by Jayaram V
is the creator, Vishnu the preserver, Siva is the quintessential
His duty is to destroy all the worlds at the end of creation
and dissolve them into nothingness. Modern theories of space do suggest
the possible ending of the physical universe after some billions of years through the expansion of a gigantic black hole devouring the matter
from endless galaxies. Perhaps Siva would be the black hole performing this
this does not mean that Siva would remain idle till the arrival of that
time. Before the
worlds really come to an end, Siva has many things to do to keep the
worlds going. His first and foremost task is to destroy many things in order to
ensure the Rta or
the order of the universe. Siva's destruction is not negative. It is a positive, nourishing
and constructive destruction that builds and transforms life and energy
for the welfare of the world and the beings that inhabit it. He destroys in order to renew and
regenerate. His destruction is the destruction of an artist, or a surgeon or a cook.
Through destruction he facilitates the smooth transitions
of things and events from one stage to another.
our imperfections in order to ensure our spiritual
progress. He destroys our illusions, desires and ignorance. He destroys
our evil and negative nature. He destroys our old memories, so that we can
move on with the movement of time. He destroys our relationships, attachment, impurities,
physical and mental wrong doings, the effects of bad
karma, our passions and emotions and many things that stand between us and
God as impediments to our progress and inner transformation. And in the
end when we have made sufficient progress, when we are ready and prepared,
and when we are willing without any inner conflict, he destroys
There is no
reference to Siva in the Vedas, except as a quality. There are some hymns
addressed to Rudra, a fierce storm god, the father of Maruts, who heals with his thousand medicines. (For more information about Rudra please
refer the Vedic pantheon). It is said that the practice of worshipping
Siva was a non Aryan practice which was slowly incorporated into Vedic
religion as an ongoing process of reconciliation with the non Aryan
Sivaling literally means the body of Siva. Next to the symbol of AUM, it is
perhaps the most potent, powerful
and popular symbol in entire Hinduism. In almost all the Siva temples, worship is
generally made to Sivalingas only. Very rarely we come across his images in the sanctum
sanctorum of any Siva temple. A Sivaling is usually a round or cylindrical and protruding
object. The cylindrical part is held firmly by a circular base.
physical plane, the object resembles the male sexual organ, suggestive of
the creative power of Siva. The circular base resembles that of the female, suggestive of his consort
Parvathi. Physically a Sivaling is a phallic symbol,
representing the male and female sexual organs in a state of conjugal
bliss. Mentally it symbolizes the union of mind and body. Spiritually it
represents the union between Purusha and Prakriti, the highest principles
of the manifest universe.
Sivaling is also symbolic of the Supreme Self. It is verily Maheswara Himself, the Highest
Self and the Lord of the universe. In this aspect it has three parts. The
lower part represents Brahma. The middle part, which is octagonal in
shape, represents Vishnu. The upper part, which is cylindrical in shape,
represents Rudra and is also called Pujabhaga since it receives the actual
offerings of milk and other substances.
The Sivalingas are normally found installed in the temples . But many
devotees of Siva keep them in their houses and offer regular worship.
People are however cautioned not to keep Sivalingas in their houses
without offering worship, since they are believed to be powerful sources
of divine energy. Sivalingas are either naturally found or made artificially.
Different materials are used in their making, such as clay, gold, crystal, glass,
diamonds, precious stones and wood. The round and smooth stones found in
the river beds of the Narmada or the Godavari are considered to be the most ideal
for worship. Sometimes Sivlingas are made temporarily with clay or sandal
paste and disposed of after worship. Some devotees wear Sivalings on their
bodies or around their necks. When Sivalings are found fortuitously
in the river beds and desolate places, it is considered to be a great
omen. They are housed in temples or houses and offered regular
Unlike Vishnu who
is depicted as dark blue, Siva is white in color,
except for his neck which is dark blue. Images of him in dark blue color
is however the norm. He leads a life of
severe austerities. But in the images we find him tall and well built.
His body is usually besmeared with ashes, denoting his frequent rounds
to the cremation grounds. He has three eyes. The third eye rests between
his eye brows. It is the eye of wisdom, by opening which he destroys our
false selves and our myriad illusions. In contrast to Brahma who
is generally depicted as old, Siva is
usually shown either as a young or middle aged god.
is described in the scriptures as god of anger, in the images we generally find him
in his cheerful and jovial mood. Sometimes he is depicted with a lot of innocence
in his demeanor as Bholenath. He is generally shown
sitting cross-legged in a yogic posture, with his eyes closed and deep
in meditation. When he is shown with his eyes open, his face expresses love and compassion. The images of Siva evoke in us deep
emotions. Those who are inclined to worship god are naturally drawn to
him as they hold him in their minds.
Vishnu, who leads a luxurious life, surrounded by opulence, Siva and his
family lead austere lives in simple surroundings. He is a god
of utter simplicity, exemplary humility and austerity. A tiger skin and an elephant skin
serve as his garments. His long matted hair is normally tied into a knot or
left flowing. He has four arms. With one he holds
his weapon the trident. With another, he holds Damaru, a small drum. The
remaining two are held in abhaya
and varada mudras (postures).
The tiger and the
elephant skin symbolically signify his ability to control and transform
animal nature. The trident represents the three qualities, namely
sattva, rajas and tamas. The damru denotes his connection with the
primal sound AUM, the creation of alphabets, languages,
music. His long matted hair denotes his spiritual life and his great
powers. It is also compared to the night sky. He wears a garland of snakes
around his neck. Sometimes we see more snakes: one across his body like
a sacred thread and two acting as bracelets around his muscular hands.
The snakes symbolically represents his control over desire and
sensuality. Sometimes in his ferocious aspects, he is shown wearing a
garland of skulls. The crescent moon adorns his hair like a silver
diadem. And the Ganges flows from his head down into the world below.
is an ascetic, he lives with his family. He is very fond of his consort, Parvathi, whom he married
after subjecting her to a lot of tests. While Vishnu is shown as being
served by Lakshmi sitting at his feet,
Siva and Parvathi are being shown as equals sharing the same seat on the
snowy heights of Kailash. Parvathi is literally described as his better
half sharing half of his body. This earned him the title ardhanariswara
(half female half lord). Normally we find her always by his side,
especially when he is seated in Kailash, sharing with him all the honors
that he receives.
He seems to dot on his two children,
Skanda or Kumara and Lord Ganesha or Vinayaka. The Bull Nandi is his
is humility personified. He is very knowledgeable also.
Nandi taught Hanuman the secrets of
Vedas and lessons in humility! Another important member of his retinue
is Bhringi, the zealous devotee who
was not inclined to worship anyone other than Siva and refused to
worship even Parvathi,
till he was made to realize his mistake. Although a mountain dweller, he is not
attached to anything and true to his
ascetic nature, keeps wandering from place to place. Mount Kailash is his abode, where live his family, his
devotees who attained liberation and his great army of goblins, imps and
We have already explained some aspects of symbolism associated with Siva
in the previous paragraphs and in our other articles on Siva and
Trinity. Siva symbolically
represents the tamasic quality. Because of this he is
(the lord of the animals). His body
color which is white, denotes his purity (sivam)
association with the snowy mountains. His three eyes represents the
three worlds, the sun, the moon and the earth, the three paths of
liberation and the triple nature of creation. The third eye is actually
the eye of wisdom or occult knowledge. The moon that adorns his head
represents the movement of time and also his cosmic proportions. With
the the moon there, his head becomes the night sky, for which he earned
the name Vyomakesa
(one who has the sky or space as his hair). His association with the
moon is in contrast to Vishnu who is associated with the Sun as a solar
deity. The moon also symbolizes his association with the occult and the tantras.
generally a seated yogi, a posture with which most Hindus are familiar.
However we also come across Siva as nataraja or tandavamurthi in a
dance posture. With his hair flying in all directions and hands and feet in
dynamic motion, the image of nataraja is a symbol of harmony and
rhythm. Among the objects which are associated with him
popularly, apart from the trident and the Damaru, are battleaxe (parasu),
rosary (aksamala), pasa
(noose), khatvanga (magic wand) and khadga
of Saivism are familiar with three words: pati, pasu and
paasa. Pati is
Siva himself, the lord and husband. Pasu is the deluded self that is
caught in the cycle of birth and death. Pasa is the bond that binds the
pasu to this world and
it gains liberation through devotion and surrender to pati.
of Lord Siva
Siva is known by several names and worshipped in
various forms. We are mentioning below some of his most famous aspects:
Siva: In some temples Siva is shown with five faces. Each of
the faces has a name and represents a specific aspect. These five faces
are Isana, Tatpurusa, Aghora, Vamadeva and
Sadyojata. Isana faces
south east and represents Iswara aspect of Siva known as Sadasiva, or
the Eternal Siva. Tatpurusha faces the east. He is Siva in his aspect as
a deluded purusha or ego. Aghora faces the south and represents
the destructive and regenerative aspect of Siva that, like fire, first
devours life and then prepares the ground for its renewal. Vamadeva
faces north. He is healer and preserver. Sadyojata faces west and
represents the creative power of Siva.
This is the milder or peaceful aspect of Lord Shiva when he is in the
company of his beloved devotees or his family members.
Also known as Raudra , Bhairava, Kankala or
Samharamurthy, this is
the ferocious or angry form of Siva, generally associated with the
events during which Siva assumed his terrible form to slay the demons or
the wicked. The following are his well known terrible forms:
The form which he assumed after cutting off the fifth head of
The form he assumed while killing a demon named Nila
The form he assumed while destroying the three cities of gold,
silver and iron built by the three sons of Andhakasura
The form in which he allegedly fought and killed,
Narasimha, the incarnation of Vishnu.
the form in which he fought and defeated Yama to save his
The form in which he destroyed Manmadha, the god of lust, for
disturbing him while doing penance.
The form in which he defeated Andhakasura, who subsequently
joined his forces as his commander and became popular as Bhringi.
The form generally found in connection with the secret cults of
Tantricism that involve his worship in the cremation grounds and
Lord Siva is a master of dance forms. He is the author of all
dance forms. The science of dance ( Natyasasthra)
dealing with the 108 types of classical Indian dance forms
said to have originated from him just as all the yogic postures.
In case of Lord Siva all dance is a form of expression,
which he uses either to relieve the tensions in the world or
alleviate the sufferings of his devotees. Sometimes he also
entertains the gods or his wife or his devotees with his dance.
About nine forms of Siva in dancing mode are described, of which
the most popular form is Nataraja
(the king of dance). Though we have a number of icons of
Siva as Nataraja, he is rarely worshipped in this form either in
the temples or in the households. His
other dance forms include, Ananda-tandava-murhty,
dancing in a pleasant and cheerful mood, Uma-tandava-murhty,
dancing in the company of Parvathi, Tripura-tandava-murthy,
dancing while slaying Tripurasura and Urdhva-tandava-murhty, dancing
in the air.
literally means lord of the dance. Siva is the lord, the ultimate
and effective cause of all creation and the dance is his act of
creation, a dynamic rhythmic movement. His dance is a guided action,
under his complete mastery, not an act of chaotic, random movements. The
lord and the dance together constitute the projection of the Paramasiva,
the highest eternal and formless Nirguna Brahman on the canvas of his
own awakened state as Saguna Brahman.
Every aspect in the image
of Nataraja represent an aspect of creation. The lord is surrounded on
all sides by a circular ring of fire. The ring represents the whole of
creation. It is finite, cyclical and filled with energy or shakti shown
here as flames. It ensues from the hands and limbs of the Lord
suggestive of the fact that he is the primal and effective cause of
Nataraja holds a tongue of flame in his upper left
hand. The fire represents the energy that is responsible for creation
and also the dissolution of the worlds at the end of creation. As
a creator he creates, upholds and also destroys the worlds.
upper right hand holds a drum or damaru which is a musical instrument
that produces rhythmic sounds. It is suggestive of the sound of breath,
the sound of life, the vibrations underlying all currents of creation
and manifestation. It also represents the vibrations that arise from our
thoughts, emotions, mental activity, movement of the senses and the very
samsara in which the jivas continue their existence till they find an
The lower left hand is held in an assuring mode (abhaya-mudra)
suggesting that the jivas need not have to despair and that they can
escape from the impurities of samsara (anava, karma and maya) and
achieve sameness (saujya) with Siva through his grace (anugraha) and
intervention. The second right hand is shown pointing towards the
downside with the palm upside drawing our attention to the figure lying
beneath his feet suggesting that the lord is not holding anything back
but revealing the knowledge of creation and the secrets of our bondage
so that jivas can find means of escape through the assurance they find
in his lower left hand.
The matted hair of Siva is shown as flying
high and flowing in all directions. These are the symbols of divinities
or the higher gods who live in the higher realms and participate in the
cosmic dance enacted by Lord Siva. The tiger skin worn by the deity
suggests that even God has respect for the rules of right conduct and
the dharma he has established in the manifest creation for the guidance
of the souls. The snake around his waist enjoying the dance with a
raised hood is suggestive of the kundalini-shakti that remains ever
awakened in Siva and is in unison with him.
The dwarf lying at the
feet of the dancing nataraja is known as apasmara-murthy. It
symbolically represents the jiva that has forgotten about its own infiniteness
and its Siva nature because of the impurity of anava which makes it
believe it to be a dwarf or anu (atomic or minute or finite being)
and become a subject of the dance of creation.
Thus we can see
that the image of nataraja is an iconic representation of the whole
Saiva Siddhanta philosophy one of the most ancient schools of Saivism.
The various aspects of the image represent the nature of Siva, the act
of creation, the state of the jivas and the means of liberation. By
creating it or serving it or by contemplating upon it one can
initiate the process of liberation through the grace of Siva.
This is Siva in his aspect as the universal teacher, teaching the
secrets of yoga, tantras, yantras, alchemy, magic, occult knowledge,
arts and sciences, ancient history or knowledge of the future to the
sages and saints, gods and goddesses and his highly qualified devotees.
He is called Dakshinamurthy, because he does his teachings sitting on
the snowy mountains of Himalayas and facing towards the Indian
subcontinent, which is in the southerly direction. The images of
Dakshinamurthy, depict Siva in his
pleasant mood, seated on a high seat,
with one leg folded while the other rests on the Apasmarapurusha, the
deluded self. Two of his arms hold a snake or rosary or both in one hand
and fire in the other. The snake is a symbol of tantric knowledge and
the fire symbol of enlightenment. Of the remaining two one is in
abhayamudra (posture of assurance) and the other holds a scripture in
gnanamudra (posture of presenting knowledge).
Lingodhbhava-murthy: This image signifies the importance of
Siva in the form of Linga as the Supreme Self, without a beginning and
without an end. According to Hindu mythology, Siva once revealed his
infinity to Brahma and Vishnu in the form of a pillar of fire that could
not be scaled by either of them from one end to the other. As
Lingodhbava-murthy, Siva appears seated in the heart of a Linga, with
four arms, while Brahma and Vishnu adore him from the two sides.
Bhikshatana-murthi. This is Siva in his ascetic aspect,
wandering from place to place, with a begging bowl made of human skull,
doing penance or lost in his own thoughts. Even today we can see some
followers of Siva going around the villages in India in this form. Some
of them even do a little magic to attract our attention or scare away
the trailing children.
Hridaya-murthy: This is Siva in a mood of reconciliation and
friendship with Vishnu. Also known as Harihara or Sankaranarayana. The
images show the right half of Shiva on the right side of the image and the left half of Vishnu
on the left side.
This Siva and Parvathi together in one form signifying the unity of
Purusha and Prorate. The feminine left half of Parvathi is fused with
the masculine right half of Siva in one continuous form, sometimes
standing with the Bull Nandi in the background, or sitting on a pedestal
and blessing the worlds, with eyes open or closed.
Deities of Siva
The minor deities are part of Siva's Retinue. Among them the most important
are Nandi, Bhringi, Virabhadra and Chandesvara.
It is interesting to note that unlike the Vedic people who regarded the
cow as sacred animal, the followers of
Siva venerate the bull! It is because Nandi, the Bull, is
Siva's vehicle. Nandi is invariably found sitting right infront of the
sanctum sanctorum in every siva temple facing the image and looking at
him all the time. In fact no one is supposed to see the chief deity in a
siva temple without paying homage first to the seated Nandi and looking
at Siva from afar through the space between the ears and the top of his
head. There are some temples in India which are exclusively built for
him like the famous Nandiswara temple in Karnataka. Nandiswara in his
anthromorphic form appears just like Siva, with three eyes and four
hands of which two are permanently dedicated to the veneration of Siva
while the other two carry his weapons. Symbolically Nandi represents the
animal or the tamasic qualities in man which Siva rides and transforms
with his energies. As we have already noted, Nandi is well versed in all
scriptural knowledge and spiritual knowledge and imparted knowledge of
devotion to Hanuman.
It is a tradition in many parts of rural India to let a Bull roam free
in each village as a mark of respect to Nandi and to inseminate the cows
in the village.
He was originally a demon named Andhaka, who was transformed by Siva
into a humble devotee and admitted into his force as a commander of his
armies. Bhringisa was so loyal to Siva that in his state of devotion he
would not offer his worship to any one including
Parvathi. It is said that when he saw once Siva in his
Ardhanariswara form, he tried to bore through the middle of the body in the form of
a bee to complete his obeisance to only the Siva side of the form, much to the annoyance
of Parvathi. Bhringi who got his name thus
was made to realize his mistake and change his behavior by Lord Siva.
He is Siva in his ferocious mood. Siva manifested himself as Virabhadra,
when Daksha, his father
in law, ill treated and insulted his wife Sati, Daksha's own daughter, infront of a large
gathering. Unable to cope with the insult, Sati immolated herself. This
angered Siva so much, that he descended upon the place of Daksha with
his large army and beheaded Daksha's. The images of Virabhadra depict the
anger and ferocity of Siva in that destructive mood, wearing a garland
of skulls, and with four arms holding four different kinds of weapons.
Virabhadra is a warrior god who was worshipped during wars in ancient
and medieval periods. He is also the principal deity of Virasaiva
movement and still worshipped by many in the Karnataka region of India.
He is an aspect of Chandi in human form later elevated to the status of
divinity, to signify the connection between Siva and Chandi, or Durga.
Chandesvara is a ferocious god, holding weapons of war and ready to do
battle for a divine cause. His images are generally found in a corner
in all the Siva temples. As in case of Nandi, devotees usually visit him and
pay their respects before going to see the Sivaling in the sanctum
Suggested Further Reading