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, heading towards the altar.
The sacred bull Nandi is seen as a representation of Shiva’s devotee (bhakta) in Hinduism. Some even view Nandi as a zoomorphic manifestation of Lord Shiva himself. Due to the reverence given to Nandi, bulls are regarded as Vahanas or sacred vehicles.
One of the Shaiva Upapuranas, the Saura Purana, describes the splendor of Nandi in detail. The bull is depicted with shining ornaments that radiate with the intensity of a thousand suns, three eyes, and a trident held in one of its four arms, much like Lord Shiva himself.
Story of Nandi’s Birth
Vayu Purana mentions Lord Nandi as the offspring of Maharishi Kashyapa and his wife Surabhi. Other Puranas describe that Nandi emerged from the right side of Lord 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.
Other Puranas depict Nandi’s origin as attributed to the wish of the great sage Shilada, who longed for a child with immortality. To fulfill his wish, Shilada engaged in rigorous austerities, prayers, and repentance.
As a result of his intense devotion, Shilada was blessed with an immortal child who was later named Nandi. In some versions of the story, it is said that Nandi was born directly from the sweat of Shilada’s penance.
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
After Shilada was blessed with Nandi, he took great care and provided him with love, instructions, and knowledge. By the age of seven, Nandi became well-versed in all the sacred scriptures and texts. However, one day, Lord Varuna and Mitra visited Nandi to bless him, but they seemed dissatisfied. When Shilada asked them why, they revealed that Nandi would not live beyond the age of eight.
Shilada was devastated upon hearing this news and shared it with Nandi, who could not bear to see his father in agony. As a result, Nandi began to pray to Lord Shiva, who was pleased with his devotion and granted him the status of being half-man and half-bull, and immortal. Lord Shiva also appointed Nandi as the guide and leader of his followers, known as the Shiva Gana or the Helpers of Lord Shiva.
Following this, Shilada and Nandi went to live in the abode of Lord Shiva, where they resided forever and Nandi (animal form), Shiv’s ardent worshiper, is Lord Shiva’s transportation means.
This story reinforces the importance of devotion and the power of prayer in Sanatan and highlights the idea that even in the face of adversity, one can find strength through faith and devotion.
The human form of Nandi
Nandi is typically depicted as a half-man, half-bull figure, but there are also stories of him taking on a human form. In some versions of his origin story, Nandi was originally a human boy named Nandikeshwara who was transformed into a bull by Lord Shiva.
There are also stories of Nandi appearing in human form to help devotees of Lord Shiva. One famous tale tells of a poor Brahmin named Vellalar who was falsely accused of theft and punished by having his hands and feet amputated. Vellalar prayed to Lord Shiva for help, and Nandi appeared in human form, offering to carry Vellalar on his back to the temple where he could be healed.
In another story, a king named Rajendra Chola was troubled by a series of disasters and sought the advice of his priest, who suggested that he should bring Nandi to his kingdom. The king sent his soldiers to fetch Nandi, who appeared in human form, and traveled with the soldiers to the kingdom. Nandi advised the king on how to appease the gods and prevent further disasters.
These stories illustrate the versatility and power of Nandi as a divine being, able to take on different forms to help those in need and guide them toward the path of righteousness.
Story of Parvati cursing Nandi
One day, Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva were playing dice in front of Nandi. Nandi, Lord Shiva’s closest accomplice, decreed that the deity had won out of devotion to Shiva, although the goddess was the clear winner.
Enraged, Parvati cursed him. When Nandi sought to lift the curse, he explained that his actions were driven by his unwavering devotion to Lord Shiva. Parvati, however, decreed that Nandi could only be freed from the curse if he showed reverence to her son, Lord Ganesha.
To lift the curse, Parvati told Nandi to offer Lord Ganesha his favorite things and pay homage to him on his birthday. Nandi followed the instructions and worshiped Lord Ganesha during Chaturdashi, which falls in the Hindu holy month of Bhadrapada. As a form of penance, he offered green grass to Lord Ganesha.
Through this story, we see the importance of showing respect and devotion to all deities in Sanatan, and the belief that honoring them can bring blessings and protection from curses.
Nandi’s sacrifice for his Lord
During the Samudra Manthan or the ocean churning, an ancient Hindu legend describes how the serpent king Vasuki was used as a rope. As the churning continued, Vasuki emptied his venom, but it did not harm any of the deities or demons present except for Lord Shiva, who drank it to prevent harm to others.
As a result, Lord Shiva’s throat turned blue, and some poison spilled from his mouth. In an effort to save his beloved Lord, Nandi drank the poison, surprising everyone with his great power and strength. Even the gods and demons were amazed by Nandi’s devotion and protection of Lord Shiva.
This story exemplifies the selflessness and devotion of Nandi towards his Lord, highlighting the idea that serving and protecting one’s deity can bring great blessings and admiration. Additionally, it demonstrates the Hindu belief in the power of sacrifice and the idea that one can overcome even the most difficult of challenges with the help of faith and devotion.
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 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 of Nandi
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. Nandi is also a symbol of eternal waiting as it is the greatest virtue of the ultimate nature in Sanatana.
The symbolism of Nandi is multi-faceted, representing qualities such as purity (white color Nandi), justice, faith, wisdom, courage, and honor. As an integral part of Lord Shiva’s entourage, Nandi plays a significant role in the cosmic dance of creation known as the Tandava, providing the music for Lord Shiva’s performance.
According to the Brihaddharma Purana, Nandi’s influence extends beyond music and dance, as he is also the commander of Lord Shiva’s army. It is said that Nandi, the Bull Vahana, even defeated and killed Airavata, the mighty elephant, displaying his exceptional strength and bravery in battle.
Nandi: A Brahman Bull?
The Brahman bull is a majestic creature from South Asia. It is a male zebu, a type of cattle known for its hardiness, large size, and distinctive hump on the back. Brahman bulls have horns, which makes them an even more impressive sight to behold. Additionally, they have long floppy ears as well as another unique feature – the dewlap – which is a fold of loose skin that hangs from the neck down towards their chest.
This characteristic contributes to their overall beefy look and intimidating air when spoken about or observed directly! Consequently, Brahman bulls have been embraced as symbols of strength and power by many cultures throughout history.
Nandi is referred to as ‘Meditation Bull’
The representation of Nandi as a meditative bull has several interpretations. One interpretation suggests that Nandi’s meditative posture represents his state of constant meditation and devotion toward Lord Shiva. He even became a guru of meditation after getting divine knowledge from ShivaShakti. He is the guru of the eight disciples of Nandinatha Sampradaya namely,
- Patanjali, and,
- Sivayoga Muni.
Another interpretation suggests that Nandi represents the ideal state of mind for a devotee, which is calm, focused, and free from distractions. Nandi has the ability to remove obstacles and help devotees attain spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, worshiping Nandi and meditating on his form is considered to be a means of attaining inner peace and spiritual growth.
Significance of Nandi in Indian culture
In some parts of India, particularly in rural areas, Nandi is worshiped as a deity associated with agriculture and fertility. Farmers believe that Nandi’s blessings can bring them a bountiful harvest and prosperity. They offer prayers, flowers, and fruits to Nandi, seeking his blessings and protection.
Nandi’s association with agriculture and fertility can be traced back to the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, where bulls were considered sacred animals and worshiped as symbols of strength, power, and fertility. This tradition continued to evolve through the centuries, with Nandi assuming a central role in Sanatan as the vehicle and companion of Lord Shiva.
In some areas, farmers celebrate a festival called Nandi Habba, where they decorate their plows with flowers and hold processions with Nandi statues, seeking blessings for a good harvest. Nandi is also associated with water and is believed to control the flow of rivers and streams, making him a crucial deity for agricultural communities that rely on water for irrigation.
Nandi’s association with agriculture and fertility highlights the deep connection between religion, culture, and the natural world in India, where farmers continue to rely on divine blessings for their livelihoods.
Nandikeshwar Temple is a famous temple dedicated to Lord Shiva’s divine mount, Nandi, located in the town of Tirupanguram, Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is believed to have been built during the Chola dynasty and is known for its ancient architecture and religious significance.
The main deity of the temple is Nandikeswarar, a form of Lord Shiva represented as a lingam. The temple also houses several other deities, including Lord Ganesha and Goddess Parvati. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is decorated with intricate carvings and sculptures depicting various Hindu deities.
Present-day Nandikeshwar temple is visited by devotees from all over the country, particularly during the annual festival of Mahashivratri, which is celebrated with great fervor and enthusiasm. The temple also hosts other religious events and rituals throughout the year, including daily puja ceremonies, Abhishekams, and special prayers on auspicious occasions.
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. The white bull in front of the Shaivite temples is not just a protector of Lord Shiva but also a guardian of all mankind.