Lord Shiva, Mahadeva is perhaps the most complex of Hindu deity. He is the Auspicious one (Shiva), The terrific one (Rudra), Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), Lord of the universe (Vishwanatha), He is the Destroyer and the Transformer. He is limitless, transcendent, unchanging, formless and also the one without beginning or without end.
“SHIVA” means the auspicious one. It is humanly impossible to explain Shiva, just as it is impossible to explain the universe yet let’s make an attempt.
From simple human intellect, he is the one from whom the Brahman emerges, in whom it stays and within whom it goes back.
Here Brahmman is not mere the Universe but is the one who is the base and cause of the universe. Brahmman holds the universe. Lord Shiva is reasons of all causes. He must not be seen as a Human-God. That’s a wrong notion. Scriptures call him the Nirgun Brahman and the Sagun Brahmman
Shiva exists in 3 states
- Nirgun: In this state he is formless, and the whole universe and creation lie in the pervasiveness of Shiva.
- Saguna: In the Saguna state Shiva is the entire universe and his “ansh” is present in the tree, the insect, the animal, male, female and the whole creation. In this state, though all forms arise out of him yet, no form can describe him.
Nirgun-Sagun: In the Nirgun-Sagun state Shiva is worshipped as the Shivalingam. The word Shivalingam has been derived from Sanskrit roots Shiva (Lord) + Lingam (Mark/Chinha/Symbol). Hence, Shivalingam is the mark of the lord within its creation. Everything in the world arises out of a dome/a ball/ a Pindi. Be it a tree which comes from a seed which is round, a child which comes from a cell which is round, all heavenly bodies are round, the minutes of cells are round and our very earth is round. Everything being round is a mark of the Lord/Shiva. Since Shiva can’t be comprehended, we worship his mark or we worship the whole Brahmman in a Shivalingam.
“NA TASYA PRATIMA ASTI”
-The Yujur Veda
“THERE IS NO IMAGE OF HIM”
Thus, it is important to understand that he is “Formless”. Though all forms belong to him and he is happy in whatever way you look at him yet there is no single form in the world that describes him.
The three forms in which the world appears i.e., “HE-SHE-IT” referred arises out of him. We refer to Shiva as “HE” to keep up with the conventions. However, Shivareferredbe to as:
SIVA – “Male”
SHIVA – “FEMALE”
SHIVAM – “NEUTRAL”
Hence, He himself is beyond the gender of he, she and it and remains the base from where he, she and it emerges, stay transform and dissolves.
The Meaning Behind Symbols of Lord Shiva
Symbolism has found its way since the start of the Vedic following. As one of the holy trinity, Shiva has many symbols that are associated with him. Whenever we find these elements, we immediately think of the Lord himself. Here are the symbols of Lord Shiva:
The Moon Crescent – Ardha-Chandrama
From a scientific and philosophical point of view, the moon on Shiva’s forehead depicts control on time in terms of nature. The waxing and waning of the moon was used to calculate the days and months in earlier times.
Thus, the Moon symbolizes time and Lord Shiva wearing the moon on his head denotes that Shiva has complete control over time and is beyond the measure of time and is eternal. Control on time and the moon is important to control nature. An example that I can quote here is the high tides and the low tides that arise due to the gravity of the moon. Hence, it is Chandrashekhara alone who can control time.
Body smeared with ashes
This symbol has a higher meaning than just the element itself. It represents how Shiva is in its transcendental aspect in nature and that his presence is higher than material presence. The ash is not a normal one, but instead the ash from a cemetery. It corresponds to the Hindu philosophy of life and death, that death is the ultimate reality of life. Everything, in the end, is converted into ashes, and since Shiva is the God of destruction, the ash represents that everything, in the end, can be reduced to destroyed and that the lord goes beyond the circle of life and death.
Matted Hair / Jata
The symbol of matted hair is that Shiva is the Lord of Wind or Vayu, that every moment, all living beings breathe him. It represents Shiva as the Pashupatinath, the Lord of All Living Beings.
In Hindu dharma, Ganga is River Goddess and the most sacred river. Legend has it that the river has the source in Shiva and that flows from the matted hair of Shiva. Symbolically, it is represented by the jet of water smothering out of the head of Shiva and falling on the ground. The legend also has it that Shiva himself allowed that water to flow to humans through an outlet in the river to traverse the earth. The water is thus considered to be pure and has purifying nature. This is also how Shiva has got his name Gangadhara, which means “Bearer of the river Ganga”. Sanatana Dharma refers to the river as having the capacity of bringing fertility, and that Lord Shiva is not just a god of destruction, but also a conveyor of purity and peace.
The Third Eye
Lord Shiva is often depicted with a 3rd eye and called Triyambhkam, Trinetra etc. The third eye is a symbol for Shiva devotees to develop the sight of knowledge. Our 2 eyes are not always sufficient to judge things and know realities.
Shiva’s third eye represents the rejection of desire. Even a normal man must have Samta(balance), Sadhuta (purity of character) and Doordrishti (broader vision). He must not fall prey to desires arising out of women(other than wife), money(other than that which is earned by sweat and purity), fame(other than that which arises out of sattvic actions.
From the Yogic point of view, it is said that when the pineal gland or ‘third eye’ is awakened, one is able to see beyond space-time into time-space. It raises the frequency on which one operates and moves one into a higher consciousness.. with more research it is being realized that it is essentially a spiritual antenna the mystical third eye of ‘lord Shiva’. For many eons, the third eye has been seen as a way to reach higher levels of consciousness while still being present in a physical body.
The purpose of this third eye is the key here, which opens the door to the metaphysical interpretations that ancient wisdom talks about. The pineal gland is also responsible for secreting two extremely vital brain fluids related to our mental health. Those are melatonin, which is the hormone that induces sleep, and serotonin, which is the chemical that helps to maintain a happy, healthy balanced mental state of mind, among other functions.
Half Open Eyes
If you have noticed, these eyes are not completely open. The half-open nature of the eyes conveys that the cycle of the universe is still in process. When he opens his eyes completely, then a new cycle of creation begins, and when he closes them, then the universe is destroyed until the next phase of creation. The half-eyes show that creation is an eternal cyclic process that has no end or beginning.
The Snake Around the Neck
The snake coils three rounds on the neck of Shiva, and that represents time in its most accurate form: the past, the present and the future, and the coiling signifies the cyclic nature of it. And him wearing the snake shows that Shiva is immune to the wrath of time and death. They also represent dormant energy known as Kundalini Shakti that resides within him.
The snake turns in the same direction as the Lord, and that shows that the laws of Shiva are the law of reason and justice that preserves the natural order.
The 3 stripes on the forehead called the Tripunda are a symbol of the 3 Gunas
- Sattva Guna – is harmonious, pure, welfare and construction base, kindness, goodness, creative, balanced
- Rajas Guna – is confusion, overactive or eager, passionate, self-centred, egoist
- Tamas Guna – is lazy, heavy, destructive, impure, destructive
The tiger in Hindu dharma represents the vehicle of Shakti, the Goddess of power and force. Shiva wearing the tiger skin represents his power and that he is the master of Shakti that goes beyond any other force. Tiger also represents lust, and Shiva sitting on it shows that he has conquered lust. Moreover, the tiger is also a symbol of energy, and in this case, it represents Shiva as the source of relative energy that flows throughout the universe, and that Shiva activates the energy with his own Divine will to project the universe in endless cycles.
The Rudraksha Necklace
Shiva wears a Rudraksha necklace with 108 beads that are made from his own tears. Beads mean the elements of the world, and him wearing the necklace means that Rudraksha is firm about the rules of the universe and that even he follows the cosmic laws.
Damaru, the Drum
It represents the cosmic sound. The sound of Damaru is called Pranavamand and represents the “Shabda Brahma” or OM. It is from which came out grammar and music. When a damaru is vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation. In the scriptures, it is said that when Shiva mode of creation, his damru vibrates 14 times. These 14 basic formulae contain all the alphabets in Sanskrit arranged in ways to facilitate various grammatical processes. Therefore, the Damaru represents alphabets, grammar, and language itself.
There are three prongs in the spear of Shiva, and they represent three of the fundamental power of Shiva: will (icchya), action (kriya) and jnana (knowledge). This represents that he can destroy evil and ignorance. It also represents that the evildoers are punished by the Lord in three planes: spiritual, subtle and physical.
Kamandalu is another accessory of Shiva. It’s a water pot made from dry pumpkin and it contains Amrit. It represents the Yogi side of the Lord, but it has a deeper meaning. Just like how the rice pumpkin is plucked from the plant, with its fruit removed and the shell cleaned to carry the pure Amrit, an individual must give up the material world and remove the self of egoism, and only then he can find the purely spiritual form.
They refer to the two earrings: Alakshya which means that cannot be shown by any sign, and Niranjan, which cannot be seen by mortal eyes. The meaning of these refers to the imperceptible nature of Shiva. The left one is worn by women and the right one is used by men. The Kundalas thus represent the dual nature of Shiva and Shakti, male and female, the principle of creation.
Mount Kailash is abode to Lord Shiva, and according to the Hindu dharma, the mountain is said to be the centre of the universe. It means that Shiva is Kailash, the bestower of peace.
Nandi, the Bull
Nandi is the vehicle of Shiva, and it symbolizes both power and ignorance. Bull is called “vrisha” in Sanskrit, and it means “righteousness”. Nandi with Shiva, thus, symbolizes Shiva as a companion of righteousness.
ॐ नमः शिवाय – Om Namaha Shivaya