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Who Is Lord Shiva?

Fire is His head, the sun and moon His eyes, space His ears, the Vedas His speech, the wind His breath, the universe His heart. From His feet the Earth has originated. Verily, He is the inner Self of all beings.

Atharva Veda, Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.4

Pavan Mishra

He is both static and dynamic and He is both the Creator as well as the Destroyer of the Universe. He is unborn and yet is also born, He is Self Manifest as the ancient One and also Unmanifest as the youngest. He is the youth as well as the infant. He is the fertility in all living beings, animate as well as inanimate, He is the source of life as well as death. He is MahaMrityunjaya, the conqueror of Death, who smears ashes all over His Divine form and He is also Pashupatinath, the Lord of animals. He is Mahakaal, the conqueror and destroyer of Time as well as Death and is Timeless. He is Time beyond time, reminder of this world's transfigurement, that sin and suffering will pass. At the same time, He is Nirguna Niraakaar, who is omnipresent and One without a physical form with diverse aspects and activities, though He is not limited as He is also known as Saakaar, One with several forms. He is MahaYogeshwar, the great Yogi, the Lord of all Yogis, who has matted locks, He wears nothing but a tigerskin around His waist, He is NagendraHaara who wears a garland of deadly snakes around His blue neck, which is also adorned with a garland of skulls, and He is the greatest of all Sanyasis performing the toughest of austerities, though at the same time, He is Shankar UmaMaheshvar, the ideal husband as well as father. He is Mahadev, the Deva of all Devas, He is Kailashnath whose abode is the Kailash mountains and He is Bhootnath, the Lord of ghosts and Pisaachas ( wandering Spirits ). He is Nataraj, the Lord of Dance, who dances His fiery Cosmic Tandava during the Mahapralaya ( destruction of the Universe ) to destroy all that is negative and evil, while He is SadaShiva Maheshvara who protects His devotees, bestows prosperity on His worshippers while He remains Austere. He is Aumkaareshwar, the origin of the Aum Pranava sound, during the creation of the Cosmos, who adorns His Divine form with the moon as well as stars for His ornaments. He is Vishvanath, the Lord of the Cosmos, who has five facets known as Panchanan and is the Lord of the Panchabhutas or 5 elements : earth, water, fire, air and space. He is MahaRudra with a fierce form, and He is Shankar, He is verily the Auspicious One, who symbolises sublime bliss. He is both Shivam ( auspicious ) and Rudram ( terrible ) . He is the constructive-destructive power as one of the three principle Devas of the Trimurti, predominated by one Guna or mode of nature - Tamas ( inertia / ignorance ) and symbolises constructive destruction in the continuous process of creation, preservation, destruction, and re-creation of the Cosmos, which occurs after every Kalpa, the scheduled age of each Creation. He is the Cosmic Lord who, through the very power of His meditating consciousness, expands the entire universe and all beings in it. He is Parameshvar, the five-fold manifestation of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), Rudra (the Destroyer), Maheshvara (the Concealer) and Sadashiva (the Revealer).

He is Lord Shiva, the most unique as well as complex of all Vedic Gods of the Hindu Pantheon and also the great Deva among all, mentioned in the ancient and sacred Rig Veda within its poetry and sanskrit chants. Shiva is defined with His own characteristics of fieriness as well as tranquility, that distinguish Him from the other two Devas - Vishnu and Brahma - both who also form the Divine Trimurti. He is said to be Rudra, the terrible, the destroyer, the regenerator, the frequenter of the burning-ground, the Cosmic dancer, the eternal Contemplator, the Mahayogi, the patron of all the yogis. He is the universal spiritual essence of Nature.

Lord Shiva is inseperable from His Shakti (the Primordial Nature, Cosmic Energy)- His other half form - Devi Parvati, the daughter of Mount Himavan. She is Haimavati, the active female power as well as energy of Earth, the Cosmic elements and Nature. She is Simhavahini. Her tremendous power is represented by her carrier, the king of the jungle, the Lion. Her power is creative, preservative and destructive: She is Trigunamayi, the real creative power, that activates the material universe, inspires the passing orld of illusion and as Time, She destroys it. As Uma, She is serene and represents the beautiful forms of nature such as sunsets,waterfalls, flowery forests, cool breezes etc. As Rudrani, MahaKali, Chandika and Chamundi, She represents the fierce and violent forces of nature such as volcanoes, drought, cyclones, plagues, etc, which bring about death, desolation and destruction. Shiva together with His consort Shakti, dance the Cosmic Tandava symbolising the Cosmic manifestation, evolution and destruction. Their dance gives rhythm to the entire Cosmos. As Shiva embraces His Shakti, they form the Divine Ardhanarishwar, symbolising Purusha ( Man ) and Prakriti ( Nature ), therefore representing the male as well as the feminine aspects of the Supreme Being, the life breath of the entire Cosmos. Shiva cannot exist without Shakti, Shakti cannot exist without Shiva - the two are One - or the Absolue state of Being - Consciousness and Bliss. He is ParaShiva while Parvati is Parashakti, the progenitors of the Universe.

Lord Shiva is very much like a multi faceted diamond revealing various forms of Divine Consciousness, and is thus depicted with 5 faces, each representing a Shakti or energy of Shiva:

1] Ishana, which represents the Chit shakti (Consciousness) -
 faces south east and represents Ishwara aspect of Shiva known as SadaShiva, or the Eternal Shiva.

2] Tatpurusha,which represents the Anandashakti (Bliss) -
faces the east. He is Shiva in his aspect as a deluded Purusha or ego.

3] Sadyojata, which represents the Ichhashakti (Will) -
faces west and represents the creative power of Shiva.

4] Vamadeva, which represents the Jnanashakti (Knowledge) -
faces north. He is healer and preserver.

5] Aghora, which represents the Kriyashakti (Action) -
faces the south and represents the destructive and regenerative aspect of Shiva that, like fire, first devours life and then prepares the ground for its renewal.

Traditionally, Lord Shiva is associated with the sacred number 5 - the five elements, the Panchakshara mantra ( 5 words ) Na-Ma-Shi-Va-Ya, the five senses, the five organs of perception, and the five organs of action, therefore representing the character of the fivefold Brahman. The MahaShiva Puran has given Him 1008 names, such as Triyambaka, Trinetra and is also worshipped in an abstract form as the Shiva Lingum, the Cosmic Purusha, which symbolises the creative power of Divinity. In contrast to the regal attributes of Bhagavan Vishnu, Shiva is a figure of renunciation. Usually portrayed as an ascetic, performing meditation alone in the fastness of the Himalayas, Lord Shiva sits on a tiger skin, clad in a tiger / deer skin, covered with sacred ash that gives His skin a gray colour. His trident is stuck into the ground with a Damaru or drum attached at the joint. Around His neck are poisonous cobras and a garland of skulls. From His matted hair, which is traditionally tied in a ' Rishi ' knot, the holy river Ganga (Ganges) flows out and descends to the Earth. His neck is blue, a reminder of the time He drank the poison that emerged while the Devas and Asuras competed to churn the milk ocean in search of the ' Immortal Nectar ' or Amrit. This gives Him the name of Neelakantha. Nandi, the bull, His carrier stands behind Him. He has three eyes, the third eye set vertically in His forehead, as well as a crescent moon at the top of His head. He also has the Vibhuti mark of 'Tripundam' across His forehead. He wears Rudraksha ( rosary ) malas, has a snake cord across His chest and wears two Kundalas ( ear-rings ). He also has the Kamandalu, the mendicant's bowl. Indeed, at the heart of this powerful sacred image, we find a symbolic distillation of the essence of Hindu spiritual consciousness. The ancient Rishis, in their infinite wisdom, have designed all the Vedic Gods of the Hindu Pantheon with specific Vedantic attributes in mind. Let us examine the symbolic significance and iconography of Lord Shiva at the three different levels of existence and truth.

1] BHUH - At the Cosmic level, Lord Shiva as Bhootnath, is the manifestation of the Panchabhutas since the entire universe is Prapanch (panch = five) and created out of all the 5 elements. He is Vishvanath, Lord of the Universe and also Bhava or Manifestation and Becoming. As Girisha or Kailashpati, the Lord of the mountains, Shiva represents Earth which is the solid state of manifest objects. As Gangadhara, who holds the sacred Ganga in His matted locks, He represents Water, which is essential for life on Earth. The holy Ganga symbolises the ceaseless flow of time, knowledge and the eternal life force, over which Lord Shiva rules. She is considered sacred, the holiest of rivers, flowing from the crown of Lord Shiva's head, thus purifying and nourishing Mankind. Ganga also denotes fertility, one of the creative aspects of Rudra. It also indicates that Shiva is not only the Lord of destruction but also the bestower of knowledge, purity and peace on His devotees.

Shiva is Trilochana, Triyambaka as well as Trinetra where His third eye symbolises fire ( light, heat and energy ) and hence His epithet Kalagni Bhairava. Both eyes are half -closed as He sits in contemplation - the third eye which in the centre of His forehead, is the eye of higher perception and wisdom though turned inward, it is an organ of inner perception which is oblivious to the world. It is the Jnana Chakshu ( eye of wisdom ). However, when directed outward, its gaze can reduce anything to ashes. As Trinetra, He burned desire ( Kama ) when He was distracted from His meditation by the God of Love. Kama was reduced to ashes by the fire that poured out of Shiva's third eye, and only returned to life when Parvati intervened. Usually closed, the third eye is supposed to have appeared when Parvati, playfully covered both His eyes with Her hands as Shiva sat deep in meditation. The entire Cosmos was plunged into darkness. Chaos reigned supreme. Lord Shiva formed the third eye to restore order and fire emerged from His third eye to re-create light. The fierce light from His third eye is so powerful and destructive that henceforth He only opens it to destroy all that is unconscious, dark, and dualistic, in this dancing universe. Shiva’s third eye opens to end all illusion. It is verily the eye that is able to gain an intuitive wisdom of ultimate Truth that is born with perfect integration of the mind and the intellect, only when devotion for the Lord blends with subtle contemplation upon the transcendental Truth. His three eyes are the Sun ( right ) , Moon ( left ) and Fire ( centre ) - Surya, Sashank and Vahini. The symbolism of Shiva's half-closed eyes, however, indicate that He is fully conscious of the within and the without. He understands the world outside to be only a reflection of the Self within.

He is Trishulapani - the wielder of the Trishul ( trident ). The Trishul represents Air, Prana (Life - force) and Time ( past, present, future ). It is also the symbol of the Trimurti of the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. The central dent represents Prana or life-force, while the two side dents symbolise Air moving in from the right and left nostrils to the lungs and back. His Trishul depicts Shiva the Mahayogi who has conquered the three Gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas - the three transcendental modes of Nature.

As Damaruhasta ( bearer of a small drum ), Shiva stands for Space. Sound moves in Space. Sound is also the mystical symbol of the manifest Cosmos. His drum rhythmically sounds through the cycle of decay and rebirth. It is this drum that is the origin of Sanskrit, the language sacred to Devas, and the original sound of 'AUM', which is the Pranava sound. It is Nature's call, the rhythm of the Universe, the Song of Life, the sound of the waves, the rumbling of the thunderclap, the vast sounds emitted by every aspect of Nature, the sound of Shrishti ( creation ). It was the sound of His drum that changed chaos into Cosmos and made rhythm pulsate throughout His creation. He is also known as Digambar, the One whose garment is Space.

Shiva wears the Rudraksha which stands for evolution and the law of Nature. The evolutionary process constantly brings forth new forms of species and life on Earth, thus keeping creation as well as re-creation in cycles. Rudraksha are the sacred tear drops of Lord Shiva brought about after a thousand years of austerities performed by the great Deva to annihilate the mighty Tripurasura. As Chandramauli and Chandrashekhar, Shiva bears the crescent moon as His crown while the stars are His ornaments. Here, the Timeless moon stands for the crown of the Earth, the measurement of Time in terms of Tithis ( Lunar dates based on the rotation of the moon around the Earth ) as well as Pakshas ( side of the Full Moon ). All life forms are influenced by the moon. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolises the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since Lord Shiva is the Eternal Reality, He is beyond time. He is Kalabhairava, Trikaleshvar, Kalatmaka, who is the embodiment of Time, as the beginning and end of everything manifest. Thus, the crescent moon is only one of His ornaments, and not an integral part of Him. He is Mahakala, or Hara, the destroyer of Time and has a a garland of skulls as well as bones around His neck, symbolising the physical structure of living beings on Earth. This garland of skulls and bones represents death whereby Shiva is the immortal Lord and is beyond the clutches of Yama, the Lord of Death.

To sum it up briefly, at the Cosmic level, Lord Shiva is Vyakta or the structure of the manifest - elements, life-force, space, time, light, darkness as well as evolution, whereby He is also the death or destruction of all structures. Therefore, Lord Shiva represents Structure which is constantly created, destroyed and re-created throughout all the time cycles.

2] BHUVAH - ( Biosphere ) At the biospheric level, Lord Shiva is Pashupatinath, the Lord of all living beings or entities. He therefore manifests as the biosphere, the global sum of all ecosystems and the part of the Earth's surface and atmosphere where all creatures are able to survive. He is the rich diversity of all species manifest and His seat of the tiger skin represents His seat in all the various forms of plant as well as animal species. He is Kailashnath, Lord of the Himalayas, He is the Vanaspati ( trees) as well as Aushadhi ( herbs ) and the cradle of the Earth's vegetational wealth. His wearing the tiger skin as His clothing indicates that He resides deeper within the skin and into the body as well as all organs.

At the biological level, Lord Shiva and His consort Shakti unite as Ardhanarishvar, the initial unity of opposites like male and female. Lord Shiva is the Prana ( life-force ) and as the five headed Rudra, He is the five life -forces as well as winds such as Prana and Vayu, essential for sustaining the life breath of every creature on Earth - from respiration, digestion, excretion to death - mostly at the subconscious and unconscious levels. Ardhanarishvar wears the Kundalas ( ear-rings ) known as Alakshya ( one without a sign/ focus ) and Niranajan ( one that cannot be seen by mortal eyes), signifying Shiva as the Ultimate Truth and one who is beyond ordinary perception. These Kundalas symbolise the union of Shiva with Shakti.

Nandi the Bull, is a symbol of contentment, self less service and the sexual and aggressive as well as defensive drive present in all animals and Lord Shiva is Nandivahana, who has conquered all desires, emotions and insincts. Desires and emotions if not controlled can be as soothing as the moon ( Soma ) , as destructive as the Fire ( Agni ), poisonous as Vasuki the serpent around Shiva's blue neck or as pure as the sacred river Ganga that flows out from His matted locks. Lord Shiva is therefore, Nagendrahara , one who has the cobra coiled around His neck, symbolising the self -preservation instinct, basic dormant energy as well as Yogic power with which one can transcend death, Neelakantha with the reservoir of poison of darkness as well as destruction, stored in His throat, and Gangadhara who bears the sacred waters of Ganga to cure Mankind of all diseases. Lord Shiva has the capacity of absorbing all negative forces and neutralising them. The presence of snakes on His body indicate the activation and movement of spiritual energies within the space of awareness and the body - mind complex - the Kundalini Chakras.

As Bhasmabhushana, He roams the cremation grounds, smears His body with ashes, symbolising He is the controller of the vicious cycle of birth and death in the mortal world, through renunciation of the world. Ashes also remind us that our material body returns to dust and ashes after death whereby the Lord remains aloof from the physical phenomena of death and re-birth. The company of ghouls ( bhoot, Pisacha ), serpents, smearing ashes, garland of skulls, dancing on cremation grounds all indicate death and destruction, which is the nature of the biosphere, the world of the mortals.

3] SVAH - ( Psychosphere ) At the spiritual level, Lord Shiva is Chidamabara or Chidakesha, the Space of awareness, while His divine consort Shakti is the spiritual energy and Yogic power gathered through several Tapas ( austerities ) . Together they are Chit Shakti, the absolute Spiritual awakening. Shiva's matted locks symbolise the Mahayogi who has perfected the art of integrating physical, mental and spiritual energies so to transcend all levels to understand the Supreme Being. He carries the Kamandalam, a small water pot made out of dry pumpkin, which is plucked when ripe, its fruit scraped and removed and the shell is cleaned to contain the Amrit of knowldege within, in the very same way, Lord Shiva has thrown away attachment, His ego in order to obtain the nectar of Divine spiritual bliss. Therefore Lord Shiva is the Jyotirling, the divine light of spiritual awareness.

Lord Shiva is Ajam, the unborn, self -born as Shambhu Svayambhu, the first and foremost of all Devas , He is Devadhideva, who is the only way to the Divine. He is a veritable avalanche of divine energy in manifold manifestations.

Copyright©Trinetra 2013

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