If Brahma is the creator and Vishnu is the preserver, Shiv is the ultimate destroyer. At the end of creation, his duty is to destroy all worlds and dissolve them into nothingness.
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Modern space theories suggest that the physical universe may end after billions of years due to the expansion of a massive black hole devouring matter from infinite galaxies. Perhaps Shiva is the black hole or its creator performing that function.
However, this does not imply that Shiva will remain idle until that time arrives. Before the worlds truly end, Shiva has a lot of work to do to keep them going. His first and foremost task is to destroy many things in order to maintain Rta, or universe order. Shiva’s destruction is not a bad thing. It is constructive destruction that builds and transforms life and energy for the benefit of the world and the beings who inhabit it. He destroys in order to renew and regenerate life forms and to facilitate Nature’s transformation, evolution, or changes.
His destruction is the destruction of an artist, a surgeon, or a cook. He facilitates the smooth transition of things and events from one stage to another by destroying them.
He destroys our flaws in order for us to progress spiritually. He shatters our fantasies, desires, and ignorance. He destroys our negative and evil nature. He erases our old memories so that we can move forward with the passage of time. He destroys our attachments, impurities, physical and mental wrongdoings, the effects of bad karma, our passions and emotions, and many other things that stand in the way of our progress and inner transformation. And finally, when we have made enough progress, when we are ready and prepared, when we are willing to be transformed into light and wisdom without any inner conflict, he destroys death itself.
Shiva is synonymous with life and Shava (the absence of Shiva) with death because he is so vital to life and existence. Shiva represents existence, while Shava represents nonexistence.
Except as a quality, Shiva is not mentioned in the Vedas. Some hymns are dedicated to Rudra, the father of Maruts and a fierce storm god who heals with his thousand medicines. (For more information on Rudra, see the Vedic pantheon.)
Shivaling literally means Shiva’s body. It is perhaps the most potent, powerful, and popular sacred symbol in Hinduism, second only to the symbol of AUM, and is worshipped, meditated on, and worn on the body by many devotees. Worship is generally limited to Shivalingas in almost all Shiva temples. We rarely see his images in the sanctum sanctorum of any Shiva temple. A Shivaling is typically a protruding round or cylindrical object. A circular base secures the cylindrical part.
On the physical plane, the object resembles a male sexual organ, implying Shiva’s creative power. The circular base resembles a female’s, alluding to his consort Parvathi. A Shivaling is a phallic symbol that represents the male and female sexual organs in conjugal bliss. It represents the mental and physical union. It represents the spiritual union of Purusha and Prakriti, the highest principles of the manifest universe. It stands for life and existence in general, the coming together of matter and consciousness, gross and subtle bodies to create the miracle known as life.
The Shivaling also represents the Supreme Self. It is, without a doubt, Maheswara Himself, the Highest Self and Lord of the Universe. It is divided into three parts in this regard. Brahma is represented in the lower part. Vishnu is represented by the octagonal middle section. Rudra is represented by the upper part, which is cylindrical in shape. It is also known as Pujabhaga because it receives actual milk and other substances as offerings.
Shivalingas are typically found installed in temples. Many Shiva devotees keep them in their homes and worship them on a regular basis. People are cautioned, however, not to keep Shivalingas in their homes if they do not offer regular worship, as they are thought to be powerful sources of divine energy and should not be neglected or disrespected. Shivalingas can be found naturally or created artificially. Clay, gold, crystal, glass, diamonds, precious stones, and wood are among the materials used in their creation.
The round and smooth stones found in the river beds of many rivers, such as the Narmada and the Godavari, are also thought to be ideal for worship. Shivalingas are sometimes made temporarily with clay or sandal paste and then dissolved after worship. Some devotees wear Shiva lingas around their necks or on their bodies for protection, proximity, or to keep vows. When Shivalingas are discovered by chance in river beds, forests, mountains, and desolate places, it is regarded as a great omen and manifestation of Shiva’s will. As a result, they are revered and housed in temples or houses of worship.
Description of Shiva
Shiva is the embodiment of beauty, serenity, spirituality, and stability. He is also earthy and human-like in his demeanour. Unlike Vishnu, who is depicted in dark blue, Shiva is depicted in white, except for his neck, which is dark blue due to the poison he deposited there to save the world. However, images of Shiva in dark blue are the norm. Similarly to Vishnu, he is an ascetic god who lives a life of austerity and penance. In the photos, he appears to be tall, sinewy, and well-built.
His body is covered in ashes as a result of his frequent visits to the cremation ground and proximity to the burning pyres, indicating his apathy toward worldly life and social conformity. He’s got three eyes. The third eye is situated between his brows. It is the eye of wisdom, which he opens to destroy not only fierce demons but also our false selves and myriad illusions. Unlike Brahma, who is usually depicted as an elderly god and wise old sage, Shiva is usually depicted as a fatherly god in his middle ages.
Though he is described in the scriptures as a god of rage, we generally see him in a pleasant and graceful mood in the images. He is sometimes portrayed as Bholenath, with an air of innocence and simplicity about him. Most depictions show him in a yogic posture, sitting cross-legged on a tiger skin, eyes closed in meditation or open to bless the devotees. His face expresses love and compassion when shown with open eyes. Shiva’s images evoke deep emotions in us, both positive and negative depending on his forms and his own emotional state.
Those who are inclined to worship the god are naturally drawn to him because they regard him as their beloved god with whom they can easily communicate through their hearts and minds.
In contrast to Vishnu, who lives a lavish life surrounded by opulence, Shiva and his family live austere lives in simple surroundings. In contrast to Vishnu, who can be secretive or tactful as part of his divine play, he is a transparent god whose actions speak for themselves. He is also a god of extreme simplicity, humility, and austerity. Despite being the lord of the universe, he lives an austere life befitting a true ascetic. His possessions are limited. His clothes are made of tiger and elephant skin. His long, matted hair is usually tied back or left flowing.
He can appear with two or four arms. He wields his weapon, the trident, with one hand. Damaru, a small drum, is in his other hand. When they are shown, the remaining two are in Abhaya and Varada mudras (postures).
The tiger and elephant skins represent his ability to control and transform animal nature. The trident symbolises the three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The damru represents his connection to the primal sound AUM, which is responsible for the creation of alphabets, languages, grammar, and music. His long matted hair symbolises his spiritual life and great abilities. It’s also likened to the night sky. He has a snake garland around his neck. More snakes appear from time to time, one running across his body like a sacred thread and two acting as bracelets around his muscular hands. The snakes represent his mastery over desire and sensuality. In his ferocious forms, he is sometimes shown wearing a skull garland.
The crescent moon shines like a silver diadem in his hair. And Ganga, the River Goddess, flows from the heights of heaven in his head to the world below.
Despite his ascetic lifestyle, he adores his family and prefers to spend time with them. He adores his consort, Parvathi, his inseparable half, whom he married after putting her through many trials. He also treats her with dignity as an equal. While Vishnu is depicted as the Lord who is served by Lakshmi, Shiva and Parvathi share the same seat as equals on the snowy heights of Kailash. Parvathi is his better half because she shares half of everything he has, including his body. As a result, he was given the name Ardhanarisvara (half female half lord).
Normally, we find her by his side all the time, especially when he is seated in Kailash, sharing all the honours he receives. Shiva represents the Cosmic Male (Purusha) and Parvathi or Shakti represents the primal Nature (Prakriti). Creation is only possible when they exist as one inseparable reality.
Shiva also represents fatherly love. He adores his two children, Skanda or Kumara and Lord Ganesha or Vinayaka, and assigns them tasks based on their personalities. His vehicle is the Bull Nandi. Nandiswara personifies humility. He is also very knowledgeable. Nandi taught Hanuman Vedic secrets as well as humility lessons!
Bhringi, a zealous devotee who refused to worship anyone other than Shiva and refused to worship even Parvathi until he was cursed by her and forced to admit his error, is another important member of his entourage. Despite being a mountain dweller, he is unattached to anything and, true to his ascetic nature, wanders from place to place. Mount Kailash is his home, where he lives with his family, his liberated devotees, and his vast army of goblins, imps, and ghosts.
In the preceding paragraphs and in our other articles on Shiva and Trinity, we discussed some aspects of Shiva symbolism. Shiva represents the tamasic quality symbolically. As a result, he is known as Pasupathi (the lord of the animals). His white body color represents his purity (Shivam) and association with the snowy mountains. His three eyes represent the three worlds, the sun, the moon, and the earth, as well as the three paths to liberation and the trinity of creation. The third eye is the wisdom or occult knowledge eye. The moon on his head represents the passage of time as well as his cosmic proportions.
With the moon there, his head transforms into the night sky, earning him the name Vyomakesa (one who has the sky or space as his hair). In contrast to Vishnu, who is associated with the Sun as a solar deity, he is associated with the moon. The moon also represents his connection to the occult and tantras.
Shiva is typically depicted as a seated yogi, a posture that most Hindus are familiar with. However, we also see Shiva in the form of Nataraja or Tandavamurthi in a dance posture. Nataraja’s image is a symbol of harmony and rhythm, with his hair flying in all directions and hands and feet in dynamic motion. Aside from the trident and the Damaru, popular objects associated with him include battle axes (parasu), rosaries (aksamala), pasa (noose), khatvanga (magic wand), and khadga (sword).
Saivites are familiar with three words: pati, pasu, and paasa. Pati represents Shiva, the Lord, and Husband. Pasu represents the deluded self-trapped in the cycle of birth and death. Pasa is the bond that binds the pasu to this world, and it is freed through devotion and surrender to pati.
Aspects of Lord Shiva
Shiva is known by many names and is worshipped in a variety of forms. Some of his most well-known characteristics are listed below:
Panchanana Shiva: Shiva is depicted with five faces in some temples. Each face has a name and represents a different aspect. Isana, Tatpurusa, Aghora, Vamadeva, and Sadyojata are the five faces. Isana faces southeast and represents Shiva’s Iswara aspect, SadaShiva, or the Eternal Shiva. Tatpurusha is oriented eastward. He is Shiva in his deluded Purusha or ego form. Aghora faces south and represents Shiva’s destructive and regenerative aspects, which, like fire, devours life before preparing the ground for its renewal. Vamadeva is oriented north. He is a healer and a protector. Sadyojata faces west and represents Shiva’s creative power.
Anugrahamurthy: This is Lord Shiva’s gentler or more peaceful side when he is with his beloved devotees or family members.
Ugramurthy: This is Shiva’s ferocious or angry form, also known as Raudra, Bhairava, Kankala, or Samharamurthy, and is generally associated with the events in which Shiva assumed his terrible form to slay the demons or the wicked. His most well-known terrible forms are as follows:
Kankala-bhairava: The form he took after severing Brahma’s fifth head Gajasura-Vadha-murthy: The form he took while killing a demon named Nila Tripurantakmurthi: The form he took while destroying the Andhakasura Sarabhesa built three cities of gold, silver, and iron by Andhakasura Sarabhesa-three murthy’s sons: Narasimha, the incarnation of Vishnu, in which he allegedly fought and killed. Kalari-murthy: the form in which he fought and defeated Yama in order to save Markandeya, his devotee. 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 Tantrism that involve his worship in the cremation grounds and graveyards. Tandavamurthy: Lord Shiva is a dance master. He is the creator of all dance styles. The science of dance (Natyasasthra) is concerned with the 108 types of classical Indian dance forms attributed to him, as well as all yogic postures. In the case of Lord Shiva, all dance is a form of expression that he uses to either relieve world tensions or alleviate his devotees’ sufferings. With his dance, he sometimes entertains the gods, his wife, or his devotees.
There are about nine forms of Shiva in dancing mode described, the most popular of which is Nataraja (the king of dance). Though there are several icons of Shiva as Nataraja, he is rarely worshipped in this form, either in temples or in homes. His other dance forms include Ananda-tandava-murthy, which involves dancing in a pleasant and cheerful mood, Uma-tandava-murthy, which involves dancing in the company of Parvathi, Tripura-tandava-murthy, which involves dancing while slaying Tripurasura, and Urdhva-tandava-murthy, which involves dancing in the air.
The symbolism of Nataraja:
Nataraja literally translates to “lord of the dance.” Shiva is the supreme and all-powerful cause of all creation, and the dance is his act of creation, a dynamic rhythmic movement. His dance is a directed action under his complete command, not a series of chaotic, random movements. The lord and the dance are both manifestations of ParamaShiva, the highest eternal and formless Nirguna Brahman, on the canvas of his own awakened state as Saguna Brahman.
Nataraja’s image represents a different aspect of creation in each of its aspects. The lord is surrounded on all sides by a circular ring of fire. The ring represents all of creation. It is finite, cyclical, and full of energy or shakti, which is depicted as flames here. It is derived from the Lord’s hands and limbs, suggesting that he is the primary and effective cause of creation.
Nataraja holds a flame tongue in his upper left hand. The fire symbolizes the energy responsible for both the creation and the dissolution of the worlds at the end of creation. He creates, sustains, and destroys the world as a creator.
The upper right hand is holding a drum, also known as a damaru, which is a musical instrument that makes rhythmic sounds. It evokes the sound of breath, life, and the vibrations that underpin all currents of creation and manifestation. It also represents the vibrations caused by our thoughts, emotions, mental activity, sense movement, and the samsara in which the jivas exist until they find an escape.
The lower left hand is held in an assuring mode (Abhaya mudra), implying that the jivas do not need to despair and that they can achieve sameness (saujya) with Shiva through his grace (anugraha) and intervention. The second right hand is shown pointing downward with the palm up, drawing our attention to the figure lying beneath his feet, implying that the lord is not holding anything back but is revealing the knowledge of creation and the secrets of our bondage in order for jivas to find means of escape through the assurance they find in his lower left hand.
Shiva’s matted hair is depicted as flying high and flowing in all directions. These are the symbols of divinities or higher gods who live in the higher realms and take part in Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance. The deity’s tiger skin suggests that even God respects the rules of right behaviour and the dharma he has established in the manifest creation for the guidance of souls. The snake around his waist, enjoying the dance with a raised hood, represents Shiva’s kundalini-shakti, which is always awake and in unison with him.
The dwarf who lies at Nataraja’s feet is known as apasmara-murthy. It represents the jiva who has forgotten its own infiniteness and Shiva nature due to the impurity of anava, which causes it to believe it is a dwarf or anu (atomic, minute, or finite being) and has become a subject of the dance of creation.
As a result, the image of Nataraja is an iconic representation of the entire Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, one of Saivism’s oldest schools. The image’s various aspects represent Shiva’s nature, the act of creation, the state of the jivas, and the means of liberation. Through Shiva’s grace, one can begin the process of liberation by creating it, serving it, or contemplating it.
Dakshinamurthy: This is Shiva in his aspect as the universal teacher, teaching the sages and saints, gods and goddesses, and his highly qualified devotees the secrets of yoga, tantras, yantras, alchemy, magic, occult knowledge, arts and sciences, ancient history, or knowledge of the future. He is known as Dakshinamurthy because he teaches while sitting on the snowy mountains of the Himalayas, facing the Indian subcontinent to the south. Dakshinamurthy’s images show Shiva in a happy mood, seated on a high seat with one leg folded and the other resting on the Apasmarapurusha, the deluded self. In one of his arms, he holds a snake or rosary, or both, and in the other, he holds fire.
The snake represents tantric knowledge, and the fire represents enlightenment. One of the remaining two is in abhayamudra (assurance posture), and the other is holding a scripture in gnanamudra (posture of presenting knowledge).
Lingodhbhava-murthy: This image represents Shiva in the form of Linga as the Supreme Self, without beginning, and without end. According to Hindu legend, Shiva once revealed his infinity to Brahma and Vishnu in the form of a pillar of fire that neither of them could scale from end to end. Shiva appears as Lingodhbava-murthy, seated in the heart of a Linga, with four arms, while Brahma and Vishnu adore him from opposite sides.
Bhikshatana-murthi: This is Shiva in his ascetic form, wandering from place to place with a human skull begging bowl, doing penance or lost in his own thoughts. Even today, some Shiva devotees can be seen walking around villages in India in this form. Some of them even use magic to draw our attention or scare away the pursuing children.
Hridaya-murthy: This is Shiva in a friendly and reconciling mood with Vishnu. Harihara is another name for Sankaranarayana. The images depict the right half of Shiva on the right side and the left half of Vishnu on the left.
Ardhanariswara: This Shiva and Parvathi in one form represent the union of Purusha and Prakriti. The feminine left half of Parvathi is fused with Shiva’s masculine right half in one continuous form, sometimes standing with the Bull Nandi in the background, or sitting on a pedestal and blessing the worlds, eyes open or closed.
Minor Deities of Shiva
Shiva’s Retinue includes minor deities. The most important of these are Nandi, Bhringi, Virabhadra, and Chandesvara.
Nandi: It’s worth noting that, in contrast to the Vedic people, who revered the cow as a sacred animal, Shiva’s followers revere the bull! It’s because Shiva’s vehicle is Nandi, the Bull. In every Shiva temple, Nandi is invariably found sitting directly in front of the sanctum sanctorum, facing the image and constantly looking at him. In fact, no one is supposed to see the chief deity in a Shiva temple without first paying homage to the seated Nandi and then peering at Shiva from a distance through the space between his ears and the top his head.
Some temples in India are dedicated to him, such as the well-known Nandiswara temple in Karnataka. Nandiswara appears in his anthropomorphic form as Shiva, with three eyes and four hands, two of which are permanently dedicated to Shiva’s veneration and the other two carrying his weapons. Nandi symbolizes the animal or tamasic qualities in man that Shiva rides and transforms with his energies. As previously stated, Nandi is well versed in all scriptural and spiritual knowledge, as well as knowledge of devotion to Hanuman.
In many parts of rural India, it is customary to let a Bull roam free in each village as a mark of respect to Nandi and to inseminate the cows.
Bhringi: He was originally a demon named Andhaka, but Shiva transformed him into a humble devotee and accepted him as a commander of his armies. Bhringisa was so devoted to Shiva that he would not offer his worship to anyone, including Parvathi. It is said that when he first saw Shiva in his Ardhanariswara form, he attempted to bore through the body in the form of a bee in order to complete his obeisance to only the Shiva side of the form, much to Parvathi’s chagrin. Lord Shiva made Bhringi, who got his name from this, realize his mistake and change his behavior.
Virabhadra In his ferocious mood, he is Shiva. When Daksha, his father-in-law, mistreated and insulted his wife Sati, Daksha’s own daughter, Shiva manifested himself as Virabhadra. Sati immolated herself in response to the insult. Shiva was so enraged by this that he descended on Daksha’s location with a large army and beheaded Daksha. Virabhadra’s images depict Shiva’s rage and ferocity in that destructive mood, wearing a garland of skulls and four arms holding four different kinds of weapons. Virabhadra is a warrior god who was revered during ancient and medieval wars. He is also the principal deity of the Virasaiva movement and is still revered by many people in India’s Karnataka region.
Chandesvara: He is an aspect of Chandi in human form who was later elevated to divinity to represent the connection between Shiva and Chandi, or Durga. Chandesvara is a ferocious god, armed with war weapons and ready to fight for a divine cause. His images can usually be found in a corner of any Shiva temple. As with Nandi, devotees usually pay their respects to him before proceeding to see the Shivaling in the sanctum sanctorum.