Lord Shiva and Shaivism

Shiva ,also known as Mahadeva or Mahakaal is one of the most revered deity in Hinduism. He is perceived as a God seated at the top of mount Kailash . He is the one who is beyond time and space.
Shiva is worshipped as the supreme being in Shaivism , one of the major Hindu sects, who believe Shiva to be Mahakaal,as the present ,future and past lie within him.

Within the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, Shiva is worshipped as a destroyer ,responsible for destruction at the end of creation.

Shiva is mysterious ,beholding various forms such as the dynamic Natraja, fearsome Kaalbhairav, the mighty destroyer Rudra as well as the enigmatic and peaceful Bholenath and charming Neelkanth Mahadev.

Various forms of Shiva depicts every possible qualities that the human mind can possess . Shiva embraces every quality yet remaining untouched by all of them.

forms of shiva

1.Pashupataye ( lord of pashus)
2.Tripuntakaya ( annihilator of Tripurasur)
3.Trayambakaye ( who have 3 eyes)
4.Sadashivaya ( who is Supreme Brahman of Shiv Mahapuran )
5.Vishweshraya ( Lord of World )
6.Mahadevaya ( Supreme God )
7.Neelkanthaya( blue necked god)
8.Mrityunjaya ( Winner of Death or Lord of death )
9.Sarveshwaraya( lord of everything )

origin of shiva

Shiva is a sanskrit word that means ‘auspicious,kind and benevolant’. Shiva is an embodiment of grace.

Shiva as an entity has not always been the same and the figure of him that we perceive today is due to merging of pre-vedic traditions and his various forms (Vedic deities called Rudras) into a major single deity called Shiva.

Shiva as the supreme self

Shiva in the form of Shiva Linga is the supreme soul, the supreme consciousness , one who is non-attached yet involved in every process.
Shiva is the one who is not affected by the three Gunas of material nature ( Sattva,Rajas, Tamas).

According to Mandyuka Upanishad :

न अन्तःप्रज्ञम्। न वहिःप्रज्ञम्। न उभयतःप्रज्ञम्। न प्रज्ञानधनम्। न प्रज्ञम्।
न अप्रज्ञम्। अदृष्टम् अव्यवहार्यम् अग्राह्यम् अलक्षणम् अचिन्त्यम् अव्यपदेश्यम् 
एकात्मप्रत्यसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमम् शान्तं शिवम् अद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते विवेकिनः । 
सः आत्मा सः विज्ञेयः ॥

na antaḥprajñam | na vahiḥprajñam | na ubhayataḥprajñam| 
na prajñānadhanam| na prajñam| na aprajñam| 
adṛṣṭam avyavahāryam agrāhyam alakṣaṇam acintyam avyapadeśyam 
ekātmapratyasāraṁ prapañcopaśamam 
śāntaṁ śivam advaitaṁ caturthaṁ manyante ( vivekinaḥ )| 
saḥ ātmā saḥ vijñeyaḥ ||

He who is neither inward wise, nor outward wise, nor both inward and outward wise, nor wisdom self gathered, nor possessed of wisdom, nor unpossessed of wisdom, He Who is unseen and incommunicable, unseizable, featureless, unthinkable, and unnameable,Whose essentiality is awareness of the Self in its single existence, in Whom all phenomena dissolve, Who is Calm, Who is Good, Who is the One than Whom there is no other, Him they deem the fourth; He is the Self, He is the object of Knowledge.

However this form of Shiva(as the supreme self and the origin of creation) was not worshipped by the people of Vedic period . During the early vedic period people worshipped Shiva in a form that was not benevolant or loving and rather the destroyer , the symbolism of anger and death called Rudra.

The readers must note that Shiva existed since time immemorial or even before the existence of time. He is the source of creation as well as destruction. But his various forms became popular later.

origin of rudra

 “Eko hi Rudro na dviteya” the Vedas explicitly declare Rudra as the most powerful and the most intelligent invincible warrior , who is none other than Shiva.
In Rigveda Shiva is altogether mentioned 75 times , out of which the name Shiva is used 18 times , and rest of the times the name ‘ Rudra ‘ is used.
Back when , Gods walked freely between heaven and earth ,Indra ruled the deities in a city called Amaravati Puri.
In one of the battles , Rakshasas defeated the Devatas and forced them to flee away.
Out of despair and fear, the deities approached Maharishi Kashyap and asked for help.
(Indra is the son of Rishi Kashyap and Aditi).

Kashyap set off to Kashipuri, to meditate on Lord Shiva . He created a Shiva linga in Kashipuri and started mediating . Shiva appeared before him and promises to be born as his son and destroy all the evils from the three worlds.
As a result Surbhi(wife of Kashyap) gave birth to eleven sons.
These divine beings were the form of Shiva and were known as Rudras:

1.Kapali   2.Pingala    3.Bhima   4.Virupaksha
5.Vilohita 6.Ajesha     7.Shasana 8.Shasta
9.Shambu   10.Chanda    11.Dhruva

The story of origin of Rudra , is although contradicted by other scriptures , but all describes him to be a fearsome and invincible warrior. The word Rudra itself means ‘ furious’.

With the flow of time the image of Shiva as a deity changed.
Rigveda describes Shiva as ‘Rudram’- the god of fear ,destruction and calamity.
Yajurveda depicts him as both terrifying and benign(graceful).
Adi Shankra in his commentary to Vishnu Sahasranam has described Rudra as the “one who makes all beings cry at the time of mighty dissolution.”

Other than being the god of fear, Rudra is also called ‘ Baidyanath’.He was believed to cure diseases and save the people and children from illness.According to Rigveda Rudra possessed healing remedies and it describes him as the physician of physicians.

It is noteworthy that Shiva is mentioned by different names in most of the Hindu scriptures and texts like :
Kena Upanishad,Vyasa Mahabharata, Valmiki Ramayana, Srimad Devi Bhagwatam .

These scriptures mention Shiva by different names like :

1.Umapataye ( husband/lord of uma i.e. maa parvati ),

2.Ambikapataye ( husband/lord of mother of world i.e. Maa Durga ) and

3.Pashupataye ( Lord of all Pashus, frequently repeated in various Puranas )
4.Triyambakam( one who has three eyes)

              ----------( In Yajurveda T.A. 10.22.1 )

Sri Rudram is the most powerful Vedic hymn dedicated to Par Brahm Param Purush Parmatma Shiv .It is also called Rudradhyaya, Sri Rudraprasna and Śatarudrīya. It refers all these names as none other that various forms of Shiva:

Namaste asthu bhagwaan vishweshwaraya mahadevaya 
triyambakaye Tripuraanthkaaye Trikaagni Kaalaye Kaalagni Rudraye
Neelkanthaye Mrutyumjayaye sarveshwaraya sadashivaya
shrimaan mahadevaya namah

Similar to Rudra , Shiva is worshipped in many other forms called Maheshwar Murtams. There are 25 Maheshwar Murtams according to Shaivite traditions.

Maheshwar Murtams

6.Chandra Shekharar                
7.Uma Maheshwarar                
10.Jala Ndharari                
11.Gajasa Mhara Murti                
14.Shankar Narayan
21.Eka Padar

How the persona of Shiva converged into a single deity is not well documented .But the figure of him we see today is due to the amalgamation of his various forms and the idea of him being formless(linga).

Shiva as Lingam

Shvetashvatara Upanishad describes Shiva Lingam as the sign of imperishable Purusha , a sign through which the existence of everything can be reliably inferred . It implies the regenerative divine energy innate in nature ,symbolised by Shiva.

According to Sivanand Sarasvati ( a proponent of Vedanta) – ” Lingam is the outward symbol of formless being .Lord Siva, who is eternal ever-pure, immortal essence of this vast universe, who is your innermost ‘self or Atman’ and who is identical with the supreme Brahman.”
Westerners who have impure knowledge of Shaivism ,consider Shiva Lingam as a phallus, which is a grave blunder.

There are twelve major Shiva Linga located across India ,popularly called Jyotirlinga.

1.Somnath Jyotirlinga in Gir, Gujarat
2.Mallikarjuna Jyotirlinga in Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh
3.Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh
4.Omkareshwar Jyotirlinga in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh
5.Baidyanath Jyotirlinga in Deoghar, Jharkhand
6.Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga in Maharashtra
7.Ramanathaswamy Jyotirlinga in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu
8.Nageshwar Jyotirlinga in Dwarka, Gujarat
9.Kashi Vishwanath Jyotirlinga in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
10.Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga in Nasik, Maharashtra
11.Kedarnath Jyotirlinga in Rudraprayag, Uttarakhand
12.Ghrishneshwar Jyotirlinga in Aurangabad, Maharashtra

Pre-Vedic , Vedic and Later-vedic elements

  • Rock paintings from Bhimbetka depicts a figure with a trident(Trishul) and Nandi. This form of Shiva is Nataraja (which shows him dancing).
    It is noteworthy that the Bhimbetka caves are from mesolithic age and exhibits earlies traces of human life from stone age.
  • A seal found during excavation of Indus valley civilisation shows Shiva in the form of Pashupati wearing a horned crown and surrounded by animals.Here Shiva is shown seated in yogic posture.
  • A stone idol of three headed Shiva was found in Gandhar ,clearly depicting him holding his trident (dating back to 100-200 AD).During this period Indo greek ruled ,who were Buddhist but worship of Shiva was also prevalant.

Attributes of Shiva

Among all Hindu Gods ,Shiva has probably the most distinctive and mysterious bodily features:
Shiva is depicted with a third eye( called Triyambikam) , wearing crescent moon on his forehead (Chandramouli or Chandrashekhar), body covered with ashes(signifying that material existence is non permanent).
Shiva is called Kapardin because of his unique matted hair( jatadhari shiva).
Shiva became Neelkanth( also called Nilalohita), because of his blue throat after drinking the Halahal poison.Vedas use the name Nilalohita more often than Neelkanth.

Shiva is associated with Holy Ganga (Gangadhar), Vasuki serpent on his neck(Nageshwar),tiger skin, trident,damru(two headed drum),
Nandi( the bull), Mount kailasha,and Rudraksha( the rosary beads).
Shiva unique connection to Kashi(Varanasi) is noteworthy.

Probably ,for every attribute of Shiva, there is an unique name for him.


There are four major sects in Hinduism- Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smarta tradition ,out of which Shaivism is one of the major sect. The followers of Shaivism are called Shaivite.


Shiva is all and is in all .He is the absolute God who is the creator, preserver, destroyer and revealer and concealer of all that is and that is not. Shiva is the absolute reality,beyond the concept of time and space. He is the source of all creations and at the end all of his creations dissolve into him.

It is noteworthy that although, Vaishavism and Shaktism refer Vishnu and Shakti as the supreme soul,but none of these sects disrespect the authority of Shiva. In fact in many of the text of Shaivism and Vaishnavism, Shiva and Vishnu both are considered as the same entity.

Vishnu is no one but Shiva, and he who is called Shiva is but identical with Vishnu. 
Brahman( the ultimate reality is identical to Vishnu and Shiva).
Shiva is the highest manifestation of Vishnu and Vishnu is the highest manifestation of Shiva.

The vastness of Shiva and his forms makes it almost impossible to comprehend him.
Probably ,devotion and meditation is the only way to understand his true essence.

From his furious form as destroyer and benefactor Rudra, to the ascetic and householder Shankar, Shiva exemplifies the maximum amplitude of qualites someone can possess.

Mahashivratri and Kartik Purnima are two major Hindu festival that provides an opportunity for seekers to overcome darkness and ignorance . It is observed that by reciting prayers to Shiva , meditating on ethics, fasting and remembring Shiva , devotees can reap spiritual fruits.

Om Namah Shivay !

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