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Shiva - The Destroyer
Shiva is the third god in the Hindu triumvirate. The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The other two gods are Brahma and Vishnu.
Brahma is the creator of the universe while Vishnu is the preserver of it. Shiva's role is to destroy the universe in order to re-create it.
Hindus believe his powers of destruction and recreation are used even now to destroy the illusions and imperfections of this world, paving the way for beneficial change. According to Hindu belief, this destruction is not arbitrary, but constructive. Shiva is therefore seen as the source of both good and evil and is regarded as the one who combines many contradictory elements.
Shiva is known to have untamed passion, which leads him to extremes in behaviour. Sometimes he is an ascetic, abstaining from all wordly pleasures. At others he is a hedonist.
It is Shiva's relationship with his wife, Parvati which brings him balance. Their union allows him to be an ascetic and a lover, but within the bounds of marriage.
Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are members of the Shaivism sect.
What does Shiva look like?
In his representations as a man, Shiva always has a blue face and throat. Strictly speaking his body is white, but images often show him with a blue body too.
Shiva is represented with the following features:
A third eye
The extra eye represents the wisdom and insight that Shiva has. It is also believed to be the source of his untamed energy. On one occasion, when Shiva was distracted in the midst of worship by the love god, Kama, Shiva opened his third eye in anger. Kama was consumed by the fire that poured forth, and only returned to life when Parvati intervened.
A cobra necklace
This signifies Shiva's power over the most dangerous creatures in the world. Some traditions also say that the snake represents Shiva's power of destruction and recreation. The snake sheds its skin to make way for new, smooth skin.
The vibhuti are three lines drawn horizontally across the forehead in white ash. They represent Shiva's all-pervading nature, his superhuman power and wealth. Also, they cover up his powerful third eye. Members of Shaivism often draw vibhuti lines across their forehead.
The three-pronged trident represents the three functions of the Hindu triumvirate.
While other gods are depicted in lavish surroundings, Shiva is dressed in simple animal skin and in austere settings, usually in a yogic position. Parvati, whenever she is present, is always at the side of Shiva. Their relationship is one of equality.
Even though Shiva is the destroyer, he is usually represented as smiling and tranquil.
Shiva is sometimes represented as half man, half woman. His figure is split half way down the body, one half showing his body and the second half that of Parvati's.
Shiva is also represented by Shiva linga. This is a phallic statue, representing the raw power of Shiva and his masculinity. Hindus believe it represents the seed of the universe, demonstrating Shiva's quality of creation. Worshippers of Shiva celebrate Mahashivratri, a festival at which the Shiva linga is bathed in water, milk and honey and worshipped.
Who is he linked with?
Shiva's consort is Devi, the Mother-goddess. Devi has taken on many forms in the past, including Kali, the goddess of death, and Sati, the goddess of marital felicity. Her best known incarnation is Parvati, Shiva's eternal wife.
Hindus believe Shiva and Parvati live in the Kailash mountains in the Himalayas.
Lord of the dance
Dance is an important art form in India, and Shiva is believed to be the master of it. He is often called the Lord of Dance. The rhythm of dance is a metaphor for the balance in the universe which Shiva is believed to hold so masterfully.
His most important dance is the Tandav. This is the cosmic dance of death, which he performs at the end of an age, to destroy the universe.
According to one Hindu legend, Shiva almost signalled the end of this universe by performing this dangerous dance before its time. This is the story.
One day, the father of the goddess Sati decided to hold a prayer ceremony. At this prayer ceremony, all the gods would be invited and offerings would be made to them.
But Shiva had married Sati against the wishes of her father and he was not invited. Sati was deeply offended on behalf of her husband.
In anger, Sati prayed intensely and jumped into the sacred fire that was burning on the day of the ceremony.
During this time, Shiva had been in the midst of deep meditation. But when Sati jumped into the fire, he awoke in great anger, realising what his wife had done.
The story becomes less certain at this point, but it is believed that Shiva started the cosmic dance of death. The whole universe was about to be destroyed before it was time.
The gods who were present at the prayer ceremony were very concerned. In order to pacify him, they scattered the ashes of Sati over him. This did the trick. He calmed down and did not complete the dance. But he went into meditation for many years, deeply upset over the death of his wife, ignoring all his godly duties.
It was not until Sati was reborn as Parvati that Shiva finally came out of meditation. Through her love and patience, she taught him about family life and the importance of moderation.
Shiva and Parvati are held up as the perfect example of marital bliss by many Hindus, and one is rarely depicted without the other.
More on Shiva:
Shiva is the god of the yogis, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a lover of his spouse (shakti). Lord Shiva is the destroyer of the world, following Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver, after which Brahma again creates the world and so on. Shiva is responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of destroying the ego, the false identification with the form. This also includes the shedding of old habits and attachments.
All that has a beginning by necessity must have an end. In destruction, truly nothing is destroyed but the illusion of individuality. Thus the power of destruction associated with Lord Shiva has great purifying power, both on a more personal level when problems make us see reality more clearly, as on a more universal level. Destruction opens the path for a new creation of the universe, a new opportunity for the beauty and drama of universal illusion to unfold. As Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram or Truth, Goodness and Beauty, Shiva represents the most essential goodness.
While of course many Hindu deities are associated with different paths of yoga and meditation, in Shiva the art of meditation takes its most absolute form. In meditation, not only mind is stopped, everything is dropped. In deep meditation or samadhi, even the object of the meditation (like a mantra) is transformed into its formless essence, which is the essence of everything and everyone. Thus Shiva stands for letting go of everything in the world of forms. The path of Lord Shiva is the path of the ascetic yogi.
Forms of Shiva
Shiva has many forms, which are visible in his Panchavaktra form with 5 heads, a combination of all Shiva energies : Aghora (resides in the creamation grounds), Ishana (most often appears as the shivalingam), Tat Purusha (meditating), Varna Deva (the eternal Shiva) and Saddyojat or Braddha Rudra (the old wrathful form). The last also forms the connection to the Rudraksha mala - a rosary made of the dried fruits of the Rudraksha tree.
Another form is the Nataraj. Shiva Nataraj's dance represents both the destruction and the creation of the universe and reveals the cycles of death, birth and rebirth. His Dance of Bliss is for the welfare of the world. In the pose of Nataraj, the King of Dance is giving darshan to his beloved devotees within the "Hall of Consciousness", which is the heart of man. Under his feet, Shiva crushes the demon of ignorance called Apasmara Purusha, caused by forgetfulness. One hand is stretched across his chest and points towards the uplifted foot, indicating the release from earthly bondage of the devotee. The fire represents the final destruction of creation, but the dance of the Nataraj is also an act of creation, which arouses dormant energies and scatters the ashes of the universe in a pattern that will be the design of the ensuing creation.
Yet another manifestation of Lord Shiva is said to be Hanuman, the ultimate karma yogi, in never-ending selfless service to Ram. The fact that this is not really clear can be perfectly explained by the understanding that a true karma yogi will never take the credit for his acts, as they would otherwise not be entirely selfless. The ego would still get the credit. So, in order to respect Shiva as a true karma yogi, let us not pay too much attention to this manifestation.
The Mahamrityunyaya form of Shiva is the great conqueror of death. The Mahamrityunjaya mantra is one of the two main mantras of the Vedas, next to the Gayatri mantra. It is chanted to remove death and disease. This form of Shiva also is the being of pure joy, referring to the unconditioned enjoyment of the perfectly peaceful mind. That is the true nature of the divine elixir that this Shiva offers his devotees in no less than four hands.
Another main form of Shiva is Ardhnarishwara, half Shiva, half Shakti. Also related to Shiva is Indra.
Attributes of Lord Shiva
Shiva's main attributes are :
* the trident that represents the three gunas
* the snakes that show he is beyond the power of death and poison and also stand for the Kundalini energy.
* the sound of Shiva's two-sided drum maintains the rhythm of the heartbeat and creates the sound AUM in the overtones.
* the vehicle of Shiva is the white bull called Nandi (the joyful).
* Shiva is often seated on a tiger skin or wears a tiger skin, with the tiger representing the mind.
* Shiva lives on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas.
The power or energy of Shiva is Shakti, his spouse, of which Parvati is probably the most popular form. Shiva's first wife was Sati and his second wife was Parvati. They are also known by many other names, such as Uma, Gauri, Durga, Kali, Annapurna and Shakti. His sons are Ganesha and Kartikeya.
Shiva and Parvati are often shown as sitting in happy, intimate embrace. They also like to discuss philosophy. Shiva taught Parvati on Vedanta (transcendent knowledge), while Parvati tought him Sankhya (cosmological knowledge). Both were perfected yogis.
After their marriage, they left for mount Kailash and immersed themselves completely in a sexual intercourse so strong that the deity of desire Kama was reborn when their sweat mingles with his ashes. Their love was so intense that it shook the cosmos and frightened even the gods.
The balance between male and female can also be obtained in marriage, when both partners complement each other to form an ultimate oneness, which is the source of creation. When Shiva does his destructive Tandava dance, Parvati is said to complement him with a slow, creative step of her own, calming him with her soft glances. While Shiva shows a wilder nature that is both ascetic and erotic, Parvati stands for the middle path of the householder. As Shiva exulted in his romantic dalliance with her, the true mother in her longed for a child. Shiva resisted the life of a householder, but Parvati's desire for it was greater than his resistance. Hence first Ganesha was born, later also Kartikay.
The Shiva Lingam
Lord Shiva is conceived in his unborn, invisible form as the Shiva Lingam. The Lingam represents the male creative energy of Shiva. This main symbol of Shiva is worshipped in virtually every Hindu temple and home. The phallus is not worshipped as such, but through it Shiva is worshipped as the supreme consciousness. Embracing the base of the linga is the yoni, the female organ, as the universal energy, as Shakti, Shiva's spouse. Through profound understanding of this symbol, the mystery of creation can be understood as an act of love.
Shiva worshippers (Shaivites) are among India's most ascetic yogis, their body smeared with ashes, dressed in saffron colors and wearing a Rudraksha mala. The path of Shiva can thus be seen as the inward-going path, the great journey to find the self. This path is complementary to the path of Vishnu, which is the outgoing path, bringing out the self from within and letting it manifest in the universe and our lives.
ॐ Namasté - Blessings!
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Articles: Hindu Mythology