The Puranic literature of Hinduism is both complex and extensive. Within the compendium of the Puranas, only a few important texts stand out as the most ancient and influential. Per the dating schemes presented by unbiased scholars, one can gather that the most ancient of the Puranas are the Markandeya, Matsya, Linga, Vayu and Vishnu. Of these five most ancient Puranas, the Vishnu Purana is decidedly Vaishnava in character, while the Linga and Vayu are Shaiva. Just as the Vishnu Purana forms the basis of the larger, more voluminous Bhagavata Purana; so the Linga and Vayu Puranas form the backbone of the larger, more popular Shiva Purana.
Unlike the Shiva Purana which is a loose compilation of books containing legend after legend, the focus of the Linga Purana is largely on ritual, prayer, theology and philosophy all presented within the context of narrative legends. Though it abounds with legends, the legends of the Linga Purana are neither as detailed as their more elaborate Shiva Puranic counterparts, nor do they contain any element spiritual depravity as found in parts of the latter. A large majority of the Linga Purana, as we have it today, is a literary work that was completed sometime before or during the reign of Chandragupta Vikramaditya (375-415 ce) of the Gupta dynasty.
From the philosophy presented in the Linga Purana, one can gauge that it is a non-dualistic text which attempts to reconcile the differences between Sankhya and pre-Shankaran Vedanta philosophies. While the Linga Purana accepts basic Sankhyan scheme of reality with its own peculiarities, it places Maheshvara, the great Lord, above all the categories of existence. Just as the Shvetashvatara Upanishad (ca. 600 bce) blends together ancient Shaivite theism with Sankhyan ontology and Vedantic metaphysics within the Vedic canon, so does the Linga Purana; but within the context of Puranic legend and Agamic ritualism.
Much of the philosophy of the Linga Purana is written in the form of paeons sung by various Gods and sages. An apt and beautiful example of one such paeon is that which commences the text of the Linga Purana and is sung by its narrator Suta (Romaharshana):
Sūta (Romaharṣaṇa) said:
I bow down to the Supreme Lord, whose body is Śabda-Brahman,
Who is the Revealer of the Śabda-Brahman, whose limbs are the letters,
Whose characteristics are unmanifest, but who manifests Himself in diverse ways,
Who is constituted by the letters a-u-m, who is gross as well as subtle,
Who is greater than the greatest, who is the very form of Oṁkāra,
Whose face is Rgveda, tongue is Sāmaveda, throat is Yajurveda, and heart is Atharvaveda,
Who is the Lord over Pradhāna and Puruṣa, who is devoid of birth and death.
He who is called Kālarudra when He assumes tamas, Brahmā when He assumes rajas,
And Viṣṇu when He assumes sattva, who is Maheśvara when devoid of all the guṇas,
Who manifests the seven forms by enveloping the body of Pradhāna, then sixteen forms,
And finally in twenty-six forms, who is the source of the origin of Brahmā.
He assumes the form of the Liṅga merely for the sport of creation, sustenance and dissolution.
After bowing down faithfully to that Supreme Lord,
I begin recounting the auspicious narrative of the Liṅga Purāṇa.
Liṅga Purāṇa I.1.19-24
The hymn begins with an invocation to Shiva, the Supreme Lord, who is identified both as Shabda-Brahman and the Revealer of Shabda-Brahman. Shabda-Brahman (Sound Brahman) here indicates the indestructible divine vibration that pulsates through all existence, enlivening it, manifesting it out of the unmanifest. In Shaivite philosophy, Shabda-Brahman is often termed Spanda, and is equated with the Parashakti. It is this Shabda-Brahman which transforms into the holy syllable AUM (Omkara), and then into all sounds and letters bringing into existence all further sounds and words, all names and forms.
The Lord is identified as greater than the greatest (vide: Katha Upanishad I.2.20 - mahato mahiyan), the very form of Omkara. Shiva is Omkara, and Omkara is Shiva: the crescent moon atop Shiva’s matted locks is the same crescent moon written atop the AUM symbol. It is from Omkara, yea, it is from Shiva that the holy Vedas have emerged. He is Lord over pradhana (prakriti) and purusha. He is greater than the evolutes (tattvas) of classical Sankhya philosophy. As Overlord, He is called Maheshvara, who is beyond all modes (gunas) of prakriti. In association with tamas, He appears as Kalarudra; in association with sattva, He appears as Vishnu; and in association with rajas, He is called Brahma. They are merely three functional names of His, who is called Maheshvara. They are not separate entities with different abodes or realms or powers. They were never different, never are, and never will be. This theoretical teaching is perfectly realized in Shaivite practice with the use of the Linga icon. The Linga icon represents the perfect oneness of the so-called Trimurti, which although indivisible and non-distinct, are divided in linguistic and legendary terms only.
In this first paeon, one also finds a brief outline of the Linga Puranic version of the sankhya philosophy. The Lord upon impinging into creation, so to speak, manifests the seven forms, then sixteen forms, and twenty-six forms (in sum). Seven forms indicate mahat-buddhi (intellect), ahamkara (ego), and five tanmatras (subtle elements); and sixteen forms indicate manas (mind), the five jnanendriyas (organs of knowledge), the five karmendriyas (organs of action), and the five mahabhutas (gross elements). Per the Linga Puranic sankhya (see: Sankhya System and the Tattvas), the sum total of all tattvas is twenty-six which comprise the seven forms and the sixteen forms plus pradhana (prakriti) + jiva (individual soul) + purusha (cosmic soul). Maheshvara is the Supreme Ruler and Overlord over the twenty-six tattvas. He is both beyond the twenty-six categories of existence, yet within them. Though He transcends all existence, He is immanent within it.
Aum Namah Shivaya.
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