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The Life of the Hindu God Shiva

Over the course of time Shiva has taken many forms that have given lessons to both Gods and Demons alike.  His aspects have taught more by example rather than by him “teaching” in the classic sense of the word.  His body has been a vessel for both extreme calm and extreme fury.  He is the pillar of Hinduism whose complexity has attracted millions of devotees to follow the examples of Shiva in their own lives.  We will explore the depth and transformations of Shiva and his many forms that he has taken since the beginning of time itself.

In the beginning Brahma the creator created the prajapatis, the fathers of all creatures.  He told them to “go forth and multiply.”  “How”, they wondered.  The answer came to them from Ardhanari whose left half was a woman and right half was a man containing the whole world within the body of Shiva. From one glance at Ardhanari, Brahma realized his mistake and he then created the first woman.

The first woman was Ushas.  She was the most beautiful being on the planet.  Brahma was completely love struck from the site of Ushas and could not control himself.  He chased Usha across the universe trying to catch her.  From Brahma’s own brow a terrible being arose.  He was Rudra a menacing form of Lord Shiva.  Rudra struck Brahma with an arrow and pinned Brahma to the sky and thus saved Usha.  Brahma was grateful to Shiva for restraining him with the arrow and in gratitude made Shiva Pashupati, the lord of beasts who controls our beastly passions. 

Brahma continued his creation with Usha, now named Saraswati, as his partner.  He created every creature that wandered the cosmos.  Saraswati noticed that the beasts they created were becoming restless and sometimes violent.  They were hungry.  Shiva meditated on this problem.  From the heat created during his meditation or tapas rose every herb, shrub, grass, tree and plant.  Shiva became the lord of vegetation know as Vrikshanath.  Brahma, not wanting to make the same mistake twice asked Shiva what the plants would then live on?  Shiva replied that they would live on the 5 elements.  Shiva thus became Bhuteshvar the master of the elements.

The world grew with plants and animals.  Saraswati noticed a problem and told Brahma that he forgot to create death.  Thus Brahma created Mrityu or Mahakali who devours all life.  Shiva took the form of Mahakala, the lord of time, the regenerator, transforming the matter of death into new life, providing the foundation to the cycle of births and rebirths; samasara.

Bronze Shiva Statue

Shiva seeing all the suffering in the world became angry with Brahma for creating a world full of illusion or maya that ensnares creatures into an eternity of frustration and fruitless aspiration.  Shiva took great exception to Brahma and his uncaring attitude towards his creation and thus became Bhairava.  Shiva created Bhairava as an extension of himself, in order to chastise Brahma. Bhairava is the embodiment of fear, and it is said that those who meet him must confront the source of their own fears. His name describes the effect he has upon those who behold him, as it derives from the word bhiru, which means to become fearful - of feeling great fear.  He is depicted in sculpture standing naked with a dog holding a trishul (trident), dhamru (drum) and noose. Bhairava is Shiva at his most terrifying, at his most fearful.  Shiva as Bhairava ripped out one of Brahma’s five heads leaving him with only four heads. 

Bronze Shiva Statue

Shiva with Brahma’s blood on his hands sought a way out of the illusory world of Brahma’s creation.  He finally found a path.  The path was through yoga.  Under a banyan tree seated on a tiger skin facing the southern direction Shiva became the south Facing Lord or Dhakshinamurti.  As Dhakshinamurti he is the great cosmic teacher revealing the true nature of the world to all the gods, sages, and demons that wished to learn. Shiva taught awareness of the transience of all thoughts and actions.  He taught detachment from the transformations of the world.  This was the only way to salvation and mohksha.  Shiva then manipulated his body into 840,00 postures or asanas each representing a bird or beast.   Shiva was thus looked upon as Yogeshvar, the lord of yoga. The sage, Patanjali compiled all of Shiva teachings into the Yogasutra. 

Having taught the lessons of detachment Shiva walked out on society traveling through burial grounds covered in the ash of the dead.  He became known as Bhasmeshver the lord of ash. 

Shiva sat atop a mountain in serene meditation completely detached from the world.  In his hand he held Brahma’s skull, which served as his drinking cup.  He thus became Kapalin, the skull bearer. 

Bronze Dhakshinamurti Statue

A daughter of one of the original fathers or prajapathi’s named Sati saw Shiva atop the mountain.  She loved Shiva.  She wanted to marry him.  She too renounced the world and followed Shiva without possessions or attachments.  Shiva initially denied Sati’s request of marriage but seeing her persistence soon accepted her as his wife.  Sati’s father saw Shiva as a vagabond and did not approve of the marriage with Shiva who was viewed as an outcast by society.  Her father organized a great sacrificial ritual or yagna.  In order to humiliate Shiva he did not invite either Shiva or Sati.  Sati viewed this as a great disrespect to her husband.  She went to her father’s hall where the sacrifice was being held, sat down in deep meditation.  Her meditation was so deep that her inner fire, prana-agni, caused her to perish in her own flames. 

Bronze Shiva Hindu Statues

Shiva became sick with grief.  He was named Jvareshvar, the lord of fevers.  His indignation contorted his features and he was known as Virupaksha the malignant eyed.  Shiva plucked out two of his dreadlocks and created the fierce Virabhadra and Bhadrakali.  Together, Virabhadra and Bhadrakali, with Shiva’s army of dwarfish, demons, known as gana were ordered to destroy the yagna of Sati’s father and kill all who attended as revenge.  When Shiva entered the Hall after the desecration of the sacrifice and dismembering of all who attended Shiva became known as Hara the ravisher.

As Shiva walked into the hall he saw the carnage made by his gana army.  Shiva felt remorse.  Magically all the dead Gods and sages wounds’ healed and Shiva restored them to their old selves.  Shiva’s generosity and pity gave the deceased new life.  He became known as Shankar, the benevolent one. 

Shiva still immersed in grief once more sought solitude in the mountains of the Himalayas.  Being an architect of the cycle of life he knew that Sati would return in another form.  In the north of India among the Himalayas there was a king named Himavan, whose wife Mena gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Uma known as Parvati, daughter of the mountains.  Parvati was Sati reborn, the mother goddess determined to make Shiva a householder once again.  Each day Parvati visited Shiva in his mountain retreat hoping that Shiva would take notice of her.  He never did. 

The gods wishing to wake Shiva from his meditations sought the help of Kama, the goddess of desire, to spur Shiva’s lust for Parvati.  Kama with her sugar cane bow shot an arrow into the heart of Shiva.  Shiva still had no intentions of waking from his meditations squashed the feelings of desire within his own chest caused by the arrow.  To teach Kama a lesson he opened his third eye and sent out a fiery missile that reduced Kama to nothing but ash.  Desire was crushed and Shiva returned to his meditations. 

Parvati realized the only way to Shiva was through meditation upon Shiva.  She sat in the cave with Shiva, ate nothing, said nothing, but concentrated solely upon Her lord, Shiva.  After some time Shiva noticed Parvati's determination and agreed to marry her. 

Shiva appeared at the home of Parvati’s father, Himavan as a beggar, naked with only a drum in his hand and a dog by his side.  He danced to the rhythm of the drum.  Even without any clothes and completely disheveled he was beautiful to behold.  Appearing as Bhikshantana, the supreme mendicant, Shiva asked the king if he could marry his daughter. 

A beautiful marriage was arranged.  Shiva entered the Kings palace as Sundaramurti, the personification of beauty.  Brahma, Vishnu and the gods and asuras were there to rejoice in the union.  The cosmos was whole!

Shiva and Uma-Parvati spent years talking about the universe.  Their sacred conversations were revealed in the Vedas, Shashtras and the Tantras.

Shiva’s new interest in the world inspired him to create music and dance.  He became Kaleshvar the lord of the arts.  During one of his dances Parvati challenged Shiva to a dance competition.  Shiva would perform a dance and then Parvati would recreate the dance just as gracefully as the lord of dance.  For one pose Shiva lifted his right leg above his head exposing his genitals in a pose known as urdhva-nataraja or urdhva-tandavam.  Parvati, being a perfect woman could not recreate this pose and Shiva won the competition.

Shiva and Parvati stayed in their cave, never gong out into the world.  The gods needed Shiva’s help.  They asked Shiva to provide them with a child capable of fighting demons on the 7th day of his life.  From the essence of Shiva’s austerities a son was created.  He carried a vel or spear as a weapon and used a peacock as his vehicle or vahana.  His name was Murugan, Skanda, Kartik and Shanmukha. 

Bronze Shiva, Parvati, Murugan Statues

Parvati wanted a child of her own to keep her company when Shiva was away or lost in meditation.  Shiva refused the child so Parvati created a child on her own.  She went to the river and created a beautiful form out of clay.  She breathed life into the clay and Vinayaka was created.  Parvati asked her son not let anyone into her cave.  Shiva came home to find a boy blocking the way to see his wife.  Shiva quickly lopped off Vinayaka’s head not knowing that this boy was his son and entered the cave.  Parvati, finding her sons head cut off was beside herself with grief.  Shiva went into the forest and found the first living thing he could find, an elephant, cut off its head and attached it to his dead son’s body.  With a body molded by Parvati and a head from Shiva, Ganesh came to be known as Ganapati, leader of Shiva dwarves, the gana.  He was given a rat as his mount.  He became guardian of the threshold, the cosmic doorkeeper.  He was also named Vighneshvara, the remover of obstacles. 

Manifestations of Shiva

Shiva is a god with many forms.

He is the distant and enigmatic Godhead. Ishvara, the benevolent personal god, Shambhu, and the endearingly naïve Bhola whose uncomplicated Nature brings a smile to everyone’s face.  For artists he is the inspired dancer, Natesa.

For a scholar he is Dhakshinamurti the wise teacher of the Vedas, Shashtras and the Tantras. 

Before the wicked Shiva as Bhairava, he holds no quarter.  He is quick tempered and full of rage.  To the repentant he appears as the easy to please Asutosh.  He approaches the greedy as the humble beggar, Bhikshantana, with a bowl in hand.  He seduces the romantic by transforming himself into the dashing Somasundara

Sharabha the Dragon

The demon Hiranyahashap could be killed by neither man nor beast, neither inside a house nor outside, neither day nor night.  Vishnu took the form of Narasimha, a creature part man part lion.  He attacked Hiranyakashap at twilight in the threshold of his house and ripped out his hear and drank his blood.  Contaminated by the demons blood Vishnu became ferocious and started attacking innocents.  Vishnu implored Shiva to help him.  Shiva took the form of Sharabha, a dragon with 8 legs that was part serpent and part lion.  Sharabha caught hold of Narasimha and flayed Narasimha alive allowing the spirit of Vishnu to escape.


Hari-Hara the combination of Shiva and Vishnu

  When Shiva refused to participate in worldly affairs, Vishnu took the body of a beautiful woman named Mohini in order to try to coax Shiva away from his inner self.  Enchanted Shiva embraced Vishnu as Mohini and together they became Hari-Hara, a god half Shiva, half Vishnu. 

Shiva, the corpse

Parvati became enraged at the state of the world.  She became the dark goddess Kali and went on a rampage destroying everything in her path.  She threatened the very existence of the world.  In order to restrain her Shiva turned into a corpse and blocked Kali’s path.  Kali, blinded by rage, tripped over her husband.  Thinking she had killed Shiva, Kali  regretted her rage and decided to stop killing and bring her husband back to life.  On Shiva’s resurrection he pacified Kali and they danced together and started the process of regenerating the world that Kali destroyed.  

Shiva Nataraja the Lord of Dance

Bronze Nataraja Statue

In the deodar forest lived sages who had spent their lives studying the cosmos, seeking the supreme truth.  As time passed the sages deluded themselves with self-importance and their heads swelled with pride.  They claimed they had renounced the world but secretly they sought all the pleasures of a life of luxury.  They preached renunciation but practiced every from of sensual indulgence. 

To teach the sages a lesson Shiva arrived in the form of a handsome young hermit.  Seduced by his beauty the sages and their wives ran after him.  The sages held Shiva responsible for their own lack of restraint.  They decided to destroy this temptation.  With their magic powers they created a tiger, a serpent and a goblin and set them upon Shiva.  Shiva skinned the tiger alive, wore the serpent around his neck and laughing, jumped on the goblin and began dancing on his back.  This stunned the sages.  He continued to dance wildly issuing tremors throughout the world, shaking the heavens and splitting the mountains.  The gods abandoned the heavens to see the dance.  As Shiva danced the sages realized that Shiva had flayed the tiger of their ambition, tamed the serpent of their passion and crushed the goblin of their ego.  His dance captured the rhythm of life, the cosmic cycle of generation, organization and destruction.  It encapsulated the essence of cosmic truth or santana dharma.

In his hands Shiva as Lord Nataraja holds a drum or dhamru that makes the final sound of death as well as the primeval vibrations of life.  In his left hand Nataraja holds Agni, a fire that burns and destroys yet also illuminates and energizes.  Around him is a fiery prahabhamandala, which is the great wheel of samsara filled with the infinite cycle of births and rebirths. 

The sages looked at Shiva in awe.  He came be known as Shiva Nataraja the lord of Dance. 

The Shiva Lingam

Shiva stood on one foot for several hundred thousand years transforming Himself into Aja-ekapada, the one-footed lord, the axis of the revolving cosmos.  This axis has neither beginning nor an end; it is considered to be the great Linga of Shiva. 

According to the Mahabharata and the Matsya Purana, Shiva’s Lingam is the divine phallus, the source of the soul-seed, which contains within it the essence of the entire cosmos.  From it all life is created.  And when life is destroyed, it returns to the primal phallus of Shiva.  Together with the yoni, which forms the Lingam’s base, the Lingam represents the union of man and woman, Shiva and Shakti, the cosmic spirit combined with the cosmic substance that makes existence possible

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