he concept of life going on and on in cycles is very unique to Sanaatana Dharma. We believe that the functions of creation and dissolution are parts of an ongoing cyclical phenomenon with neither a specific beginning nor a definite end. The end of one cycle marks the beginning of the following cycle. This can be compared to the cyclical changes of day and night where the end of night marks the beginning of day. Shiva represents that aspect of the Brahman that oversees this repetitive cyclical process.
Owing to His cosmic activity of dissolution and recreation, the words destroyer and destruction have been erroneously associated with Shiva. This difficulty arises when people fail to grasp the true significance of His cosmic role. The creation is sustained by a delicate balance between the opposing forces of good and evil. When sustenance of life becomes impossible due to disturbance in this balance caused by the decline of Dharma, Shiva dissolves the universe. This is followed by creation of the next cycle so that the un-liberated souls will have another opportunity to liberate themselves from bondage with the physical world. Thus, the merciful Lord Shiva protects the souls from pain and suffering that would be caused by a dysfunctional universe. Hence Shiva is worshipped as the Redeemer and Regenerator rather than a destroyer. This is comparable to a goldsmith melting old irreparable golden jewelry in order to create beautiful new ornaments out of the melted gold.
Shiva is represented as a male form in meditation with eyes partly closed and partly open wearing or sitting on tiger skin. His complexion is grayish white. He has a third eye on His forehead. He has thick matted locks of hair, from where Holy Ganga’s water is seen trickling through. There is a snake curled round His neck and gazing at Him from the right side. A crescent moon is seen sticking out from the side of his head. Nandi, the sacred bull is His vehicle. He is holding the following objects in His hands:
- Upper (back) right hand : Trishul ot trident
- Upper (back) left hand: damaru or a drum
- Lower (front) right hand- varda mudra or blessings
- Lower (front) left hand –kamandalu or waterpot
- The philosophy symbolized in the above form are as follows:
- His grayish white complexion is from the ashes covering his body. Since most things reduce to ashes when burned, ashes symbolize the transient nature of the manifest material world. It is through His grace that humans will be able to comprehend the flimsiness of physical existence and strive hard to attain liberation.
- Tiger skin: a tiger skin symbolizes potential energy. Lord Shiva, sitting on or wearing a tiger skin, illustrates the idea that He is the source of the regenerative energy that remains in potential form during the dissolution state of the universe. Of His own Divine Will, the Lord activates this energy to project the universe in endless cycles.
- Matted locks: Lord Shiva is the Master of yoga. The matted locks on the head of the Lord convey the idea that integration of the physical, mental and spiritual energies is the ideal of yoga.
- Ganga: Ganga (river Ganges) is the most sacred river of Hindus. According to tradition, one who bathes in Ganga is freed from sin and attains knowledge, purity and peace. The trickle symbolizes the controlled manner in which the spiritual knowledge must be delivered very gradually and carefully to the masses and not all at once.
- The crescent moon: is shown on the side of the Lord's head as an ornament, and not as an integral part of His countenance. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since the Lord is the Eternal Reality, He is beyond time.
- Three eyes: Lord Shiva, also called Tryambaka Deva (literally, "three-eyed Lord"), is depicted as having three eyes. The two eyes on the right and left indicate His activity in the physical world. The third eye in the center of the forehead symbolizes spiritual knowledge and power, and is thus called the eye of wisdom or knowledge. It represents the metaphysical eye of wisdom, the ‘Gnyana chakshu’. Shiva’s grace will enable us to open this eye as often as we need to in order to make wise and right choices in life.
- Half-open eyes: when the Lord opens His eyes, a new cycle of creation emerges and when He closes them, the universe dissolves. The half-open eyes convey the idea that creation and dissolution are going through cyclic process, with no beginning and no end. Lord Shiva is the Master of Yoga, as He uses His yogic power to project the universe from Himself.
- Kundalas (two ear rings): two Kundalas, Alakshya (meaning "which cannot be shown by any sign") and Niranjan (meaning "which cannot be seen by mortal eyes") in the ears of the Lord signify that He is beyond ordinary perception. Since the kundala in the left ear of the Lord is of the type used by women and the one in His right ear is of the type used by men, these Kundalas also symbolize the Shiva and Shakti (male and female) principle of creation.
- A snake (Vasuki Naga): is shown curled three times around the neck of the Lord and is looking towards His right side. The three coils of the snake symbolize the past, present and future. The Lord wearing the curled snake like an ornament signifies that creation proceeds in cycles and is time dependent, but the Lord Himself is beyond time. The right side of the body symbolizes the human activities based upon knowledge, reason and logic. The snake looking towards the right side of the Lord signifies that the Lord's eternal laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the universe.
- Rudraksha necklace: Rudra is another name of Shiva. Rudra also means "strict or uncompromising" and aksha means "eye." Rudraksha necklace worn by the Lord illustrates that He uses His cosmic laws firmly - without compromise - to maintain law and order in the universe.
- Varda Mudra: the Lord's right hand is shown in a boon- bestowing and blessing pose. As stated earlier, Lord Shiva annihilates evil, grants boons, bestows grace, destroys ignorance, and awakens wisdom in His devotees.
- Trident (Trisula): His Trishul represents the three Gunas- Satwa, rajas and Tamas
- Damaru (drum): a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a thin neck-like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of existence, unmanifest and manifest. When a damaru is vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound thus produced is the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation. According to Hindu scriptures, AUM is the audible form of Brahaman.
- Kamandalu: a water pot (Kamandalu) made from a dry pumpkin contains nectar and is shown on the ground next to Shiva. The process of making Kamandalu has deep spiritual significance. A ripe pumpkin is plucked from a plant, its fruit is removed and the shell is cleaned for containing the nectar. In the same way, an individual must break away from attachment to the physical world and clean his inner self of egoistic desires in order to experience the bliss of the Self, symbolized by the nectar in the Kamandalu.
- Nandi: Lord Shiva’s vehicle is the bull known as Nandi. A stone carving of Nandi is seen placed facing Lord Shiva, with its gaze fixed on the Lord although its head is slightly tilted away. In an agriculture-oriented society, the bull plays a very important role in a household. It is indispensable for tilling the soil, pulling a cart and many other related activities. The bull is very hard working and functions on the principle of ‘maximum work minimum profit’. Its head facing the Lord indicates that its actions are dedicated to the Lord and so must ours. There is no egocentric desires attached to its activities The slight tilt of the head away from the Lord symbolizes the material worldly desires pulling one’s mind away from the Lord. However its gaze fixed on the Lord implies that if one’s and actions are performed in the name of God, one’s mind will eventually be freed from material desires and will thus lead on to spiritual enlightenment. The bull is called Vrisha in Sanskrit. Vrisha also means dharma (righteousness). Thus a bull shown next to Shiva also indicates that He is the eternal companion of righteousness.
Shiva’s form illustrates the cyclical nature of creation and dissolution with no definite beginning or end. The Shiva lingam also represents the above concept. It is through the grace of this immortal power that we can overcome the inner enemies within us and attain salvation
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