Volume 1, Issue 4, September–October 2020.

The Mukhalinga of Mỹ Sơn

Prof. Dr. Ngo Van Doanh

The discovery of a sandstone Mukhalinga, which had been exposed through high-pressure water washing, on the surface 10 metres east of the E4 temple at My Son was announced by the My Son Historic Memorial Zone Inspection Agency on November 15, 2012. This 126.5 cm high work of art was found almost completely intact.
The Mukhalinga resembles a traditional linga, consisting of three parts of equal height (42cm each) and the same width. The base of the lowest part has a square cross-section (Brahmabhaga), with each side 41.5cm in length. The middle part has an octagonal cross section (Visnubhaga) with 8 x 16.5cm symmetrical sides A. The upper part is cylindrical, the top is slightly convex (Rudrabhaga), 41.5cm in diameter, the length and width of the parts is equal. This object is called a mukhalinga and not linga because of its special characteristics.In the cylindrical part, on the thin layer of skin of the phallus head, Shiva’s neck and head protrude. The Shiva’s head was carved at the same time as the linga, 23cm high, 13.5cm wide, and the tied knot of hair on top of the head is 5.4cm high.

There is no doubt that the object discovered at My Son is similar to the structure and shape of a classic linga, but with the addition of Shiva’s holy head makes this object Champa’s first known true Mukhalinga. In order to properly assess the location and value of the Mukhalinga from My Son, it seems necessary to look back at the objects hitherto considered to be Mukhalinga.

From an art history and fine arts point of view, until the discovery of the Mukhalinga at My Son, we were aware of four objects termed ‘Mukhalinga’, these were: two statues, one in Po Klaung Garai temple (Phan Rang, Thap Cham), the other in Yang Prong temple (La Sup, Dac Lac) and two statue heads in Tra Lien and Cu Hoan (Hai Lang, Quang Tri). *1 Of the four objects mentioned above, J. Boisselier identified the objects as Po Klaung Garai and late Yang Prong sculptures and remarked that the technique of making the Mukhalinga statue in Yang Prong was rough and raw, and dated back to the 14th century (currently we do not know where it is, it is probably lost), while the Mukhalinga in Po Klaung Garai is currently located at the Po Klaung Garai temple and can be considered an altar statue depicting the torso of a holy man wearing a cylindrical cap on his head. Date of origin probably the late 16th century, or early 17th century. Although Boisslier also considers the statue in Tra Lien to be a mukhalinga, he does not understand the peculiar shape of the large, conical end on the head of the linga. *2 The statue of Cu Hoan (also lost), on the other hand, H. Parmentier described as: ”although very roughly made, this object also shows a human head wearing a four-layer hat with earrings”. The arrangement of this Mukhalinga is special in that above the linga the cap has a rim and is decorated with lotus flower petals. The cap is square, the end resembles the conical parts. This suggests that this linga may have been some form of architectural decoration. *3

The Mukhalinga

It follows that the Mukhalingas mentioned above, or altar relics such as those of Po Klaung Nagar and Yang Prong, or architectural elements, but not real Mukhalingas, as described in connection with them, do not correspond to the Cham criteria described in holy books. According to the traditional view of Hinduism, the linga is not a human symbol; however, Shiva signifies the existence of an abstract, sacred and invisible reality through the symbol and interpretation of the male genitalia. And, as a sacred symbol, the linga (male genitalia) usually consists of three parts, thus symbolizing the principle of eternal rotation (Samsara), the birth, existence, and destruction of the universeThe lower rectangular part represents the Creator God (Brahma) symbolizing birth, the middle octagonal part that of existence (Visnu), and the uppermost cylindrical part symbolises destruction / passing (Shiva). According to the universal worldview of Shaivism, super forces are not accidentally included in ancient Indian legends and legends.

The legend of Padma Puranas tells why the linga is used as an object of prayer. According to the legend, long ago the prophet saints (Rishis) gathered and discussed which of the countless saints worthy of idolatry should be idolized, revered, and prayed to. After a long and exhausting deliberation, the Rishis finally came to the conclusion that three of the countless gods were truly worthy of this: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Saints then authorized Bhrighu, the wisest prophet, and the son of the first man, to visit the three kingdoms of God to find out what moral standards were in force there.

The first place Bhrigu went to was Mount Kailash. When with great difficulty he reached the top of the mountain, Shiva’s bull (Nandi) suddenly grew in front of him and told him, bellowing: “You cannot go to my master now because he is currently making passionate love with his wife. At such times, no one should disturb lord Shiva, so please wait.” This announcement made Brighu terribly angry, and he turned to go, but before he departed he cursed the loving party: “You Shiva, You are the slave of darkness and bodily desires. Because of your passion for female beauty, you have treated me disrespectfully, who the Rishis have empowered. I curse you: from now on, your name shall appear in prayer only in a form that symbolizes male and female gender (Linga and Yoni).”

The reason the linga embraces the universe of the world is best illustrated by Shukra, that is, the legend of Brighu, Shukra inherits all his father’s knowledge to become the master (Guru) of the giant devils and thus his curses could intimidate the saints. In such cases, the saints sought Shiva’s help to act against Shukra’s intentions. Accepting their request, he instructs Shiva’s servant, the bull Nandi, to attack the master of the devils, as if a tiger were attacking a weak stag. Nandi bull easily wrestled his opponent and carried him to his master to do with him what he wanted. Shiva easily pinched Sukra between his long, pointed fingers, then gobbled him up and swallowed him as if he had received a morsel of cake. Thus the master of devils found himself in the belly of Shiva, where the various universes, heavens, oceans, and underground worlds appeared before him. He saw the Adityas (the main saints of the Veda, the sons of Aditi and Kashyapa), the 12 angels of the seasons, the 8 lords of the elements, the bodyguards of Indra always holding a lanyard in their hands, all the holy angels (Ganas) and evil spirits (Yakshas), Kubera (saint of money and economy). Shukra also saw the depraved people (Kipurusas) and the people devouring the corpses (Pisachas) as well as the beautiful celestial dancers (Apsaras). Also in front of Shukra’s eyes appeared celestial musicians (Gandharvas) who lived from the scent of flowers. All kinds of living beings were found in Shiva’s belly: Rishes and mortals, creatures of the air and the earth, cattle, ants, earthworms, trees, bushes, grasses, swimmers and runners, those who winked and those who keep their eyes open, two -, four-, six- and eight-legged, and thousand-legged creatures.

Mỹ Sơn

The visions had such a strong effect on Sukra that he exclaimed in a voice of reverence: ”“Oh, I bow before the Lord who fulfills all desires! Lord Hara (another name for Shiva meaning destruction), the master of all souls, the possessor of all morals, who gives life, and the protector of the world. I bow before you, three-eyed saint Bhava (another name for Shiva meaning essence), I pray to you Shalkara (name of Shiva the mountain god), husband of Uma, who rides in the clouds, a resident of caves who loves cremation, who has a threepronged spear in the hand of him who is the lord of the bulls, I will humbly bow down before you, my God, who will scatter the ashes of the cremated, whose phallus is honorable and glorious”.

Shukra thus repeats himself by idolizing Shiva. To this, Shiva laughed and said, “since you came out of my penis in the form of the semen you will be called Shukra (sperm).” As soon as Shiva said this, Shukra broke out of his belly and ejected himself through Shiva’s phallus, and from that moment on, Shukra considered Shiva to be a god.

According to various sources, researchers believe that at the outset in India, the symbol of the linga, made of stone, wood, or metal, was a spherical column that quite realistically depicted a man’s phallus. It was only from the Kushan dynasty (I-III AD) that the human face was carved or engraved onto it. From this period onwards, Linga with a human face are called Mukhalinga. The number of faces on the Linga can be 1, 3, 4 or 5 and these Mukhalingos are named: Ekamukha linga (single-faced linga), Tri mukhalinga (three-faced linga), Chatura Mukhalinga (four-faced linga) and Panchamukha Linga (five-faced linga). During the Gupta Dynasties (4th-8th centuries) and thereafter, large numbers of Linga made of stone and metal were found in North India, where a practice for making Lingas was developed: the head or face formed from the neck upwards bears the features of Shiva, namely the large moustache, but may also have a beard, a third eye on the forehead, and a crown on the head. *5

In our opinion, the Mukhalinga discovered in My Son is an Ekamukha linga because it meets the criteria in all respects, including its style, form and attributes, and is close to what is described in the ancient traditions of India. The date of manufacture of the Mukhalinga at My Son can be traced back to the early period of Champa, and it was probably at the same time to similar objects found at some sites in Southeast Asia. If we compare them, it is easy to see that Mukhalinga in My Son is one of the oldest Mukhalinga in Southeast Asia. According to published archaeological data and records, 11 Mukhalinga have been discovered from the Oc Eo-Fu Nan culture that flourished in the Mekong Delta. With the exception of one (Duc Hoa-i), each is large (half a meter to one meter in height), each with a structure of almost three parts of equal size (square, octagonal, and round in cross-section, and each with a Shiva head on the cylindrical part). According to researchers, Oc Eo-Fu Nan Mukhalinga found in the Mekong Delta is listed in Figures IV-VIII It was dated to the mid-century. *6

Prof. Dr. Ngo Van Doanh in My Son
Prof. Dr. Ngo Van Doanh in Mỹ Sơn

Although formally and based on the structure of the three parts as well as the location of the Shiva-head relief, the Mukhalinga in My Son is also listed in Figures IV-VIII. It can be classified as a Mukhalinga of Southeast Asia dating from the 16th century. However, differences can also be discovered between the Mukhalinga in Cham and Fu Nan. The first and most noticeable difference is the specific location of the Shiva face in the cylindrical part of the Linga. At the Mukhalinga in Fu Nan, the Shiva head protrudes from the plane at the bottom of the cylinder and is located within the foreskin surrounding the helm. At Mukhalinga in My Son, on the other hand, the relief of Shiva’s head is at the top of the cylindrical part, the sacred foreskin. Another easily noticeable difference is that the ancient Southeast Asian Lingas, namely the Pre-Angkor Lingas, namely the Fu Nan and Chan Lap Lingas, very realistically depict the male penis, displaying it in a lifelike manner: the top of the cylindrical part protrudes together with the finely depicted foreskin, which surrounds the lower part and gradually rises to express the characteristic shape of the penis. However, the Mukhalinga in My Son has more or less lost the lifelike appearance and subtle depiction of the phallus, the cylindrical part does not bulge upwards, only slightly curves, the thin foreskin and protruding groove around it are accentuated and stylized as strong edges. Nevertheless, in our judgment, the Mukhalinga of My Son incorporates the characteristics of the Mukhalinga of Southeast Asia, stylized the elements of its symbols. The differences mentioned show that several elements of the Mukhalinga in My Son show similarities to the two Linga found in the My Son F1 temple. The Linga found inside the F1 temple is 142cm high and 45cm wide, while the Linga discovered outside the temple is 139cm high and 45cm wide.7 Both Linga are proportional, each consisting of a square, octagonal, and cylindrical section, but only Shiva’s hair is engraved at the top of the sacred foreskin and phallus, not his entire head. As there is only a tied knot of hair on the Linga this type was named Jatalinga. If we look closely at the objects, we can observe another difference, namely that the sacred cylinder and the rim of the Mukhalinga protrude just above the octagonal part, while the rims (foreskin) of the Lingas are quite above the holy cylinder, almost at the top of the cylindrical part. This variance in the Mukhalinga at My Son can be classified as the My Son E Linga group.

The Linga, found in Zone E at My Son currently stands in front of the E7 temple and at 109cm in height it is quite large. *9 Like Mukhalinga, the Linga discovered in Zone E also consists of three parts—square, angular, cylindrical—and the sacred foreskin and cylinder are located low, unlike most known Cham Lingas. Our view is that the very small elevation of the column and sacred foreskin on the two Linga of Zone E at My Son are more of a functional attribute than an embodiment of a separate style. If these two objects are placed next to each other, the rationality and harmony of the Mukhalinga can be easily observed, as opposed to the sacred foreskin of the low-lying cylindrical part of the Linga and the disharmony protruding from the above part. We conclude that harmony would be restored if there were a Mukha (head/face) or a removable Kosa pouch above the cylinder. On the My Son E Linga, traces of a fracture can be discovered above the sacred foreskin, suggesting that the Mukha engraving was carved from a block of stone along with the Linga.

As analyzed above, examined from several aspects: size, structure, shape, and detail, the My Son Ezone linga and Mukhalinga can be classified into one sculptural style group: they are all Mukhalinga. From the perspective of size, shape, and type, all four large Linga found in Zones E and F of My Son have similar properties: they are all large, each with three lower parts, the upper part of the cylindrical part having a Shiva head or Jata on the two F 1 Linga, or Mukha on the E-zone Linga, each having a helm part with a prominent foreskin and a sacred column.

Mỹ Sơn

Since these objects do not have an embryonic shape, determining the age of Cham Lingas is a difficult and complex task. According to the studies by J. Boisselier, the F1 Jatalinga in My Son, Jata (a topknot of hair) is very realistic, precisely designed, conforms to the structure of the My Son E-1 Lingas (c. VII-VIII), with the dangling hair hang between a truncated cone and a free-hanging horizontal strand of hair. *10

Unfortunately, the head of the Mukhalinga statue in My Son has been quite worn over the centuries, so the details on the head and facial features cannot really be discerned. But it must be acknowledged that the saint on the Mukhalinga has a beautiful form. The indentations around the eyes and near the nose make the face a reality, giving it a very lively effect. Undoubtedly, this is the sculptural style of My Son E 1, moreover, it is noticeable that the moustache on the Mukhalinga’s face was formed entirely in the likeness of the saints of My Son Estyle 1, like My Son A. 1 and C 1 Shiva statues (Cham Museum, Da Nang). Although the details are barely visible due to wear, the recognizable part of Mukhalinga’s holy hair, a rather large and tall Jata, seems to have held two free-hanging horizontal strands of hair. This is in keeping with the structural style of My Son E1 Jatas.

In summary, therefore, based on analyses and comparisons of sculptural and symbolic elements, the My Son Mukhalinga is not only the first of Champa’s Mukhalinga to be discovered, but of very early manufacture in the seventh and eighth century. Given the extraordinary rarity of the object, and its cultural and artistic value, the Mukhalinga at My Son is not only one of the most beautiful and unique artefacts of Cham culture, but of the whole of Southeast Asia.

Mỹ Sơn


1 H. Parmentier, Inventaire descriptif des monuments Chams de l’Annam, Tome I, Paris, Cu Hoan: pp. 524-525., Tra Lien: p. 533., Yang Prong: P. 558.

2 J. Boisselier, La statuaire du Champa, BEFEO, Paris, 1963, pp. 340, 458, 412.

3 H. Parmentier, Inventaire descriptif des monuments Chams de l’Annam, Tome I, Paris, Cu Hoan: pp. 524-525., Tra Lien: p. 533., Yang Prong: P. 558.

4 Citation from: A Purana-kat by WolfDieter Storl “Shiva, the Wild God of Power and Ecstasy”, Inner Traditions, India, Mumbai, 2004.

5 Banerjea, Jitendra Nath, The Development of Hindu Iconography, Calcuta, 1956. R. S. Gupte, Iconography of Hindus Buddhists and Jains, Bombay, 1980.

6 Le Thi Lien, Nghe thuat Phat giao va Hindu giao o dong bang song Cuu long truoc the ky 10, The Gioi, Hanoi, 2006, pp. 85-89

7 Le Dinh Phung, Kien trucdieu khac My Son, KHXH, 2004. pp. 98, 99.

8 J. Boisselier, La statuaire du Champa, EFEO, Paris, 1963 p. 411.

9 Le Dinh Phung, Kieu trucdieu khac My Son, KHXK, 2004. p. 9.

10 J. Boisselier, La statuaire du Champa, EFEO, Paris, 1963. pp. 413, 414.

11 Wikipedia, Art of Champa, pp. 5/11