One thousand years ago, Shiva attended a meeting of the Council of Godheads with the rest of the Trimurti to discuss the coming threat of the Celestials. In modern times, the thunder god Thor requested a donation of energy to revive the fallen Asgardian gods who had died fighting the Celestials. Shiva opposed believing the time of the Asgardians had past. He engaged Thor in battle and even gained the upper hand, but was pleased to see his effort and responsibility as a God when Thor trick fully transported them to the rainbow bridge of Asgard. Thor asked him to give up the necessary energies or be trapped in an endless void. Shiva pleased agreed in the end because Shiva had some respect for Thor because Thor was a mighty powerful and honorable god himself, so Shiva decided to test his passion by seeing how well Thor would battle, and whether Thor would be willing to battle to the point of his death, and then Shiva pleased with the effort put in by Thor would grant him what he wished instead of killing Thor, it would be acceptable...
but vowed, that Thor's battle with him would be fought again for the test to his ascension to the throne of Asgard . Later, Shiva attended a meeting of Godheads to discuss Thor's ascension to the throne of Asgard. Shiva demanded Thor be tested to see if he was worthy to join the Council of Godheads.
In this version, Shiva is skilled in the use of many weapons including spears, axes, and nets. He may be able to hypnotize people and gods with his third eye of sight.
Shiva is the "destroyer of evil and the transformer" within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity that includes Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is the Supreme being who creates, protects and transforms the universe. In the goddess tradition called Shaktism, the goddess is described as supreme, yet Shiva is revered along with Vishnu and Brahma. A goddess is stated to be the energy and creative power (Shakti) of each, with Parvati as the equal complementary partner of Shiva.
There is a very interesting story behind the birth of Lord Shiva. One day, Brahma and Vishnu were both arguing about which of them was more powerful and important. Right then amidst the heated discussion, an inexplicable blazing pillar appeared in front of them, whose root and tip were not to be seen.
The roots seemed to penetrate deep into the earth with the tip piercing into the skies beyond eternity. Amazed by the view of this pillar, now both of them wondered which could be this third entity that landed there instantly in a way challenging both of their supremacy. Now their arguments over their supremacy subdued and they started wondering who this entity could be.
The Third Power
Both Brahma and Vishnu set out to locate the start and end of that pillar. Brahma turned into a goose and flew up to find the top of the pillar, while Vishnu turned into a boar and dug into the earth to look for its roots. The process of search happened for ages and the outcome proved futile both of them not being able to succeed in their mission.
After their unsuccessful attempt, both of them felt humbled and came back to their original place only to find Shiva manifesting in front of them in a form they could comprehend and understand. Now they felt Shiva’s power and cosmic existence is much beyond their understanding and in fact it was Shiva who was more powerful than both of them. Thus the divine play of Shiva made them understand that there was this mightier third power that ruled over the universe.
Shiva is no ordinary god; He is very mysterious and his ways can never be interpreted by the earthly norms and definitions. He performs multiple roles and wields a mighty power over the universe. He takes delight in occupying the crematory ground s and the favorite dress code of Shiva is animal skin and skull garlands.
He is always accompanied by a large battalion of fierce looking demons which are also blood thirsty and can devastate anything with a sweeping operation. The entire troop of Shiva and his army are extremely strange and are constantly engaged in carrying out multifaceted missions in all the known worlds and also beyond.
Though Shiva is known better to most people as a ferocious god, he has another mysterious side too – he is known to spend long periods of time in deep meditation in the lofty Himalayas. This absolute silence and stillness on one hand and the vibrant and ferocious exploits on the other hand make is very hard to understand what His original nature is. Thus, looking from several angles, we are always struck with wonder that overtakes any attempt of explaining his ways and nature.
When Shiva is found engaged in his Shiv Tandav, the cosmic dance, it is symbolic of the triumph of Truth over ignorance and impermanence. This eternal dance is so elevating and energizing the entire universe setting every created particle into a strong vibration, thus adding life into matter. Shiva’s dance dispels the clouds of ignorance and instills a faith, hope and wisdom. It banishes the sufferings of his followers and makes them find the light inside their beings.
Shiva and the Five Elements
When Shiva is found engaged in his divine cosmic dance, he projects all the five elements with him including the earth, water, fire, air and the sky depicted respectively in the form of the seat of his dance, the flowing Ganges, the fire teeming up from his palm, the deer symbolizing the air and the cosmic space in which he executes his ecstatic dance.
Shiva saved the gods, demons and the world from destruction by swallowing the poison called Halahal that emanated from the oceans while they churned it together in pursuit of the ambrosia that would bestow immortality. When the fumes of the deadly poison started scorching all that was around, Lord Shiva effortlessly deputed one of his manifestations to collect the poison and immediately swallowed it thereby saving the worlds
Shiva’s Blue Throat
Shiva is also known by the name of “Nilakaṇtha”, which literally means the blue-throated. When Lord Shiva swallowed the most deadly poison to save the worlds, Goddess Parvati was taken aback and feared the safety of her Master. Therefore she rushed in to hold his neck before the poison could descend down further downwards. This incident made the Lord’s neck turn blue and this is duly depicted in art and the representations of Lord Shiva’s form in different mediums.
One of Shiva's greatest services to the world was to tame the mighty Ganga river. Once upon a time, the Ganga used to traverse through the heavens only, leaving the earth parched and dry. When a wise man changed the course of the river, it threatened to become a raging torrent which would certainly flood the earth. However, Shiva stood in the way of the heavens and the earth and captured Ganga in his thick locks, thereby stemming its flow.
Shiva is worshipped in the form of the linga - some of which are jyotirlingas - at numerous places across India. The Linga, a sign of the masculine penis, symbolises Shiva’s role in the creation, sustainance and withdrawal of the Universe.
Shiva, similar to Vishnu, had many avatars. It was Virabhadra, an avatar of Shiva, who disrupted Daksha’s yajna and cut off his head. His Bhairava avatar, also known as Kaal Bhairava, was created to protect the Sati Pind. His Durvasa avatar was famous for his short temper. Khandoba was another avatar of Shiva known in Maharashtrian and Kannada cultures. Finally, Hanuman avatar is known as the eleventh Rudraavtaar of Shiva in the era of Lord Rama!
Shiva is a god of ambiguity and paradox. He is depicted with an ambivalent nature when worshipped by the Hindus as their supreme God. He is mentioned in the Yajurveda as possessing both malignant and auspicious attributes. He is depicted in the Mahabharata as a figure of honour, delight, and brilliance.
- Third eye: Shiva is often depicted with a third eye, with which he burned Desire (Kāma) to ashes, called "Tryambakam" (Sanskrit: त्र्यम्बकम् ), which occurs in many scriptural sources.
- In classical Sanskrit, the word ambaka denotes "an eye", and in the Mahabharata, Shiva is depicted as three-eyed, so this name is sometimes translated as "having three eyes". However, in Vedic Sanskrit, the word ambā or ambikā means "mother", and this early meaning of the word is the basis for the translation "three mothers". These three mother-goddesses who are collectively called the Ambikās. Other related translations have been based on the idea that the name actually refers to the oblations given to Rudra, which according to some traditions were shared with the goddess Ambikā.
- Crescent moon: Shiva bears on his head the crescent moon. The epithet Candraśekhara (Sanskrit: चन्द्रशेखर "Having the moon as his crest" – candra = "moon"; śekhara = "crest, crown") refers to this feature. The placement of the moon on his head as a standard iconographic feature dates to the period when Rudra rose to prominence and became the major deity Rudra-Shiva. The origin of this linkage may be due to the identification of the moon with Soma, and there is a hymn in the Rig Veda where Soma and Rudra are jointly implored, and in later literature, Soma and Rudra came to be identified with one another, as were Soma and the moon.
- Ashes: Shiva iconography shows his body covered with ashes (bhasma, vibhuti). The ashes represent a reminder that all of material existence is impermanent, comes to an end becoming ash, and the pursuit of eternal soul and spiritual liberation is important.
- Matted hair: Shiva's distinctive hair style is noted in the epithets Jaṭin, "the one with matted hair", and Kapardin, "endowed with matted hair" or "wearing his hair wound in a braid in a shell-like (kaparda) fashion". A kaparda is a cowrie shell, or a braid of hair in the form of a shell, or, more generally, hair that is shaggy or curly.
- Blue throat: The epithet Nīlakaṇtha (Sanskrit नीलकण्ठ; nīla = "blue", kaṇtha = "throat"). Since Shiva drank the Halahala poison churned up from the Samudra Manthan to eliminate its destructive capacity. Shocked by his act, Parvati squeezed his neck and stopped it in his neck to prevent it from spreading all over the universe, supposed to be in Shiva's stomach. However the poison was so potent that it changed the color of his neck to blue.
- Muscular body: Being the figurehead of masculinity, Shiva is the most prominently muscular of the Trimurti. In contrast with the soft, seductive muscularity of Vishnu, Shiva's countenance is hard and unyielding, suggestive of his bohemian lifestyle. His shoulders are rounded with caps of thick sinew, a feature hinting towards his choice of weapon - the trident. His legs are corded with heavy bands of muscle, bulging calves and rocky thighs, which hold up his identity as the Great Dancer.
- Meditating yogi: his iconography often shows him in a Yoga pose, meditating, sometimes on a symbolic Himalayan Mount Kailasha as the Lord of Yoga.
- Ganga: The epithet Gangadhara, "Bearer of the river Ganga" (Ganges). The Ganga flows from the matted hair of Shiva. The Gaṅgā (Ganga), one of the major rivers of the country, is said to have made her abode in Shiva's hair.
- Tiger skin: Shiva is often shown seated upon a tiger skin.
- Serpents: Shiva is often shown garlanded with a snake.
- Trident: Shiva typically carries a trident called Trishula. The trident is a weapon or a symbol in different Hindu texts. As a symbol, the Trishul represents Shiva's three aspects of "creator, preserver and destroyer", or alternatively it represents the equilibrium of three Gunas of "sattva, rajas and tamas".
- Drum: A small drum shaped like an hourglass is known as a damaru. This is one of the attributes of Shiva in his famous dancing representation known as Nataraja. A specific hand gesture (mudra) called ḍamaru-hasta (Sanskrit for "ḍamaru-hand") is used to hold the drum. This drum is particularly used as an emblem by members of the Kāpālika sect.
- Axe (Parashu) and Deer are held in Shiva's hands in south Indian icons.
- Rosary beads: he is garlanded with or carries a string of rosary beads in his right hand, typically made of Rudraksha. This symbolises grace, mendicant life and meditation.
- Nandī: Nandī, also known as "Nandin", is the name of the bull that serves as Shiva's mount (Sanskrit: vāhana). Shiva's association with cattle is reflected in his name Paśupati, or Pashupati (Sanskrit: पशुपति), translated by Sharma as "lord of cattle" and by Kramrisch as "lord of animals", who notes that it is particularly used as an epithet of Rudra.
- Mount Kailāsa: Mount Kailash in the Himalayas is his traditional abode. In Hindu mythology, Mount Kailāsa is conceived as resembling a Linga, representing the center of the universe.
- Gaṇa: The Gaṇas are attendants of Shiva and live in Kailash. They are often referred to as the bhutaganas, or ghostly hosts, on account of their nature. Generally benign, except when their lord is transgressed against, they are often invoked to intercede with the lord on behalf of the devotee. His son Ganesha was chosen as their leader by Shiva, hence Ganesha's title gaṇa-īśa or gaṇa-pati, "lord of the gaṇas".
Tales and Anecdotes
It is believed that Hanuman is the eleventh avatar of Lord Shiva. Several texts present him as an incarnation of the god Shiva. Known for his devotion to Lord Rama, the son of Anjana and Kesari, blessed by the Hindu God of wind, Vayu, Hanuman is celebrated for his devotion to Lord Rama.
It is said, when Ravana tried to uproot Mount Kailash, Shiva trapped him beneath Kailash. To redeem himself, Ravana started pleasing Shiva by singing hymns and playing instruments. Eventually, over many years, Shiva freed him from under the mountain and blessed him.
When Devas were waging a war against Tarakasur, they needed Shiva's help but Shiva was busy meditating. So the Devas asked Kamadeva (the god of love, erotica and sexuality) to pierce Shiva with his love arrows. But Shiva, who was in deep meditation, woke up in rage and burned Kamadeva down to ashes with his third eye.
Sati, and not Parvati, was the first wife of Shiva and was very fond of him. The daughter of a priest, her father did not approve of the ways of Shiva. When Sati's father decided to perform a sacrifice, he invited everyone except for Shiva. This move to insult Shiva really bothered her and she killed herself in the sacrifice. A furious Shiva killed her father in a rage.
The mountains, snow and the snake around Lord Shiva's neck is a symbol representing his sense of calmness. Self-contained and content, Shiva is a symbol of calm and peace.
The Trident or Trishul of Lord Shiva unites the three worlds a human being is associated with - his inside world, the immediate world around him and the broader world. The trident shows a harmony between the three.
It is believed, the dwarf demon 'Apasmara', who represented ignorance challenged Lord Shiva. It was then that Lord Shiva took the form of Nataraja and performed the famous Tandava or the dance of destruction, eventually crushing the arrogant Apasmara under his right foot. Since Apasmara (ignorance) should not die to preserve the balance between knowledge and ignorance, it is believed that Lord Shiva forever remains in his Nataraja form suppressing Apasmara for eternity. His Nataraja avatar is a message that ignorance can only be overcome by knowledge, music, and dance.
Often cited as an example of perfect marriage, Shiva along with his consort Parvati is represented in the Ardhanarishwar form - which is a half male and half female icon. It is believed that this androgynous form shows that the masculine energy (Purusha) and feminine energy (Prakrithi) of the universe in a synthesis.
Shiva accepted Nandi, who was offered to Him by other Gods, as his doorkeeper and his vehicle. As the story goes, Surabhi, the mother of all cows started giving birth to a lot of cows, and the cows started flooding Kailash with their milk. Furious at this, Shiva used his third eye and destroyed many of them. To calm him down, the Gods sought to offer Nandi the magnificent bull to Lord Shiva.
According to Devdutt Pattanaik, in Epified, Shiva is naked and sports an erect phallus in almost all the stories. It is to save the public from discomfort that he clothes himself in an animal hide. According to Pattanaik, Shiva being content and disconnected from the outside world is aroused not by external stimulation but by perpetual internal bliss.
Like we all know, Shiva is smeared with ash. It is a symbol of destruction as well as permanence for it is created by burning things but cannot be burnt itself. It is a symbol indicating the permanence of the immortal soul, which is released when the matter is destroyed.
Shiva has three lines of ash smeared on his forehead in a horizontal orientation. The lines represent the destruction of the three worlds of Hinduism. It suggests inertia and lack of movement and refers to the merging of the three worlds to become one with the self.
The Devas and Asuras started churning the milky ocean in order to obtain Amrit. In the process, they found a fatal poison - the Halahala poison, that had to be sucked out of the ocean. Without thinking of the consequences, Shiva drank all the poison and Parvati pressed his throat in order to stop the poison from spreading to other parts of his body - which is the reason behind his blue throat.
In a conflict between Brahma and Vishnu regarding who the real God was, Shiva appeared as an infinite Linga fire-pillar. Determined to find the ends of the pillar, Vishnu as Varaha tried to find the bottom of the Linga while Brahma tried to find its top. Vishnu came back and admitted that the pillar was endless. Brahma, however, lied about the pillar's limits and claimed that he was the true God. Just then, the pillar broke open and Shiva appeared. Accusing Brahma of lying and denying he is a God, he appreciated Vishnu for his honesty and suggested that Vishnu was on his way to becoming a God - in the process stating that he was the one true God. We see what you did there!
In the Bhagavata Purana, after Vishnu deceived the demons in his female form, Shiva wanted to see the bewildering Mohini again. When Vishnu agreed and revealed his Mohini form, Shiva got lured by Mohini, while the abandoned wife Parvati looked on. Shiva is overcome by Kama (love and desire). His 'unfailing' seed escaped and fell on the ground. From these seeds of Shiva, Ayyappa was born.
As it goes, Bhagiratha asked Brahma to bring the river Ganges down to earth so that he could perform a ceremony for his ancestors. Brahma asked Bhagiratha to propitiate Lord Shiva, for only Shiva could break Ganga's landfall. Ganga arrogantly flew down to earth but Shiva calmly trapped her back in his hair and let her out in small streams. It is said, the touch of Shiva further sanctified Ganga.
As per Hindu mythology, Shiva was on his way to Kashi along with one crore gods and goddesses. He asked all of them to wake up before sunrise the following day, before taking a night's rest in Unakoti, Tripura. But in the morning, no one except Shiva woke up. This made him furious and he set out for Kashi on his own, cursing the others to become stone images.
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