Shiva, the third member of the Hindu trinity, is one of the most complex gods and one who seems to embody contradictory qualities.
Shiva, whose name means “auspicious one” in Sanskrit, is both protector and destroyer. Like Shakti, Shiva takes many—and often paradoxical—forms. As the god of the yogis, Shiva is ascetic, celibate, and self-controlled and is portrayed deep in meditation on top of Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. In his role as a householder, Shiva has a wife, Parvati (Shakti), with whom he has two sons: Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles; and Skanda, god of war.
He is linked with time itself, as a destroyer of all things, as well as associated with creation. Destruction and creation are inextricably linked—one cannot exist without the other—making Shiva particularly important.
Shiva, like other archetypes found in the Vedic tradition or even in movies and books, can be a source of inspiration or act as a role model as you try to achieve a goal. You might identify with Shiva’s self-control as you attempt to channel that virtue for yourself.
The Story of Shiva
There are numerous origin stories and tales of great deeds about the many representations of Shiva.
One of the most popular representations is as Nataraja, the lord of the dance. As Nataraja, he dances in a ring of flames atop the back of a tiny demon named Apasmara-Purusha, who symbolizes ignorance, laziness, and evil thoughts. Nataraja’s dance symbolizes the rhythm of the universe and the cycles of creation and destruction.
In images of Shiva, the water flowing from his hair represents the River Ganges, considered a goddess in Hindu mythology. According to legend, when Ganga came down from the heavens, the earth was overwhelmed with torrential floods. Shiva offered to serve as a conduit so that human beings could benefit from the purifying water without drowning in it. It is also said that Shiva’s skin is blue because when Ganga flooded the earth, he swallowed the poison that was churned up in the oceans, thus saving the universe.
Vahana of Shiva
Deities such as Shiva are associated with an animal or bird that acts as a vahana, or vehicle, that transports the god and is an extension of his powers. A white bull called Nandi is often associated with Shiva and is seen as an extension or embodiment of his sexual energy, virility, and strength. Nandi is also seen as a gatekeeper and the primary follower of Shiva.
Inspiration from Shiva
Shiva’s many forms mean there are various identities or archetypes to identify with. Use Shiva as a guide especially during times like these:
- While practicing yoga or trying to commit to a more meditative lifestyle.
- When one part of your life is destroyed—perhaps by losing a job—and a new opportunity springs out of that loss.
- When you need protection. You might call upon Shiva as you embark on an emotional or even physical journey.