Meet a God: Shiva

The final God in the trinity is Shiva. He is known as the destroyer. What he destroys is ignorance, pride, and anything standing in the way of enlightenment.

There are many different forms of Shiva that you will see depicted. Sometimes he is meditating on a tiger rug, his hair wild. Sometimes he is the lord of dance, the Nataraja.

A few years ago my cousin found a lovely gift for me at an art show, it is a mini altar to Shiva that is hung next to my front door. Each time I leave the house I see Shiva peacefully meditating:

(Follow this picture to a webpage of bhajans for Shiva: http://pbfloridahomes.com/bhajans/shiva/)

Notice that Shiva carries a trident. It is called a trishula and Wikipedia has this to say:

“The three points have various meanings and significance, and, common to Hindu religion, have many stories behind them. They are commonly said to represent various trinities—creation, maintenance and destruction, past, present and future, the three guna.”

(I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to be careful what you learn on the web. My friend pointed out last week that the translation given at that time for the trishula was completely ridiculous. Someone had put in a joke translation, but it appears to be fixed).

In the Nataraja form, you can see Shiva dancing within a ring of fire on top of a demon called Apasmara, a representation of ignorance.

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Shiva Nataraja in Bronze, 12th Century
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I’ve always really related to this image of Shiva. His dance is the basis for bharatnatyam, the classical Indian dance that I practice.

Another aspect of Shiva is as the father of Ganesha.

There are a few stories about it, but he most common that I’ve heard is that Shiva’s wife Parvati created the child Ganesha out of clay while Shiva was away. Shiva came back while Parvati was in the bath and Ganesha wouldn’t let him in. He became enraged and cut off the child’s head, not knowing Parvati had created him. When Parvati became upset, Shiva went to find a new head for the child, and it was an elephant that he found. So he attached an elephant head to his son.

The Happy Family

There are a lot of stories about Shiva!

More detailed information about Shiva and how he is worshiped is available at my subscription-based blog

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Jeramy

    I’m prefacing this with the fact that I’m not Hindu, and you clearly know more about your religion then I do :-D

    I’ve never thought that the only things Shiva destroys are ignorance, pride, and anything standing in the way of enlightenment. I always assumed that the destruction of all things fell under his domain, which isn’t a bad thing. I think there’s this idea in Western culture that destruction is inherently bad, but I feel like old things need to end so that new things can be created, like:

    Brahma makes things -> Vishnu preserves those things -> Shiva destroys those things -> Now there’s room for more things for Brahma to create -> etc -> etc -> etc -> etc -> ad infinitum.

    That’s my 2 cents :)

    • Ambaa

      Good point! Destruction is a natural part of the cycle for sure.

  • HARRY

    @ Ambaa

    Shiva is bit like envioromentalist, he likes to clear things up and burn it down. But you forgot few important facts regarding shiva.

    a: He resides in crematorium.
    b: Follower of shiva prays to him in Lingh foarm not in murti foarm.
    c: Souls first protocall is to shiva when end comes before it goes to variety of places.
    d: Shiva drank poison and kept it in his throat thus having green colour neck.
    e: When he drank poison one drop slip from his lips and all the poisonous things on the planet is due to that like plants, elements, and snakes thus he wears this as his adornments.
    f: It is also known that he was the first to recognise the god with enlightenment. That is why he is also called Maha Dev ( Lord of all the Devs ) .
    g: If you don’t accept shiva as a lord then vaishavnism does not mean anything due to above f:
    h: You are only allowed to drink Bhaang ( Cocktails made out of milk and beetle leaf ) on the day of Mahashivratri not any other day. ( My dad said to my mother that Shiva drank Bhaang that’s why he’s drinking alcohol, and my mother said in return that shiva also drank poison, will you drink that, and that’s when my dad said, that’s a different story completely because he had no choice. I say, Any bloody excuse for alcohol.)

    Hey Ambaa, I like your spoon feed method to hinduism. Nice one. :)

    HARRY

    • 5w_haul

      @ harry
      mate bhaang is not beetle leaves they are hemp leaves

      • HARRY

        @ 5w_haul

        Point taken dude. Thanks. But my grandad used to brew it from beetle leaf, potato and other stuff at home in copper tank.
        :)
        I come from generations of alcoholics.

    • Drekfletch

      My response to your mother’s question would have been along the lines of “Why do you think bartenders often ask the question ‘what’s your poison?’”

    • Ambaa

      I love the story about swallowing the poison! My bharatnatyam class did a dance based on that story once. I really surprised my teacher by already knowing it!

      I have a lingham that I got in Shringeri as well as a nataraja. I've never heard that only lingh form is worshiped ???

      • HARRY

        @ Ambaa

        Few members of my side of family follows path of shivism. If you go to any shiv temples first you will find a nandi ( statue of bull ) in courtyard outside the temple siting down facing the main temple building door. Nandi is a selected choice of vehicle of shiva which he rides on. As soon as you enter in the main temple building you will find variety of pictures or carvings of shiva in different poses ( Natraj, Tapasvi, either with parvarti and ganesh together ) or in statue foarm of variety of combination depending on the size of temple and numbers of it’s followers. All the carvings and pictures and statues are only a part of deco of the temple. You may find flowers or garlands and incense sticks near these objects but it’s left by its followers in mark of respect but they are not worshiped. The statue of Natraj or Tapasvi Shiva or Shiva with Parvarti and Ganesh are a kind of Murtis but are not called Murtis. The word Murti only applies to the foarms of statues that are worshiped like Krishna or Rama in vaishnava temples. In shiv temple you will find a Lingh Or Lingham in the middle where all the liquid is poured over it and it’s worshiped where all the rituals are performed by the priest or brahmin. There is a constance flow of liquid poured over the lingh because shiva is in flames all the time. I will explain this next time because there is a story involved. At this point in time you will have to trust me that only lingh or lingham is worshiped not the murtis because they are not murtis as I said above.

        HARRY

        • Ambaa

          I didn’t know that. Thanks for the info! I don’t see myself as a shivite so maybe it’s okay that I do worship the nataraja. My little statue that has traveled with me for the last twelve years has an amazing ability to calm my mind and focus me. That statue has been meaningful in my life in a way that no other one ever has.

  • 5w_haul

    @ambaa
    shiva’s ganas went for head not shiva himself
    bonus for you episodes of serial devon ke dev mahadev but its in hindi
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WAe6vMXo1s&list=ELOv6QO1GWnZ0

  • Drekfletch

    I’ve heard it said that the world exists as the meditation-vision of Shiva, and that when He wakes up the world will dissolve. His story is similar to that of the Red King in Alice Through the Looking Glass, who is dreaming all of us.

    • Ambaa

      Great comparison!

  • N.B.

    I had this feeling Holy Mary The Mother of God getting vision of the 20th century death march convert to Hindu when her feet touch the earth at least for a few years .Read the Fatima observers, eyes on the sky as the sun appears: “having something of the luster of a pearl…i felt it be a living body..it look like a glazed pearl “this dance of the Sun.
    from Mara do Carmo
    “The sun took on all the colors of a rainbow Everything took on the same colors : on faces our cloths ,the earth itself”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOowX86BWdQ
    I find this dance everyday where north meets south and east is ever present and west is on the way and old songs still live

  • http://worldandaround.wordpress.com S Anand

    I am really surprised to see lot of white people trying to understand Hindusam. I’m a Hindu from India and there is so much to Sanatan Dhram that one life is just not enough to understand it!! Everyday you find new things about Vedic dharm. But let me tell you who ever talks about conversion is impossible in case of Hindusam.

    Do not push yourself to become Hindu, just because you are attracted to some of its aspects. And if you genuinely find Hindusam close to your heart then you don’t have to try!!

    There is no conversion, either you are born Hindu or you discover yourself Hindu!! There are so many things to follow Hindusam lifestyle and rituals but I would say, you don’t have to wear bindi or clothes, you don’t have to say namasty every time just to prove you are Hindu. If you know what inside your heart and home. Hindusam has the most detail view on each aspect of life …..e.g. namasty……Always say Namaskar before sunset and Namasty after sunset.

    • Ambaa

      I sometimes use the word “convert” as a way to help people understand where I’m coming from. I agree, though, that Hinduism is something that you are more than something that you do.

    • Ashish Pandey

      Hi Mr. Anand,
      I think it is always a good idea to understand anything before applying it, the bindi represent the third eye and hence it is good for purity , concentration and overall spiritual growth. Namaste is another thing which recognizes the divinity in everyone and also teaches you to be respectful. I think if we understand the concept and hidden priciple behind things then it is always a good idea to take it in your life , even if you are not comfortable.

  • http://www.karuppar.com/blog/ shree

    Shiva is infinite and there are many ways to pray to or reach him. In Kriya yoga schools ( real yoga which means meditation not just poses), one is taught to use an image of him alone or as a linga as your point of meditation if you aim is for salvation only.

    If you are a householder (married/family etc) and you want to grow spiritually without having to forgo all materialism and family ties altogether you can use an image of him with his family or with his wife parvathi (she is the symbol of the material world).

    He is the founder of yoga (so you can reach him through that) , the lord of dance (you are inadvertently paying homage to him when you dance too), the first male to give equality to women (he gave half of himself to parvati),he drank poison to save the universe (hence the name Neelakandan meaning blue necked one).

    He is known as anbe sivam (love is shiva), so even without praying to him ,if you do anything out of kindness you still touch him. In puranic stories ,he gives boons to even asuras without favoritism and helps devas when they are in need too.

    Even when the asuras use their boons wrongly and he has to destroy them, he gives them salvation too, which isn’t even within the reach of the devas(who have to continue the cycle of karma)..Ain’t he one heck of a guy?;)

    shree , karuppar.com


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