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None gave him birth, He knows no Lord. None rules Him in the world, nor yet controls. No features mark Him out, yet cause He is. Prime cause of that, which steers, the senses five, the soul within.” Shvetashvattara Upanishad.  He is both static and dynamic and is both creator and destroyer. 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. He 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. He is omnipresent and resides in everyone as pure consciousness. It is said that all that is true, all that is good and all that is beautiful is God “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”.

Shiva! The name, the word itself seems to come with so much aplomb to the Hindu mind. Images flood the mind’s eye. The savage one; The handsome one. The fierce one; The ardent lover of Parvati. One who wears snakes for ornaments; One who holds the Ganges on his head. One who destroys; One who dances. Wearer of leopard skin; Wielder of cymbals. One with long matted hair; One who wears the moon on his head! Worshipped in the form of a phallic symbol; Worshipped for the power of his third eye…

Whenever we encountered Shiva in the pages of one Purana  or the other or in the stories of my grandmother, he came through as a wonderful majestic man, not polished and sophisticated like Vishnu, not ornamented and decorated as Vishnu, but a man whose every cell speaks, whose every moment makes the history of time. His characterization is so cogent and integrated through texts over centuries found across the length and breadth of India that it is amazing. It is real.


The non anthropomorphic Lingam form of Shiva is what is held in reverence in temples all over the world. The Lingam is a symbol. It is a symbol of that which is invisible yet omnipresent. It is hence a visible symbol of the Ultimate Reality which is present in us (and in all objects of creation).

The Shivalingam denotes the primeval energy of the creator. It is believed that at the end of all creation, during the great deluge, all of the different aspects of God find a resting place in the Lingam; Bhrama is absorbed into the right, Vishnu to the left and Gayatri into the heart. The Shivalingam is also a representation of the infinite Cosmic Column of fire, whose origins, Vishnu and Bhrama were unable to trace.


The name Rudra reflects his fearsome aspects. According to traditional etymologies, the Sanskrit name Rudra is derived from the root rud-, which means “to cry, howl” and also means “wild – of rudra nature”, and translates the name Rudra as “the wild one” or “the fierce god”. Hara is an important name that occurs three times in the Anushasanaparvan version of the Shiva sahasranama, where it is translated in different ways each time it occurs, following a commentarial tradition of not repeating an interpretation. Another of Shiva’s fearsome forms is as Kala “time”, and as Mahakala “great time”, which ultimately destroys all things. Bhairava “terrible” or “frightful”, is a fierce form associated with annihilation.

In contrast, the name Shankara, “beneficent or conferring happiness” reflects his benign form. This name was adopted by the great Vedanta philosopher Shankara, who is also known as Shankaracharya. The name Sambhu, “causing happiness”, also reflects this benign aspect.


The depiction of Shiva as Nataraja “Lord of Dance” is popular. The names Nartaka (“dancer”) and Nityanarta (“eternal dancer”) appear in the Shiva Sahasranama. His association with dance and also with music is prominent in the Puranic period. In addition to the specific iconographic form known as Nataraja, various other types of dancing forms are found in all parts of India, with many well-defined varieties in Tamil Nadu in particular. The two most common forms of the dance are the Tandava, which later came to denote the powerful and masculine dance as Kala-Mahakala associated 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.


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. This iconographic form for depicting Shiva in Indian art is mostly from Tamil Nadu. Elements of this motif can include Shiva seated upon a deer-throne and surrounded by sages who are receiving his instruction.


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. Shiva is often worshipped as Mruthyunjaya by the aged or ill to ward off death and mitigate its harshness when it does occur.


God is beyond the concept of any sex.  So god can be male, female, and even neuter too.  So god exists in intrinsic condition as is referred by Ardhanarishvara.  Philosophically, this form is quite associated with the grace of god.  Shiva and shakthi are one and the same supreme power.  The formless god is called parashiva.  The power of creation comes from Shiva and shakthi.  Though they are incorporated in the same form they act independently as well as jointly. Hindu philosophy, this is used to visualize the belief that the sacred ultimate power of the universe as being both feminine and masculine.


Lord Shiva is often depicted as an archer in the act of destroying the triple fortresses, Tripura, of the Asuras. Shiva’s name Tripurantaka “ender of Tripura” refers to this important story.  Metaphysically, 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. The Tripurantaka manifestation of the Lord destroys and extinguishes the tri-partite compartmentalization of the being and merges all three essential components of man into the supreme consciousness. The lord as Tripurantaka destroys the veil of Maya, agyaan (ignorance), and affects the unison of the individual soul with the supreme consciousness.


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.

A story goes Brahma sat in deep meditation holding all his vital energies and from the sound of Om that he held close to his heart, emerged Shiva He came out of Brahma’s forehead. He stood before him as Ashtamurti that is displaying all his eight manifestations, He was in fact the Vishwarupa or the universe for he had the heaven as his head, the quarters as ears, the sun, moon and fire as eyes, the sky as umbilicus, the winds blowing at his feet and was clothed in the oceans. He wore for ornaments the constellations. In this version is the beginning and the end. He is all.

Relationship to Vishnu

Synergetic forces produced stories in which the two deities were shown in cooperative relationships and combined forms. Harihara is the name of a combined deity form of both Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara). This dual form, which is also called Harirudra, is mentioned in the Mahabharata. An example of a collaboration story is one given to explain Shiva’s epithet Mahabalesvara, “lord of great strength”. This name refers to a story in which Ravana was given a linga as a boon by Shiva on the condition that he carry it always. During his travels, he stopped near the present Deoghar in Jharkhand to purify himself and asked Narada, a devotee of Vishnu in the guise of a Brahmin, to hold the linga for him, but after some time, Narada put it down on the ground and vanished. When Ravana returned, he could not move the linga, and it is said to remain there ever since. The story of Gokarna in Karnataka is also similar in that Ravana, on the way to Lanka from Kailasa, gave the lingam to Ganesha to keep until he bathes, but Ganesha fits it in the earth, so the lingam is called Mahabaleshwara.

As another story goes, Shiva is enticed by the beauty and charm of Mohini, Vishnu’s female avatar, and procreates with her. As a result of this union, Ayyappa or Shasta identified with Ayyanar is born. Shiva is also served by Mohini when a bunch of haughty sages were taught a lesson by Shiva.

Of Shiva, one can not write and stop. There are sixty-four lilas or sports in which he is said to have partaken and infinite stories from his tumultuous marriage to his drinking of the poison during the famous incident in Hindu mythology of the churning of the ocean. Through all the myths Shiva emerges the same, powerful, impulsive, angry, frightening, charming, one who holds the damru (drum) either sides of which makes our night and day and one whose ankle bells are the source of all sound. To write on Shiva is as continuous a process as the idea of Shiva himself.

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