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    One of the Hindu Trinity, Lord Shiva is known to be the destroyer other two (Brahma and Vishnu) being creator and preserver according to various Puranas. The destructive energies are released by Lord Shiva that dismantles all of the creation to start a new.

    Shiva is known to house both the calm as Bholenath and the fierce like Kala Bhairav and Veerabhadra. Shiva is the source of a large amount of untamed energy and passion that gives rise to his extreme behavior. Goddess Parvati brings out this balance in his life and they are incomplete without each other.

    Lord Shiva is also fondly known as “Bholenath” (down-to-earth, simple) for his modest nature which has different facets. Shiva is also the cosmic dancer (Nataraja), an ascetic, a yogi, and the androgynous union of Shiva and his consort in one body, half-male and half-female (Ardhanarishvara). One of the names given to Lord Shiva is Pashupatinath which literally means ‘master of animals’. However, this description of animals includes every being. It is humanly impossible to describe Shiva in words!

    Who is Lord Shiva?

    Shiva Sahasranama (1008 Names of Lord Shiva) include Mahadeva (the great god), Mahesh, Rudra, Neelkantha (the blue-throated one), and Ishvara (the supreme god), Mahayogi, or the great ascetic, who symbolizes the highest form of austere penance and abstract meditation, which results in salvation.

    Shiva Purana’s, Chapter 3 Shatrudra Samhita’s, Section 17 talks about Rudra Form of Lord Shiva.  According to Svetasvatara Upanishad of Krishna Yajurveda, Rudra is everything, the self, the brahman, there is no second to Rudra.

    Rudra is truly one; for the knowers of Brahman do not admit the existence of a second, He alone rules all the worlds by His powers. He dwells as the inner Self of every living being. After having created all the worlds, He, their Protector, takes them back into Himself at the end of time. – [Svetasvatara Upanishad 3.2]

    He, the omniscient Rudra, the creator of the gods and the bestower of their powers, the support of the universe, He who, in the beginning, gave birth to Hiranyagarbha −may He endow us with clear intellect! [Svetasvatar Upanishad 3.4]

    Rudra is the one who creates, protects, and dissolves back into himself. He is the creator of time, all-powerful, all-knowing, one who gave birth to the golden egg from which the universe manifested. He is the state of “existence, consciousness, and bliss” – Satchidananda.

    Taittariya Aranyaka of Yajurveda in 10.23,24 also talks about Rudra being the absolute reality, Supreme Brahman.

    Supreme Brahman, the Absolute Reality, has become an androgynous Person in the form of Umamaheshvara, dark blue and reddish-brown in hue, absolutely chaste and possessing uncommon eyes. Salutations to Him alone who is the Soul of the universe or whose form is the universe. All this verily is Rudra. To Rudra who is such we offer our salutation. We salute again and again that Being, Rudra, who alone is the light and the Soul of creatures. The material universe the created beings and whatever there is manifoldly and profusely created in the past and in the present in the form of the world, all that is indeed this Rudra. Salutations be to Rudra who is such.

    Shiva is a state of pure consciousness. He is the Lord of the soul and of nature. From Him comes the shifting of life and liberation, bondage in time, and freedom in eternity. This coupled with his “Bholenath” persona is maybe why priests, kings/queens, asuras meditated to please the Mahadeva to make their dreams come true. So on Shivaratri, Hindus, Yogis, and followers of Shaivism all worship, meditate and rejoice in the Bhakti ras of Mahadeva.

    Shiva’s Appearance

    Shiva is the dark-skinned austere with a blue throat. Shiva’s hair is matted and coiled on his head, adorned with a snake and a crescent moon. Ganga is always depicted flowing out of his topknot. Shiva is also the god with three eyes. The third eye, in the middle of his forehead, is always closed and only opens to annihilate an evildoer. While the Gods adorned gold and gemstones and gave up things that weren’t too pretty, Shiva is adorned with a garland of skulls, rudraksha beads, or a snake hangs from his neck.

    The serpent race was despised and feared by all other creatures, but found a place of honor on Shiva’s sacred person, simply because he was moved by their plight. Shiva wore snakes as armlets and bracelets.

    Image credit – DeviantArt/Swarooproy

    On one hand, Shiva holds his Trishul, the Pinaka. The Trishul usually has a damaru or waisted drum tied to it. On another hand, he holds a conch shell, and in the third, a rudraksha rosary, a club, or a bow. He wears a tiger or leopard skin around his waist, and his upper body is usually bare, but smeared with ashes, as befits an ascetic. His third eye is believed to have appeared when Parvati (Parvati, the goddess of power, is Shiva’s cosmic consort), in a playful mood, covered his eyes with her hands. Immediately, the universe was plunged into darkness and there was chaos. To restore order, Shiva formed another eye on his forehead, from which emerged fire to restore the light.

    Why is Shiva the destroyer?

    In the Hindu trinity, Brahma is referred to as a creator, Vishnu as a preserver, and Shiva as the Destroyer. The work of Brahma involved creating new worlds and bringing life to them, that of Vishnu involved managing and sustaining the world with his energies, and that of Shiva involved destroying and withdrawing the manifestations.

    Creation ends at the point of Maha-Pralaya when manifestation is withdrawn back into the Great Void. This is when Shiva begins his Shiva Tandav, his famous cosmic dance. From his dance, the destructive energies are released and activated that dismantle all of the creation. (Read)

    Whenever Shiva is referred to as the Destroyer, it means that He destroys the bad and paves to a new beginning.  Shiva performs the dissolution task of dissolving everything into him.

    He destroys your gross form – the identification you have about yourself so that you return back to where you actually came from, you merge back into the absolute Bliss called Shiva himself.

    Avatars of Shiva

    As Shiva is Brahman, the absolute reality, all is Shiva. There are innumerable incarnation or avatars of Shiva. However, recorded in Puranas, there are 19 avatars of Shiva recognized by great rishis.

    1. Piplaad
    2. Nandi
    3. Veerabhadra
    4. Sharabha
    5. Ashwatthama
    6. Bhairava
    7. Durvasa
    8. Grihapati
    9. Lord Hanuman
    10. Vrishabha
    11. Yatinath
    12. Krishna Darshan
    13. Bhikshuvarya
    14. Sureshwar
    15. Kirateshwar
    16. Suntantarka
    17. Brahmachari
    18. Yaksheshwar
    19. Avadhut
    (Last Updated On: March 10, 2022)