He who is without beginning and without end,
in the midst of confusion, the Creator of all,
of manifold form, the One embracer of the universe…
by knowing Him, one is released from all fetters.
SHIVA – THE GOD OF DESTRUCTION
Shiva literally means “auspiciousness, welfare”. He is the third god of the Hindu Triad and he is the god of destruction. He represents darkness , and it is said to be the “angry god”.
The term destruction as it relates to Shiva’s cosmic duties can be deceiving. Often Lord Shiva destroys negative presences such as evil, ignorance, and death. Also, it is the destruction created by Lord Shiva that allows for positive recreation. For example, an artisan may melt down (i.e., destroy) old pieces of metal during his process of creating a beautiful piece of art.
It is for this reason that Shiva holds a complementary role to Brahma, the god of creation. Shiva protects souls until they are ready for recreation at the hands of Brahma. Because of his connections with destruction, Lord Shiva is one of the most feared and heavily worshipped deities in Hinduism.
However, according to Hinduism, creation follows destruction. Therefore Shiva is also regarded as a reproductive power, which restores what has been dissolved. As one who restores, he is represented as the linga or phallus, a symbol of regeneration.
SHIVA IS IN THE WORLD AND IN THE SAME TIME HE IS BEYOND THE WORLD
In the beginning nothing existed, neither the heaven nor the earth nor any space in between. So non-being, having decided to be, became spirit and said: “Let me become!”. He warmed himself, and from this was born fire. He warmed himself further still and from this was born light.
He is the never-created creator of all: He knows all. He is pure consciousness, the creator of time, all-powerful, all-knowing. He is the Lord of the soul and of nature and of the three conditions of nature. From Him comes the transmigration of life and liberation, bondage in time and freedom in eternity.
Some know him as Shiva the Beneficent. Others praise him as the Destroyer. For some he is Shiva the Ascetic, wandering the world. And for others still he is the Great Lord, king of all creation. But it is as Lord of the Dance that all his aspects come together in one horrifically significant form. Nowhere else in the human world is there a clearer symbol of what a god is and does.
He has a 1,008 names, including Mahadeva (the great god), Mahesh, Rudra, Neelkantha (the blue-throated one), and Ishwar (the supreme god). He is also called Mahayogi, or the great ascetic, who symbolises the highest form of austere penance and abstract meditation, which results in salvation.
Shiva has a thousand names, and a thousand faces. Shiva is the essence of the Vedas, and the source of the Word. He is inextricably woven into all that the eye can see. He is the first among the gods of this world, who made the world so that others could make the things in it. Energy is his name, and he moves through all things, never static.
All that is made, every generation of life, all the wondrous forms that fill our world, all flow from his dancing loins. He is not male, nor female. He is neither human nor inhuman. He has four arms, and he has none. Shiva’s nature at once transcends and includes all the polarities of the living world.
SHIVA – THE DARK-SKINNED ASCETIC WITH A BLUE THROAT
Shiva is believed to exist in many forms. His most common depiction is as a dark-skinned ascetic with a blue throat. Usually seated cross-legged on a tiger skin, Shiva’s hair is matted and coiled on his head, adorned with a snake and a crescent moon. Ganga is always depicted flowing out of his topknot.
Shiva has four arms and three eyes. The third eye, in the middle of his forehead, is always closed and only opens to annihilate an evil doer. A garland of skulls, rudraksha beads, or a snake hang from his neck. Shiva also wears snakes as armlets and bracelets.
The serpent race, despised and feared by all other creatures, found a place of honour on Shiva’s sacred person, simply because he was moved by their plight. In one hand, Shiva holds his trishul, the Pinaka. The trishul usually has a damaru or waisted drum tied to it. In another hand, he holds a conch shell, and in the third, a rudraksha rosary, a club, or a bow.
One hand is usually empty, raised in a gesture of blessing and protection. The other points to his feet, where the devotee is assured of salvation. He wears a tiger or leopard skin around his waist, and his upper body is usually bare, but smeared with ashes, as befits an ascetic. His third eye is believed to have appeared when Parvati ( Parvati, the goddess of power, is Shiva’s cosmic consort), in a playful mood, covered his eyes with her hands.
Immediately, the universe was plunged into darkness and there was chaos. To restore order, Shiva formed another eye on his forehead, from which emerged fire to restore light. The light from this eye is believed to be very powerful, and therefore destructive. Shiva opens his third eye only in anger, and the offender is burnt to cinders.
According to the Shiva Purana, Shiva is said to have five faces, corresponding to his five tasks, the panchakriya: creation, establishment, destruction, oblivion, and grace. His five faces are associated with the creation of the sacred syllable Om.
THE SHIVA’S RESIDENCE IS THE MOUNT KAILASH
Shiva is said to live on Mount Kailash, a mountain in the Himalayas. His vehicle is Nandi the bull and his weapon, the trishul. Shiva’s consort is Parvati, who is also believed to be a part of Shiva. One of the most popular forms of Shiva is that of Ardhanarishvara.
According to a story in the Puranas, Brahma was unsuccessful at creation. He propitiated Shiva who took this form and separated Parvati from his body. Parvati has many incarnations, like Kali, Durga, and Uma. Their sons are Kartikeya and Ganesha.
Shiva is believed to have a large number of attendants, called ganas. These mythological beings have human bodies with animal heads. Shiva’s son Ganesha is the leader of the ganas. Across the Hindu country, there are hundreds of temples and shrines dedicated to Shiva. He is usually worshipped in the form of a shivalinga. He is worshipped by offering flowers, milk, and sandalwood paste.
WHY SHIVA HAS HIS THROAT BLUE?
There are many stories in the Puranas about the origin of Shiva. According to the Vishnu Purana, at the beginning of this kalpa Brahma wanted a child and meditated for one.
Presently, a child appeared on his lap and started crying. When asked by Brahma why he was crying, the child replied that it was because he did not have a name. Brahma then named him Rudra, meaning “howler”.
However the child cried seven more times and was given seven more names. Shiva therefore has eight forms: Rudra, Sharva, Bhava, Ugra, Bhima, Pashupati, Ishana, and Mahadeva, which, according to the Shiva Purana, correspond to the earth, water, fire, wind, sky, a yogi called Kshetragya, the sun, and the moon respectively.
During the samudra manthan, when poison was churned out of the ocean, Shiva is said to have swallowed it to save the world from destruction. As he drank the poison, Parvati clasped his throat tightly so that the poison remained there and darkened his neck. Because of this, he is known as Neelkantha, the blue-necked one.
NATARAJA – THE LORD OF DANCE
Shiva is the creator of dance and of the first 16 rhythmic syllables ever uttered, from which the Sanskrit language was born. His dance of anger is called the Roudra Tandava and his dance of joy, the Ananda Tandava.
All the gods and sages were present when he first danced the Nadanta Tandava, a characteristically vigorous dance, and they begged him to dance again. Shiva promised to do so in the hearts of his devotees and in a sacred grove in Tamil Nadu, where the great temple of Chidambaram was built, the only one in all India dedicated to Shiva as Nataraja, the lord of dance. It is believed that on the 13th day of each bright lunar fortnight (see Hindu Calendar), after 6 o’clock in the evening, falls a sacred hour called Pradosha.
Worshipping Shiva at this time is akin to worshipping all the powers of Shiva, for this is the time when all the gods are believed to have assembled on Kailash to lose them in the ecstasy of Nataraja’s dance. He dances the dance of creation, the dance of destruction, the dance of solace and liberation. Beneath his left foot ignorance is crushed; from his head springs the life-giving waters.
His are the flames, the moon, the drum, and the lotus. His mount is the white bull, and the tiger has given its skin to gird his loins. Serpents coil about his limbs, and from his right hand flows the promise of release.
This dance is not just a symbol. It takes place within each of us at the atomic level at every moment. The birth of the world, its maintenance, its destruction, the covering of the soul and its revelation…these are the five acts of this dance. All that has been made will be unmade, and all that has been destroyed will be resurrected.