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Aspects of Lord Shiva

L ord Shiva represents the aspect of the Supreme Being (Brahman of the Upanishads) that continuously dissolves to recreate in the c...

Aspects of Lord Shiva
Lord Shiva represents the aspect of the Supreme Being (Brahman of the Upanishads) that continuously dissolves to recreate in the cyclic process of creation, preservation, dissolution and recreation of the universe. As stated earlier, Lord Shiva is the third member of the Hindu Trinity, the other two being Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu.

Aspects of Lord ShivaOwing to His cosmic activity of dissolution and recreation, the words destroyer and destruction have been erroneously associated with Lord Shiva. This difficulty arises when people fail to grasp the true significance of His cosmic role. The creation sustains itself by a delicate balance between the opposing forces of good and evil. When this balance is disturbed and sustenance of life becomes impossible, Lord Shiva dissolves the universe for creation of the next cycle so that the unliberated souls will have another opportunity to liberate themselves from bondage with the physical world. Thus, Lord Shiva protects the souls from pain and suffering that would be caused by a dysfunctional universe. In analogous cyclic processes, winter is essential for spring to appear and the night is necessary for the morning to follow. To further illustrate, a goldsmith does not destroy gold when he melts old irreparable golden jewelry to create beautiful new ornaments.

Lord Shiva is the Lord of mercy and compassion. He protects devotees from evil forces such as lust, greed, and anger. He grants boons, bestows grace and awakens wisdom in His devotees. The symbolism discussed below includes major symbols that are common to all pictures and images of Shiva venerated by Hindus. Since the tasks of Lord Shiva are numerous, He cannot be symbolized in one form. For this reason the images of Shiva vary significantly in their symbolism.

The unclad body covered with ashes: the unclad body symbolizes the transcendental aspect of the Lord. Since most things reduce to ashes when burned, ashes symbolize the physical universe. The ashes on the unclad body of the Lord signify that Shiva is the source of the entire universe which emanates from Him, but He transcends the physical phenomena and is not affected by it.

    Aspects of Lord Shiva
  • Matted locks: Lord Shiva is the Master of yoga. The three matted locks on the head of the Lord convey the idea that integration of the physical, mental and spiritual energies is the ideal of yoga.
  • Ganga: Ganga (river Ganges) is associated with Hindu mythology and is the most sacred river of Hindus. According to tradition, one who bathes in Ganga (revered as Mother Ganga) in accordance with traditional rites and ceremonies on religious occasions in combination with certain astrological events, is freed from sin and attains knowledge, purity and peace. Ganga, symbolically represented on the head of the Lord by a female (Mother Ganga) with a jet of water emanating from her mouth and falling on the ground, signifies that the Lord destroys sin, removes ignorance, and bestows knowledge, purity and peace on the devotees.
  • The crescent moon: is shown on the side of the Lord's head as an ornament, and not as an integral part of His countenance. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since the Lord is the Eternal Reality, He is beyond time. Thus, the crescent moon is only one of His ornaments, and not an integral part of Him.
  • Three eyes: Lord Shiva, also called Tryambaka Deva (literally, "three-eyed Lord"), is depicted as having three eyes: the sun is His right eye, the moon the left eye and fire the third eye. The two eyes on the right and left indicate His activity in the physical world. The third eye in the center of the forehead symbolizes spiritual knowledge and power, and is thus called the eye of wisdom or knowledge. Like fire, the powerful gaze of Shiva's third eye annihilates evil, and thus the evil-doers fear His third eye.
  • Half-open eyes: when the Lord opens His eyes, a new cycle of creation emerges and when He closes them, the universe dissolves for creation of the next cycle. The half-open eyes convey the idea that creation is going through cyclic process, with no beginning and no end. Lord Shiva is the Master of Yoga, as He uses His yogic power to project the universe from Himself. The half-open eyes also symbolize His yogic posture.
  • Kundalas (two ear rings): two Kundalas, Alakshya (meaning "which cannot be shown by any sign") and Niranjan (meaning "which cannot be seen by mortal eyes") in the ears of the Lord signify that He is beyond ordinary perception. Since the kundala in the left ear of the Lord is of the type used by women and the one in His right ear is of the type used by men, these Kundalas also symbolize the Shiva and Shakti (male and female) principle of creation.
  • Snake around the neck: sages have used snakes to symbolize the yogic power of Lord Shiva with which He dissolves and recreates the universe. Like a yogi, a snake hoards nothing, carries nothing, builds nothing, lives on air alone for a long time, and lives in mountains and forests. The venom of a snake, therefore, symbolizes the yogic power.
  • A snake (Vasuki Naga): is shown curled three times around the neck of the Lord and is looking towards His right side. The three coils of the snake symbolize the past, present and future - time in cycles. The Lord wearing the curled snake like an ornament signifies that creation proceeds in cycles and is time dependent, but the Lord Himself transcends time. The right side of the body symbolizes the human activities based upon knowledge, reason and logic. The snake looking towards the right side of the Lord signifies that the Lord's eternal laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the universe.
  • Rudraksha necklace: Rudra is another name of Shiva. Rudra also means "strict or uncompromising" and aksha means "eye." Rudraksha necklace worn by the Lord illustrates that He uses His cosmic laws firmly - without compromise - to maintain law and order in the universe. The necklace has 108 beads which symbolize the elements used in the creation of the world.
  • Varda Mudra: the Lord's right hand is shown in a boon- bestowing and blessing pose. As stated earlier, Lord Shiva annihilates evil, grants boons, bestows grace, destroys ignorance, and awakens wisdom in His devotees.
  • Trident (Trisula): a three-pronged trident shown adjacent to the Lord symbolizes His three fundamental powers (shakti) of will (iccha), action (kriya) and knowledge (jnana). The trident also symbolizes the Lord's power to destroy evil and ignorance.
  • Damaru (drum): a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a thin neck-like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of existence, unmanifest and manifest. When a damaru is vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation. According to Hindu scriptures, Nada is the source of creation.
  • Kamandalu: a water pot (Kamandalu) made from a dry pumpkin contains nectar and is shown on the ground next to Shiva. The process of making Kamandalu has deep spiritual significance. A ripe pumpkin is plucked from a plant, its fruit is removed and the shell is cleaned for containing the nectar. In the same way, an individual must break away from attachment to the physical world and clean his inner self of egoistic desires in order to experience the bliss of the Self, symbolized by the nectar in the Kamandalu.
  • Nandi: the bull is associated with Shiva and is said to be His vehicle. The bull symbolizes both power and ignorance. Lord Shiva's use of the bull as a vehicle conveys the idea that He removes ignorance and bestows power of wisdom on His devotees. The bull is called Vrisha in Sanskrit. Vrisha also means dharma (righteousness). Thus a bull shown next to Shiva also indicates that He is the etemal companion of righteousness.
  • Tiger skin: a tiger skin symbolizes potential energy. Lord Shiva, sitting on or wearing a tiger skin, illustrates the idea that He is the source of the creative energy that remains in potential form during the dissolution state of the universe. Of His own Divine Will, the Lord activates the potential form of the creative energy to project the universe in endless cycles.
  • Cremation ground: Shiva sitting in the cremation ground signifies that He is the controller of death in the physical world. Since birth and death are cyclic, controlling one implies controlling the other. Thus, Lord Shiva is revered as the ultimate controller of birth and death in the phenomenal world.
                                :: Aspects of Lord Shiva ::
Comparable to the Vyuhas or emanations of Lord Visnu, is the Pancanana form of Lord Siva. Pancanana or the five-faced one represents the five aspects of Siva vis-a-vis the created universe. The five faces are respectively Hana, Tatpurusa, Aghora, Vamadeva and Sadyojata. The face Hana turned towards the zenith, represents the highest aspect and is also called Sadasiva. On the physical plane, it represents the power that rules over ether or sky and on the spiritual plane, it is the deity that grants Moksa or liberation. Tatpurusa facing east, stands for the power that rules over air and represents the forces of darkness and obscuration on the spiritual plane. Aghora, facing south and ruling over the element fire, stands for the power that absorbs and renovates the universe. Vamadeva facing north, ruling over the element water, is responsible for preservation. Sadyojata, facing west represents the power that creates.

Iconographically, all the five aspects are shown in different ways.
There are several other aspects in which Lord Siva is depicted or worshipped. 
These can be broadly divided into the following categories: (1) Saumya or Anugraha Murti; (2) Ugra, Raudra or Samhara Murtis; (3) Nrtta or Tandava Murti; (4) Daksinamurti; (5) Lingodbhavamurti; (6) Bhiksatanamurti; (7) Haryardhamurti; (8) Ardhanarisvaramurti.

Peaceful form of Siva as also the form showing mercy and grace belong to the first group. The forms showing grace or granting boons to Candesa, Nandisvara, Vighnesvara or Ravana belong to this category.

All terrific aspects can be classed under the second group. Kankala Bhairava represents Siva who cut off the fifth head of Brahma for having reviled him and who had to wander as a beggar for twelve years to get rid of that sin. Gajasuravadhamurti represents him as killing the demon Nila (an associate of Andhakasura) who had assumed the form of an elephant. Tripurantaka-murti depicts him as destroying by his arrow, the three cities of iron, silver and gold built on the earth, in air and in heaven by the three sons of Andhakasura who had become almost invincible because of these three impregnable shelters. Sarabhesamurti pictures Siva as a Sarabha (an imaginary animal more ferocious than the lion) destroying the Narasirhha form of Visnu, a story obviously conceived by the Saivites to assert the superiority of their Lord over Visnu! Kalari-murti portrays him as vanquishing Yama, the god of death, who wanted to take away the life of Markandeya, a great devotee of Siva. Kamantakamurti illustrates him as destroying Kama, the god of lust, by the fire emitted through his third eye. Andhakasura-vadha-murti shows him as vanquishing Andhakasura and later on, on supplication, conferring on him the commandership of the Gal)as (dwarf attendants). Andhaka became Bhrngisa.

Lord Siva is a great master of dance. All the 108 modes of dancing known to the treatises on dancing have come from him. It is said that he dances every evening in order to relieve the sufferings of creatures and entertain the gods who gather in Kailasa in full strength. (Hence he is called Sabhapati, the lord of the congregation.)

Only nine modes of dancing are described of which the Nataraja aspect is the most well-known. The Nataraja icon shows him with four hands and two legs, in the posture of dancing. There is the Damaru (drum) in the upper right hand and fire in the left. The lower right hand is in Abhayamudra (pose of protection) and the left is pointing towards the uplifted left foot. The left foot is resting on the demon Apasmarapurusa. The whole image mayor may not be surrounded by a circle of blazing fire.

Siva's dance indicates a continuous process of creation, preservation and destruction. The Damaru represents the principle of Sabda (sound) and hence Akasa (ether), which proceeds immediately from the Atman and is responsible for further creation or evolution. 

Fire represents Pralayagni, the fire that destroys the world at the time of dissolution of the world, and hence symbolises the process of destruction. Thus damaru and fire represent the continuous cycle of creation, preservation and destruction. The other two hands indicate that he who takes refuge at the feet of the Lord will have nothing to fear. The Apasmara-purusa (Apasmara=epilepsy) symbolises ignorance which makes us lose our balance and consciousness. He is trampled upon by the Lord for the good of the devotees who take refuge.

Several other dancing postures of Siva like Anandatandava-murti, Uma-tandava-murti, Tripura-tandava-murti, and Urdhva-tandava-murti are also mentioned in the Agamas.

Siva is as great a master of Yoga and spiritual sciences as he is of music, dancing and other arts. As a universal teacher he is called Daksinamurti. Since Siva was seated facing south (daksina=south) when he taught the sages in a secluded spot on the Himalayas, he is called Daksinamurti. He has three eyes and four arms and one of the legs is trampling upon the Apasmarapurusa. Two of the arms (the front right and the front left) are in Jnanamudra and Varadamudra poses (showing the imparting of knowledge and bestowing of gifts). The back hands hold the Aksamala (rosary) and, either fire or serpent. He is the very model of the perfect Guru. He is surrounded by several Rsis eager to learn Atmavidya (Self-knowledge) from him.

Siva is said to have appeared as a blazing pillar of fire, of immeasurable size, to destroy the pride of Brahma and Visnu. Lingodhbavamurti depicts him as manifesting in the heart of the Linga. The image has four arms. Brahma and Visnu stand on either side adoring him.
The Bhiksatanamurti shows Siva as a naked Bhairava, begging his food in the skull cup. It is almost the same as the Kankalamurti.

The Haryardha-murti, also called as Hari-hara and Sankaranarayana, has Siva on the right half and Visnu on the left. A fusion of these two aspects into one god is an obvious attempt at a happy reconciliation of the warring cults of Siva and Visnu.
The Ardhanarisvara (half man and half woman) form with Parvati as the left half represents the bipolar nature of the created world and hence the need to look upon woman as equal and complementary to man.

There can be no Siva temple without Nandi, the recumbent bull placed in front of the shrine. Nandi or Nandikesvara may be depicted exactly like Siva-with three eyes and two hands holding the Parasu (battle axe) and Mrga (the antelope). But the other two hands are joined together in the Anjali pose (obeisance). More commonly he is shown as a bull-faced human being or just as a bull.

The Puranas describe him as born out of the right side of Visnu resembling Siva exactly and given as a son to the sage Salankayana who had practised severe austerities. Other versions describe him as the son of the sage Silada who got him by the grace of Siva.
Nandikdvara, also known as Adhikaranandi, is the head of the Ganas of Siva and also his Vabana (carrier vehicle).

Symbolically, the bull represents the animal intincts, especially the sex, and Siva's riding on it reflects his absolute mastery over it. 

Then comes Bhrngi, the sage, who was singularly devoted to Lord Siva, and was elevated to the retinue of Siva's abode. The sage was so fanatical in his devotion to Siva that he did not care even for Parvati, his consort! When Parvati merged herself into the body of Siva and Siva thus became Ardhanarisvara, Bhrnga was still so bigoted that he became a Bhrnga (=bee) and bored through the centre of the Ardhanarisvara form to complete his circumambulation! Hence the name Bhrngi. Siva, of course, made him realise his mistake.
Virabhadra is another deity associated with Siva. He is the personification of Siva's anger manifested during Daksa's sacrifice because of the contemptuous treatment meted out to him. Siva is said to have created him out of a hair plucked out from his head. Virabhadra successfully destroyed Daksa's sacrifice and humiliated all the gods who had assembled there. He is usually shown with three eyes and four arms holding bow, arrow, sword and mace. He wears a garland of skulls. The face is terrific. Bhadrakali, his counterpart created by Parvati, is sometimes shown by his side. Siva temples may have a small shrine dedicated to him, located usually in the south-east.

Next comes Candesvara, a human devotee raised to the status of a deity, by Lord Siva because of his intense devotion. He is a fierce deity holding weapons of war and destruction like the bow, arrow, trident, chisel, noose and so on. Though independent shrines dedicated to him are not uncommon, he is usually installed in every Siva temple in the north-eastern comer, facing south. Devotees believe that he can act as a messenger and mediator interceding with the Lord on behalf of the devotees. Hence supplication before him is a duty of every devotee visiting the Siva temples.

Other attendants of Siva are the Ganas, also known as Pramathaganas or Bhutaganas (demigods or malignant spirits). If they are not propitiated, they can do harm.