Shiva is one of the most revered gods of Hindus. “Shiva” means “the auspicious one”. While he has 1008 names, but he is most commonly addressed as “Mahadev”, meaning the great God. Other common adjectives used to describe are Shambhu (“Benign”), Natraja (“Dancer”) Shankara (“Beneficent”), Ardhanarishvara (androgynous union of Shiva and Parvati in one body, half-male and half-female), Neelkanth (one with the blue throat), Pashupati (As Lord of cattle and a kind herdsman) and Mahesha (“Great Lord”). Shiva is a patron of Yogis and Brahmins and protector of the sacred texts, the Vedas, and is the most important Hindu god for the Shaivism sect.
Abode: Kailash Parbat
Mount: Nandi (the white bull)
Consort: Maan Parvati
Children: Lord Kartik and Lord Ganesh
Who is Lord Shiva
As per Hindu Philosophy, every 2,160,000,000 years Shiva destroys the Universe which then allows for a new Creation, regeneration of the universe. Lord Shiva is part of the holy Trimurti, the three most powerful Hindu Gods – the other two being Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. While Lord Shiva is the “Destroyer”, Lord Brahma is “the creator” and Lord Vishnu is “the preserver”. Thus these three symbolizes nature’s rule-everything that is created is eventually destroyed.
In this universe, positive and negative forces are balanced-fire and water, goodness and evil, etc. Likewise, Shiva encompasses both opposing values. While Shiva, on one hand, is the great ascetic, who abstains from all forms of indulgence and pleasure, meditating instead to achieve perfect happiness. On the other hand, He controls evil spirits and ghosts and also is the master of thieves, villains and beggars. He is Rudra, the fierce while being Bholenath, the most innocent or Karunavatar, the embodiment of compassion. He is beautiful, Sundaresha and also terrifying, Aghora; feared as well as adored. He represents both, destruction as well as regeneration, and has both male and female forms. Thus Shiva is the entire Universe/creation.
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How was Lord Shiva Born
Lord Shiva is also known as Adi-Dev, meaning the first God of the Hindu mythology who was there when there was nothing and he will remain even after the destruction of everything. Many believe that God Shiva is a Svayambhoo, who created himself.
Another myth suggests that he was created as a result of an argument regarding supremacy between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. In the midst of the disagreement, a blazing pillar with an invisible top and root appeared before them. Simultaneously an oracle challenged both the Gods, to find the ends of the blazing pillar.
Immediately, Lord Brahma flew upwards, as a Goose, to find the pillar top. While Lord Vishnu transformed himself into a wild boar and started digging to find the end of the pillar. Having tried tirelessly for thousands of years both returned empty-handed. However, Lord Brahma lied and informed Vishnu of him reaching the top of the pillar. Shiva appeared out of the pillar and reprimanded Brahma and thus declaring himself as true God. The pillar is a symbol of Shiva’s immeasurable power and his Omnipresence-no beginning (head) and no end (feet). In other words, Shiva is infinite/eternal.
Shiva married twice. His first wife Sati was the daughter of King Daksha. Sati married Shiva against his father’s wishes. Once Daksha organized a grand yagna and invited all but Shiva and Sati. However, Sati’s overpowering affection for her parents made her forget the social etiquette and she went uninvited to the ceremony. However unable to bear her father’s taunts and insults she gave her life by jumping in the yagna fire.
Eventually, Sati reincarnated as Parvati and re-married Lord Shiva. Mata Parvati also has taken avatars of Ma Durga and Ma Kali. With Mata Parvati, Lord Shiva had three sons, God Ganesha, God Karttikeya or Skanda (God of War) and God of treasures, Kuvera.
There is an interesting legend about the birth of Ganesh. Once Mata Parvati had gone for a bath instructing Ganesha to guard the house and not let anybody enter the house. Before going for a bath, she created Ganesha out of the earth to guard her in the absence of Lord Shiva. When Lord Shiva returned, Ganesha didn’t let him enter his house, as he did not know who he was. At this Lord Shiva asked his army (ganas) to fight Ganesha. They distracted Ganesha and lopped off his head. On hearing the commotion Mata Parvati rushed screaming at the demise of her son. Having realized his mistake Lord Shiva got a new head implanted on the boy and gave his life back. However, since the nearest head they found was that of an elephant, thus a new elephant-headed God was born.
Attributes of Lord Shiva
Lord Shiva is also called ‘Triambakam’. As per Sanskrit, ambaka means “an eye”, and “triambakam” translates as “having three eyes”. Lord Shiva is portrayed with a third eye, which most of the time remain closed. The third eye, not only represent wisdom and enlightenment, but also the power of destruction.
As per a legend, Shiva burned KaamDev (god of love) to ashes with his third eye. Metaphorically Shiva’s third eye symbolizes wisdom (the opening of the third eye is overcoming ignorance). Enlightenment obliterates our blind desires, giving us the ability to distinguish right from wrong and walking the path of wisdom.
Shiva’s Crescent Moon
Since Shiva bears the crescent moon on his head, he is also known by the name Chandrashekhar. The word ‘Chandra’ means moon. Shekhar means ‘crest’ or ‘peak’ or ‘çrown’. This iconographic feature dates to the period when Rudra rose to prominence to become a major deity Rudra-Shiva. The origin of this linkage is due to the identification of Soma with the moon. As per the Rig Veda hymn, Soma and Rudra came to be identified as one another.
As per old beliefs, in order to lower his body temperature after consuming the poison that came out of ‘Samudra Manthan’, Lord Shiva placed the moon on his head, since the moon has a cold demeanour. Metaphorically, it signifies that one should be unperturbed and keep calm in face of adversities.
As per scientific and philosophical points of view, the presence of the Crescent moon on Shiva’s head symbolizes his control of time since the moon denotes time.
The motifs of Shiva shows his body covered with ashes (bhasma, vibhuti) as a remembrance of his beloved wife Sati. Ashes signify impermanence of material existence and the pursuance of spiritual liberation.
This signifies that Shiva is the Lord of Wind or Vayu and in every moment, every human being breathes him. It represents Shiva as the Pashupatinath, the Lord of All Living Beings.
Blue Throat of Shiva
To obtain Amrit, Devas and Asuras started churning of the ocean. But they found that in order to reach the nectar, Halahala poison had to be sucked out of the ocean. Shiva drank all the poison. However to stop the spread of poison to other parts of his body, Devi Parvati, his wife pressed his throat. However, the colour of his neck turned blue since the poison was so potent. The word Neelkanth signifies that by swallowing the worldly poison of abuses and insults with calmness and at the same time blessing those who give them, one can become Lord Shiva.
With 84 lakhs of yoga-asanas derived from his movements, Shiva is undoubtedly the father and founder of Yoga. His iconography always shows him meditating sitting in a lotus (Yoga) pose. He controls the entire functioning of the universe in his subconscious mind courtesy of his meditation and high yogic energies.
As per Vedic scriptures, King Sagara of the Suryavansha dynasty organized a huge Ashwamedha yagna. As per the practice, a horse was let off followed by the king’s army. Horses would move across the kingdom freely and then return to its owner. It was the norm that the kings allowing the horse to cross their kingdom undisturbed were accepting the supremacy of the king performing the yagna. The king disturbing the horse would mean a challenge to the king and hence a war for supremacy will ensue.
Fearing the results, Indra, the king of heavens, stole the horse and left it at the ashram of Sage Kapila. Kings son mistook Sage to be the thief and attacked him but Sage Kapila cursed them such that their bodies burned into ashes. When sage returned the horse, he informed the king that his sons will be freed from the curse only if Goddess Ganga descends on Earth and purifies them with her water. The king’s great-great-grandson, Bhagirath through severe penance pleased the Goddess Ganga and convinced her to descend on Earth but Goddess reminded him that her incessant currents would devastate earth if there is no one to break her flow. Pleased with Bhagirath’s devotion Lord Shiva accepted to slow down the Ganges using his matted locks. But Ganga was arrogant about her power but Shiva having trapped her in his matted locks, released her in the form of seven streams now named as-Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Jhanvi, Saraswati, Bhilangana, Alaknanda and Rishiganga.
On descending to earth, Ganga followed King Bagiratha to wash the ashes of King Sagara’s sons, thus liberating them. This accounts for Ganga on Shiva’s head. Thus, Lord Shiva’s other epithet is Gangadhara, “Bearer of the river Ganga” (Ganges).
The images of Lord Shiva often depict him either sitting on the tiger skin or wearing one. There is an interesting story about this in Shiv Puran. Bare-bodied Shiva used to wander around the world. On reaching a forest that was home to families of lots of rishis, Shiva became a centre of attraction to the wives of rishis. Though he was unaware, the attraction shattered the peace of the dwelling. On realizing the reason, the rishis decided to teach Shiva a lesson. A huge pit was dug up by the sages on the way that took Shiva to his daily jaunt. Furthermore, they released a tiger from the pit when Shiva came upon it. Shiva effortlessly killed the tiger and skinned him. To showcase his victory, he adorned this tiger skin on his body. This made the sages realize that the sage in their midst was no ordinary human being but God himself. They asked for forgiveness. The tiger skin on Shiva symbolizes his power in all three worlds. In addition, it gives out a message of the divine force vanquishing animal instincts.
As per Hindu Dharma, the tiger represents the vehicle of the Goddess of power and force, Shakti. The tiger skin worn by Shiva symbolizes not only his power but also him being the master of Shakti. Tiger also represents Lust. Shiva conquering Lust is also symbolized by him sitting on Tiger skin.
Serpents and Shiva
Lord Shiva is often shown as garlanded with three rounds of the serpents around his neck. These represent the cyclic nature of time – future, present and past. They also signify Kundalini Shakti, the resting energy that inhibits Lord Shiva.
As per another legend, after the Samudra-Manthan (churning of the ocean), some snakes in the water accompanied Shiva in the drinking of the poison. Impressed with this, Shiva allowed the king of snakes, Vasuki to be with him wrapped around his neck. Some legends even suggest that in order to keep the poison in his throat, the snakes are wrapped around Shiva’s neck.
Another legend proposes that for Shiva’s marriage to Mata Parvati, these snakes became ornaments. Snakes, especially cobras, have ‘mani’ (rubies) with them that serve as lamps for Parvati and Shiva during the night.
Shivji carries a trishool with him. The three prongs symbolize the creator Lord Brahma, the preserver lord Vishnu and the destroyer Lord Mahadev. Trishool is considered to be the destructor of the physical world that takes mankind away from spiritualism, removes the troubles of the past, present, and future. In other words, Trishool is instrumental in the destruction of the physical world as represented by illusion, the mental world symbolized by ego and guides us to the third world of spiritualism.
As per another legend, Trishool represents three energy sources in the human body- ida, pingla and sushumna. The external happenings do not have a negative impact on the human body once these three sources are awakened. Thus Trishool helps give a positive outlook to lead a blissful life minus the fear of birth, life, and death.
It symbolizes the rhythmic running of the Universe. In a cyclical way, the universe is always expanding and collapsing. As your heart beats in rhythm-up and down or for that matter-energy that is rising and collapsing, so does the sound created by damroo that is rhythmic in nature and mirrors the world that is also moving in rhythm. The hourglass shape of the damroo also represents this concept from expansion it collapses and again it expands.
As per legend, Shiva created damroo to produce spiritual sounds that were catalysts in creating and regulating the universe. Another legend suggests that the words of the Vedas were symbolized through the sound of damroo.
Lord Shiva wears 108 beads Rudraksha necklace. Rudra is an avatar of Shiva while ‘aksha’ means teardrops. So Rudraksha means tears of Lord Shiva.
As per legend, once Shiva, with an aim to bring happiness to all living beings, went into deep meditation. When he came out of his meditation, he had tears that fell on the ground. These became the seeds for Rudraksha trees. With Shiva’s blessings, this Rudraksha assists in spiritual evolution.
Rudraksha necklace also signifies grace, meditation with a mendicant life.
Nandi, the bull not only serves as Shiva’s mount but also as a gatekeeper of Lord Shiva’s heavenly abode, Kailasha. A similar representation is found in every Shiva temple.
As per the legend, the original mother of all the cows, Surabhi, gave birth to a lot of cows and as a result, the cow’s milk flooded Shiva’s home causing disturbance to his meditation. Anger let Lord Shiva open his third eye which led to the burning of cows. To calm down Shiva, other Gods gifted him a magnificent bull – Nandi, the son of Surabhi and Kasyapa. Shiv not only rode him but also symbolized him as the protector of all animals.
For Hindus, Mount Kailash holds immense significance since it is the throne of Lord Shiva and he resides here with his family. As per Hindu mythology, the mountain is believed to be the centre of the universe. Kailash Parikrama, pilgrimage around its 53 km circuit is considered to be most auspicious.
Attendants of Lord Shiva who stay with him at Mount Kailash are referred to as bhutaganas, or ghostly hosts or Ganas. Lord Ganesha is chosen to be their leader. They do not disturb anybody until somebody disturbs Lord Shiva.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. 1: What is the meaning of Triambakam?
Ans: The word Triambakam means, “Having three eyes” and it refers to Lord Shiva.
Q. 2: What is the meaning of Rudraksha?
Ans: Rudra is an avatar of Lord Shiva, while ‘aksha’ means teardrops. So Rudraksha means ‘tears of Lord Shiva’.
Q. 3: Why is Lord Shiva called Gangadhar?
Ans: When the River Ganga was descending to earth, its immense flow would have devastated the earth. So, on the request of Bhagirath, Lord Shiva agreed to hold the flow into his matted locks. That’s how he got the name Gangadhar, which means, ‘one who wears Ganga’.
Q. 4: Who is Nandi?
Ans: Nandi is the mount of Lord Shiva and also a gatekeeper to the Kailash Parvat.
Q. 5: What is the abode of Lord Shiva?
Ans: Kailash Parvat