Shiva (Sanskrit: Auspicious One) is one of the main deities of Hinduism that is worshipped as the paramount lord by the Shaivaite sects of India.
In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is regarded as the representation of the
Supreme Being. He is known as the third element in the Hindu Trinity
(Trimurti), the other two members being Lord Brahma - the creator and
Lord Vishnu - the protector. Shiva is the destructive form of the
Almighty. As the cycle of destruction and recreation is always in a
circle, Shivas primary responsibility is maintaining the life
cycle. Scholars say, as the Mahakaal, Shiva destroys and dissolves
everything into nothingness but as Shankara, he also reproduces that
which has been destroyed and dissolved. His symbol of Lingam
or the phallus represents this reproductive power.
Lord Shiva is also considered to be the most unique of all Hindu gods
and also the God of all. A great ascetic, Shiva is the only godhead who
is forever in deep meditation, totally absorbed in contemplation in His
abode, Kailaasa Mountain in the great Himalaya. Lord Shiva is also said
to be inseparable from Shakti - Parvati
the daughter of Himavaan - Haimavati. There is no Shiva without Shakti
and no Shakti without Shiva, the two are one - or the absolute state of
Shiva is often shown with many faces, as creator, destroyer and
preserver in total command of the cosmos. He contains both good and
evil. He is moody, free of inhibitions, easy to please, protector of the
down trodden, and has the power to alter the laws of destiny. Thus, it
is Lord Shiva is known as the God of mercy and kindness. He protects his
devotees from all evil that are always around us. He blesses his
followers with grace, knowledge and peace.
Shiva as Ardhanareeswara
Lord Shiva is said to be half man and half woman. In the full figure of
Siva the male and female principles are united. Shiva Linga - the symbol
of Lord Shiva which consists of both Lingam (phallus) and yoni (the
female organ) represent the totality of his nature and the totality of
all created existence.
Appearance and Attributes of Lord Shiva
Lord Shiva is shown either in meditating or in the form of a Dancing
God Nataraj where his dance is to the beat and rhythm of creation. He is
also shown in sculptures with many hands. One pair of hands, for
example, represents the balance between life and death. Shiva is 'tri
netra' or three eyed, and is 'neela kantha' - blue-necked (having
consumed poison to save the world from destruction). Besides, there are
a lot many attributes associated with Lord Shiva. Here is a brief
description of some of the important symbols that depict Lord Shiva.
Each of his depiction signifies a different aspect of his Supreme Being.
Unclad body covered with ashes: This form of Lord Shiva depicts
that Lord Shivas presence is much higher than this physical
phenomenon. According to some scholars, Shivas body smeared with
cemetery ash points to the philosophy of the life and death and the fact
that death is the ultimate reality of the life.
Jata (Matted Hair): The flow of his matted hair represents Shiva
as the Lord of Wind or Vayu, who is the subtle form of breath present in
all living beings. Thus it is Shiva which is the lifeline for all living
being. He is Pashupatinath.
Sacred Ganga: The holiest of the holy rivers, Ganga flows from
the matted hair of Shiva. According to a legend,
Shiva allowed an outlet to the great river to traverse the earth and
bring purifying water to human being. Ganga also denotes fertility - one
of the creative aspects of the Rudra.
The Third Eye: Lord Shiva is known as the three eyed Lord or
Tryambaka Deva. The sun is his right eye, the moon left while the third
eye of Shiva on his forehead is the eye of wisdom. It is the eye that
looks beyond the obvious. The third eye can search evil from anywhere
and destroys it completely.
Half-Open Eyes: The half-open eyes show that the universes cycle
in process. When the eyes are completely closed it signifies the
dissolvent of the universe and when it is completely open a new cycle of
Crescent: Shiva bears on his head the crescent of the panchami
(fifth day) moon. This is placed near the fiery third eye and this shows
the power of Soma, the sacrificial offering, which is the representative
of moon. It means that Shiva possesses the power of procreation along
with the power of destruction. The moon is also a measure of time, thus
Crescent also represent his control over time.
The Cobra Necklace: This suggests that Shiva is beyond the
powers of death and is often the sole support in case of distress. He
swallowed the poison kalketu for the wellbeing of the Universe. The
deadly cobra represents that death aspect that Shiva has
thoroughly conquered. The cobras around his neck also represent the
dormant energy, called Kundalini, the serpent power. The snake
curled three times around the neck of Lord Shiva depicts the past,
present and future time. The snake looking in the right direction of
Lord Shiva signifies that the Lord's perpetual laws of reason and
justice preserve natural order in the universe.
The Vibhuti: Vibhuti is a three line of ashes drawn on the
forehead that signifies the Immortality of the soul and manifested glory
of the Lord.
Tiger Skin: Lord Shiva is shown sitting on or wearing a tiger
skin. The tiger is the vehicle of Shakti, the Goddess of power and
force. Shiva is beyond and above any kind of force. He is the master of
Shakti. The tiger skin that he wears symbolizes victory over every
force. Tiger also represent lust. Thus sitting on Tiger skin, Shiva
indicates that he has conquered lust.
The Elephant & Deer Skin: Shiva also wears elephant skins.
Elephants represent pride. Wearing elephant skin, Shiva indicates that
he has conquered pride. Similarly deer represent the flickering mind.
Shiva wears deer skin which indicates that he has controlled the mind
Rudraksha Necklace: Rudra is the other name
of Shiva. It also means strict or uncompromising and aksha
means eye. Rudraksha, the necklace worn by Lord Shiva shows that he is
firm about his cosmic laws and to maintain law and order in the
universe. The necklace has 108 beads, which symbolize the elements used
in the creation of the world.
Damaru (Drum): A small drum with two sides alienated from each
other by a thin neck-like structure represents the two utterly different
states of existence, unclear and clear. When a damaru is shaken, the
sound formed denotes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard
during deep meditation.
Trishul (Trident): A three-branched trident shown adjoining to
Lord Shiva symbolizes His three fundamental powers will, action and
knowledge. As a weapon the trident represents the instrument of
punishment to the evil doer on all the three planes - spiritual, subtle
Nandi, the Bull: Nandi is said to be the vehicle of Lord Shiva.
The bull represents both power and ignorance. Lord Shiva's use of the
bull as his vehicle expresses the idea that He removes ignorance and
bequeaths power of wisdom on His followers.