karpurgauram karunavatarm samsara saram bhujagendreharam,
Sadavasantam hrudayaravinde bhavam bhavanisahitam namami
(Meaning – Who is fair like camphor, who is the incarnation of compassion, who is the essence of the worldly existence, whose garland is the king of the serpents, who dwells inside the lotus of the heart of every being, I bow to the god Shiva who is accompanied by Shakti.)
Literally, the word ‘Shiva’ means ‘auspiciousness’. Shiva is one of the three main gods of Hindu religion. There are three principal gods who are responsible for the worldly affairs.
Brahma is the creator of the world; Vishnu maintains it, and the world ends into Shiva. All that is born must die; all that is produced must disintegrate and destroyed. This is a sacrosanct law.
Shiva is the principal source behind this disintegration of anything and is embedded with the power of restructering after it ends. He is the one in whom the universe sleeps after the end of one cycle and before the next cycle of the creation.
Rudra and Shiva
Rudra is Shiva’s Vedic forerunner. He was the red god of storms and lightning, the terrifying god living on the mountains and god of cattle and medicines who must be propitiated.
As the god of lightning, Rudra became associated with Agni – the god of fire and consumer and conveyer of the sacrifice. With Rudra as his antecedent, Shiva could claim his legacy as the priest of gods and embodiment for Divine Supremacy.
Birth of Shiva- Legends
There is an interesting legend behind the birth of Lord Shiva. One day, Brahma and Vishnu were both arguing about who between the two was more powerful.
At the same time, a great blazing column appeared with its starting and ending points extended beyond the view into the earth and sky. Now both the gods, Brahma and Vishnu, set off to discover the crown and the tail of that column.
Brahma took the form of a goose and flew up to find the top of the blazing column while Vishnu became a boar to poke into the earth and find its tail.
After being unsuccessful, they returned and witnessed Lord Shiva emerging from the orifice of the blazing wave. Recognizing Shiva’s great power, Brahma and Vishnu accepted that there is a third power which rules over the universe.
Appearance of Shiva
Shiva is personified as an extremely charming young man who is as fair as camphor. His limbs are extremely muscular, besmeared with ashes. His third eye is located in-between the eyebrows on his forehead.
He has four arms, two arms holding the Trishula and Damaru while the other two are giving out Abhaya (protection giving) and Varada (boon giving) poses.
He has the crown of long matted hair from which flows the river Ganga. The story related to this goes like this: when the celestial river Ganga, which was descending from heaven to the earth, fell ferociously on Shiva’s head of pride, he just got her locked up here.
Only after prayers by Sage Bhagiratha and due to the apologies of Ganga, he allowed her to stream out.
The crescent moon adorns his head as a diadem. It is said that he wears the moon as well as Ganga to set down the bad effects of the poison.
His garments, made up of tiger and elephant skins, adorn his body beautifully. There is a story related to this: the sages of Darukavana made an attempt to kill Shiva through magical rituals.
The sages also succeeded in arousing a tiger, a deer and a red hot iron out of the sacrificial fire. However, by defeating the tiger, Shiva wore its skin; simultaneously, with his left hand, he caught hold of the deer; and finally, grabbed iron and made it his weapon.
The most attractive part of Shiva’s holy appearance is his necklace made up of serpents, scattering all over his body. He also wears girdle, Yadnyopavita (sacred thread) and arm-bracelets. A garland of skulls encircles his blue neck.
Ideally, Shiva may have two, three or four hands. However, the icons of the Lord having eight, ten or even thirty-two hands are also quite prevalent in the Hindu tradition.
Various objects embellishing his hands are chakra, battleaxe, rosary deer noose, staff, bow, magic-wand, spear, lotus, skull-cup, mirror, sword and so on.
Parvati is his wife and Ganesha and Kartikeya are his sons. His vehicle bull is Nandi. He lives in the icy mountains of the Himalayas, but he is fond of roaming on the earth, especially the burial grounds and cremation sites.
Interpretation of Shiva’s appearance
Shiva is snow white in color which matches with his abode, the Himalayas. White stands for light and dispels darkness, knowledge that dispels ignorance.
The three eyes
The three eyes of Shiva are the embodiment of the sun, the moon and the – fire, the three basic causes of light, life and heat. The third eye indicates the eye of knowledge and wisdom.
Since his eyes are the sun and the moon, the whole sky and the breeze form his hair. Hence, he is also known as Vyomakesha, having the sky as his hair.
Tiger is a ferocious animal that mercilessly devours its helpless victims. Desire devouring the humans without ever being satisfied, can be equated with the tiger. Shiva has killed the tiger and wore its skin, indicating his complete mastery over the desires.
Elephant is considered one of the most powerful animals. Wearing its skin implies that Shiva has completely conquered all animal impulses.
The garland of the skulls
The garland of the skulls that he wears, and the ash of the funeral with which he has besmeared his body, these two things indicate that the world ends in him. Also The garland of the skulls also characterizes the gyration of ages and successive rise and fall of human races.
The water of the river Ganga
The water of the river Ganga represents the bliss of oneself. The crescent of the moon stands for time, as measurement of time in days and months relies upon the moon.
By adorning it as a diadem, Shiva is showing that the all-powerful time is only an ornament for him.
The snake symbolizes death for us, but it adorns Shiva’s frame in all possible manner. He is alone to whom symbol of death is decoration. All these things point towards one thing that Shiva is Mrutyunjaya, the conqueror of death.
The Trishula is an important weapon of offence and defense. Trishula in Shiva’s hand indicates that he is the Supreme Ruler.
It is said that while dancing, Shiva played his Damaru fourteen times and produced sounds which are known as the Maheshvarasutras, the fourteen basic formulas comprising all the alphabets set up in the cleverest manner, facilitating countless grammatical processes.
Thus, the Damaru represents the alphabets, the grammar or language itself. In the other words, it stands for all the words, verbal or printed or otherwise conveyed, and hence for the entire range of all arts and sciences, sacred and secular.
By holding the Damaru in his hand, Shiva is representing the fact that the whole eternity, including its various arts and sciences, has continued due to his will.
The rosary shows that he is the master of spiritual sciences and the magic wand with a skull fixed at the end shows that he is expert in the occult science too.
Shivalinga symbolizes the Lord of the Universe. Literally, ‘Shiva’ means ‘auspiciousness’ and the ‘Linga’ means ‘symbol’. Shivalinga can be classified into Chala (movable) and Achala (immovable).
The Chala Lingas are kept by devotees at their own home for worship. It is prepared temporarily with materials like clay for worship and dispensed with after the worship. The Achala Lingas are those installed in the temples.
In Shivalinga anatomy, the lowest part, which is square, is called Brahma-Bhaga and represents Brahma, the creator. The middle part, which is octagonal, is called Vishnu-Bhaga and represents Vishnu, the sustainer.
These two parts are embedded inside the pedestal. The Rudra-Bhaga, which is cylindrical, and projects outside the pedestal is the one to which worship is offered.
It is called Puja-Bhaga. It contains certain lines – technically called Brahmasutra – without which the Linga becomes unfit for worship.
Division Of Shivalingas:
Shivalingas are also divided as Swayambhu, Bindu and Pratishthita. Swayambhu means the Linga which has showed itself in the natural way.
The Bindu Linga does not have any particular shape, and one can imagine anything as Linga for worship. The Pratishthita Linga is established with the proper Mantras.
It is said that Shivalinga though broken should not be moved for it would lead to calamity.
Dusthitam susthitam vapi shivalingam na chalayet
According to a Puranic account, a big piece of land was strewn with four-faced Shivalingas. At the later period, they were covered by ghosts.
Meanwhile, a king of the country came on a visit and seeing a vast expanse of ground without palaces ordered the place to be cleared with an idea of constructions thereupon.
As the artisans got to the work of digging the ground, the Lingas became visible. As part of a severe curse, the artisans and the king died one by one and the construction remained unfinished.
Over a period of time, the Lingas were obtained to be restored with special care for worship thereafter. Hence, the moral of the story is that any Linga, broken or unbroken, should never be ignored or removed from its place without any ritual.
For a broken Linga, the performer should invoke Shiva stating that the Linga is uncared for or broken. He should perform propitiatory rites and ask Lord Shiva’s consent to get the Linga replaced by a new one.
Shiva as a dancer- Nataraja
Shiva has originated all the 108 forms of dancing written in the treatise of the art. It is believed that the Lord dances to the tunes of melodious music every evening for relieving the sufferings of the creatures and entertain the gods who gather on the Kailasa Mountain.
He is shown in nine modes of dancing in the icons, among which Nataraja is the most recognized. In the Nataraja form, Shiva is depicted with four hands and two legs in the dancing form.
He is holding a Damaru in the upper right hand while a fire is blazing from his left hand.
The lower right hand is the symbol of protection and the left is pointing towards his dancing foot. The right foot is shown resting on the demon named Apasmarapurusha. The idol of Nataraja, in most cases, is portrayed as engulfed in a blazing fire.
The dance forms of Lord Shiva are emblematic to the three inviolable phases of the universe viz., creation, protection and destruction. The Damaru represents the principle of sound which is created immediately from soul and is responsible for creation.
The fire corresponds to Pralayagni, the blaze that effaces the universe at the end. The other two hands illustrate that those who confide into Shiva’s feet will be immune from worldly apprehensions.
The Nataraja idol of Shiva is incomplete without showing the demon crushed unto Shiva’s foot. The demon here is symbolic to human ignorance and unconsciousness, responsible for the social immortality.
It is said that Shiva dances at the destruction of the world which is known as Tandava.
Worship of Shiva
As per the tradition, the icon of Lord Shiva is never propitiated as the Mulamurti (original installed in a temple), but only as an Utsavamurti (the festival icons meant for procession).
In the temple, Linga is established and worshipped. There is a famous legend behind the worship of Shiva in the Linga form.
Once, Sage Bhrugu was sent by the other sages to test who amongst the triads was the greatest. When he reached Shiva; he did not welcome him. Due to lack of respect, Sage Bhrugu cursed Shiva to be worshipped as the Linga.
During the Shiva Puja, Lotus and other flowers are general offerings. It is said that he likes the flower of Dhatura the most, but offering the flower of Champaka is a taboo.
The special days for his worship are the eighth, fourteenth and fifteenth day of the dark fortnight of any month. The fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Magha month is celebrated as Mahashivaratri.
It is the most important and auspicious day for the worship of Shiva. The leaf of Bilva is offered on this day. One can please him by dancing before his idol during the Shivaratri night or during other auspicious days of Magha and Chaitra months as per the Hindu calendar.
The worship of the Shiva should not be performed without applying ashes, putting rosary of Rudraksha and a Bilva leaf. Giving lamps is associated with Shiva.
It is said that when Shiva taunted Parvati calling her Kali, she went away to the Vindhya Mountain to perform penance. Now, Shiva felt lonely, and he also disappeared.
Thereby the whole world got afflicted by the darkness. When the gods went to Narayana and narrated to him the situation, he asked them to donate lamps to Brahmins.
There are various modes of serving at Shiva temple; they include giving bath to the Linga and thereby decorating the Linga with fresh flowers, offering milk, offering ghee and honey, offering a flag, arranging beautiful designs, sweeping and sprinkling the temple, offering a bell, waving of lamps and placing a dripping water-jar above the Linga.
Worship of Shiva is also said to act as a rain charm. It is said that if the rains are delayed, one should pour water on the Linga from various types of jars. This should be continued for one to seven days.
One should apply saffron-paste to the Linga; perform sacrifice in which lac offerings are thrown into the fire. Surely the clouds though not rainy, would rain down.
yasmin kale hyanavrushtirjayate ,
Snapayed vidhivanmam cha kalashairvividhai shubhai
Ekaratram dviratram va pancharatram cha sapta va
Snapayedgandhatoyena kumkumen vilepayet
Karavire raktapushpairjapapushpaistathaiva cha
Anenaiva vidhanen kruten tu dvijottamai
Agarbhitastada megha varshate natra samshaya.
Shiva as Nilakantha
Shiva has a dark throat and this epithet is connected with the famous account of churning the ocean. Gods and demons churned the ocean for nectar.
But at that time, poison also came out with the nectar. All the gods and demons became extremely frightened. They resorted to Shiva and requested him to help them.
Shiva drank that poison and saved all gods and demons from devastation. This story is narrated in the following verses.
pura devashcha daityashcha piyushartha mahabala
kshirodadhim manmathuste sukrut svartha sandhaya
mathyamane amrute purvam kshirabdhessuradanavai
agne samutthitam tasmadvisha kalanalaprabham
tam drushtva nikhila deva daityashcah bhayavivhala
vidrutya tarasa tata shambhoste sharanam yayu
pranamya tushtuvurbhaktya sachyuta natamastaka
tata prasanno bhagavan shankaro bhaktavatsala
papau visham mahaghoram surasuraganardanam
pitam tam visham kanthe nidadhe vishamulbanam
reje tenati sa vibhurnilakantho babhuva ha.
It is also said that, for Shiva’s safety, Parvati pressed his throat so that the poison could not go down into the stomach. The poison got accumulated in Shiva’s throat, turning his throat blue.
After this episode, Shiva began to be known as Nilakantha, meaning one with the blue throat.
Tryambaka is a very important epithet of Shiva. How he got this epithet is explained in one account as follows. Brahma created a very beautiful nymph called Tillottama and sent her to Kailasha, the abode of Shiva. When Shiva saw her, he was amazed by her beauty.
But, when the nymph began circumambulating Shiva; he created four heads for himself so that he could watch the nymph’s beauty without turning.
When Narada pointed out this to Parvati, she got extremely angry. Parvati with her hands closed eyes from all the faces of Shiva.
The result was the whole world was threatened by complete destruction. All the gods requested Parvati to take her hands away from the eyes of Shiva, but she would not listen.
Shiva then opened a third eye whereby he came to be called Tryambaka. The word Ambaka means an eye thus Tryambaka means one who has three eyes.
At another place, it is said that Shiva is called Tryambaka because at the failure of vegetation he is given three sacrificial skulls having three eyes each.
It is further said that the metres Gayatri, Trishtup and Jagati are the three wombs of vegetation. When all the three come together, a sacrificial cake is prepared on the three pot-sherds. This Purodasha is called Tryambmka.
Shiva and the river Yamuna
Shiva is associated with the dark color of the water of river Yamuna. It is said that after the death of Sati, who flung herself into sacrificial fire at the sacrifice of her father Daksha, Shiva’s whole body got burning due to the dart of passionate love.
It is also believed that to get rid of the pangs he fell into the stream of Yamuna. Due to the heat of the body of Shiva, the waters got burnt and were rendered dark like collyrium.
smaransatim mahadevastathonmaden tadita
Na Sharma lebhe devarshe banaviddha iva dvisha
Tata papat devesha kalindisaritam mune
Nimagne shamkare chapo dagdha krushnatvamagata
Tada prabhruti kalindya bhrunganjananibham jalam
Aasyandatpunyatirtha sa keshapashamivanane.
In this way, Lord Shiva is as auspicious as his name. It can be said that he has two sides, positive and negative.
He helps everyone who confides into him.
But if anyone acts in a wrongful manner, he destroys him completely. He has a very bad temper.
At the same time, he has a heart full of love.
And, therefore, Lord Shiva is the embodiment of love and respect, but with a tinge of fear and scruples, in the hearts of his innumerable devotees.