Shiva is popularly known for being among the most complicated Indian gods, manifesting qualities that often contradict. He is both a destroyer and a restorer god.
Shiva represents sensuality and is characterized with self-discipline. At the same time, he is a wrathful avenger and yet a benevolent shepherd of souls.
Initially, Shiva was referred to as Rudra. This was a lesser god and is addressed in just three instances in Rig Veda. Rudra attracted more importance upon gaining characters of a god of fertility, and thus became Shiva. Hence, he became part of trimurti (trinity), together with Brahma and Vishnu.
Saivism or Shaivism boasts of being among the most widely practiced Hindu cults. The cult accepts many religious practices, and has three principles: pasu (individual soul), pasa (bonds confining one’s soul to existence on the earth), and pati (God).
The goal of the Shaivites is removing bondage from their souls and attains Shivata (Shiva’s nature). They attain this by self-punishment and self-discipline practices, and they value renunciation and yoga.
There are many Shaivites who became wandering Sadhus (hold men). Shaivites usually have three horizontal incisions on their foreheads to symbolize the three characteristics of Shiva.
In most instances, Shiva puts on a snake which coiled on his neck and upper arms as a symbol of the power and control he has on one of the most poisonous creatures. In Hindu, snakes are often used as a symbol of the doctrine of rebirth.
Snakes have a natural mechanism of shedding skin (molting), and it symbolizes how human souls are reborn in bodies of another life or being.
Thiruvalangadu (the northern side of Madras) has been linked with a dance competition featuring Shiva and a companion in form of the Kali. Fairly tales have it that Shiva was able to dance vigorously, and he outdid Kali by throwing his leg as per the flow of the music.
Kali, as a lady, was unable to make such moves and just stood distressed. The dance contest and subsequent conquer of Kali were included in Karaikkal Ammai’s (a female saint and poet) hymns.
Parvati is Shiva’s wife and the female companion. Shiva shows a lot of reverence and generosity towards Parvati. Hence, he is seen as a great role model in the society for a potential husband.
The godly couple and their sons, who are the Shiva with an elephant-like head and the Skanda with six heads, live on Kailasa Mountain, which is a holy mountain in Himalayas.
In most instances, Shiva has a trident that symbolizes the trinity of gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in Hindu. People also believed that the trident symbolizes the three key aspects of nature which are creating, preserving, and destroying. However, preserving is a quality mostly linked to Vishnu.
Like a destroyer, Shiva looks terrible and dark. He is surrounded by many skulls and large snakes.
He wears holy Rudraksha beads, may be to refer to his former title Rudra.
Shiva also wears a crescent moon on the crown. The moon symbolizes Kama, who is a goddess of love during the night. It also symbolizes Nandi (a bull) which is a symbol of fertility.
Lord Shiva also appears holding a skull which represents Samsara (a cycle of birth, death, and ultimate rebirth). Samsara can be described as a principal belief in Hindu.
Shiva also symbolizes the full cycle since he is the Mahakala (god of time) and destroys and creates all things.
Nandi (a white bull) plays the role of guarding Shiva. Nandi’s statue is usually seen protecting Shiva’s main shrine. Nandi is also believed to personify the sexual energy of fertility. Shiva rides on the bulls back to have power over these impulses.
He is also symbolized in many forms. Lingam is one of these forms. The ovoid-like form is a symbol of total perfection of god Shiva. If what exists beyond form was to be offered form, then lingam would qualify as the most perfect form to a mystical aspect of Shiva’s total perfection.
Shiva Lingam’s Story
Shiva never appreciated the temporary pleasures of everyday life. Hence, he turned down samsara and smeared his entire body with some ash. He performed a series of austerities upon closing his eyes.
His tapas generated a lot of heat such that his entire body changed into a column of fire. This was the blazing lingam which had threatened to devastate the entire universe. The gods lacked any knowledge on how to put out or control the fire generated by Shiva.
A yoni (a godly vessel belonging to mother goddess) appeared suddenly. It was able to catch the blazing lingam and suppressed its extreme heat, and saved the world from early devastation.
Shiva is also seen often in a peaceful mood together with his wife Parvati, as a nude ascetic, like a beggar, as Nataraja the extraterrestrial dancer, as the Dhakshinamurthy yogi, and also as the partly female and partly male unification of Shiva together with Parvati in Ardhanarisvara (a single body).
Shiva also appears in a form of his partly female and partly male known as Ardhanari. Shiva is seen on the right-hand part of the carving while Parvati is on the left-hand side. Their traits are divided halfway along the sculpture.
Another instance where Shiva’s traits of being both female and male are evident is in his two earrings. Shiva often wears a single earring often like a male and wears the other earring like a female.
Lord Shiva is often portrayed with three eyes. His third eye represents a supreme consciousness. He can use it as a tool for destroying any enemy using fire. He has the powers to eliminate all other gods and any creature during the seasonal devastation of the world.
The first instance when Shiva’s third eye appeared was when his companion Parvati covered his eyes jokingly. This resulted in putting the whole universe into darkness, thus it became prone to devastation.