To understand Shiva you have to understand what Trimurti (Trinity) in Hinduism is – Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Mahesh(Shiva) the Destroyer. These three Gods represent the very nature of our existence from birth, preservation, destruction to subsequent regeneration.
Brahma and Vishnu are not different from Shiva but rather are forms of Shiva. As Brahma he creates, as Vishnu he preserves and as Mahesh, he destroys or dissolves. There is nothing beyond Shiva, He is all that there is. He performs multiple roles and exerts a mighty power over the universe.
He is the arrow of knowledge, is indestructible. Shiv(Mahadev) also known as Adiyogi Shiva, is regarded as the patron god of yoga, meditation, and arts. Shiva is also called as Shambhu – the one who causes happiness.
In his Kind form, he is depicted as an all-knowing wise Yogi who lives a disciplined life on Mount Kailash and resides with wife Parvati and his two children, Ganesha and Kartikeya. The Rudra form of Lord Shiva denotes the ‘ fierce’ god. In his fierce aspects, he is depicted as slaying Evil or demons.
Lord Shiva is not an ordinary god. He is very mysterious and his ways are beyond earthly norms and definitions. Shaivism is the largest section of people in Hinduism who believes in worshiping Shiva as a creator and destroyer of worlds and is the supreme God overall. Those who follow Shaivism are called “Shaivites“.
During Samudra Manthan(Churning of the Ocean by Gods and Demons together in order to chase ambrosia that would bestow Immortality )- Once, Lord Shiva saved the gods, demons, and the world from destruction by swallowing the poison called Halahal that appeared from the ocean. When the fumes of the deadly poison started burning all that was around, Lord Shiva effortlessly moved forward and swallowed it thereby saving the worlds. Hence the Destroyer became a Protector. He holds the Poison in his neck which turned blue, giving Lord Shiva his one of many names – Nilakantha, which literally means the blue-throated.
Shiva is not just a name, it is a sentiment, an emotion. Shiva is the physics of this universe, the sacred void which is endless.
There are some symbols related to Lord Shiva worth knowing:
Shiva’s cosmic dance(Tandava) is symbolic of the triumph of Truth over ignorance and temporariness. Lord Shiva’s dance disperses the clouds of ignorance and instills one with faith, hope, and wisdom. It banishes the sufferings of his followers and makes them find the light inside their beings.
Ganga over Shiva’s head represents the end of ignorance & dawn of knowledge and peace.
The crescent moon on Shiv Ji’s head symbolizes the time cycle, through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. It also signifies that Shiva is the master of time, he is beyond time.
Lord Shiva has three eyes making him called ‘Tryambaka’. The third eye is the eye of wisdom which is free from “Maya” -the illusion and duality of life. Seeing with the mind’s eye, beyond what is visible. The third eye symbolizes supreme consciousness which watches the world from one eye of divine wisdom and not the two eyes of duality.
Lord Shiva adorns Snake Vasuki (who was used by Gods and demons as a rope to extract the ambrosia of immortality during Samudra Manthan) around his neck which symbolizes Ego. The Serpent signifies the ego which can be worn as an ornament once mastered.
Bluethroat represents suppression of the evil or anger.
Trishul( trident) represents the three powers of Desire, knowledge, and Implementation. It also represents that Shiva is above all three states i.e Waking, Sleeping, and Dreaming, yet upholding all three states. It also Symbolizes control of Mind, intellect, and ego.
Tiger is said to be the symbol of ego and violence. Wearing a tiger skin, Lord Shiva is said to be fearless, who has repressed ego and violence.
Lord Shiva also holds a Damaru (drum) in his hand. The sound produced by damaru provides riddance of all desires from our bodies.
Lord Shiva applies Bhasma (Ash) all over his body which symbolizes that everything is temporary, even our own body. The ash is free from earthy connections such as emotions, greed, fear, and lust. Lord Shiva embracing ‘bhasma’ signifies his soulful connection with the dead.