Who is Shiva?
Please note that in Kashmir Shaivism, Shiva is understood in a completely different manner than traditional Hinduism, which is what is outlined below. The Kashmir Shaivism view understands Shiva to be Consciousness itself.
Shiva is the third god in the Hindu Trimurti. 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 pleasure-seeker.
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.
The Indus Valley seals depicting a seated yogi is generally agreed to be a prototype of Lord Shiva as known today. Therefore he is commonly known as the Lord of Yoga.
I sit on the banks of the river of life,
watching children being born, seeing how they grow,
how they take on the lives they have been given,
how they bend and wither with the weight of this world,
how those lives
disappear back into the Earth and Sky.
I breathe into them as they come
and they breathe into me as they leave.
I am the Great Lord in whom all find rest
In their true nature, my Self.
Shivoham – I am Shiva!
What does Shiva look like?
He is often depicted as immersed in deep meditation and is described as the all-knowing yogi, who lives an ascetic life on Mount Kailash. He is also shown as a householder with his wife Parvati and two sons, Ganesha and Kartikeya. Shiva has many benevolent as well as fearsome forms.
Shiva is represented with the following features: 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.
- 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 – 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 trident – 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.
- Nāṭaraja – Lord of the Dance
- Dakshinamurthy – the Teacher
- Ardhanarishvara – the Lord who is half woman
- Bhairava – the fearsome form
In many holy texts and puranas like Mahavishnu, Shiva or Mahadeva is also called Paramatman (Supreme soul). Shaivas often see him as Parabrahma (Supreme Brahman), and is regarded as Bhagwaan by devotees.
The deity known as Rudra in the Vedas came to be associated with Lord Shiva. Both Rudra and Shiva are “blue-throated one,” “three-eyed one,” “dweller of the mountains,” “Lord of the animals,” yogins, have healing powers, have long matted hair, associated with fire, and described as Sthanu (not moving) to describe their yogic pose of samadhi.
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.
Shiva and Parvati are held up as the perfect example of marital bliss by many Hindus, and one is rarely depicted without the other.
Shiva is usually worshipped in the abstract form of a lingam.