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Siva & Sivaism

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Lord Shiva

Shiva (/ˈʃɪvə/; Sanskrit: शिव, romanized: Śiva, lit. ’The Auspicious One’ [ɕɪʋɐ]), also known as Mahadeva (/məˈhɑː ˈdeɪvə/; Sanskrit: महादेव:, romanized: Mahādevaḥ, lit. ’The Great God’ [mɐɦaːd̪eːʋɐ]), or Hara, is one of the principal deities of Hinduism. He is the Supreme Being in Shaivism, one of the major traditions within Hinduism [1].

Siva & Sivaism

Shaivism is one of the four major sects of Hinduism, the others being Vaishnavism, Shaktism and the Smarta Tradition. Followers of Shaivism, called “Shaivas”, revere Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is.[2][3] He is not only the creator in Shaivism, but he is also the creation that results from him, he is everything and everywhere. Shiva is the primal Self, the pure consciousness and Absolute Reality in the Shaiva traditions.[2]

The Shaivism theology is broadly grouped into two: the popular theology influenced by Shiva-Rudra in the Vedas, Epics and the Puranas; and the esoteric theology influenced by the Shiva and Shakti-related Tantra texts.[141] The Vedic-Brahmanic Shiva theology includes both monist (Advaita) and devotional traditions (Dvaita) such as Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta and Lingayatism with temples featuring items such as linga, Shiva-Parvati iconography, bull Nandi within the premises, relief artwork showing aspects of Shiva.[3][4]

The Tantric Shiva tradition ignored the mythologies and Puranas related to Shiva, and depending on the sub-school developed a variety of practices. For example, historical records suggest the tantric Kapalikas (literally, the ‘skull-men’) co-existed with and shared many Vajrayana Buddhist rituals, engaged in esoteric practices that revered Shiva and Shakti wearing skulls, begged with empty skulls, and sometimes used meat as a part of ritual.[3] In contrast, the esoteric tradition within Kashmir Shaivism has featured the Krama and Trika sub-traditions. The Krama sub-tradition focussed on esoteric rituals around Shiva-Kali pair. The Trika sub-tradition developed a theology of triads involving Shiva, combined it with an ascetic lifestyle focusing on personal Shiva in the pursuit of monistic self-libera

In some early writings (c. 600 BCE-200 CE), Śiva was said to be “The Destroyer,” but such destruction is considered to be the prelude to re-creation and therefore the actions of Śiva are thought to be ultimately benign. While the best known Purānas, especially the Bhågavata Purāna, are dedicated to Visnu and his several incarnations, there are six Purānas devoted to Śiva. The consort or śakti of Śiva is Ambikā or Ambā, the Mother, who is known by various other names including Durgā, Pārvatī, Umā, Annapūrnā, Kanyā, Devī, and Kālī, some of which have sects of their own. The latter is especially dominant in Bengal, as suggested by the name of its principal city, Calcutta (i.e., Kālī-ghata). Śiva and his consort have two sons named Ganapati (“leader of the multitude”) or Ganea (“beloved by the multitude”) — anglicized in its Hindi form as Ganesh — and Kārttikeya (“one who acts”) or Skanda (“attacker”). The latter is now a war god in the Hindu pantheon; the former is now the god of wisdom and of overcoming obstacles, patron of letters, etc. According to mythology, the former was born directly from sloughed-off skin of Pārvatī; the latter was born directly from Śiva when he cast his seed into the fire (hence is known as Agnibhū or “Fire-born”) according to one story or directly from the sweat of Śiva (hence is known as Gharmaja or “sweat-born”) according to another[5].

Śiva is usually depicted as austere and rather fearful. In popular literature, when his anger is aroused, he opens his third eye and reduces the object of his wrath to ashes, for example in the story of Manmata, the god of love. His characteristic icon is a stone pillar, rounded at the top, termed a linga (literally “mark” or “sign”), usually interpreted (sometimes even graphically depicted) as a phallic symbol. His vahana or vehicle is Nandi the bull. All temples devoted to Śiva have a linga as the focal point of the shrine and an image of Nandi, usually outside the main shrine. Worship often consists of the priest pouring various sacred substances, such as clarified butter (ghee), milk, or curds, over the linga while chanting appropriate hymns. This linga is placed in a receptacle, called a yoni, usually thought of as a stylized female sexual organ, which catches the offering and drains it off [5].

Iconographic forms

The depiction of Shiva as Nataraja (Sanskrit नटराज; Naṭarāja) is a form (mūrti) of Shiva (literally, “Lord of Dance”).[10][11] The names Nartaka (“dancer”) and Nityanarta (“eternal dancer”) appear in the Shiva Sahasranama.[12] His association with dance and also with music is prominent in the Puranic period.[13] In addition to the specific iconographic form known as Nataraja, various other types of dancing forms (Sanskrit: nṛtyamūrti) are found in all parts of India, with many well-defined varieties in Tamil Nadu in particular.[12] The two most common forms of the dance are the Tandava, which later came to denote the powerful and masculine dance as Kala-Mahakala associated with the destruction of the world. When it requires the world or universe to be destroyed, Shiva does it by the Tandava, and Lasya, which is graceful and delicate and expresses emotions on a gentle level and is considered the feminine dance attributed to the goddess Parvati.[14] Lasya is regarded as the female counterpart of Tandava. The Tandava-Lasya dances are associated with the destruction-creation of the world.

Dakshinamurthy (Sanskrit दक्षिणामूर्ति; Dakṣiṇāmūrti) is a form (mūrti) of Shiva (literally, “[facing] south form”). Dakshinamurthy is depicted as a figure seated upon a deer-throne surrounded by sages receiving instruction. This form represents Shiva in his aspect as a teacher of yoga, music, and wisdom and giving exposition on the shastras.[13] This iconographic form for depicting Shiva in Indian art is mostly from Tamil Nadu.[13]

Bhikshatana (Sanskrit भिक्षाटन; Bhikṣāṭana) is a form (mūrti) of Shiva (literally “wandering about for alms, mendicancy” [15]). Bhikshatana is depicted as a nude four-armed man adorned with ornaments who holds a begging bowl in his hand and is followed by demonic attendants. The nudity and begging bowl are associated with the kapali tradition. This form of Shiva is associated with his penance for committing brahmicide, and with his encounters with the sages and their wives in the Deodar forest.

Tripurantaka (Sanskrit त्रिपुरांतक; Tripurāntaka) is a form (mūrti) of Shiva (literally “ender of Tripura”). Tripurantaka is depicted with four arms, the upper pair holding an axe and a deer, and the lower pair wielding a bow and arrow. This form of Shiva is associated with his destruction of the three cities (Tripura) of the Asuras.[13]

Ardhanarishvara (Sanskrit: अर्धनारीश्वर; Ardhanārīśvara) is a form (mūrti) of Shiva (literally “the lord who is half woman”). Adhanarishvara is depicted with one half of the body as male and the other half as female. Ardhanarishvara represents the synthesis of masculine and feminine energies of the universe (Purusha and Prakriti) and illustrates how Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from (or the same as, according to some interpretations) Shiva, the male principle of God, and vice versa.[16]


Shiva is considered the Great Yogi who is totally absorbed in himself – the transcendental reality. He is the Lord of Yogis, and the teacher of Yoga to sages.[6] As Shiva Dakshinamurthi, states Stella Kramrisch, he is the supreme guru who “teaches in silence the oneness of one’s innermost self (atman) with the ultimate reality (brahman).”[6] Shiva is also an archetype for samhara (Sanskrit: संहार) or dissolution which includes transcendence of human misery by the dissolution of maya, which is why Shiva is associated with Yoga.[7]

The theory and practice of Yoga, in different styles, has been a part of all major traditions of Hinduism, and Shiva has been the patron or spokesperson in numerous Hindu Yoga texts.[8] These contain the philosophy and techniques for Yoga. These ideas are estimated to be from or after the late centuries of the 1st millennium CE. They have survived as Yoga texts such as the Isvara Gita (literally, ‘Shiva’s song’), which Andrew Nicholson – a professor of Hinduism and Indian Intellectual History – states have had “a profound and lasting influence on the development of Hinduism”.[9]

Other famed Shiva-related texts influenced Hatha Yoga, integrated monistic (Advaita Vedanta) ideas with Yoga philosophy and inspired the theoretical development of Indian classical dance. These include the Shiva Sutras, the Shiva Samhita, and those by the scholars of Kashmir Shaivism such as the 10th-century scholar Abhinavagupta.[8] Abhinavagupta writes in his notes on the relevance of ideas related to Shiva and Yoga, by stating that “people, occupied as they are with their own affairs, normally do nothing for others”, and Shiva and Yoga spirituality helps one look beyond, understand interconnectedness, and thus benefit both the individual and the world towards a more blissful state of existence.

Shiva in Theosophy

In theosophical literature, a deeper interpretation of Śiva can be found. As Helena P. Blavatsky points out, “It is from the exoteric religions that we have to dig out the root idea before we turn to esoteric truths, lest the latter should be rejected. Furthermore, every symbol — in every national religion — may be read esoterically . . .” . I. K. Taimni suggests that Śiva, Mahea, and Rudra represent different functions of the same reality, the first representing the underlying Reality of the universe, the second the Logos of a solar system, and the third the destructive function of the first two (An Introduction to Hindu Symbolism, p. 13). Blavatsky, however, explicitly rejects the idea that ®iva is the ultimate Reality and suggests that Rudra represents Śiva in his pre-manifested, latent form and his consort “Devi-Durga . . . also called Annapurna, and Kanya, the Virgin” represents Root Matter or “the Astral Light”. In other words, Śiva represents the “male” creative power that manifests a universe, a galaxy, a solar system, or a world by utilizing the “female” receptive matter.

Blavatsky points out that Śiva represents a number of other things as well. As the great ascetic and patron of Hindu yogis, he is associated with the attainment of paranormal powers as well as “the highest spiritual knowledge . . .” . This is symbolized in his third eye. As Śiva-Rudra, he is the “destroyer of human passions and physical senses, which are ever in the way of the development of the higher spiritual perceptions and the growth of the inner eternal man . . .”. As Siva-Kumra he “represents . . . allegorically the human races during the genesis of man” And in the interlaced triangles (which one finds in early Hinduism, antedating the Jewish Seal of Solomon or Star of David), he represents the upward-pointed triangle and fire, as Visnu represents the downward-pointed triangle and water. She also has an extended discussion of the relation between the Shaiva Siddhanta concept of pāa, the Śiva linga, and the Egyptian “ankh-tie” or “cruciform noose”.

Astrologically, she equates Śiva with Saturn and his son Kārttikeya with Mars. Hindu mythology associates the first of the Pleiades with Ambā and identifies seven of them, rather than the six known to astronomy; since each of the seven females is married to one of the seven males, known as Kttikās (the actual name of the Pleiades in Hindu astronomy), this may be a metaphor for the seven planes of manifestation, the “masculine” powers, again, working through the “feminine” matter of differing density. If this is correct, Ambā would correspond to the Root Matter or Mūlaprakti, as suggested in discussing the yoni above.


There is a Shivaratri in every lunar month on its 13th night/14th day,[1] but once a year in late winter (February/March) and before the arrival of spring, marks Maha Shivaratri which means “the Great Night of Shiva”.[1]

Maha Shivaratri is a major Hindu festival, but one that is solemn and theologically marks a remembrance of “overcoming darkness and ignorance” in life and the world,[1] and meditation about the polarities of existence, of Shiva and a devotion to humankind.[1] It is observed by reciting Shiva-related poems, chanting prayers, remembering Shiva, fasting, doing Yoga and meditating on ethics and virtues such as self-restraint, honesty, noninjury to others, forgiveness, introspection, self-repentance and the discovery of Shiva.[1] The ardent devotees keep awake all night. Others visit one of the Shiva temples or go on pilgrimage to Jyotirlingam shrines. Those who visit temples, offer milk, fruits, flowers, fresh leaves and sweets to the lingam.[5] Some communities organize special dance events, to mark Shiva as the lord of dance, with individual and group performances. According to Jones and Ryan, Maha Sivaratri is an ancient Hindu festival which probably originated around the 5th-century.

Another major festival involving Shiva worship is Kartik Purnima, commemorating Shiva’s victory over the three demons known as Tripurasura. Across India, various Shiva temples are illuminated throughout the night. Shiva icons are carried in procession in some places.

Thiruvathira is a festival observed in Kerala dedicated to Shiva. It is believed that on this day, Parvati met Shiva after her long penance and Shiva took her as his wife. On this day Hindu women performs the Thiruvathirakali accompanied by Thiruvathira paattu (folk songs about Parvati and her longing and penance for Shiva’s affection).


[1]. Lord Shiva, Wikipedia.com , accessed Feb 2023.

[2].Sharma, Arvind (2000). Classical Hindu Thought: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195644418.

[3].Issitt, Micah Lee; Main, Carlyn (2014). Hidden Religion: The Greatest Mysteries and Symbols of the World’s Religious Beliefs. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1610694780.

[4].Michaels, Axel (2004). Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691089522.

[5]. Siva, and Sivaism , Theosophy.world, accessed Feb 2023.

[6].Kramrisch, Stella (1981). Manifestations of Shiva. Philadelphia Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0876330395.

[7].Ramaswamy, Krishnan; de Nicolas, Antonio; Banerjee, Aditi (2007). Invading the Sacred. Rupa Publication. p. 59. ISBN 978-8129111821.

[8].[a] Vasugupta; Jaideva (1979). Śiva Sūtras. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. xv–xx. ISBN 978-8120804074.;[b] James Mallinson (2007). The Shiva Samhita: A Critical Edition. Yoga. pp. xiii–xiv. ISBN 978-0971646650. OCLC 76143968

[9].Andrew J. Nicholson (2014). Lord Siva’s Song: The Isvara Gita. State University of New York Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-1438451022.

[10]Jansen, Eva Rudy (1993). The Book of Hindu Imagery. Havelte, Holland: Binkey Kok Publications BV. ISBN 9074597076.

[11]. Zimmer, Heinrich (1972) [1946]. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691017786.

[12].Sharma, Ram Karan (1996). Śivasahasranāmāṣṭakam: Eight Collections of Hymns Containing One Thousand and Eight Names of Śiva. Delhi: Nag Publishers. ISBN 8170813506.

[13]. Chakravarti, Mahadev (1986). The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through The Ages (Second Revised ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 8120800532.

[14].Moorthy, Vijaya (2001). Romance of the Raga. Abhinav Publications. p. 96.

[15]. Monier-Williams, Monier (2008) [1899]. Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Universität zu Köln. p. 756.

[16]. “Ardhanārīśvara”Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.

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