Friday Review

This Vietnamese lingam has a face

The stone pillar of the Fu Nan period, 6th century CE. Photo courtesy: Wasantha Fernando, Gaman Palem  

Standing at four ft tall, holding the pride of place among exhibits, the massive stone pillar is an awe-inspiring sight. On closer scrutiny, it is not a stone pillar but a Siva lingam and it is at the Museum of Vietnamese History, Hochi Minh city, Vietnam, and is a local find.

This isn’t some Vietnamese version of the Siva lingam, rather the one that has been perfectly sculpted as stipulated in the Agamas or the Iconographic canons. The main stem of the Lingam that is seen here is paired with its pedestal called the Avudai to make up the lingam that one can see in all our temples. Further, the main stem of the lingam is made up of three distinct parts – the bottom most being square shaped denoting the Brahma Bagam, the middle being octagonal – Vishnu Bagam and the top most cylindrical, the Rudra Bagam. When matched with the Avudai, which is circular at the base and oval on top, with a hole bored through it in the middle to hold the stem, the Brahma Bagam would be below the Avudai, the Vishnu Bagam within it and the Rudra Bagam would be visible on top. The actual dimensions, proportions and further intricacies like inscribing the lines of the Brahma sutras are subjects of serious study but it is worthy to note that in the Vietnamese lingam, there is a face sculpted just above the Vishnu Bagam. Such are called Mukha Lingams though the Indian variants have more pronounced features.

For those who are already feeling heady it is worthy to point out that one of the world’s oldest Siva lingam is found in Gudimallam, situated about 21 kms from the Kalahasti temple. Dated between 2nd C BCE and 1st C BCE, this imposing Lingam measures an exact five ft in height and has one of most interesting sculptures carved on it.

The two armed figure, holds a ram by its hind legs with his right hand, holds a pitcher with his left hand and has an Axe slung over his left shoulder. The facial features are unique but for such an early date, the quality of the sculpture is splendid, especially the ornamentation, the necklace, earrings and detailing of the head dress.

Siva is standing on a massive demon, who is shown as kneeling down and supporting the weight with both his hands on his knees. His face is grotesque, ears are pointed like those of a bat and his cheeks marked with deep lines but he seems to be grinning with both rows of teeth exposed. His head dress and ornaments have been sculpted in style as well.

It is important to notice that this early Lingam does not have the three distinct bagams as advocated in the Agamas and thus the cannons must have evolved and crystallised sometime during the interim period.

(This monthly column that shares fascinating facts about various art and architectural splendours across the State, throws light on a Siva lingam seen in Vietnam)

The writer is a sculpture enthusiast and blogs about temple art at

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 12:06:31 PM |

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