Lord Shiva is the most fascinating and intriguing deity of India. He is the Supreme God in all completeness, manifesting Himself in one form or the other for the benefit of His devotees. Identified with the specific principle of cyclic destruction following each phase of creation, Shiva is nevertheless an extremely compassionate God, who is easily pleased by the least act of devotion performed by His worshippers. This has earned Him the epithet of ‘Ashutosh’, the ‘one who is easily pleased’.
As an extremely powerful deity, He is often seen in a fruitful partnership with Lord Vishnu. For example, when Shri Vishnu took avatar as Rama, Lord Shiva manifested Himself as Hanuman. Similarly, when Vishnu was churning the ocean and a deadly poison emerged from the waters, it was to Lord Shiva that he turned to. Shiva obliged the world by drinking up the poison and retaining it in His neck, which eventually turned blue because of it. It is due to this noble act that Siva is also called ‘Nilakantha’, ‘One with a blue throat.’
Since Lord Shiva is the destroyer, He has for His wife Goddess Kali; her name signifying the all-destructive power of time (Kala). The saumya rupa of Devi Kali is Goddess Parvati. Lord Shiva has two sons, Karttikeya – the eternal youth who is also the god of war and Lord Ganesha - the elephant-headed god who is worshipped before beginning any auspicious enterprise.
In keeping with the fact that He is the Supreme God, Lord Siva has many visual manifestations. The most popular of His many forms are:
1). Ardhanarishvara: Showing Him as fused into the body of His wife Parvati, so that one part of the anatomy is male and the other female. The image of Ardhanrishvara signifies the completeness of Lord Shiva, showing us that He is beyond the confines of gender.
2). Dakshinamurti: Shiva as the ultimate teacher.
3). Bhairava: The Tantric deity accompanied by a dog.
4). Nataraja: The Cosmic Dancer. An awesome icon with multiple layers of symbolism.
5). The Shiva Linga: Signifying that Lord Shiva is beyond any ‘signs’, meaning that He is ‘Nirguna’.
The Iconographic Genesis of Shiva
Shiva, different from what the Puranas proclaim, is not Brahma's creation. He rather precedes his Trinity counterparts, Brahma and Vishnu, on time scale. This pre-eminence of Shiva over others as much reflects in their related theological chronology and availability of their iconic representations in visual arts. Brahma and Vishnu have their roots in the Vedas, and not before. Shiva has a pre-Vedic origin, as his worship cult seems to have been in vogue amongst the Indus dwellers, even around 3000 B. C. The excavations of various archaeological sites in the Indus valley reveal two sets of archaeological finds that suggest the prevalence of the cult of worshipping both, his anthropomorphic as well as symbolic representations. This excavated material includes a number of terracotta seals representing a yogi icon and the phallus type baked clay objects, obviously the votive lings, suggestive of some kind of phallus-worship cult of the non-Aryan settlers of the Indus cities. Seated in meditative posture, the stern looking Yogi figure wears a typical head-dress made of buffalo horns and is surrounded by various animal icons, lion, elephant, buffalo-type bull, rhinoceros etc. and the bird forms above. Read more ...
The Forms of Shiva in Visual Arts
Some of Shiva's forms that yet prevail - Shiva, the dancer; Shiva, the archer; awe-striking Shiva; Shiva with deer; Shiva with trident-headed spear; 'urdhvakesin' Shiva; 'urdhvalinga' Shiva; Shiva, the Mahayogi; Shiva, the Pashupati; Shiva, the composite being; Shiva as 'linga'; Shiva and bull; and, 'linga' and 'yoni', are by and large pre-Vedic. The Rig-Veda
, with its emphasis on the awe-striking aspect of the deity, identifies Shiva as Rudra
and sometimes as Ishan, the archer. Though variously interpreted, and whether approved it or disapproved, the Rig-Veda twice alludes to 'Shishna-deva', phallic deity or phallus-worshipping people. In its 'Shatarudriya-strota', the Yajurveda
assigns him various names. One such name is Shiva, and Rudra is referred to as one of its epithets. The Atharva-Veda
perceives him as black-complexioned, riding a red horse and shooting poison-tempered arrows. Read more ...
The Shiva Linga - Images of Cosmic Manhood in Art and Mythology
Images of Shiva are of two kinds: iconic (anthropomorphic) and aniconic. The former represents Shiva as a human being while the latter envisages an abstract origin for him. In this manner is Shiva different from other deities. As an icon, he has the body of man, but in his aniconic form he is visualized as the cosmic pillar. As an abstract shape, the pillar symbolizes a purely conceptual reality that cannot be sensed in material terms. Also when the time came for Shiva to reveal himself to both Brahma and Vishnu, he did so in the form of a linga. Hence the linga is an object of the greatest sanctity, more sacred than any anthropomorphic image of Shiva. Not surprisingly thus, the innermost sanctuary of all Shiva temples is reserved for the linga, while the outer precincts of the sacred architecture may show him in his human form. Read more ...
The Dance of Shiva
Yoga, like dance, is much more than a mere physical exercise. It is a holistic way of relating to the body that involves an increasing awareness on all levels: the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. Yoga
unites the functions of each of these aspects of our personality. This is true for dance also. Certainly any successful dance performance is characterized by a balanced harmony between the body and spirit. What is suggested here is that dance, like yoga, is a conscious attempt at integrating all the tiers of our existence. It does not negate but on the contrary affirms the sensual nature of our objective physical being, and treats it as fundamental to any attempt at spiritual awareness as our subjective intangible soul. Read more ...
Shiva as Nataraja - Dance and Destruction In Indian Art
The Nataraja image is also eloquent of the paradox of Eternity and Time. It shows us that the reposeful ocean and the racing stream are not finally distinct. This wonderful lesson can be read in the significant contrast of the incessant, triumphant motion of the swaying limbs to the balance of the and the immobility of the mask-like countenance. Shiva is Kala, meaning time, but he is also Maha Kala, meaning “Great Time” or eternity. As Nataraja, King of dancers, his gestures, wild and full of grace, precipitate the cosmic illusion; his flying arms and legs and the swaying of his torso produce the continuous creation-destruction of the universe, death exactly balancing birth. The choreography is the whirligig of time. History and its ruins, the explosion of suns, are flashes from the tireless swinging sequence of the gestures. In the beautiful cast metal figurines, not merely a single phase or movement, but the entirety of this cosmic dance is miraculously rendered. Read more ...
Parvati's Quest: Understanding the Essence of Shiva
The marriage of Shiva and Parvati was preceded by a long interval of courtship. It was no ordinary engagement however. The initiative was solely Parvati’s who was spurred on by a dream where she stood by Shiva as his wife. Soon after, by a happy coincidence it so transpired that Shiva stopped nearby on a mountain range to meditate and she went with her father to pay homage. The latter, knowing his daughter’s desire, requested Shiva to permit her to take care of his daily needs while he meditated. Even though Shiva realized this would be an impediment to his pursuits, he agreed on Parvati’s fervent appeal.
Thus did Parvati first gain access to Shiva, and served him as he lost himself in inward contemplation, oblivious to the outside world. A young and charming maiden, alone with the male she adored, the circumstances were just ideal for Kamadeva, the god of love, to make his presence felt, and stoke passion between the two. Read more ...
Sati and Shiva: Attachment to the Unattached
Soon Shiva learnt of his wife's humiliation and subsequent death. Enraged, he plucked a hair from his matted locks and with a loud laughter dashed it on the ground. Immediately there arose a being of colossal size, touching the skies by his stature. He had sharp fangs and his locks of hair were red like dazzling flames. He was holding aloft various weapons. Shiva then ordered this manifestation of his wrath named Virbhadra, to go and destroy both Daksha and his sacrifice. Read more ...