Lord Shiva Avatars
One of the most revered gods in Hindu belief is Lord Shiva. He has taken several avatars not only to protect his devotees but also for sustaining the law and balance of nature. Following are his incarnations:
Read More: Story of Shiv
Piplaad Avatar of Lord Shiva
God Shiva took this avatar to help his devotees suffering from Shani dosha. The name “Piplaad, was given by the Lord Brahma. According to the legend, Lord Shiva was born to Dadhichi and his wife, Swarcha as ‘Piplaad’. As he grew, he learned that he lost his parents at birth due to the unfortunate circumstances caused by the planetary position of ‘Shani.’ So Piplaad cursed Shani Deva, following which he fell from his celestial abode. Due to intervention by Devtaas, and on the condition that Shani Deva will not trouble anyone before 16 years of age, Piplaad forgave him. Therefore, people with Shani Dosha worship Lord Shiva.
Nandi Avatar of Lord Shiva
After intense penance, this avatar of Shiva was born to Sage Shilada. Nandi was worshipped as the keeper of the herds. Representing all living beings on earth, Lord Shiva as a Nandi was bull faced with a hallowed Shiva like body but with 4 hands. While 2 hands are joined in homage, two hands hold axe and antelope. In this human form, he is known as and has a famous temple in Karnataka. Nandi not only became his mount but also a gatekeeper of Lord Shiva’s heavenly abode, Kailash Parvat. A similar representation is found in every Shiva temple.
Veerbhadra Avatar of Shiva
Much to the displeasure of King Daksha, his youngest daughter Sati married Lord Shiva. Once Daksha organized a grand yagna where he invited all except Shiva and Sati. The affection for her parents overpowered the social etiquette and she went uninvited to the ceremony.
When Daksha saw Sati, he publicly insulted her and taunted her. Unable to bear this humiliation, Sati jumped into the sacrificial fire and killed herself. Filled with sorrow and anger, Lord Shiva, plucked two locks of hair and thrashed them on the ground. Thus Lord Veerabhadra and Bhadrakali were born. These two forms were very terrible- fiery eyes burning with anger, open hair, tall dark body with a garland of skulls holding weapons.
Bhadrakali, a wrathful incarnation of Devi was born to provide him with the power. After landing at Daksha’s yagna, they both wreaked havoc punishing all who mocked Lord Shiva and forced Sati to kill herself. This avatar indicates his love for his wife.
Bhairava Avatar of Shiva
The fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva, which is associated with annihilation, is known not only as Bhairava but also by other names such as Kaala Bhairava, Kal Bhairab, Annadhaani Bhairava, Bhairon or Bhairadya. As per Shiv Maha-Puran, Shiva incarnated as Bhairava to punish Brahma, who in his ego insulted Lord Shiva. Bhairava astride a fearsome black dog, his mount, beheaded the fifth head of Brahma. The skull got stuck to the nail that was used to cut off his head and is known as Brahma Kapaal.
At all the Bhairav temples, we find this depiction of Brahma Kapaal (skull) stuck to the nail that was used to cut it off. Thus, Brahma’s ego got destroyed and he became enlightened and deeply grateful to Lord Shiva.
As per another legend, Lord Shiva took the avatar of Kala Bhairava to guard the Shaktipeeth. After the death of Sati, Shiva wandered all over the world in sorrow, taking her body along. To get Lord Shiva back into his senses, Vishnu used his Sudarshan Chakra to cut Sati’s body into 52 pieces. Wherever those pieces fell, arose a Shaktipeeth. Each Shaktipeeth is accompanied by a temple dedicated to Bhairava-a protector of Shaktipeeth.
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In response to the intense penance of Guru Dronacharya, Lord Shiva incarnated as his son Ashwatthama. As per Mahabharata, Ashwatthama has an ansh of Lord Shiva’s Kaal, Krodh (anger), and Yam (death). After Shiva consumed Halahaal poison that came out during the churning of the ocean, he held it in his throat. But it started burning him. A vish-purush, with folded hands, sprung out of him. Lord Shiva blessed him and told him that he’ll be born as Ashwatthama to Drona and Kripi. While he will be raised as Brahman, he’ll be attracted to Kshatriyahood and will kill oppressive Kshatriyas. Thus he will play a pivotal role in Mahabharata.
Sharabha Avatar of Shiva
Part Lion, part bird, Sharabha, 6th avatar of God Shiva was born to calm the fierce man-lion Narasimha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. After Narsimha killed Hiranyakashipu to save his devotee, he was still enraged and Sharabha normalized him into harmony. According to old Sanskrit texts, Sharabha is an eight-legged beast that is mightier than an elephant and a lion.
Grihapati Avatar of Lord Shiva
The seventh avatar of Shiva was Grihpati. After intense penance in Kashi, Brahmin Vishwanar pleased Lord Shiva. In return, God promised that he’ll be born as his. In due course of time, his wife, Shuchismati gave birth to a son. Lord Brahma named him Grihapati. By the age of 6 years, Grihapati was proficient in all Vedas. However, when Grihapati turned 9 years, Narada informed Vishwanar of Grihapati’s imminent death due to the evil effects of planetary combinations.
To conquer death; Grihapati travelled to Kashi and performed extreme penance. Indra arrived there and promised to grant Grihapati any wish he commands. On his refusal, Indra attacked Grihapati with his vajra. But Shiva appeared before the terrified Grihapati and saved him from Indra. After Indra’s retreat, Lord Shiva blessed Grihapati with long life by saying “even Kaalvajra would not be able to kill you”. Lord Shiva helped Grihapati to be the lord of all the directions. The shivlinga that Grihapati prayed to came to be known as ‘Agnishwar linga’.
Durvasa Avatar of Shiva
Lord Shiva took this avatar to maintain the discipline of the universe. Once sage Atri went for tremendous penance on the foothills of Trayakshakul Mountain. As a result of his penance, devastating fire manifested from his head and spread to all three worlds in no time. The death and destruction terrified the deities. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva went and blessed Sage Atri with the birth of 3 sons- Lord Brahma incarnated as the Moon, Lord Vishnu as Dutt and Shiva took incarnation as Durvasa, who is well-known for his short temper. He commands respect both from the humans as well as the Devas.
The eleventh avatar of Shiva is said to be Lord Hanuman. He was born to Mata Anjani and Kesari. He took this Avatar to present to the world an example of Lord (Bhagwan) and his bhakt.
Rishabh Avatar of Shiva
During samudra-manthan, when nectar emerged, a fight ensued between Devas and the demons over Amrit. Lord Vishnu created numerous enchanting beauties to distract the demons. Demons forcibly carried them to their abode – Patal Lok. However, on returning, they found that Lord Vishnu had made the deities drink all the nectar.
Demons got furious at being cheated and attacked Devtaas, but they lost the battle. Lord Vishnu chased the demons down to their abode in Patal lok and killed them. While at Patal lok, he got infatuated by those enchanting beauties and had many sons. The sons tormented the three world’s inhabitants.
At the request of the devtaas, Lord Shiva took that avatar of an Ox (Rishabh) and killed all the sons of Vishnu in Patal Lok. Vishnu also fought but he couldn’t win. However, on recognizing Lord Shiva, Vishnu asked for forgiveness and went back to Vishnu Lok.
Yatinath Avatar of Shiva
A Bheel named Aahuk and his wife Aahuka, lived on the Arbudachal Mountain. They were devotees of Lord Shiva and known for their hospitality. Lord Shiva, in order to test their devotion, disguised himself as a hermit, Yatinath and asked Aahuk for shelter for the night. Aahuk expressed his inability since their hut was small and could accommodate only two people. But since they didn’t want to miss a chance of proving their hospitality, on his wife’s insistence, Aahuk slept outside along with his arms, while hermit and Aahuk’s wife Aahuka slept inside in the hut. In the morning, Yatinath’s (Lord Shiva) heart was filled with grief once they found that wild animal killed Aahuk in his sleep. Instead of mourning, Aahuk’s wife took pride in him for he gave his life for the sake of his guest. Aahuka decided to jump in the burning pyre. However, appearing in his real form, Lord Shiva blessed her and prophesized that her husband Aahuk will be reborn as Nala in the royal family, while she will be reborn as Damayanti. Lord Shiva will himself help both to unite in the form of a swan.
After saying this, Lord Shiva disappeared but he established himself as Achaleshwar linga, the famous immovable Shivalinga.
Krishna Darshan Avatar
To emphasize to the world the importance of detachment and yagna, Lord Shiva appeared in this avatar. According to legend, while King Nabhag was at gurukul for education, his brothers distributed the wealth of the kingdom among themselves. On his return from Gurukul after completing his education, when king Nabhag asked for his share, the brothers asked him to go and meet their father Shradhadev, as they didn’t fix his share due to his absence.
His father advised him to help sage Angiras to accomplish a yagna by overcoming his attachment. Due to King Nabhag’s preaching on the virtues of Religiousness, the sage freed himself of all the attachments and completed his yagna successfully. Impressed with King’s knowledge, Sage Angiras offered him all the remaining wealth of the yagna. However, Lord Shiva arrived as an incarnation of Krishna Darshan and staked his claim on wealth. When King Nabhag didn’t relent, Lord Shiva sent him to his father Shradhadev for his advice. Shradhadeva informed Nabhag, that it was Lord Shiva himself who was staking his claims on the wealth and whatever that remained after the accomplishment of yagna belongs to Lord Shiva only. On his return, he worshipped Lord Shiva and thus attained salvation with Lord Shiva’s blessings.
Bhikshuvarya Avatar of Lord Shiva:
The battle with the neighbouring king resulted in the killing of King Satyarath of Vidarbha. However, his pregnant wife escaped to the forest to save her life. She gave birth to a child at the shore of a pond. Unfortunately, when she went to the pond to quench her thirst, a crocodile killed her. A beggar woman, meanwhile, saw the hungry child howling. She wanted to help but was hesitant. Shiva, out of compassion, appeared as a beggar advising her to raise the orphan child.
Sureshwar Avatar of Lord Shiva:
Through this avatar, Lord Shiva showcased his love and care for his devotees. This is a story of young bog, Upamanyu, the son of sage Vyaghrapaad. Once when he was crying for milk, his mother told him to worship Shivji for milk. On hearing this, he proceeded towards the Himalayas and through his extreme penance generated enough heat for the three worlds to burn. In order to test his devotion, Lord Shiva and Ma Parvati disguised themselves as Indra & Indrani. They asked Upamanyu to stop worshipping Shiva in return for fulfilling all his desires. Furious Upamanyu got up to attack them when they cursed Shiva. Satisfied with his devotion, the couple revealed their true identity to Upamanyu. They blessed him with the promise of being present in the vicinity of his hermitage forever. Since Shiva appeared disguised as Indra, this avatar of Shiva got the name ‘Sureshwar’.
Keerat Avatar of Shivji:
Lord Shiva took this avatar to test Arjuna’s valour. In order to seek Lord Shiva’s weapon Pashupat, Arjuna was performing extreme penance. However Duryodhan wanted to kill Arjuna, so he sent a demon named Mooka disguised as a wild boar. Hearing a loud noise, Arjuna lost his concentration in meditation. He saw wild boar being chased by Lord Shiva disguised as Kirat. They both shot arrows simultaneously and the boar was killed. An argument started between the two, as to who killed the boar. When Kirat did not relent, Arjuna challenged Kirata to settle it with a battle. Impressed with his courage, Shiva revealed himself much to the embarrassment of Arjuna. Lord Shiva consoled him and gave him his weapon Pashupat.
This avatar danced with a damroo in the Himalayan King’s court. In the end, he put forth to the Himalayan king, his marriage proposal to Ma Parvati.
Brahmachari Avatar of Lord Shiva:
To test Mata Parvati, Shiva took this avatar of Brahmachari. When Mata Sati reincarnated as Parvati, she performed intense penance to make Lord Shiva her husband. To test Parvati’s devotion, Shivji in the guise of Brahmachari hurled abuses at Shiva. The befitting reply from Mata Parvati pleased Shiva and he revealed himself to bless her.
Yaksheshwar Avatar of Lord Shiva:
Concerned with Devtaas arrogance after drinking Amrit and defeating demons, Shiva took the avatar of Yaksh and challenged them to cut the grass. Each deity used their respective weapons to cut the grass but was unsuccessful. The deities realized their mistakes after a heavenly voice gave away Yaksha’s identity of being Lord Shiva. Having their pride crushed, the devtaas apologized to Lord Shiva subsequently.
To crush the ego of Indra Dev, Shiva appeared as Avadhoot. Being the king of devtaas, Indra had acquired ego. Once when Indra, along with some other devtaas was passing through Kailash Parvat, Lord Shiva decided to test him. He took the form of an avdhoot (sage) and blocked his way. Indra request the ‘Avdhoot’ to move out of his way, but Lord Shiva did the form of ‘Avdhoot’ did not move. This angered Indra and he decided to use his ‘vajra’. But his hand was stuck. Realizing the true identity of Avdhoot, Indra prayed to Lord Shiva and asked for forgiveness.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. 1: In which avatar did Shiva kill the sons of Lord Vishnu?
Ans: Rishabh Avtaar
Q. 2: How many avtaars of Shiva are known?
Q. 3: Who is Nandi?
Ans: Nandi is one of the avtaars of God Shiva. In his human form, he is known as Nandikeshwara and is
the keeper of the herds. He is also the mount of Shiva and a gatekeeper to Kailash Parvat.
Q. 4: Who is Ashwattama?
Ans: Ashwattama is one of the avtaars of Shiva. He is the son of Dronacharya and Kripi. He played a
key role in the war of Mahabharata. Due to a curse given by Lord Krishna, he is believed to be still alive.
Q. 5: Which avatar of Shiva protects people from Shani dosha?
Ans: Piplaad avtaar