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One among the few deities worshipped in different names, Lord Shiva is one of the most powerful gods in the Hindu pantheon. Shiva represents the holy trinity, which is famously called ‘Trimurti’, along with Brahma and Vishnu. Believed to be a destroyer of immoral qualities, such as lust, greed and anger, God Shiva is also known for the destruction of evils and vices that harms the divine creations on earth.

Meaning of Shiva

What does the word ‘Shiva’ mean? In the early Vedic period, the word ‘Shiva’ meant ‘auspicious’ or ‘propitious’. It was evident in the wishing by people saying ‘Shivasthe Panthanaba’, which means ‘May all your ways be auspicious’. Further connotation of the word includes potential, capable, promising or favorable. Shiva as a deity was relatively unknown to people of early Vedic period. Later, Shiva was worshipped as a deity but in a different form as that of anger, destruction and death.

As time passed, Shiva took the place of most of the Vedic gods to be recognized as Brahman, which means “the supreme universal consciousness”. The word ‘Shivoham’ thus means ‘one’s consciousness’, which shows that Shiva is omnipotent and omnipresent. Nevertheless, the meaning of Shiva is not restricted to the things, such as name, form and time. More importantly, Shiva is ‘Sha + ee + Va’, in which:

  • Sha means Shareeram or body

  • ee means eeshwari or life giving energy

  • Va means vayu or motion

The above meaning explains Shiva as the “body with life and motion”. The word ‘Shiva’ thus encompasses ‘auspicious’, ‘potential’ and ‘life’.

About Shiva

God Shiva is known by several names and the most popular ones among them are Mahadeva (supreme god), Vishwanath (God of universe), Shankara (doer), Nataraja (lord of the dance), Bholenath (lord of simplicity), Shambhu (abode of joy), Mahesha (supreme lord), Pashupati (lord of animals) and Bhairava (terrifying).

The word ‘Siva’ is a Sanskrit word and it gives several meanings, such as “auspicious, gracious, kind, friendly, benevolent, propitious and benign”.

Various Forms of God Shiva

Lord Shiva is represented in several forms and each of these forms is much revered as one that protects and benefits the universe. Some of the important forms of Shiva are:

Rudra: Called Rudra, Shiva in the early Hindu Vedas represented the god of storm and wind. Rudra was also a hunter and was wild and terrible in his ways The Sanskrit word Rudra means “the roarer” and it personifies ‘terror’ in the Rigveda. This early form of Shiva is still believed to the “mightiest of the mighty”. As Shiva evolved from Rudra, the Shiva aspect of Rudra always balanced the forces for good. Rudra is said to bring heavy rains and also death and disease. Nevertheless, Rudra is not only a destroyer but also a benefactor, with healing powers.

Adiyogi: Lord Shiva is also believed to be Adiyogi, which means the ‘first yogi’ in the yogic culture. The origin of yoga is considered to be from this form. The yogic lore explains how God Shiva became Adi Guru. After attaining full enlightenment, Lord Shiva abandoned himself and engaged in fierce ecstatic dance on the Himalayas. He danced fiercely or became still at times owing to the movement his ecstasy allowed.

The Lord was so involved that he seemed oblivious to his devotees standing around. All, except the seven of the devotees, stayed and they kept watching and asking the Lord what is going on.

Their insistence to learn what God Shiva knows encouraged them to prepare themselves. The preparation went on and time passed. Finally, when the sun moved to the farthest part of the equator shifting from summer to winter solstice, the Adiyogi found the seven devotees ready to attain knowledge. On the next full moon day, he became their guru to be called Adi Guru or Sri Dakshinamurthy.

This day is celebrated as Guru Pournami. Lord Shiva turned South, where Kanti Sarovar is located, and allowed his grace to radiate on the human race, which transferring the yogic science to seven devotees. It took several years to complete the transfer of knowledge. The seven devotees are the famous ‘Saptarishis’, who attained different aspects of yoga to convert them to seven basic yoga form.

Though this enlightenment, the Adiyogi form of Lord Shiva shows that one can go beyond his or her limitations irrespective of the dimension of existence he or she is in.

Kalyanasundara: God Shiva is depicted as Kalyanasundara, where both Shiva and Parvati (Uma) is showed in two different forms. In this form, Lord Shiva’s wedding is manifested in an elaborate form, with the Lord in a standing posture, with four hands, where the front right hand is extended to have his consort’s right hand.

At the same time, he keeps blessing with his front left hand. The other two hands hold the axe and deer. This form has Goddess Parvati on the left-hand side and Lord Brahma, as a priest in the front. The lord is depicted in four or two hands in different places.

Bholenath: Lord Shiva is known for his fearful attributes and to the contrary, he is also believed to be the Lord of innocents. The Bholenath form of Shiva depicts his innocence or child-like attributes. He is so simple in this form that he can be easily pleased and prayed for blessings. It is believed that anyone, with sincere devotion, can attain him.

Kaala Bhairava: This is the most frightful form of Lord Shiva. When Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu are responsible for creation and preservation of the universe respectively, Lord Siva is associated with destruction. Through fearful manifestation, Kaala Bhairava annihilates every evil thing in the universe. Hindus, Buddhists, as well as Jains revere this frightful form of Maheshwara.

With this Bhairava form, the lord takes the authority of protection and destruction. He is responsible for creating nourishment, called ‘bharana’, while at the same time, he is known for terrifying, called ‘bhisana’. It is believed that there are 64 Bhairavas and they are categorized under eight groups, where every group is headed by one Bhairava. Kaala Bhairava is the supreme and head of all these Bhairavas.

Ardhanarishwara: Among the several forms of Shiva, Ardhanarishwara is a “composite androgynous” form of God Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The form represents a half-male and a half-female, which is equally separated to show the right half Shiva and the left half Parvati. With this form, Shiva is worshipped in different names, such as Ardhayuvateeshwara, Ardhagaureeshwara, Gaureeshwara, Naranaari, and Ardhanarinateshwara.

There is much significance to this form for it is the perfect combination of male and female, which symbolizes the masculine and feminine energies through Purusha and Prakriti. The other connotation the form has is the inseparable Shakti and Shiva, in which ‘Shakti’ or ‘Parvati’ is a sacred feminine. The origin of Ardhanarishwara form dates back to Kushan era.

Virabhadra: This is another terrifying form of Shiva, where the Lord manifested himself as a fearsome warrior. Created by Rudra-Shiva, Virabhadra was set out to destroy Daksha’s yagna (fire sacrifice) when Sati, who was Daksha’s daughter and the consort of Shiva sacrificed herself in the yagna. There are temples which are dedicated to Virabhadra. Lord Shiva is depicted in a destructive mood as he is found adorned with a garland of skulls and carried weapons in all his hands.

Symbols of God Shiva

Though Lord Shiva is believed to be formless or transcendent, he is still depicted in various symbols. Nevertheless, symbolism has its traces in the early Vedic period. Some of the popular symbols associated with God Shiva are:

Crescent Moon: Shiva adorns the crescent moon on his head and this signifies that he controls the time. The moon epitomizes the time as its waxing and waning helped calculate time like days and months. Shiva controls nature by having a control on the moon and time.

Damru: The symbol of damru is known for nadam or nada, which represents sound ‘Om’ or ‘Shabda Brahma’. It is believed that music developed from the vibrations of damru. The dissimilar sounds from the damru are blended by resonance to form one sound, which is ‘aum’ the cosmic sound heard while in meditation. The early Vedic scriptures confirm that the alphabets in Sanskrit were developed from fourteen basic formulae, which arose from the damru’s vibration of 14 times. Thus damru symbolizes not only alphabets but also the language.

Trishul: This symbol depicts three fundamental aspects of life through the three spears on the trishul. Lord Shiva’s power is said to be represented by ‘will’, ‘action’ and ‘knowledge’, which are called ‘icchya’, ‘kriya’ and ‘jnana’ respectively. The other symbolization of trishul is its representation to three ‘nadis’ called ‘ida’, ‘pingala’ and ‘sushumna’.

Nandi: Nandi symbolizes righteousness or dharma and Lord Shiva rides on this bull. Nandi is known to wait for Shiva and it is regarded as the qualities of receptiveness and anticipation.

Shivalinga: The symbol, with three parts: the bottom, middle and top, shows the creative, as well as destructive, power of God Shiva. It, notwithstanding any imaginary images, refers to ‘Eternal Brahman’, which has neither the beginning nor the end. It also says that shivalinga represents the cosmos.

There are a few more symbols which signifies that Lord Shiva is worshipped in any form.

Some Interesting Facts about Lord Shiva

The supreme god of Hindu religion, Shiva intrigues a lot of people through interesting facts mentioned below:

1. The word ‘Shiva’ is said to have multiple meanings and this was explained by Adi Sankara during his interpretation of the word, which means ‘the one who is pure and purifies anyone who chants his name’. He added that the word ‘Shiva’ is not affected by ‘Sattva, Rajas and Tamas’, which are the ‘Gunas of Prakrti’.

2. He is known for his cosmic existence. It was when Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma, to prove who is the mightier, set out to find the beginning and end of the massive and blazing pillar. When Brahma flew as a swan, Vishnu, as a boar, dug deep to find the root. They kept going high and deep only to return and find Lord Shiva in all his prowess.

3. The existence of Shiva is found in three states of ‘nirguna’, ‘saguna’ and ‘nirgun-sagun’, where the first represents formless and his pervasive role in all creations and the universe, the second state shows his presence in everything and that shows his existence in different forms of creations, which is quite difficult to describe, and the third state has him in the form of Shivalinga, which signified the birth of anything from the dome.

4. Furthermore, Lord Shiva is also known to be in the superconscious, which is also called ‘samadhi’, state, which is again a nirguna state. The ‘tandav’ state and ‘lasya’ state, is a saguna state. He is also shown dancing both ‘tandav’, a vigorous dance form and ‘lasya’, a gentle dance form as a divine dancer called Nataraja. The scholars have interpreted his dance in many ways, referring him as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. The Ananda Tandava, which is called a dance of bliss, is Shiva’s unique performance, in which creation, preservation and destruction of the universe is interpreted. The symbolism in the art has been variously interpreted by scholars.

5. When in meditation, God Shiva has his eyes half open, which signifies the continuous process of creation of the universe and its destruction when he opens and closes his eyes. There is no end of creation and the half-open eyes are known to represent it.

6. It is believed that Lord Shiva’s prominence in the Hindu pantheon is due to his identification with several deities in the Vedic period and some of the popular ones are Rudra, Agni, Purusha, Prajāpati, Indra, and Vāyu.

7. He is the bearer of River Ganga, which flows from his hair and it considered to be the river of immortality.

8. It was in Shvetashvatara Upanishad (400-200 BCE), where Rudra was found to have transformed to a supreme being from an inconclusive deity. The Rudra-Shiva worship was a tradition at that time.

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