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Hindu Deities 5

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Shiva

Shiva is one of the three main forms of Brahman, the Supreme Spirit or Power of the universe. In this role Shiva represents the power of destruction. But as the old has to be destroyed to give rise to the new, he is also seen by his followers as the lord of creation. Perhaps the greatest of the Hindu deities, he is given a range of titles which include Maha-deva (great god), Maha-yogi (great ascetic), Nata-raja (lord of the Dance).  Shiva has over 100 names, including Shankar and Shambhu. He is also known as the 'Blue-throated'. This title arises from a story in the Hindu scriptures which recounts how he drank the poison which would otherwise have destroyed the world. His name means 'auspicious' or 'kindly' and this should be kept in mind in any interpretation of the symbols associated with him. Shiva is the destroyer of our illusion and ignorance that stands in the way of our perfect union and enlightenment.

Shiva's consort (wife or partner) may take several forms and these reflect the different aspects of his character and qualities. Parvati reflects the gentle aspects whereas Durga and, even more so, the mysterious goddess Kali, reflect the fiercer elements. Ganesha, the god depicted with an elephant's head and a human body, is one of Shiva and Parvati's sons.

His most characteristic weapon is the trident, a reminder of his role in the whole process of creation, preservation and destruction. It may also reflect the three qualities of goodness, passion and darkness which are in all things in different proportions.

Another typical feature of images of Shiva is his third eye which represents both spiritual insight and the ability to burn up anything which may hinder such insight.

The three horizontal lines on his forehead have been interpreted as representing the three sources of light - fire, sun and moon; or his ability to see the past, present and future. The three lines may also, as with the trident, represent the three qualities of goodness, passion and darkness.

Shiva is also typically depicted with snakes around his neck or across his body. The snake may represent the evolutionary power within the human body, the spiritual power which may de developed through yoga and also Shiva's power to deal with death. Rosaries show his mastery of the spiritual sciences.

He is frequently depicted sitting on a tiger skin, the symbol of the cruel forces of nature, over which he is lord. Shiva's vehicle is Nandin a white bull which represents strength and fertility. As the bull is ridden by Shiva, it shows the god's control over these powers. In this image he sits in meditative pose reflecting peace and perfect inner harmony.

Lord Shiva is the Lord of mercy and compassion. He protects devotees from evil forces such as lust, greed, and anger. Lord Shiva annihilates evil, grants boons, bestows grace, destroys ignorance, and awakens wisdom in His devotees.

See also Shiva Nataraj, below:

 

Shiva Nataraj
or 'Lord of the Dance'

Shiva Nataraj or Lord of the Dance Shiva is one of the three main forms of Brahman, the Supreme Spirit or Power of the universe. In this role Shiva represents the power of destruction. But as the old has to be destroyed to give rise to the new, he is also seen by his followers as the lord of creation. Perhaps the greatest of the Hindu deities, he is given a range of titles which include Maha-deva (great god), Maha-yogi (great ascetic), Nata-raja (lord of the Dance). He is also known as the 'Blue-throated'. This title arises from an story in the Hindu scriptures which recounts how he drank the poison which would otherwise have destroyed the world. His name means 'auspicious' or 'kindly' and this should be kept in mind in any interpretation of the symbols associated with him.

Shiva's consort (wife or partner) may take several forms and these reflect the different aspects of his character and qualities. Parvati reflects the gentle aspects whereas Durga and, even more so, the mysterious goddess Kali, reflect the fiercer elements. Ganesha, the god depicted with an elephant's head and a human body, is one of Shiva's and Parvati's sons.

His most characteristic weapon is the trident, a reminder of his role in the whole process of creation, preservation and destruction. It may also reflect the three qualities of goodness, passion and darkness which are in all things in different proportions.

Another typical feature of images of Shiva is his third eye which represents both spiritual insight and the ability to burn up anything which may hinder such insight.

The three horizontal lines on his forehead have been interpreted as representing the three sources of light - fire, sun and moon; or his ability to see the past, present and future. The three lines may also, as with the trident, represent the three qualities of goodness, passion and darkness.

Shiva is also typically depicted with snakes around his neck or across his body. The snake may represent the evolutionary power within the human body, the spiritual power which may de developed through yoga and also Shiva's power to deal with death.

Rosaries show his mastery of the spiritual sciences.

He is frequently depicted sitting on a tiger skin, the symbol of the cruel forces of nature, over which he is lord.

Shiva's vehicle is Nandin a white bull which represents strength and fertility. As the bull is ridden by Shiva, it shows the god's control over these powers.

As Lord of the Dance, he has four arms which represent his mastery of the four directions of the universe. The two upper arms hold a small hand drum controlling the rhythm of creation, and the flame of destruction symbolizing the periodic destruction of the universe. His other hands offer assurance He offers protection and blessing with his lower right hand, the other points down to the uplifted left foot which signifies release and salvation. The dwarf like demon under the right foot represents forgetfulness and ignorance. The image stands on a lotus base.

The figure of Nataraj with his flowing hair represents continuous movement within a circle of fire which destroys but also sustains life. The circle shows that the universe is without beginning or end.

See also: Hindu Chanting (Kirtan) for more on Shiva and Nataraja

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