the Multi-Faceted Lord
T.N. Dhar 'Kundan'
Of the three cults prevalent in India, those of
Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu, the most common is the Shiva Cult. Even those, whose
deity is Vishnu, must worship Ganesha at the outset, who is one of the two
sons of Shiva. Those who follow Shakti cult also believe that Shiva and Shakti
are inseparable. Kalidasa has referred to the duo of Shiva and Parvati as ‘Jagatah
Pittarau’, the parents of the world, and described them as ‘Vagarthau iva
samprikhtau’, fused together or merged together like a word and its meaning.
Shri Pushpadanta, in his famous Shiva Mahimnastotra, goes a step further and
states that Shiva is Brahma, the Creator in his Rajoguna form, Vishnu the
Preserver in his Sattvaguna form, and Rudra, the Destroyer, in his Tomoguna
form, yet He transcends the three Gunas (attributes). He is the ultimate goal
of all ideologies, faiths and forms of worhsip, just as an ocean is the
culmination of all the rivers.
Shiva is identified with Rudra of the Vedas, perhaps
because of his fierce looks, which He adopts at the time of final annihilation
of the creation called Pralaya, when everything merges with the Divine.
Otherwise He is addressed as Shiva, the benevolent or auspicious - i.e. one of
the three essential qualities of Satyam, the truth, Shivam, the benevolent,
and Sundaram, the beautiful. He is also called Shambhu, as the one born out of
peace, or the one from whom peace emanates.
Shiva’s external appearance, as conceived by seers and
sages, is that He is naked, smeared with ashes, because of which He is called
Bhasmadhara. There is a legend that when Bhagiratha succeeded in his endeavour
to bring Ganges to the earth from the Heavens, it was required to be received
by some Divine power. So Bhagiratha worshipped Shiva, who having been pleased
with his devotion, agreed to receive the Holy Ganga, in the flock of his hair.
He did so and got the name Gangadhara.
At the time of the great Samudra Manthana, churning of the
ocean, while all the items that came out from the water, like horse, elephant,
tree, and nectar were shared by Suras and Asuras, no one was prepared to
accept the poison. In order to save the mankind, Shiva swallowed the poison
and retained it midway at his throat. This turned his throat blue and He came
to be known as Nilakantha. Chandrashekhara and Shashishekhara, are the names
given to him as the crescent adores his forehead. His chief weapon is a
trident because of which we call him Shulapani, and because He killed the
cupid, known as Madana, He gets the name Madanantaka. It is also believed that
of all the deities, Shiva is the one who gets pleased in no time with very
little worship, devotion or prayer. Thus He is appropriately called Ashutosha.
Shiva has been described in volumes of ancient and modern
literature, in Puranas, in Itihaasa, in Stotras, and Hymns, as also in
legends. The great AdiShankara has written a number of Stotras in praise of
Shiva. Om Namah Shivay and Namah Shivay, the two six lettered and five
lettered Mantras respectively have been used in two important Stotras in
praise of the Lord Shiva. Kalidas has propitiated Shankara in all his works
and in the beginning of his three dramas (Nandi Shlokas). Obviously, in all
these works, Shiva has been given scores of different names out of devotion,
love and reverence to him, and based on his attributes, actions and qualities.
When Shiva is referred to as Nataraja, what is perhaps
meant is that He is the one who performs the Cosmic Dance, as the whole
creation is the play of his free will. Kalidas has described him as being
attached closely to the body of his consort (Kanta sanmishra deho), and yet He
is an ascetic of the highest order (Yatinam parastad). That is why He is also
called Ardhanarishwara, a combination of Purusha and Prakriti, source of life
and the energy that generates life, both fused together.
Shiva’s mount is Nandi, the bull who represents strength
and the qualities of morality, righteousness and discipline. He is therefore
called Nandishwara. He is also known as Hara, and Mahakaleshwara. The former
refers to his disintegrating powers and the fact that He is the remover of all
evils, ailments, sins and suffering. The latter signifies that, whereas time
is a cyclic beginning-less and un-ending phenomena, Shiva is the Lord of this
time, who manifests, controls and manages the same. As lord of mountains He is
called Girisha, as lord of Paravati, the daughter of Himalaya, He is called
Girijesha, and as the lord of Kailash, Kailashapati. He is also known as
Pashupati, the lord of animals, and this has given rise to one of the oldest
cults of Shiva worship called Paashupatamatam.
In a Bhakti Stotra, Shiva has been described as covered by
Pa-Varga (5 letters of the pa-group of consonants in the Devanagri script),
but giver of Apa-Varga, the salvation. The five letters are Pa, for Parvati,
Pha for Phani (the serpent), Ba for Balendu (the new moon), Bha for Bhasma
(holy ash) and Ma for Mandakini (the Ganges). Svetasvatara Upansihad says that
Shiva is the source as also the culmination of all creation. He alone was
there at the beginning of the world, and He alone shall remain at the end.
That is why He has been called Mahadeva, the supreme deity.
Shiva is sometimes visualised as living in secluded places
and cremation grounds, perhaps because, in the triad of Brahma, Vishnu and
Mahesh, He is the God of death. He has a host of Bhutas (demon ghosts) around
him and therefore He gets the name of Bhutanatha. He has also been conceived
as Dakshinamurthy (the icon of Shiva in this form always faces the south), i.e
the lord of Yogic power that destroys the bondage of a Jiva (being), with this
world, and thereby liberates him. As the master of the universe, He is
Vishwanatha, and as the bestower of peace, bliss and tranquillity He is
Shankara. This five dimensional God (Panchamukhi Deva) called Mahesha is said
to have five faculties of Jnana (knowledge), Iccha (desire), Kriya (action),
Pidana (concealment) and Anugraha (grace) and is eternally engaged in
creation, preservation and destruction.
Shiva’s five faces are Ishana, Tatpurusha, Aghora,
Vamadeva and Sadyojata. They represent the five directions of North, South,
East, West and the Centre. He is said to have eight distinct forms called
Sarva, Bhava, Pashupati, Ishana, Bhima, Rudra, Mahadeva, and Ugra. Some
scholars identify these eight forms with five basic elements of Earth, Water,
Fire, Air and Ether, and the three Sun, Moon, and the Jiva (the being). This
in effect suggests that all the elements and the entire creation is Shiva’s
Shiva is also worshipped in his formless, Nirakara state,
where He is represented by Shivalingam, or the cosmic shape of the universe.
There are twelve Jyoti Lingas, in India, which are said to have come into
existence by the Divine light which flashed at the exact spot where the Lingam
There are innumerable other shrines and temples where Shiva
is worshipped in one form or the other, and where people of faith throng on
holy and auspicious occasions for pilgrimage. One such place is Swami Amarnath
in the mountain ranges of Kashmir. An ice Lingam is formed there inside a cave
which is said to wax and vane with the moon and people go for pilgrimage to
this holy place in the month of Shravana. They have darshan there of the ice
Lingam in its full size, on the full moon day, Purnamasi.
Devotion to and propitiation of Shiva has taken so many
forms that various cults have grown over the ages. Shiva worship, although
basically a non-dualistic philosophy (advaita), in its devotional Bhakti form
sometimes becomes dualistic, because the Lord and his devotee have per
necessity to exist in Bhakti. Even so the more imporatnt schools of philosophy
veering round the Shiva Cult, apart from Shankara’s Advaita, are Pashupat,
Shaiva Sidhanta, Veer Shiava, Kashmir’s Trika Philosophy, Aghori, Kapalika
etc. In many places Shiva worship is dovetailed with Tantra and Shakti cults.
It is therefore well said :
Tava Tattvam Na Janami, Kidrishosi Maheshwara !
Yadrishosi Mahadeva Tadrishaya Namo Namah .
Little do I know your secret, nor your exact form.
Whatever form you may have, I bow to that form in