Depiction of Lord Shiva in Hindu Religious Literature
Shiva is described in religious literature with various epithets which denote not
only his prowess and exalted status in the order of Creation but also his significance
in the spiritual evolution of beings in all parts of the universe and in the liberation
of mortal beings who are subject to the impurities of egoism, desire ridden actions
and ignorance. He is depicted as one with three eyes (tri netradhari), wearing large
locks of matted hair (jatadhari), a crescent moon adoring his head, the Ganga flowing
from his hair (gangadhari), white in color (shivam), wearing a garland of snakes
(sometime also skulls) around his neck, which is blue because of the poison he holds
in his throat, and with ashes (bhasmam or vibhuti) smeared all over his body suggestive
of his connection with death, destruction and cremation. At times he is shown alone
immersed in deep meditation or in the company of his wife Parvathi and children
Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya, with a seated Nandi (bull) by his feet. some times
he is also shown riding the bull, alone or with his entire family. Being the Lord
of the mountains, he is also shown with the mountains in the backdrop. Trident is
his weapon, with which he slews troublesome demons. At times he uses damaru to awakens
the worlds or the individual beings who are ready for salvation. The third eye of
Shiva is symbolic of his awakened nature, his transcendental state and his ability
to liberate individual beings by destroying their ignorance and their karma. The
word Triambaka, which is used to describe Shiva, means having three eyes as well
as the lord of the three goddesses (ambas), who are collectively known as Ambikas.
Since Shiva wears a crescent moon on his head, He is described as Chandrasekhara.
The moon denotes the extent of his dimensions, his association with the sky and
his universal Lordship. It may probably also suggest his early Vedic connection
with the Vedic god, soma and his connection with magic and esoteric mind altering
shaman rituals involving intoxicants, some of which found their way subsequently
into the tantric cults. Shiva is also the Lord of death, who frequents cremation
grounds (shmasanavasin) and wears the ashes collected from there all over his body.
The ashes symbolize his fearless nature and his deep connection with both death
and liberation. The matted hair strands of Shiva stand for his spiritual energies
and his control over both material and spiritual world.
The Ganga, the most sacred river of Hindus, flows eternally from his hair. It is
said that the river actually flows in the heaven and a part of it descends into
the earth consciousness, through the head of Shiva to purify the earth and help
the people liberate themselves. The river symbolizes spiritual consciousness and
its association with Shiva signifies his transcendental state and His status as
the world teacher.
Shiva being an ascetic by nature, is shown wearing a tiger skin, which is suggestive
of his control over animal passions. His association with his vehicle, Nandi, the
bull, also suggests the same symbolism. Shiva is popularly known as Pasupathi. According
to the tenets of Saivism, every living being, including humans, who are bound to
the bonds of egoism, desire ridden action and ignorance are but pasus (animals)
and Shiva is their Lord who alone can liberate them with His grace.
Destroyer versus benefactor
Siva has both positive and negative qualities. There is no god in the entire Hindu
pantheon who is associated with such extremities. The contrasting qualities of Shiva
are well described in several Hindu texts including the Vedas and the Mahabharata.
In the Vedas we see Siva both as the fierce Rudra and the benign protector of people
and healer of diseases. In the Puranas we see Him in his destructive and depressive
moods as well His euphoric and magnanimous temparament. We see his disturbed state
when he carries the corpse of his wife Sati on his shoulder, his impetous nature
when he beheads his own son Ganesh and his anger when he is disturbed by Manmadha,
the cupid whom he destroys with his thrid eye. At the same time we also see his
compassion, when he willingly consumes the poison that comes out of the churning
of the oceas and when he willingly agrees to let the Ganges flow from His earth
down to earth so that people could be liberated. The Mahabharata brings out the
contrasting qualities of Shiva by describing him as "the standard of invincibility,
might, and terror", as well as a figure of honor, delight, and brilliance.
In his positive aspect, Shiva is described as the pure one (shviam), who sanctifies
everything He touches. He is the liberator of the deluded, bestower of boons, one
who is easy to please, who is full of compassion, love and grace, the master of
all sounds and arts and protector of the weak and the meak. He has unbounded love
for his family and his followers. Seated on a mountain in the world of Kailash,
watched by the liberated Siddhas, He keeps a protective watch on the worlds. He
is Samkara, the doer of good deeds, the one who is same in all deeds and who is
stable and peaceful at all times. As Sambhu, the personification of eternal bliss,
He is the source of all bliss and happiness in the world.
On negative side He is described as the Lord of the death, terror and destruction,
who unleashes his fierce nature upon those who follow the evil ways. As part of
the Trinity, He eventually destroys all the worlds and ends the time cycle. As Bhairava,
the Lord of fierce form, He is associated with several tantric cults, human and
animal sacrifices, magical rituals and gory practices. Since in Hinduism, time symbolizes
death, Siva is also known as Mahakala (great time), the ultimate destroyer of all
Ascetic versus householder
Another contrasting quality of Shiva is that he is both a householder and also an
ascetic. At times he wanders among corpses among the cremation grounds, while he
also remains seated firmly with his family in the world of Kailash, surronded by
his most beloved devotees. Siva is Iswara, the Lord of yoga and meditation. He is
known as the great yogi (maha yogin), who is the source of all yogas and their original
teacher. As devoted husband, he is known as Lord of Uma or Parvathi (Umapathi or
Parvathipathi), his consort.
An illustration of the family of Shiva, consisting of Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha and
Skanda (Kartikeya)He is depicted as both an ascetic yogin and as a householder,
roles which have been traditionally mutually exclusive in Hindu society. When
depicted as a yogin, he may be shown sitting and meditating. His epithet Mahāyogin
("the great Yogi: Mahā = "great", Yogin = "one who practices
Yoga") refers to his association with yoga. While Vedic religion was conceived
mainly in terms of sacrifice, it was during the Epic period that the concepts of
tapas, yoga, and asceticism became more important, and the depiction of Shiva as
an ascetic sitting in philosophical isolation reflects these later concepts.