Shiva is one of the most popular deities in India. Along with Brahma and Vishnu, he is part of the Hindu triad, the trimurti. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are understood to be three manifestations of the One Supreme Being. They are the “three in one,” corresponding to the Western Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Brahma personifies the creator aspect of God, Vishnu the preserver and protector and Shiva the destroyer or dissolver. Shiva embodies all these aspects to Hindus who select him as their chosen deity.
Shiva’s devotees revere him as the supreme Reality, the total Godhead. They see him as the Guru of all gurus, the destroyer of worldliness, ignorance, evil and evildoers, hatred and disease. He bestows wisdom and long life, and he embodies renunciation and compassion.
The name Shiva is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning “auspicious,” “kind” or “friendly.” The many aspects and functions of Shiva are represented in the various names given to him. The Hindu scripture called Shiva-Purana gives 1,008 names for Shiva. One of Shiva’s names is Shambhu, which means “benevolent” or “causing happiness.” Another name is Shankara, meaning “giver of joy” or “bestower of good.” As Mahadeva, he is the “great god.”
Pashupati is another epithet, which means “lord of cattle.” As Lord of Cattle, Shiva is the herdsman or shepherd of souls. Shiva is portrayed riding a white bull named (“joyful”). According to Hindu tradition, he was one of Shiva’s devotees who assumed the form of a bull because the human body was not strong enough to contain his devotional ecstasy for Shiva. Nandi the bull is depicted in most Shiva temples. He is usually seated, facing the figure of Shiva. Nandi symbolizes the soul of man longing for God. He also represents the soul who is in deep contemplation of Shiva as the supreme Reality. Shiva will help you to unlock your supreme Reality.
Devotion to Shiva
The worship of Shiva is rooted in the tradition of bhakti yoga, the path of union with God through love. The devotee chooses a specific deity or incarnation of God to whom he gives all of his devotion. He loves this aspect of God more than anything or anyone else.
Singing bhajans, with voice and heart upraised in sublime praise to Shiva, is one of the ways devotees move closer to their Lord. They also pray to him, emulate him, have faith in his grace and compassion, and venerate his image. In bhakti yoga, the deity represents the Atman—the indwelling God, the imperishable, undecaying core of man. As the disciple adores his chosen ideal, he not only unfolds his own latent divinity but he also becomes one with his beloved. The goal of the lovers of Shiva is to gain shivatva, the nature of Shiva.
As the soul cultivates supreme love for Shiva, he comes as the Guru to save the soul, to awaken her to her inner reality and to purge her of all lesser loves. By continually contemplating his name and image, by forsaking all that is not Shiva—the distractions of the mind and the temporary delights of the senses—the soul becomes solely a creature of the divine will. She is moved and animated by Shiva’s cosmic dance, until she and Shiva are at last one. “None know where the Lord [Shiva] resides,” says Tirumular, the saint and yogi who wrote more than three thousand hymns to Shiva. “To them who seek him he resides eternally within. When you see the Lord, he and you become one.”
Attributes of Shiva
Shiva is a study in contrasts. He symbolizes both contemplation and action. He is often shown deep in meditation as a mendicant yogi. As the Maha Yogi, or great yogi, he is the King of Yogis, the supreme embodiment of the spirit of asceticism. Shiva also personifies the dynamic universe. In the Hindu scripture Kurma-Purana, Shiva says: “I am the originator, the god abiding in supreme bliss. I, the yogi, dance eternally.”
According to Hindu belief, Shiva performs a variety of dances. One of his dances is called the Tandava. This is his dance of creation and destruction. Shiva dances the universe into being, sustains it and then dances it out of existence at the end of an age. The most celebrated representation of Shiva is that of Nataraja, the King of Dancers, or Lord of the Dance. The place of Nataraja’s dance is the golden hall at the center of the universe. This golden hall represents the heart of man. One Hindu hymn that celebrates Shiva’s dance says that “as he dances, he appears in the immaculate lotus of the heart.”
► Main article: Mount Kailas
Mount Kailas is Shiva’s throne and the location of his paradise. This majestic mountain is the highest point of the Kailas mountain range in the Tibetan Himalayas. Hindus revere Kailas as the most holy mountain in the world and make pilgrimages there.
The relationship of Shiva with his devotees is an intensely personal one. Although he resides at Kailas, his favorite home is in the heart of his devotees.
The Ganges River
According to Hindu tradition, when the gods decided to allow the Ganges River to descend from heaven, Shiva received the full impact of the massive weight of the falling water on his head lest the earth be shattered by the gigantic torrent. Shiva’s matted hair tamed the rushing cascade. He divided it into seven holy rivers, and the waters descended gently to earth.
To Hindus, the Ganges represents the refreshing river of spiritual wisdom. According to Hindu tradition, when the gods decided to allow that Ganges River to descend from heaven, Shiva in that point of the vortex of light, the whirling energy around him, was actually the balance between heaven and earth of the river that descended, which was a river of light and became the river of earth. And so the water of the Ganges is considered by Hindus to be a magical water, a holy water that purifies anything. The ascended masters teach that these seven holy rivers also represent the seven rays of the Holy Spirit that come out of the white light.
Shiva’s role parallels that of the Holy Spirit in the Western Trinity. Shiva teaches that the threefold flame in your heart is the personification of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He says:
You can see those three plumes as ourselves personified. Then you may talk to us. We are not a three-headed god, but Three-in-One, for we also have a threefold flame....
It is well for a time to visualize us personally rather than simply as an impersonal flame that is burning. Meditate upon us not as statues or pagan gods but as the very fire and the replica of the Godhead that has been placed in your heart.
Shiva says that he is always near at hand to answer your prayers.
You do not need to call me with a long and loud call as if I were far away! A simple signal will suffice, for I am the genie of the ruby ray. I am always ready! Turn your life around with me, and I will show you my cosmic dance. And I will dance with you and whirl in the sphere of fire. Yes, I shall show you how imminent is your victory.
Lord Shiva encourages us to try an experiment for overcoming negative habits. He says:
Give yourself a cycle to rise to a plane of greater dominion. Make a God-determination. Think now of a very certain condition within your consciousness that you know absolutely must go. Think of that human consciousness. Think of that problem or habit that has gnawed at you and kept you from your eternal salvation.
Now, beloved ones, I ask you, be a scientist of the New Age and try this one experiment for the next forty-eight hours: Each time you face that momentum—that memory, that consciousness, that habit or that desire, whatever it is that you long to see put into the flame—each time it crosses the line of the mind, the desire body, or your big toe, each time it comes into the memory, speak into it with the full ferocity of your voice: “Shiva! Shiva! Shiva! Shiva!”
In Hindu tradition, every masculine personification of God has a feminine counterpart, or shakti. The masculine creative power is activated by this feminine principle. Thus, Shiva’s action is crystallized in the world of form through his female counterpart. His hidden nature is made visible through her. Shiva’s shakti appears in three primary forms—as Parvati, Durga and Kali.
Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Masters and Their Retreats, s.v. “Shiva, Parvati, Durga and Kali.”
Shiva! Sacred chants from the heart of India, audio album, liner notes.
- Stella Kramrisch, The Presence of Shiva (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 439.
- Ibid., pp. 439–40.
- Lord Shiva, “The Power of Change,” Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 34, no. 62, December 1, 1991.
- Lord Shiva, “The Touch of Shiva: The Initiation of Love,” Part 2, Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 21, no. 47, November 19, 1978.