Shiva represents the aspect of the Supreme Being (Brahman of the
Upanishads) that continuously dissolves to recreate in the cyclic process of
creation, preservation, dissolution and recreation of the universe.
Lord Shiva is the third member of the Hindu Trinity, the other two being
Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu.
Owing to His
cosmic activity of dissolution and recreation, the words destroyer and
destruction have been erroneously associated with Lord Shiva.
This difficulty arises when people fail to grasp the true significance of
His cosmic role. The creation sustains itself by a
delicate balance between the opposing forces of good and evil.
When this balance is disturbed and sustenance of life
becomes impossible, Lord Shiva dissolves the universe for creation of the
next cycle so that the unliberated souls will have another opportunity to
liberate themselves from bondage with the physical world.
Thus, Lord Shiva protects the souls from pain and suffering that would be
caused by a dysfunctional universe. In analogous cyclic
processes, winter is essential for spring to appear and the night is
necessary for the morning to follow. To further
illustrate, a goldsmith does not destroy gold when he melts old irreparable
golden jewelry to create beautiful new ornaments.
Lord Shiva is the Lord of
mercy and compassion. He
protects devotees from evil forces such as lust, greed, and anger.
He grants boons, bestows grace and awakens wisdom in His
devotees. The symbolism discussed below includes major symbols
that are common to all pictures and images of Shiva venerated by Hindus.
Since the tasks of Lord Shiva are numerous, He cannot be symbolized in one
form. For this reason the images of Shiva vary
significantly in their symbolism.
- Bansi Pandit
body covered with ashes: the unclad body symbolizes the
transcendental aspect of the Lord. Since most things
reduce to ashes when burned, ashes symbolize the physical universe.
The ashes on the unclad body of the Lord signify that Shiva is the
source of the entire universe which emanates from Him, but He transcends
the physical phenomena and is not affected by it.
- Matted locks:
Lord Shiva is the Master of yoga. The three matted locks on
the head of the Lord convey the idea that integration of the physical, mental
and spiritual energies is the ideal of yoga.
Ganga (river Ganges) is associated with Hindu mythology and is the most
sacred river of Hindus. According to tradition, one
who bathes in Ganga (revered as Mother Ganga) in accordance with
traditional rites and ceremonies on religious occasions in combination
with certain astrological events, is freed
from sin and attains
knowledge, purity and peace. Ganga, symbolically represented on
the head of the Lord by a female (Mother Ganga) with a jet of water
emanating from her mouth and falling on the ground, signifies that the
Lord destroys sin, removes
ignorance, and bestows knowledge, purity and peace on the devotees.
crescent moon: is shown on the side of the Lord's head as an
ornament, and not as an integral part of His countenance.
The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon
symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the
beginning to the end. Since the Lord is the
Eternal Reality, He is beyond time.
Thus, the crescent moon is only one of His ornaments, and not an
integral part of Him.
Lord Shiva, also called Tryambaka Deva (literally, "three-eyed
Lord"), is depicted as having three
eyes: the sun is His
right eye, the moon the left eye and fire the third eye. The two
eyes on the right and left indicate His activity in the physical world.
The third eye in the center of the forehead symbolizes spiritual
knowledge and power, and is thus called the eye of wisdom or knowledge.
Like fire, the powerful gaze
of Shiva's third eye annihilates evil, and thus the evil-doers fear His
eyes: when the Lord opens His eyes, a new cycle of creation emerges
and when He closes them, the universe dissolves for creation of the next
cycle. The half-open eyes convey the idea that creation is
going through cyclic process, with no beginning and no end.
Lord Shiva is the Master of Yoga, as He uses
His yogic power to project the universe from Himself. The
half-open eyes also symbolize His yogic posture.
(two ear rings): two Kundalas, Alakshya (meaning "which cannot
be shown by any sign") and Niranjan (meaning "which cannot be
seen by mortal eyes") in the ears of the Lord signify that He is
beyond ordinary perception. Since the kundala in the
left ear of the Lord is of the type used by women and the one in His
right ear is of the type used by men, these Kundalas also symbolize the
Shiva and Shakti (male and female) principle of creation.
around the neck: sages have used snakes to symbolize the yogic power
of Lord Shiva with which He dissolves and recreates the universe.
Like a yogi, a snake hoards nothing, carries nothing, builds nothing,
lives on air alone for a long time, and lives in mountains and forests.
The venom of a snake, therefore, symbolizes the yogic power.
A snake (Vasuki
Naga): is shown curled three times around the neck of the Lord and
is looking towards His right side. The three
coils of the snake symbolize the past, present and future - time in
cycles. The Lord wearing the curled snake like an
ornament signifies that creation proceeds in cycles and is time
dependent, but the Lord Himself transcends time.
The right side of the body symbolizes the human
activities based upon knowledge, reason and logic. The
snake looking towards the right side of the Lord signifies that the
Lord's eternal laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the
necklace: Rudra is another name of Shiva. Rudra also
means "strict or uncompromising" and aksha means
"eye." Rudraksha necklace worn by the Lord
illustrates that He uses His
cosmic laws firmly - without compromise - to maintain law and order in
The necklace has 108 beads which symbolize the elements used in the
creation of the world.
the Lord's right hand is shown in a boon- bestowing and blessing pose.
As stated earlier, Lord Shiva annihilates evil, grants
boons, bestows grace, destroys ignorance, and awakens wisdom in His
a three-pronged trident shown adjacent to the Lord symbolizes His three
fundamental powers (shakti) of will (iccha), action (kriya) and
knowledge (jnana). The trident also symbolizes the Lord's
power to destroy evil and ignorance.
(drum): a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a
thin neck-like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of
existence, unmanifest and manifest. When a damaru is
vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by
resonance to create one sound. The sound thus
produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard
during deep meditation. According to Hindu
scriptures, Nada is the source of creation.
a water pot (Kamandalu) made from a dry pumpkin contains nectar and is
shown on the ground next to Shiva. The process of
making Kamandalu has deep spiritual significance. A ripe pumpkin is
plucked from a plant, its fruit is removed and the shell is cleaned for
containing the nectar. In the same way, an individual
must break away from attachment to the physical world and clean his
inner self of egoistic desires in order to experience the bliss of the
Self, symbolized by the nectar in the Kamandalu.
the bull is associated with Shiva and is said to be His vehicle.
The bull symbolizes both power and ignorance. Lord
Shiva's use of the bull as a vehicle conveys the idea that He removes
ignorance and bestows power of wisdom on His devotees. The
bull is called Vrisha in Sanskrit. Vrisha also means dharma
(righteousness). Thus a bull shown next to Shiva also
indicates that He is the
etemal companion of righteousness.
a tiger skin symbolizes potential energy. Lord Shiva,
sitting on or wearing a tiger skin, illustrates the idea that He is the
source of the creative energy that remains in potential form during the
dissolution state of the universe. Of His own
Divine Will, the Lord activates the potential form of the creative
energy to project the universe in endless cycles.
ground: Shiva sitting in the cremation ground signifies that
He is the controller of death
in the physical world. Since
birth and death are cyclic, controlling one implies controlling the
other. Thus, Lord Shiva is revered as the ultimate
controller of birth and death in the phenomenal world.
There is generally unrecognized common ground between the
religious teachings of Jesus and
Lord Shiva that Dr. Holt is attempting in this series of
web pages to demonstrate.