(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")
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."
The Festival of Shivaratri, in March,
Shiva Images, Video, and Audio
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
Durga/Parvati | Kali
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 |