Thursday, January 9, 2014


The Dance of Shiva

Om tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭi-vardhanam
urvārukam iva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt

The above verse from Rigveda [7.59.12], known as the Mahamritunjaya or the Death-conquering Mantra is dedicated to Lord Shiv. Ironically, it is Shiva Himself who is revered as the harbinger of the final Destruction of the World!

Who is Shiva? What are the origins of this mighty god in Hindu religion and what are the different facets of His personality? In this post, let us try to analyze this enigmatic god and learn what it means to be the Lord of Destruction..

Shiva, the Destroyer

As mentioned in the Page {33 Devas} of this blog, Lord Shiv, along with Prajapati Brahma and Shri Hari Vishnu, forms a part of the highest echelons of the hierarchy amongst Gods known as the Trimurti. All three fit into the scheme of things perfectly with their respective roles being coplimentary to each other.
  • Brahma, the First in the Trinity, is the Creator and Master of all Divine Ceremonies.
  • Vishnu, the Preserver god who incarnates to help mankind face the challenges posed whenever Evil forces become too dominant in the Universe.
  • Shiva, destroys at the End of Time and thus sustains the endless rhythm of the Universe ensuring a continuous cycle of renewal and growth.


In their mistaken belief, some scholars argue that Shiva had a pre-Aryan origin because he was worshiped in the Indus Valley. But, as mentioned in the page {Hindu History} of the blog, the Aryan Civilization, if not earlier, was at the very least contemporary to the Indus-Saraswati Civilization and Vedic scriptures, more likely than not, reflect the literally aspect of the same.

That the Mahabharat follows the Indus perception of Shiva again shows that the two developed same imagery and that this penultimate battle between Good and Evil occurred around the same time as the Indus-Saraswati Civilization! In an article titled {The Riddle of India's Ancient Past}, the French proto-historian Michel Danino believes there are strong links between Vedas and the Harappan culture.

'We find statues and seals depicting yogis and yogic postures, we find a Shiva-like deity, worship of a mother-goddess, fire altars, all of which are suggestive of Vedic culture. Harappan symbols include the Trishul, the Swastika, the Conch shell, the Peepal tree, all of which are central to Indian culture. The Rig-Veda itself is full of references to fortified cities and towns, to oceans, sailing, trade and industry, all of which are found in the Harappan civilization.'

Pashupati Seal from Indus-Saraswati excavations

The Pashupati seal (2700 BCE) shows a three-headed figure sitting in a Yogic posture surrounded by animals, sometimes with an erect phallus, and more likely than not is an iconic representation of Shiva-Rudra. Exactly similar description arises in the Mahabharat, where the Lord is referred to as Trishira (having three heads); Digvasas (without clothes); Urddh-linga (with upward erect phallus), and Yogadhyaksha, or the Lord of Yoga.

As you probably know from my other posts, I love to find out the similarities between the mythologies from different parts of the world. Keeping up with the tradition, I here share with you the image of the horned god Cernunnos worshiped in Europe around 1st century CE.

The Horned Gods - Pashupati & Cernunnos

Just like Shiva, Cernunnos is believed to be the god of Nature and Fertililty and is still revered in Celtic mythology as the 'Lord of Animals' (quite similar to the Indus Pashupati!). Whatever the connection between the two, it is not easy to understand Shiva completely as He is described variously at various places with completely opposite attributes.

In Yajurveda, the contrary attributes are referred to as Rudra, the terrifying and Shiva, the auspicious (Sanskrit Shiv = Shubh). Some scholars believe Rudra to be the older form which was merged later with a 'Non-Aryan' god Shiva or Pashupati in later times. But do the scriptures support such a hypothesis?

Shiva, the Consummate Yogi
Rudra, the Destroyer of Creation
{Image courtesy - Devon ke dev, Mahadev}

Shiva or Rudra?

The story of Rudra's birth is very interesting and is identically revealed in many Puranas.

As I had earlier mentioned in the post {Creation by Brahma}, inspite of Brahma's efforts at populating the world, the early sons of Brahma chose to follow the path of Spirituality instead of procreation and Brahma was sorely disappointed. His first creations, the Sanat Kumars, in fact abhorred entering the Samsar Chakra so much that they continue living the form of 5 year old kids and never attain puberty!

This, however, frustrated Brahma so much that from his forehead, (the region of the third eye) emerged a dark red/blue child bawling at the top of his voice. This angry baby was named Rudra (The Howler)!

    Rudra born from Brahma's Frown

      However, Rudra, was more spiritually inclined than Brahma, and decided to follow the path of Tapas or Penance and thus entered samadhi in the Garbhodak Ocean. It was only after a lot of cajoling and praying by Brahma, that He agreed to help in procreation and manifested 10 more beings with the same appearance as him (Binary Fission?!?). These are the 11 Rudras, and Rig Veda [2.33], describes Shiv as the Father-of-All-Rudras.

      Thus, we see, that the scriptures find NO difference between Rudra and Shiva except that the first term encompasses eleven gods, the First and Foremost of whom is Lord Shiv. Therefore, the hypothesis that Shiva was a non-Aryan god who was merged with Rudra is baseless.

      Lord Shiv with the Rudras

      But Brahma got terrified of these three-eyed fierce forms! He requested Lord Shiv to create a more benign aspect of Himself and that is how Shakti was given a form.

      Shiva and Shakti

      Rudra, thus took the form of Ardhanarishwar and generated a female principle from His left half who was the Rudrani. Each of the 11 Rudras similarly obtained a consort thus providing Brahma some satisfaction of seeing his creations multiply. Shiva's consort Uma or Shakti is the primeval Goddess who also represents the Yogmaya of Lord Vishnu.

      Lord as Ardha-naarishwar

      The festival of Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiv was married to Parvati, the final form of Uma who was earlier born as Daksha's daughter Sati.

      The union of Shiva and Shakti is represented symbolically in the form of the Lingam and the Yoni. It symbolizes Hieros-gamos or the 'Sacred Union' between God and the Goddess that gives birth to creation. It is yet another tribute to the ancient Indians' acceptance of the sexual act as a natural phenomenon and one that needs to be worshiped and not abhorred.

      The same union is celebrated in Tibetan Tantrism where it is referred to as Yab-Yum (Father-Mother). Shiva is depicted here as Yamantaka or End-of-Yama revealing the episode when He rescued Rishi Markandeya from Yamdev's noose literally at gun-point (Trident point if you please!).

      Yamantaka Shiva in Yab-Yum formation

      Mahashivratri is also believed to be the night when Shiva appeared in the form of a Lingam of Fire and challenged the gods Brahma and Vishnu's contest for supremacy. That was the night Lord Vishnu's magnanimity came to fore while Brahma's cheating led to Shiva putting the curse that he would never be worshiped.

      We see now a reason why Shiva would have invoked belligerence in his father-in-law Daksha Prajapati. After all, Daksha was the eldest Manas-putra of Brahma and could not have taken kindly to this denigration of his father's position from the Head-of-the-Trinity to its bottom! Perhaps, that was also the reason, that he balked at the idea of his most favored daughter Sati, falling in love with the man he so heartily despised!!

      Shiva with His beloved Sati in happier times

      Sati did eventually marry Lord Shiv against her father's wishes and ultimately sacrificed herself in the Yagnya fire at Kankhal, Haridwar to protect her husband's honor. The story shows a completely new side of Shiva where the Supreme Master-of-Senses loses control and decides to take revenge by beheading Daksha!

      Mahadev's anger gives birth to Veerbhadra

      Virbhadra, born from Shiva's locks beheads Daksha

      This is what makes Shiva more relatable to us humans.. it shows that even at the highest level of spirituality, the bonds of affection may cause a person to slip and plunge into gloom or anger.

      Shiva carries the corpse of Sati on His shoulder lamenting His loss till Lord Vishnu uses His Chakra to disintegrate the body. Each part of the body falling on Earth provides a Divine foundation and thus are formed the 51 Shaktipeeths (Seats-of-Energy)!

      While both Shiva and Shakti represent the Male and Female forms, their vehicles also represent their innate attributes. Shiva's vehicle Nandi, the bull, represents magnificence, virility and proud masculinity while Parvati's vehicle, the mountain Lion or Singh represents her Power or Shakti and the taming of animal instincts by the Mother Goddess.

      Archaeologically, we find this reflected in the Zebu bull seals of Indus-Saraswati Civilization (which may represent Nandi) and surprise, surprise, in a far-off valley in Turkey known as Yazili Kaya! The rock-cut friezes in these caves belong to 16th-17th century BCE and show a God Teshav riding a bull, while the accompanying Goddess Hakat rides a Lion and is accompanied by a young boy Kumarbi (Kumar Kartikeya?).

      Zebu Bull from Harrapan seals
      Yazili Kaya rock-cut frieze with God on Bull and Goddess on Lion

      The worship of Shiva and Shakti thus represents an ancient rite of recognizing the Universe as a balance of the Male and the Female, the Doer and the Energy, the Yin and the Yang and the Yab and the Yum. Similar Oneness-in-Duality is also seen in the combined form of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Har) that depicts both deities as two faces of the same coin working hand-in-hand to ensure smooth functioning of the Universe.

      Hari-Hara the Divine combination of Shri Vishnu and Mahadev
      {Artist-Anirudh Sainath}

      The Abode of Shiva

      Mount Kailash is believed to be the abode of Shiv and Parvati. There are many mentions of it in the various Puranas and other scriptures like Ramayan and Mahabharat. The mountain is sacred for not only Hindus but also Buddhists, Jains and followers of Bon religion.

      Satellite Image of Mt. Kailash with Mansarovar and Rakshas Taal
      Catching a glimpse of the Holy Mountain

      Jains worship the region as their First Tirthankar, Rishabhdev attained Nirvana here (Check the post {India and Bharat} for more on Adinath Rishabhdev). Tibetan Buddhists worship Mount Kailash as the home of the Buddha Demchok or Chakrasamvara, who represents supreme bliss.

      The followers of Bön religion credit the entire region, especially Kailash, as the seat of all spiritual power. Indeed the area gives one a feeling of entering a more spiritual plane especially when you see mountain peaks like that of the Om Parvat.

      View of the Om Parvat en route to Mount Kailash

      Inspite of numerous references to it, the readers might be surprised to know, that Kailash was not always the home of Shiva! Infact, some passages of the Shrimad Bhagvat Puraan state that the original abode of Sadashiv is at the boundary of this Universe at the Loka-aloka border!

      The Original Abode of Lord Shiv

      These verses in the Vayu Puraan, Chapter 39 shed more light on the details of this place:

      [230] Beyond Brahmaloka and beneath the upper crust of the Cosmic Egg – in between these two is Shiva’s city, his divine abode called MANOMAYA.

      [238] The city shines with scattered diamond dust. These worlds are lit from within, meaning their reality does not consist of reflected light, as does our material world.

      [264-266]Lord Maheshwar [the transcendent Lord Shiv] of ten arms sports therein… He is respected and diligently worshiped by the people moving about in aerial chariots.

      This, then is the Original and Supreme abode of Shiva where He resides till the end of Creation and is visited by the other gods in their space-crafts {Check the post Lokas or Alien Planets for more on this topic}. Kailash may actually be the temporary home where the Lord comes for a small time, maybe as a summer-retreat!

      Shiva Family on Mount Kailash

      This would also make sense, since geologically, the Himalayas (of which Mount Kailash is a part), did not rise up till about 5o million years ago!

      Since Hindu Timelines begin close to 155 Trillion years (the present age of Brahma), hence, obviously Lord Shiv would have had to live somewhere else before finally making Kailash His home!! Also, the Himalayas wont stay forever as the Pralaya or the End-of-the-World would destroy the World as we know it and Brahma would then remould it into a new shape.

      At that time, Shiva would probably return to the abode known as Manomaya with His family and Kailash may or may not come into being again.

      Naimittik Pralaya

      The destruction that takes place at the end of a daytime of Brahma is referred to as Naimittik, implying incidental or occasional opposed to Prakritik Pralaya that takes place at the end of Brahma's lifetime. {Check the post - Pralaya, the End of Days for more on this}

      The characteristic of this destruction is that the three worlds (Bhur, Bhuvah and Swarga) continue to exist but are made uninhabitable. The souls of individuals also continue to exist to be reincarnated in the next daytime of Brahma.

      The Shiv Purana [] states that the fall off of the energy residing in the THIRD EYE of Shiva fell like lightning and Brahma had to take it to the ocean and keep it under check there else it could burn the entire creation!

      The energy thus released was stored underwater in the shape of a mare and is known as the Vadava {Check this link for details - On Wings of Fire}. The fire-mare resides under the ocean (Molten Earth's core?) and one of the myths calls her wife of Yama and hence a harbinger of Death.

      Vadava Fire hidden below the Oceans

      Interestingly, the Pineal gland in Human beings is located at the region of the Third-Eye and has tissue similar to that of the normal functioning eye. Indeed the gland in many vertebrates has cells similar to the photoreceptors of eye used for vision!

      Could it then be another vestigial organ that we humans possessed earlier but now has a very limited value?? Lord Shiv, then would be the most ancient progenitor of our race in whom the organ functions as it should!

      The Deep Seated Third Eye
      Shiva, the only being with a Completely functional Pineal Gland?

      Swayambhu Manu states alludes to this fire from Shiva's Eye again stating that in two cases Fire is born out of Water. One, at the time of Lightening and secondly, in the case of the under-water Vadava Mare. Brihadaranyak Upanishad [1.1.2] states that the open mouth of this mare keeps releasing fire in the Sea from time to time, perhaps alluding to submarine eruptions common in the ocean floor!

      Submarine Volcanoes - Flames of the Vadava Fire?

      Eruption of an Underwater Volcano

      Normally, the fire is kept in check with the waters of the Global Ocean. But as Mahabharat verses [12.248.13-17] state, the end of the Day of Brahma is nigh that Rudra sparks off the fire again and this explosion from the mare's mouth in the Southern Ocean begins the process of Pralaya.

      Vishnu Purana [1.7.24-40] also agrees that this destruction would begin with an underwater explosion that will take place in the Southern Ocean. It will be succeeded by a 100 year drought during which the seas, rivers, and streams will all be drained of water. The sun is replaced by seven suns (Sun will increase in size?), and the three world as well as the underworlds are burned bare of life.

      This then, is the Final Destiny of our planet and this is what we call Tandav, the Final Dance of Shiva. As each atom is created, another is destroyed and this continues forever in a cyclical manner. Lord Shiv who drinks the terrible poison Halahal to save all Life, also destroys Life-as-we-know-it in the form of Rudra.

      Shiva drinks poison to save Life yet also annihilates at the End of Time

      I conclude this post with the invocation I started the post with as there is nothing better to pray for except getting out of this Samsara Chakra. This Mahashivratri, let us remember the Lord with our hearts and minds and pray for deliverance:

      Om tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭi-vardhanam
      urvārukam iva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt

      OM, We worship Shiva, the Three-eyed fragrant Lord,
      Who nourishes and nurtures all beings,
      As is the ripened cucumber freed from its bondage (to the creeper),
      May He liberate us from Death and take us to Immortality.
      Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:


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