A Devotional Ring with a Gold Shiva Linga

Tamil Nadu, South India, Late 18th century
Cast gold
Height 3.8 cm
Diameter 2.5 cm

The linga (sign or mark) is the essential form of Shiva. It is the most widely worshipped symbol of the deity and is found in the inner sanctum of Shiva temples. Its aniconic form conveys the transcendental reality of Shiva as beyond existence and as one with the indefinable Absolute.

Its vertical form represents Shiva’s potency and creative potential. It is the ascending energy of consciousness in yogic practice. Alternatively, the horizontal yoni symbolises the female or Goddess energy (shakti) in the form of the womb. Their union, as represented on this ring, exemplifies the eternal process of creation and regeneration, in addition to the essential non-duality of male and female. The three horizontal lineson the side of the linga are the sectarian mark of Shiva.

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The linga (sign or mark) is the essential form of Shiva. It is the most widely worshipped symbol of the deity and is found in the inner sanctum of Shiva temples. Its aniconic form conveys the transcendental reality of Shiva as beyond existence and as one with the indefinable Absolute.

Its vertical form represents Shiva’s potency and creative potential. It is the ascending energy of consciousness in yogic practice. Alternatively, the horizontal yoni symbolises the female or Goddess energy (shakti) in the form of the womb. Their union, as represented on this ring, exemplifies the eternal process of creation and regeneration, in addition to the essential non-duality of male and female. The three horizontal lineson the side of the linga are the sectarian mark of Shiva.

Jewellery has extensive significance and symbolism, ritual and social, in India. It could be used to determine wealth, caste, religious affiliation, or region of origin. Ornament was valued for its beauty, but also seen as auspicious. Different metals and stones are associated with different planets and thus jewellery is thought to be able to influence the powers of the celestial spheres. South Indian jewellery is often figurative, monumental in style and gold plays a more significant role than in the heavily jeweled examples from North India.

Traditionally, gold has been considered auspicious among Hindus and is regarded to be symbolic of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Gold is a symbol of perfection, immortality and prosperity; Kancheepuram in southern India and Varanasi in northern India have been the centers of gold jewellery making since the historic times. It is also valued for its powers of purification and associated with royalty. It is thought to be synonymous with life and imbued with tejas (energy), varchas (brilliance) and satyam (truth).

Temple jewellery was made both for the deity and the devotees. Adorning the deity is an important part of puja. Ritual jewellery might be donated directly to the temple or worn during puja and donated afterwards. Gifts accrue merit to the donor. The present ring may have been worn by a member of the Lingayat or Virashaiva Shaivite denomination. With a wide following in southern India, Lingayats worship Shiva as their sole deity. As a mark of their devotion they wear small votive lingams on a cord around their necks, enabling the wearer to carry an aspect of the divine with them at all times.

 

References:

Aitken, Molly Emma. When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection. Philip Wilson Publishers, 2004.

Kramrisch, Stella. Manifestations of Shiva. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1981.

Stronge, Susan. A Golden Treasury: Jewellery from the Indian Subcontinent. Victoria and Albert Museum, 1989.

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