The sacred bull Nandi is the vahana and gatekeeper of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva; therefore, he is consecrated in the form of a statue in Hindu Shiva temples. The sculpture of Nandi in these temples is usually placed in front of the entrance, head towards the altar.

Nandi at Pashupatinath Temple
Nandi at Pashupatinath Temple

This sacred bull embodies the devotee (bhakta) of Shiva. Sometimes Nandi is considered a zoomorphic image of Shiva himself. The revered Nandi is the cause why bulls are considered vahanas or sacred vehicles.

In one of the Shaiva Upapuranas called Saura Purana, the Nandi bull is described in all its splendor, with ornaments that shine with the fire of a thousand suns, three eyes, and a trident held in its hand. He has four arms like the second Shiva.

Story of Nandi’s Birth

According to the Vayu Purana, Nandi is the son of Kashyapa and Surabhi. Other Puranas describe that Nandi emerged from the right side of Vishnu and was given as a son to the sage Salankayana, or that he is the son of the sage Shilada, given to him by Shiva.

Many Vedic texts site to the origin of Nandi through the wish of the great sage Shilada an immortal child. The wise sage performed many austerities, prayers, and repentance to have such a son. The most powerful Vedic God, Indra, heard him and descended to earth. He learned from the sage that he wants to find a strong, immortal, and powerful child whose power will be truly unlimited.

Then Indra replied that only the great Lord Shiva could fulfill this wish. Shilada then worshiped Shiva with great devotion; he agreed to make his dream a reality. In God’s direction, the sage performed the sacred fire ceremony (Yagya). Before his eyes, a child appeared from the flame. The gods who appeared blessed the boy who was born in such an unusual way, after which the “father” named the baby Nandi.

Nandi the Bull

Nandiswara Tirtha
Nandi at Nandeshwara Temple

Shilada took Nandi home and gave him instructions, great care, love, and knowledge. At the age of 7, Nandi became acquainted with all the sacred scriptures and sacred texts. One day, Lord Varuna and Mitra came to bless Nandi, but they did not seem satisfied. Shilada asked why, and God told him that Nandi would not live long and die at eight.

An agonizing Shilada with a heavy heart shared the news with Nandi. Nandi could not stand his father’s pain and began to pray to Lord Shiva. The mighty God was pleased with his devotion and awarded the Nandi’s collar with a bell turning him into half-man, half-bull. He also honored the young Nandi with immortality, making him a guide and head of the Shiva Gana (Helper of Lord Shiva). Shilada and Nandi went to the abode of Lord Shiva and lived there forever.

Nandi and Curse of Parvati

One day, Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva were playing dice in front of Nandi. Nandi decreed that the deity had won out of devotion to Shiva, although the goddess was the clear winner.

Enraged, Parvati cursed him. Nandi asked for the curse to be lifted, saying that his actions came from a devotion to his Lord. Parvati said Nandi could be released from the curse if he adored her son, Lord Ganesha.

They told Nandi that he would be free from the curse if he offered Lord Ganesha his favorite things and honored the deity on his birthday. Nandi worshiped Lord Ganesha in Chaturdashi, the Hindu holy month of Bhadrapada, and offered green grass to him as penance.

Nandi’s sacrifice for his Lord

Another story, an ancient legend, tells of how during the ocean churning (Samudra Manthan), the serpent king Vasuki was used as a rope. Vasuki emptied his poison, not harming any deity and demons participating in the churning; Lord Shiva drank the poison.

Lord Shiva’s throat turned blue, and a little poison spilled from his mouth. To save Lord Shiva, Nandi drank the spilled poison. To everyone’s surprise, Nandi survived the poison, and even the devas – gods – and asuras – demons – were amazed by his great power and the protection of Lord Shiva.

Nandi – Assistant to Shiva

Each Hindu deity has a vahana, a riding animal that is a friend of its owner and, in beliefs, acts as its symbol. In the case of Shiva, this is Nandi, a mighty bull that is formidable and strong to match God. His sculpture is an indispensable attribute before entering any of the shrines of Shiva.

Nandi Avatar of Shiva

Nandi seems to bless people who come to see God and acts as the protector of the temple. In numerous images of Shiva, his sacred bull is often present. He lies at the feet of God or carries him across the sky, personifying confidence and determination to resist any demonic forces and enemies of the light.

Symbolism

When he is an individual object of worship, Nandi expresses the ideas of sexual power, procreation, and fertility. He also acts as the guardian of all four-legged animals and the leader of the Ganas, servants of Shiva.

Nandi is a bull deity endowed with many powers. He is the protector of justice (dharma) and the head of the 18 Siddhars in Hinduism. He is regarded as the one who gives blessings.

Nandikeshvara

Nandi symbolizes purity, justice, faith, wisdom, courage, and honor. He provides the music with which Lord Shiva performs the Tandava, or dance of cosmic creation. According to Brihaddharma Purana, Nandi, as the commander of the army of Lord Shiva, killed the elephant- Airavata.

Conclusion

Nandi vividly demonstrates all these qualities, appearing in legends talking about the deeds of his God – Shiva. The formidable appearance of the assistant is deceptive – Nandi himself is distinguished by kindness and sensitivity. Hindus believe that this sacred bull is always ready to help people.

Last Updated on July 24, 2022

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