Ardhanarishvara is an androgynous form of Lord Shiva, the composite of Shiva and Parvati, the half-male and half-female fusion from the center. The right half is that of Shiva, and the left half expounds Parvati.

Symbolizing the all-pervasive, all-enduring nature of Lord Shiva, Ardhanarishwar portrays a perfect balance of male and female as equal, as “Purusha” and “Prakriti,” the feminine and masculine energies of the cosmos as well as Shiva, the male principle of God, as the essence of Shakti, the Sacred Feminine.

Ardhanarishvara is also named Ardhanarisha, Ardhayuvateeshwara, Ardhagureeshwara, Gaureeshwara, Naranari, Parangada, and Ammiappan. According to Shaiva Siddhanta, Ardhanarishwar is one of the 64 manifestations of the absolute Parashiva.

The origin of Ardhanarishvara

There are different instances about the creation of Ardhanarishvara according to scriptures and different Puranas. Among all those two are the most discussed ones.

Ardhanarishvara - Shiva and Shakti
Art by Ashdei-san

There was once a Rishi called Bhringi, a devotee of Lord Shiva. He used to believe himself to be the greatest acolyte of Lord Shiva only to the bit that he refused to worship Shiva along with Parvati. He had solely dedicated himself to Lord Shiva but would not worship his consort Parvati.

One day, Rishi Bhringi reached Mount Kailash, the adobe of Lord Shiva, to circumambulate Shiva, but he repudiated to circumambulate Parvati despite her being alongside Shiva. Goddess Parvati then urged Shiva to unite themselves together. That’s how Ardhanarishvara was created, one half of Shiva and the other half of Parvati through the central axis.

Rishi took the form of Beetle and circumambulated Shiva only, which enraged Parvati. Parvati then cursed Bhringi to lose all the blood and muscles believed to have come from mother in Hindu embryology. Bhringi was all but the only skeleton now, which is believed to have come from his father, making him realize the significance of Prakriti and Purusha. He pleaded forgiveness from Parvati and was given the third leg as a reward for pleading to sustain his body.

According to Shiva Purana, Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, was disappointed with his creation as the world was not moving at the pace. It was constant to the number of beings he had created. There was no way out for him rather than calling Shiva for speeding the development in the world. Brahma asked Shiva for help, and Shiva took this Ardhanarishwar form to make him understand generation through copulation. Afterward, Ardhanarishwar split into Purusha and Prakriti, thus continuing the creation, suggesting that Shiva is nothing without Shakti, and creation, as well as the continuation of life, is impossible without both of them.

Symbolism of Ardhanarishvara

The apologue of Ardhanarishvara has an intense meaning symbolizing the quintessential balance between the male and female energies in the universe. The forces are inseparable and complementary to each other, suggesting that they must work together to maintain the equilibrium.

Shiva Shakti

The unity of Purusha and Prakriti are basically opposite in nature. Still, they match each other in the sense that Purusha is the passive force of the universe. At the same time, Prakriti is active, Purusha represents potential energy, and Prakriti is kinetic energy, and Purusha is infinite. Prakriti brings that infinity to be finite, thus, embracing one another to generate and sustain the universe.

The union of Linga of Shiva and the Yoni of the Devi gives rise to the birth of the entire cosmos. Consequently, this concept also raises the concept of Lust giving rise to procreation.

As mentioned earlier, Ardhanarishvara is half-male and half-female; however, this does not mean Shiva and Shakti are incomplete. Ardhanarishwar signifies that “totality lies beyond duality”; they are complete and fully developed man and woman. They are supreme and equal, which is why they both are the essence of creation. Shiva on the left also signifies the spiritual sphere and Shakti the material sphere depicting that both must coexist to bring ecstasy to life.

Many cultures also believe that Ardhanarishwar marks limitless growth and fertility as Parvati with Shiva is associated with the profuse reproductive ability of mother nature. Generally, the Shakti half is on the left side, denoting relative inferiority and feminine characteristics like creativity, intuition, etc. The right side is of Shiva, half denoting comparative superiority and masculine characteristics like strength, logic, systematic thoughts, etc.

Many also compare Ardhanarishvara with the Chinese concept of Yin-Yang as they are also complementary opposites of each other, the equal halves of the greater whole. They are part and parcel of the dynamic nature of the universe. Yin is analogous to the gentle and feminine half and Yang to the strong, ferocious, and masculine half.

Shiva Shakti Art
Art by Fritjof Capra

Ardhanarishwar is beyond our concept of gender and materializes the fact that God can be male, female, and even neuter too. Remaining in this intrinsic condition Ardhanarishwar is unique of all aligning even science in this route.

Conclusion

Like Ardhanarishvara, no human being is pure unisexual as each bears the potentiality of both male and female. It is the dominance of one over another that determines the sexuality of the person.

The concept of Ardhanareshwar reflects that the matching of opposites produces the true rhythm of life as Shiva is shava without Shakti and Shakti is impotent without Shiva, Shakti creates, and Shiva is the source of that creation.

(Last Updated On: August 16, 2021)
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