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Shiva, a member of a trinity of deities in Hinduism, is also known by over a thousand different names including   "Shiva the Destroyer" and "Shiva the Creator," the "Lord of the Dance," "Lord of Knowledge," and the "Lord of Time."   His name is also spelled SIVA.

Shiva - Parvati - Ganesha.
Shiva and Parvati are the parents of Ganesha.  The divine family are said to live on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas (with another son, six-headed Skanda).   Note the gestures of the Shiva-Parvati pair: the raised right hand, the "fear-not" gesture (abhaya-mudra), which bestows protection.

Historical Background of The Mahabharata and Online Texts
|Shiva - Parvati - Ganesha  | Krishna | Peter Brook's Film Version

SHIVA.  (Sanskrit: "Auspicious One") Shiva is not only the destroyer but the creator--the meeting point between all opposite forces--the forces of good and evil, life and death.  In the depiction above, Shiva is shown in his family manifestions-- with wife Parvati and son Ganesha.  In his matted hair, whose locks flow like Ganges River, there is the crescent moon, signifying control over time (or the cup of immortal fluid).    According to legend, Shiva brought the Ganges River to earth by allowing her to trickle through his hair.  Also depicted are symbols associated with Shiva: the trident (trishul), the coiled serpent (keeper of life energy, associated with water), the lingam (stone phallus associated with energy--Shiva's fundamental phallic form), and a body covered with ashes.  The object in the center of the forhead, sometimes shown as a jewel, is the third eye--knowledge and wisdom; the drop or power-point suggests the invisible or vanishing Center, the absolute Reality. 

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica:  Shiva "unfolds the universe out of the drum held in one of his right hands; he preserves it by uplifting his other right hand in abhaya-mudra; he reabsorbs it with his upper left hand, which bears a tongue of flame; his transcendental essence is hidden behind the garb of apparitions, and grace is bestowed and release made visible by the foot that is held aloft and to which the hands are made to point; and the other foot, planted on the ground, gives an abode to the tired souls struggling in samsara."

The main goal of devotees of Shiva is to free the soul from the bonds which tie the individual to mortal human existence.   Through yoga, ascetic practices including acts of penance, and renunciation of wordliness--followers of Shiva try to achieve shivata--that is,  to acquire the nature of Shiva.  The three horizontal bars on their  foreheads symbolize Shiva's nature.  His third eye shows inward vision, and has the power of burning destruction when focused outward.

In the Mahabharata, Shiva is represented with his trishul as the divine Yogi in his ascetic form, isolated inmeditation in the Himalayas where Arjuna meets him during his own ascetic retreat.   Here, Shiva manifests as the Divine hunter, in command of time, life, and death.   He is called by one of his many names, Pashupati ("Lord of Beasts")shiva.gif (6086 bytes)

As the cosmic dancer (Nataraja), symbolizing the rhythmic energy of the universe, Shiva is depicted encirled by a circle of fire performing the dance of life and death, creation and destruction.

Shiva "is one of the most complex gods of India, embodying seemingly contradictory qualities. He is both the destroyer and the restorer, the great ascetic and the symbol of sensuality, the benevolent herdsman of souls and the wrathful avenger. Though some of the combinations of roles may be explained by Shiva's identification with earlier mythological figures, they also arise from a tendency in Hinduism to combine complementary qualities in a single ambiguous figure." (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The Festival of Shivaratri, in March, honors Shiva.

Shiva Images, Video, and Audio

PARVATI.  Parvati is sometimes called the wife or  consort of Lord Shiva.  Some philosophers claim that there are no male or female deities, only different aspects of the same single deity.   In this sense, Parvati would represent an aspect of Shiva, who represents an aspect of the single god or being that encompasses everything.  Parvati has several divine forms. Two of her fierce but very powerful forms are Durga (goddess beyond reach) and Kali (goddess of destruction). As Parvati, she represents happy marriage and motherhood.

Durga/Parvati | Kali

GANESHA.  Depicted with elephant's head on a human body, Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati. According to legend, The Mahabharata--the story of the human race (the Bharat, or people of south Asia) was written down by Ganesha, the god of writing and beginnings.  Also known as Ganapati among other names, Ganesha is the Hindu deity of wisdom as well as writing and beginnings. Ganesha is the scribe to whom Vyasa (compiler of The Mahabharata, and sometimes narrator and vital participant) is telling the story. Lord of Multitudes, Remover of Obstacles. (See this Ganesha Website.)

According to legend, Ganesha was born while his father Shiva was away on a hunting trip.  As in many stories from the heroic or mythical age, Ganesha was born full-grown, and he was protecting his mother when his father returned.   Finding this stranger near his wife's bath, Shive promptly beheaded him.  When Shiva discovered that he had in fact beheaded his own son, Shiva promised Parvati to restore his head  with the first head he encountered. Unfortunately, the first creature Shiva beheld was an elephant.

In addition to his elephant's head, Ganesha is depicted with four hands in which he carries a rope (to carry devotees to the truth), an axe (to cut devotees' attachments to wordly things), and a sweet dessert ball -laddoo- (to reward devotees for spiritual activity). His fourth hand's palm is always extended to bless people.   His elephant-like head and the quick moving tiny mouse vehicle suggest his tremendous wisdom, intelligence, and acumen.

Ganesh Chaturthi in September is a festival celebrating Ganesha's birthday.


Ganesha Website |


Gloria Floren, Letters Department, MiraCosta College, One Barnard Drive, Oceanside, California 92056. U.S.A. E-mail Created February 2000. Revised 18 September 2002.  Contents Copyright 2000-2001 Gloria L. Floren.  All rights reserved
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