The God of All Seasons
The Shiva Symbolism
Shiva is depicted as a weed-smoking, hippie-like mendicant who smears His body with ashes, has matted dreadlocks, wears nothing but a piece of lion-skin across His loins and, well, a snake around His neck even as He lives in sub-zero temperature atop the Kailasha mountains in Himalayas. Surrounding Him are a bunch of rowdies ( Shiv Ganas) ready to do their Master’s bidding & equally ready to pick up random fights!
Shiva is also considered to be the lord of all other deities ( Mahadeva), Ghouls & ghosts ( Bhootnath), beasts (Pashupati), dancers ( Natraj) as well as Time/Death (Maha Kaal)
He often carries His frugal belongings -including a drum, trident & sundry stuff- with Him as His only “material” belongings, so to say. While He’s fair-complexioned, He has a strange bluish hue around His neck as a result of a misadventure of drinking poison to save the world& its inhabitants. In yet another effort to save us, earthlings, He received the river Ganga in His matted locks & thusbecame, unwittingly, the source of this river on Earth.
Quite an unlikely God to be worshipped isn’t He?
To add to this, He’s extremely volatile & prone to bouts of uncontrollable anger even as He is highly gullible. In one such fit of anger He cut-off the fourth head of Brahma, the Creator. In another similar bout, He beheaded His father-in-law and in yet another, His own son, Ganesha. Within minutes of these acts, He felt so sorry and proceeded to affix animal parts, rather clumsily, to both His relatives. Unfortunately, the Creator was rendered with one head less than His original four heads.
But then, this is not all.Here are some more amazing facts about Shiva:
- Shiva is depicted as a youthful ascetic who lives the life of a householder and is out & out a family man. He is a passionate lover, yet has conquered all His desires. He burnt the god of love ( Kamadeva) to ashes and , yet, is the source of sex & sexual activity. In addition, He’s also a source of dance and grammar.
- He’s the only God who actually lives on the earth, along with the mortals, atop the Kailash mountains and travels across the length & breadth of the earth. An out & out a family man Shiva's often seen with his Parivaar ( family) consisting of His adorable, fair wife & two sons.
- The only God who is responsible for destruction as well as (re)-creation. He uses a special part of his anatomy to bring about mass destruction: His third eye! Yes, that's right. He has a special , third eye sandwiched in between His two "normal" eyes.
- Shiva is considered as a fierce-looking person but also as one with the radiance of "thousands” of Suns
- He is always in meditative contemplation with half closed eyes in Shambhavi Mudra- A highly evolved Tantric Mudra-even as He is surrounded by His band of merry makers ( Ganas)
- Shiva dances when He’s in joyous (Anand Tandav) or in tempestuous moods (Rudra Tandav) . Besides, there are other forms of Shiva-dances (Tandavas) as well
- He has internalized His feminine power & is referred to as Ardhnareshwara ( Half-woman Lord)
Besides this, Shiva has a strong association with the phallic symbol & has quite a few characteristics of the phallus. He is worshipped all across in the form of a phallus ( Shivalingam), often “erupts” like a phallus. He is in constant sexual union with his consort Parvati. Even as he is in such endearing positions with his wife, he’s conversing about the secrets of existence. He is supposed to be aroused very easily & satisfied as quickly, again akin to sexual libido.
Shiva symbolism is awe inspiring. His trident implying His three Shaktis, His drum symbolizing primordial vibration. He destroys & recreates the cosmos in a rhythmic fashion. Thus, death & destruction, for Him, is the prerequisite for recreation. He transcends Time & Space
Shiva Drinking Poison
Shiv Tandav Stotram ( Hymn to Shiva's dance of destruction)
Shiva: The politics
Many scholars consider Shiva worship as the “original creed” of most of the “indigenous peoples” of the Indian subcontinent. While this is difficult to prove, there's no denying to the fact that Shiva worship can be traced to ancient times of Indian culture. There’s a mention of Pashupatinath in the Harappan seals, who, historians believe, was Shiva’s alternate name. The phallus worship, Tantric rites etc associated with Shiva worship also seem to indicate the Pagan roots of the Shiva creed. Many people believe that there were attempts to syncretise the indigenous Shiva worshippers with the “non-indigenous “ Vishnu creeds during the later Vedic period. In fact some scholars even believe that the Hindu Trinity of Brahma , Vishnu & Mahesh as an elevation of a little known Vedic God Rudra ( or Shiva) to a more superior level.
Shiva: The philosophy*
Shiva is considered to have 5 heads each representing an Energy of Shiva:
Ishana, which represents the Chit shakti or(consciousness)
Tatpurusha,which represents the Anandashakti (Bliss)
Sadyojata, which represents the Ichhashakti (will)
Vamadeva, which represents the Jnanashakti (knowledge)
Aghora, which represents the Kriyashakti (Action)
The objective of various Shaiva Philosophies is to unite the above 5 Energies of Shiva.
Shaiva philosophers, at times , make distinction between Shiva & Param Shiva. Shiva, the deity with a form, is at times depicted as the Symbolic representation of the Parama Shiva, the Supreme Entity. However, for many others both mean the same.
All the living beings of the universe , as per Shaivites, represent Individual consciousness, which, in turn, is just a sub-set of the Universal Consciousness ( Shiva).
In other words, there’s nothing outside of Shiva. Come to think of it, creation, birth, re-creation, destruction, joy, sorrow, subject(doer), object(deed), mind, thoughts, consciousness, ego, knowledge , ignorance, bondage, suffering, joy- all are parts of Shiva.
Here's what the Advaita (Nondualism ) Philosopher & an ardent Shaiva , Adi Shankaracharya (8th Century CE) had to say:
Na chaikam thadanyath dweetheeyam kutha syath,
Na chaa kevalathwam na vaa kevalathwam,
Na soonyam na chaa soonyamadvaidhakathwath,
Kadam sarva vedhatham sidham braveemi
It is not even one and how can it be two,
Neither is it unique and nor not-unique,
Neither is it a vacuum nor something different from it,
For it is the essence of non dual reality
So how can I tell about what is established by all philosophy?
Shiva-in whom opposites converge- indeed, confounds !
* based on Kashmir Shaivism