Om Namah Shiva
Shiva (Sanskrit: Auspicious One), or Siva is the destroyer and the restorer.
Shiva is the destroyer of the world, following Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver. Shiva dissolves in order to create, since death is the medium for rebirth into a new life. So the opposites of life and death and creation and destruction both reside in his character. Lord Shiva was the third deity of the Hindu trial of great gods, the Trimurti. It is also said to represent the three qualities of nature: creation, preservation and destruction, although preservation is usually attributed to Vishnu.
He is known by many names – Mahadeva, Mahayogi, Pashupati, Nataraja, Bhairava, Vishwanath, Bhava, Bhole Nath.
Shiva is referred to as ‘the good one’ or the ‘auspicious one’. Shiva – Rudra is considered to be the destroyer of evil and sorrow. Shiva – Shankara is the doer of good.
He is the oldest and the youngest; he is the eternal youth as well as the infant. He is the source of fertility in all-living beings. He has gentle as well as fierce forms. Shiva is the greatest of renounces as well as the ideal lover. He destroys evil and protects good. He bestows prosperity on worshipers although he is austere. His duty is to destroy all the worlds at the end of creation and dissolve them into nothingness.
Followers of Saivism are familiar with three words: pati, pasu and paasa. Pati is Siva himself, the lord and husband. Pasu is the deluded self that is caught in the cycle of birth and death. Pasa is the bond that binds the pasu to this world and it gains liberation through devotion and surrender to pati.
Third eye: The epithet Trinetra refers to this feature. Shiva has a third eye on his forehead which is an eye of wisdom. It is the eye with which he burned Desire to ashes. The third eye is associated with his immense energy, which destroys the evil doers and sins. Shiva’s third eye first appeared when Parvati, his wife, playfully covered his other two eyes, therefore plunging the world into darkness and putting it in danger of destruction. His three eyes represents the three worlds, the sun, the moon and the earth, the three paths of liberation and the triple nature of creation.
Crescent moon: Shiva bears on his head the crescent of the fifth day moon. The epithet Chandraśekhara refers to this feature. This is placed near the third eye and shows the power of Soma, the sacrificial offering, which is the representative of moon. It means that Shiva possesses the power of procreation along with the power of destruction. The moon is also a measure of time thus the Crescent also represents his control over time. The moon is a symbol of Kama the goddess of nightly love. With the moon there, his head becomes the night sky, for which he earned the name Vyomakesa (one who has the sky or space as his hair).
Ashes: Shiva smears his body with cemetery ashes that points the philosophy of the life and death and the fact that death is the ultimate reality of the life. One epithet for Shiva is “inhabitant of the cremation ground” (spelled Shmashanavasin), referring to this connection.
Matted hair (Jata): Shiva’s epithet Jatin, “the one with matted hair” refers to this feature. The flow of his hair represents him as the lord of wind or Vayu, who is the subtle form of breath present in all living beings. Thus it is Lord Shiva that is the lifeline for all living being. He is Pashupatinath. His long matted hair denotes his spiritual life and his great powers.
Blue throat: The epithet ‘neela kantha’ refers to a story in which Shiva consumed the poison churned up from the world ocean to save the world destruction.
Sacred Ganga: The Ganga River flows from the matted hair of Shiva. The epithet Gangadhara refers to this feature. A legend from the Ramayana speaks of King Bhagirath who once meditated before Lord Brahma for a thousand years for the salvation of the souls of his ancestors. Pleased with his devotion Brahma granted him a wish. He requested the Lord to send the river Ganges down to earth from heaven so that she could flow over his ancestors’ ashes and wash their curse away and allow them to go to heaven. Brahma granted his wish but asked him to pray to Shiva, for he alone could support the weight of her descent. Accordingly he prayed to Shiva and he captured her in his hair to avoid that she would flood all of Earth.
Tiger skin: He is often shown seated upon a tiger skin, with the tiger representing the mind. The tiger is the vehicle of Shakti, the goddess of power and force. The tiger skin that he wears symbolizes victory over every force. Tigers also represent lust. Thus sitting on Tiger skin, Shiva indicates that he has conquered lust. The tiger skin signifies his ability to control and transform animal nature.
Serpents: Shiva is often shown garlanded with a snake. Shiva is beyond the powers of death and poison. The cobras around his neck also represent the dormant energy, called Kundalini, the serpent power and it also represents creation and the journey from one body to other just like the snake sheds its skin. It also represents his control over desire and sensuality.
Trident: The three head of Shiva’s Trishul symbolizes three functions of the triad – the creation, the sustenance and the destruction. The trident represents the three qualities, namely sattva, rajas and tamas.
Drum: A small drum shaped like an hourglass is known as a damaru. The drum in the hand of Shiva denotes his connection with the primal sound AUM, the creation of alphabets, languages, grammar and music.
The Tripundakara: Tripundakara is three lines of ashes drawn on the forehead that represents the essence of our being, which remains after all the impurities of ignorance, ego, action and vasanas that have been burnt in the fire of knowledge.
Rudraksha: Rudraksha mala – a rosary made of the dried fruits of the Rudraksha tree. Shiva Rudraksha is supposed to have medicinal properties.
As auspicious and reproductive power, he is worshipped in the form of the shivling or shivalinga (lingam). Shiva temples have Shiva-Linga as the main deity. Shiva is conceived in his unborn, invisible form as the Lingam. It is always accompanied by the Yoni, which is the female principle, surrounding the base of the Lingam. The Lingam represents the male creative energy of Shiva.
When Shiva does not find any interest in the pleasures of life, he left everything, closed his eyes and started meditating. Shiva’s meditation generated so much heat that his body transformed into a pillar of fire – a blazing lingam that threatened to destroy the whole world. Suddenly there appeared a yoni - the divine vessel of the mother-goddess. It caught the fiery lingam and contained its heat, thus saving the world from destruction.
On the physical plane, the object resembles the male sexual organ, suggestive of the creative power of Siva. The circular base resembles that of the female, suggestive of his consort Parvathi. Physically a Sivaling is a phallic symbol, representing the male and female sexual organs in a state of wedded happiness. Mentally it symbolizes the union of mind and body. Spiritually it represents the union between Purusha and Prakriti, the highest principles of the manifest universe.
The Sivaling is also symbolic of the Supreme Self. In this aspect it has three parts. The lower part represents Brahma. The middle part, which is octagonal in shape, represents Vishnu. The upper part, which is cylindrical in shape, represents Rudra and is also called Pujabhaga since it receives the actual offerings of milk and other substances.
According to another legend, once Brahma and Vishnu had an argument as to their supremacy. Brahma being the Creator declared himself to be more esteemed, while Vishnu, the Preserver, pronounced that he commanded more respect. Just then an enormous ‘lingam’, known as Jyotirlinga, blanketed in flames, appeared before them. Both Brahma and Vishnu were awestruck by its rapidly increasing size. They forgot their quarrel and decided to determine its size. Vishnu assuming the form of a boar went to the netherworld and Brahma as a swan flew to the skies. But both of them failed to accomplish the self-assumed tasks. Then, Shiva appeared out of the ‘lingam’ and stated that he was the progenitor of them both and that henceforth he should be worshiped in lingam form.
He is also known as Bholenath for his innocence attitude. His body color is white which denotes his purity and association with the snowy mountains. He is generally shown sitting cross-legged in a yogic posture, with his eyes closed and deep in meditation. He has four arms. With one he holds his weapon the trident. With another, he holds Damaru, a small drum. The remaining two are held in abhaya and varada postures. Sometimes in his ferocious aspects, he is shown wearing a garland of skulls. Shiva holds a skull that represents samsara, the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Shiva himself also represents this complete cycle because he is Mahakala the Lord of Time, destroying and creating all things.
Shiva is the god of the yogis, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a lover of his spouse (shakti). His epithet Mahayogin (“one who practices Yoga”) refers to his association with yoga. Shiva’s first wife was Sati and his second wife was Parvati, the daughter of Himavaan and Haimavati, also known as Uma, Gauri, Durga, Kali and Shakti. His epithet Umapati (“The husband of Uma”) refers to this. His sons are Ganesha and Kartikeya. Shiva lives on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas.
Minor Deities of Siva
Nandi: The vehicle of Shiva is the white bull called Nandi (symbol of happiness and strength). The bull is said to embody sexual energy, fertility. Riding on its back, Shiva is in control of these impulses. Symbolically Nandi represents the animal or the tamasic qualities in man which Siva rides and transforms with his energies.
Bhringi: He was originally a demon named Andhaka, who was transformed by Siva into a humble devotee and admitted into his force as a commander of his armies. Bhringisa was so loyal to Siva that in his state of devotion he would not offer his worship to any one including Parvathi. Once when he saw Shiva in his Ardhanariswara form, he tried to admit through the middle of the body in the form of a bee to complete his honor to only the Siva side of the form, much to the annoyance of Parvathi. Bhringi who got his name thus was made to realize his mistake and change his behavior by Lord Siva.
Virabhadra: He is Siva in his ferocious mood. Siva manifested himself as Virabhadra, when Daksha, his father in law, ill treated and insulted his wife Sati, Daksha’s own daughter, in front of a large gathering. Unable to cope with the insult, Sati finished herself. Shiva got angry and beheaded Daksha’s. The images of Virabhadra depict the anger and ferocity of Siva in that destructive mood, wearing a garland of skulls, and with four arms holding four different kinds of weapons.
Chandesvara: He is an aspect of Chandi in human form later elevated to the status of divinity, to signify the connection between Siva and Chandi, or Durga. Chandesvara is a ferocious god, holding weapons of war and ready to do battle for a divine cause.
Nataraja: Nataraja literally means lord of the dance. Shiva Nataraja’s dance represents both the destruction and the creation of the universe and reveals the cycles of birth, death and rebirth. The lord is surrounded on all sides by a circular ring of fire. The ring represents the whole of creation. Nataraja holds a tongue of flame in his upper left hand. The fire represents the final destruction of creation. As a creator he creates, upholds and also destroys the worlds. The upper right hand holds a drum, suggestive of the sound of breath, the sound of life, and the vibrations underlying all currents of creation. It also stands for the male-female vital principle. The lower left hand is held in an assuring mode (abhaya-mudra) suggesting being without fear. The second right hand is shown pointing towards the downside with the palm upside drawing our attention to the figure lying beneath his feet indicating the release from earthly bondage of the devotee. With his hair flying in all directions and hands and feet in dynamic motion, the image of nataraja is a symbol of harmony and rhythm. The tiger skin worn by the deity suggests that even God has respect for the rules of right conduct and the dharma he has established in the manifest creation for the guidance of the souls. The snake around his waist enjoying the dance with a raised hood is suggestive of the kundalini-shakti that remains ever awakened in Siva and is in unison with him. Under his feet, Shiva crushes the demon of ignorance called Apasmara Purusha, caused by forgetfulness. On his head is a skull, which symbolizes his conquest over death. The whole idol rests on a lotus pedestal, the symbol of the creative forces of the universe.
This cosmic dance of Shiva is called ‘Anandatandava,’ meaning the Dance of Bliss, and symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death. The dance is a symbol of the five principle manifestations of eternal energy — creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion.
The two most common forms of the dance are the Tandava, which later came to denote the powerful and masculine dance with the destruction of the world, and Lasya, which is graceful and delicate and expresses emotions on a gentle level and is considered the feminine dance attributed to the goddess Parvati. Lasya is regarded as the female counterpart of Tandava. The Tandava-Lasya dances are associated with the destruction-creation of the world.
His other dance forms include, Ananda-tandava-murhty, dancing in a pleasant and cheerful mood, Uma-tandava-murhty, dancing in the company of Parvathi, Tripura-tandava-murthy, dancing while slaying Tripurasura and Urdhva-tandava-murhty, dancing in the air.
Aspects of Lord Siva
Panchavaktra Siva: Shiva’s body is said to consist of five mantras, called the pancabrahmans. These five faces are Aghora facing the south (resides in the cremation grounds), Ishana facing south east (most often appears as the shivalingam), Tat Purusha facing the east (meditating), Varna Deva facing north (the eternal Shiva) and Saddyojat or Braddha Rudra facing west (the old wrathful form). These are associated in various texts with the five elements, the five senses, the five organs of perception, and the five organs of action.
Anugrahamurthy: This is the milder or peaceful aspect of Lord Shiva when he is in the company of his beloved devotees or his family members.
Ugramurthy: Also known as Raudra, Bhairava, Kankala or Samharamurthy, this is the ferocious or angry form of Siva, generally associated with the events during which Siva assumed his terrible form to slay the demons or the wicked. The following are his well known terrible forms:
- Kankala-bhairava: The form which he assumed after cutting off the fifth head of Brahma
- Gajasura-vadha-murthy: The form he assumed while killing a demon named Nila
- Tripurantakmurthi: The form he assumed while destroying the three cities of gold, silver and iron built by the three sons of Andhakasura.
- Sarabhesa-murthy: The form in which he allegedly fought and killed, Narasimha, the incarnation of Vishnu.
- Kalari-murthy: The form in which he fought and defeated Yama to save his devotee Markandeya.
- Kamantaka-murthy: The form in which he destroyed Manmadha, the god of lust, for disturbing him while doing penance.
- Andhakasura-vadha-murthy: The form in which he defeated Andhakasura, who subsequently joined his forces as his commander and became popular as Bhringi.
- Bhairava-murthy: The form generally found in connection with the secret cults of Tantricism that involve his worship in the cremation grounds and grave yards.
Dakshinamurthy: Dakshinamurthy literally describes a form of Shiva facing south. This form represents Shiva in his aspect as a teacher of yoga, music, and wisdom and giving exposition on the shastras.
Lingodhbhava-murthy: This image signifies the importance of Siva in the form of Linga as the Supreme Self, without a beginning and without an end.
Bhikshatana-murthi. This is Siva in his ascetic aspect, wandering from place to place, with a begging bowl made of human skull, doing penance or lost in his own thoughts.
Hridaya-murthy: Also known as Harihara or Sankaranarayana, this is Shiva in a mood of reconciliation and friendship with Vishnu.
Ardhanariswara: This Siva and Parvathi together in one form signifying the unity of Purusha and Prorate. Ardhanarishvara shows him with one half of the body as male and the other half as female.
Mrutyunjaya: Literally translated as “victor over death”, this is an aspect of Shiva worshipped as the conqueror of death as manifested in the Hindu lord of death, Yama. The particular legend in question deals with the sage Markandeya, who was fated to die at the age of sixteen. On account of the sage’s worship and devotion to Shiva, the lord vanquished Yama to liberate his devotee from death.
Tripurantaka: Lord Shiva is often depicted as an archer in the act of destroying the triple fortresses, Tripura, of the Asuras. Tripura has been considered by many scholars to mean the three kinds of bodies of man viz. Sthula sharira—the external embodiment, Sukshma sharira—the intellectual corpus, and Karana sharira—the consciousness or the soul.
Astamurti: Astamurti represents the eightfold appellations of Shiva in forms of Bhava as Existence, Sarva as the great Archer, Rudra as the giver of sorrow and sufferings, Pasupati as the Herdsman, Ugra as the Fearsome, Mahan, i.e. Mahadeva as the Supreme soul, Bhima as the Tremendous force, and Isana as the Directional ruler of the universe.
Shiva is said to have several incarnations, known as avatars.
- Adi Shankara, the 8th-century philosopher of non-dualist Vedanta “Advaita Vedanta”, was named “Shankara” after Lord Shiva and is considered by some to have been an incarnation of Shiva.
- In the Hanuman Chalisa, Hanuman is identified as the eleventh avatar of Shiva, but this belief is not universal.
- Sage Durvasa is also incarnation of Lord Shiva.
Maha Shivratri is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night or the 14th day of the new moon in the Krishna Paksha of the month of Maagha or Phalguna in the Hindu calendar. Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’ and was married to Parvati.
The holiest Shiva temples are the 12 Jyotirlinga temples. They are
- Somnath – Prabhas Patan, near Veraval
- Nageshwar – Dwarka
- Mahakaleshwar – Ujjain
- Mallikarjuna – at Bhramaramba-Mallikarjuna Temple, Srisailam
- Bhimashankar – near Pune
- Omkareshwar – near Indore
- Kedarnath – Kedarnath, Uttarakhand
- Kashi Vishwanath – Varanasi
- Trimbakeshwar – near Nasik
- Rameswaram – Rameswaram
- Grishneshwar – near Ellora and
- Vaidyanath – Deoghar.