it turns out … there are actually several Devi Mandirs in Karnataka that appear to have Durga (or other Devi Form) with Lingam association. In some cases, referred to as having ’emerged’ from a Lingam, in other cases being as a Lingam still.

This is not as unexpected as it might be.

As we have long noted – Lingam , can mean ‘Marking’, ‘Signifer’. It is just that yes, sure, it is .. how to say … also utilized to refer to a rather prominent ‘signifer’ of the male gender.

Although not exclusively.

One of the more remarkable employments for the term (for a few reasons, that we shall not delve into here) – is actually not in Sanskrit (or, indeed, Indo-Aryan) at all … but rather in Avestan.

There, we hear of the Haptoiringa [‘Sapta’, as in ‘Seven’ would be the Hindu cognate for the fore-particle .. and ‘Linga’ provides the second] constellation. The ‘Seven-Signs’, we might suggest. Which is in reference to Arktos / Ursa Major / the Rksa [‘Bear’] / SaptaRsi asterism.

This is rather handy, as it proves that ‘Linga’ isn’t a term that was absorbed from the non-Indo-Aryan cultures of the SubContinent – but rather is endogenous to the Indo-Aryan linguistic sphere, due to its coming from the shared fore-runner to both Indo-Aryan and the Iranic languages (i.e. Proto-Indo-Iranic; there’s a Sogdian term as well that comes up in discussion, but I am reserving remarking upon it til i’ve teased out a bit more as to its ambits .. and that’s before we get into some of the later Persian expressions we might ponder, wherein it may even have come to mean ‘Throne’).

So, on the surface it would be quite feasible to interpret various of these Devi in relation to Linga … as the Lingam simply being a ‘sign’ or ‘indication’.

Except I don’t think that’s quite right.

Instead, let’s take another approach.

A Lingam is NOT simply … as we had delicately phrased it earlier, an ‘indication of male gender’. It CAN have this overt resonance to it, but it is heavily reductionist to imply that’s all that it is.

Further, per – if memory serves, and I should probably check this, since it’s been awhile, the Linga Purana – we find that there are various other elements than the familiar black lozenge of stone that can form a ShivLing for devotional purposes.

These include Trees, Fence-Posts, Sthambhas, etc. [and we note the Dvajasthambha that this particular Durga Parameshvari Mandir has had installed as a further exemplar for the subsequent development of the typology in question from its Vedic roots]

What do those have in common? They’re … well, Posts, Pillars. Axes [as in, the plural of Axis – and of course, the Skambha of the AtharvaVeda and other such august texts, is the prototypical / archetypal for these in many regards … God in / as the Axis Mundi, you see].

And all of a sudden … the notion of Devi being found in the Form of, or Emanating out of , a Lingam … starts to make sense.

There is a well-known situation viz. the Centrality of the Goddess. Cosmologically speaking, I mean.

We have written elsewhere about this at grand length. The Goddess in / as the Axis Mundi, whether a great Mountain or a Great Tree, or other more exotic / essence-tial formulation.

Goes handily with the Axis Mundi as Rta / Orlog / Cosmic Order’s major saliency in our universe. Devi and the aforementioned being, again, functionally seriously coterminous [written about at length elsewhere, regular readers hardly need me to reiterate it all herein].

And, we may observe – if the ‘Pillar’ or ‘Prominent Rock’ is also what gives rise to the ShivLing conceptry … well, if it is a Mountain, with Mountains being quite prominently associated with the concept of Female Divinity : that merely strengthens the inherent logic of the observation.

Even afore we start discussing some potential loose parallels to this found elsewhere in the Indo-European sphere – Cybele, that famed ‘Mountain Mother’ deific of the Phrygians (and also, subsequently, various other Indo-European groups from the Romans up to and including Real Madrid), was quite prominently noted to have had a physical ’embodiment’ of sorts in the form of a black stone of meteoric iron housed at Pessinus and then rehomed in Rome. Initially in the Palatine Temple of Victoria (‘Victory’ – which makes sense given the circumstances via which She was requested to be brought to Rome … an oracular pronouncement by the Sibylline that this was to prove necessary for Rome to be victorious in the bitter Second Punic War against Carthage), and then at a fine Temple specially constructed for Her, upon the Palatine also.

[Rome, as it happens, was no stranger to Stone ‘foci’ for the Gods … the ‘Iuppiter Lapis’ – the ‘Jupiter Stone’ housed within the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter – could easily be considered quite likewise. Although there, of course, as with Shiva and His ShivLing … and with Odin / Irmin relative to the Irminsul … it is the Sky Father in such ‘aniconic’ format.]

So, where does that leave us?

An English master of mine at secondary school was fond of noting that a ‘Paradox’ was a seeming contradiction which, upon closer inspection, proved not to be so.

Thus it is with this notion of a Lingam providing the form-basis for a Devi expression.

On the surface, and especially if we have a rather limited anticipation or appreciation of what a ‘Linga’ actually entails, it looks like a contradiction in terms.

But once we actually stop to ponder what is truly signified via the Lingam … well, it becomes almost the most natural thing in the world.

And in any case, viz. Devi turning up via Lingam – we are reminded of Niels Bohr’s famed reply to Einstein following the latter’s dictum about God purportedly not playing Dice with the universe:

Namely – “WHO ARE YOU TO TELL GOD WHAT TO DO”.

Given the outcome of a certain game of Dice between Devi and Mahadeva (which is upon our mind due to the recent Annapurna Jayanti observance mid-way through this week, upon the 8th – where Devi Comes Back … ), we might suggest that this goes double for a / the Goddess, in earnest.

Jai Mata Di !

2 thoughts on “On The Lingam Devi of Herga, Karnataka

  1. Pingback: On The Lingam Devi of Herga, Karnataka – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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