The sages said, “We know that a linga is Shiva’s image. But why is Shiva worshipped in the form of a linga?”
Lomaharshana recounted the following story.
Many years ago, at the end of a destruction, there was water everywhere in the universe and the universe was shrouded in darkness. Vishnu slept on the water in his form of Narayana.
Brahma discovered Vishnu sleeping thus and woke him up. Failing to recognize Vishnu, he asked, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Vishnu woke up and noticed Brahma standing there. He smiled and said, “How are you, Brahma? Is everything well with my son?’
“How dare you call me your son?’ demanded Brahma. “I am Brahma, the lord of everything. I am the creator of the universe. How dare anyone call me his son?”
“You seem to have forgotten everything,” said Vishnu. “I am Vishnu and you were born from me. That is the reason why I addressed you as my son.”
Brahma did not accept this and started to fight with Vishnu. While the two were thus grappling, a shining linga suddenly appeared. It was almost as if the linga had emerged to settle Brahma and Vishnu’s dispute. The linga rose way up into the sky and it seemed to have no beginning or end.
“What on earth is this pillar of fire doing here?” Vishnu asked Brahma. “Let us investigate it. Why don’t you go up and see where it ends? As for me, I shall proceed downwards. Let us meet after a while and compare notes.”
Brahma agreed to do this. He adopted the form of a swan and flew up. Vishnu adopted the form of a boar and went down. No matter how further down Vishnu went, he could find no end to the linga. Nor could Brahma discover its upper extremity.
They returned and were amazed to find that neither had been able to find the end of the linga. They realized that they must be in the presence of a power that was greater than their own. They therefore began to pray to the linga and the sound of the mantra (incantation) om echoed all around the linga. Shiva appeared from within the linga in the form of a sage named Vedanama. He told them that it was the linga which was the origin of the universe. It was from the linga that the primordial egg (anda), the origin of the universe, had been created.
Shiva also taught Brahma and Vishnu the sacred gayatri mantra. He told Brahma and Vishnu, “We are all three part of the same supreme brahman. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and I am the destroyer. Don’t fight amongst yourselves.”
Ever since that day, Shiva has been worshipped in the form of a linga..
Brahma and Vishnu
“But why did Vishnu address Brahma as his son?” asked the sages. “Please explain that.”
Lomaharshana told them the following story from the kalpa known as padma kalpa.
At the time of the destruction that came at the end of the earlier kalpa, there was water everywhere in the universe and Vishnu slept on this water. Vishnu felt slightly bored. So he made a gigantic lotus sprout out of his navel and started to play with it. The stalk of the lotus was made of diamonds and it shone with radiance like the sun.
While Vishnu was thus playing with the lotus , Brahma appeared.
“Who are you?” asked Brahma. “What are you doing here?”
“I am Vishnu,” replied Vishnu. “I am the lord of everything. But who are you and where have you come from?”
“I am Brahma,” responded Brahma. “I am the lord of everything in the universe. Every object that will be created in the universe is already present in embryonic form, inside my body. If you don’t believe me, why don’t you enter my stomach and see for yourself?”
Vishnu entered Brahma’s body through the mouth. He marvelled to discover the fourteen regions (lokas) of the univerise and the beings who would populate them all, inside Brahma’s stomach. Vishnu wandered around for a thousand yeards, but could find no end to the vast expanse of Brahma’s stomach. Finally, he emerged through the mouth and told Brahma, “I am completely bowled over by what I have seen. But I can also show you wonders. There are many worlds inside my body as well. Enter for yourself and see.”
Brahma agreed to this and entered Vishnu’s body through the mouth. Inside Vishnu’ stomach, he saw many worlds. He wandered around for a thousand years, but could not find the extremities of the stomach. Meanwhile, Vishnu had closed all the points of exit and Brahma could find no way of coming out. He eventualy came out through the lotus that sprouted out of Vishnu’s navel and seated himself on the lotus. Since padma means lotus and yoni means place of birth, Brahma thenceforth came to be known as Padmayoni. And since Brahma emerged out of Vishnu’s body, he came to be regarded as Visnu’s son.
While Brahma was thus seated on the lotus, Shiva arrived. Such was the speed of Shiva’s arrival that tidal waves were created in the water. The lotus started to tremble and Brahma was showered with drops of water.
“Stop shaking the lotus so,” said Brahma. “You are scaring me.”
“Who speaks from my navel?’ asked Vishnu. “And why do you sound so angry?”
“I am Brahma,” replied Brahma. “I have every right to be angry. Don’t you remember? You had entered my body and had marvelled at the worlds I had shown you there. You had then asked me to enter your body. But once I had done that, you had closed all the points of entry so that I had not been able to get out. I had to emerge through the lotus and now now seated on it. Apart from your earlier transgression, you have now started to shake the lotus. Why should I not be angry?”
“Please pardon me,” replied Vishnu. “I had no desire to offend you by closing all the points of exit. I merely wished to play with you for a while. Please forgive me. And as a token of your friendship, please grant me the boon that you will henceforth be known as my son. But as for the lotus, I have no part in shaking it. Can’t you see that Shiva is approaching? These tidal waves must have beeen caused by his arrival. Let us pray to him and pacifiy him.”
“Who is Shiva?” asked Brahma. “I am Brahma the lord of everything. I refuse to pray to any upstart who approaches.”
Vishnu quietened Brahma down and persuaded him that the two of them ought to pray to Shiva. Shiva was pleased at these prayers and offered grant Brahma and Vishnu boons. Vishnu wished the boon that he might always be devoted to Shiva. Brahma desired the boon that Shiva might be born as his son.
Subsequently, when Brahma began his task of creation, he was not happy with the beings he initially created. From this sorrow were born the eleven rudras, manifestations of Shiva. They cried as soon as they were born. Since the word ruda means to cry, they acquired the name of rudras. It was thus that Shiva was born as Brahma’s son.
(This seemingly contradicts the earlier account of the Linga Purana that Shiva had created the eleven rudras himself. The story of the rudras being born from Brahma’s sorrow is given in many Puranas in much greater detail. The Vishnu Purana and the Padma Purana are examples.)
The Linga Purana next describes the rituals that have to be followed in worshipping Shiva’s linga.