A mukhalinga




India, Gujarat


19th century


Casting, chasing




Length 215 mm; width 131 mm

COMMENT. Mukhalinga is a metal mask or a hollow head, which is used as a cover for the sacred lingam (or linga) symbolizing the energy and potential of Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism. The Sanskrit term "mukhalinga" literally means "lingam with a face". Lingam is an abstract, depersonalized representation of Shiva, which is usually a low smooth or multifaceted stone pillar with a rounded top, but often its form interpreted as a phallic symbol. The ordinary stone lingam can be turned into a mukhalinga, either by carving on it one or more human faces, or by laying on it a metal cover in the form of the face or head of Shiva. Fans of Shiva believe that in this way they can see the face of the deity. The muhaklinga can have a different number of faces: one (eka-mukhalinga), three (tri-mukhalinga), four (chatur-mukhalinga) or five (pancha-mukhalinga). One-faced metal muhaklingas are most widespread south Maharashtra and north Karnataka in South India, as well as in Gujarat in West India, where since the late 18th century there is a whole industry for the production of masks and heads of Shiva. They are made mainly of brass, less often of copper or bronze, and only in some cases from silver or gold. Local artisans prefer to use the traditional casting technique of the lost wax. Other metal processing methods such as repoussé are practiced much less frequently.