14-Symbolism of Shiv
Shiv represents the destructive aspect of the Godhead. He is seen absorbed on
the mountain peak of Kailaash. He is an embodiment of serenity, renunciation and
indifference to the world. The third eye in the centre of his forehead represents
his destructive energy which when let loose destroys the world. Nandee is His
favorite. He is his door-keeper. He is seen hushing all nature, so that the Lord
may not be disturbed in his Samaadhi. The Lord has five faces, ten hands, ten eyes,
There are 64 Leelaa
or sports in which he is said to have partaken and infinite stories from
his tumultuous marriage to his drinking of the poison during the famous
incident in Hindu mythology of the churning of the ocean. Through all the
myths Shiv emerges the same, powerful, impulsive, angry, frightening,
charming, one who holds the Damaroo (drum) either sides of which makes our
night and day and one whose ankle bells are the source of all sound. No
Guru can give you realization; this you can only attain for yourself. The
Guru can guide and show the way, but the disciple must do the practice. -
Om Shivam Gurum Devam.
Shiv is recognized by several things --
Shiv sitting in the cremation ground signifies that He is the controller
of death in the physical world. Since birth and death are cyclic,
controlling one implies controlling the other. Thus, Lord Shiva is revered
as the ultimate controller of birth and death in the phenomenal world.
The Unclad Body Covered With Ashes
The unclad body symbolizes the transcendental aspect of the Lord. Since
most things reduce to ashes when burned, ashes symbolize the physical
universe. The ashes on the unclad body of the Lord signify that Shiv is
the source of the entire universe which emanates from Him, but He
transcends the physical phenomena and is not affected by it.
The three matted locks on the head of the Lord convey the idea that integration
of the physical, mental and spiritual energies is the ideal of Yog.
The Crescent Moon:
The crescent Moon is only one of His ornaments, 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. Thus, the crescent Moon is only one of His ornaments, and not an
integral part of Him.
Gangaa, symbolically represented on the head of the Lord by a female (Ganga ) with a
jet of water emanating from her mouth and falling on the ground, signifies that the
Lord destroys sin, removes ignorance, and bestows knowledge, purity and peace on the
devotees. Gangaa (river Ganges) is associated with Hindu mythology and is the
most sacred river of Hindu. According to tradition, one who bathes in
Gangaa (revered as Mother Gangaa) in accordance with traditional rites and
ceremonies on religious occasions in combination with certain astrological
events, is freed from sin and attains knowledge, purity and peace.
Shiv, also called Tryambak Dev, is depicted as having three eyes: the Sun
is His right eye, the Moon the left eye and the Fire is his third eye. 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.
Like fire, the powerful gaze of Shiv's third eye annihilates evil, and
thus the evil-doers fear his third eye.
When the Lord opens his eyes, a new cycle of creation emerges and when he
closes them, the universe dissolves for creation of the next cycle. The
half-open eyes convey the idea that creation is going through cyclic
process, with no beginning and no end. Shiv is the Master of Yog, as he
uses his Yaugik power to project the universe from himself. The half-open
eyes also symbolize his yogic posture.
Shiv has white complexion. What is the significance of white color? He teaches
silently that people should have pure heart and entertain pure thoughts and
should be free from crookedness, diplomacy, cunningness, jealousy, hatred,
He wears three white-lined Bhasm or Vibhooti on his forehead. What is the
significance of this? He teaches silently that people should destroy their
three impurities, viz., Anav (egoism), Karm (action with expectation of
fruits), and Maayaa (illusion), and the three desires or Eshanas, viz.,
desire for landed property, woman, and gold, and the three Vaasanaa, viz.,
Lok Vaasanaa, Deh Vaasanaa and Shaastra Vaasanaa, and then attain Him with
a pure heart.
Kundal (two earrings):
Two Kundal, Alakshya (or Alakh, Lakh means seeing, and Alakh means "which
cannot be shown by any sign") and Niranjan (meaning "which cannot be
seen by mortal eyes"), in the ears of the Lord symbolize that He is beyond
ordinary perception. Since the Kundal 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 Kundal
also symbolize the Shiv and Shakti (male and female) principle of creation. the Shiv
and Shakti (male and female) or Ardh-Naareeshwar principle of creation.
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 Damaroo is vibrated, it produces dissimilar
sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound
thus produced symbolizes Naad, the cosmic sound of Aum, which can be heard
during deep meditation. According to Hindu scriptures, Naad is the source
A water pot (Kamandal) made from a dry pumpkin contains nectar and is
shown on the ground next to Shiv signifies that, 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. The process
of making Kamandal 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 Kamandal.
Nandee, the Bull
What does Nandee or the bull which is in front of Shiv Ling represent? Nandee is
the attendant or doorkeeper of Shiv. He is his vehicle also. The bull symbolizes
both power and ignorance. Shiv's use of the bull as a vehicle conveys the idea
that he removes ignorance and bestows power of wisdom on his devotees. The bull
is called Vrish in Sanskrit. Vrish also means Dharm (righteousness) . Thus a
bull shown next to Shiv also indicates that Shiv is the eternal companion of
Nandee represents Satsang also. If you make association with the sages, you are
sure to attain God-realization. Sages will show you the way to reach him. They
will remove pitfalls or snares that lie on your path. They will clear your doubts
and instill in your heart dispassion, discrimination and knowledge. There is no
other safe boat than Satsang to reach the other shore of fearlessness and immortality.
Even a moment's Satsang or association with the sages, is a great blessing to the
aspirants and the worldly-minded persons. They get firm conviction in the existence
of God through Satsang. The sages remove the worldly Sanskaar. The company of sages
is a formidable fortress to protect oneself from the temptations of Maayaa.
Skull in the Hand
Shiv holds a skull in his hand. That represents Sansaar, the cycle of
life, death and rebirth. Sansaar is a central belief in Hinduism. Shiv
himself also represents this complete cycle because he is Mahaakal, the
Lord of Time, destroying and creating all things.
Snake on the Body of Shiv
Snakes on Shiv's body represent several things.
--Serpent is the Jeev or the individual soul which rests upon Shiv, the
Paramaatmaa or the Supreme Soul.
--The five hoods mean the five senses or the five Tattwa, viz., earth,
water, fire, air and ether.
--They also represent the five Praan, which hiss in the body like the serpent.
The inhalation and exhalation are like the hissing of the serpent.
--Shiv himself became the five Tanmaatraa, the five Gyaanendriyaan, the five
Karmendriyaan and other groups of five. The individual soul enjoys the worldly
objects through these Tattwa. When the individual attains knowledge through
control of the senses and the mind, he finds his eternal resting abode in Shiv,
the Supreme Soul. This is the esoteric significance of Shiv wearing the snake
on His body.
--Shiv is absolutely fearless. Shruti declare, "This Brahm is fearless (Abhayam),
Immortal (Amritam).' Worldly people are afraid even at the very sight of a snake but
Shiv is wearing serpents as ornaments on his body. This indicates that Shiv is absolutely
fearless and immortal. Generally serpents live for hundreds of years. Wearing of serpents
by Shiv signifies that he is Eternal.
--Sages have used snakes to symbolize the Yaugik power of Shiv with which he dissolves
and recreates the universe. Like a Yogee, a snake hoards nothing, carries nothing, builds
nothing, lives on air alone for a long time, and lives in mountains and forests. The venom
of a snake, therefore, symbolizes the Yaugik power.
--Shiv wears a snake coiled around his upper arms also symbolizing the power he has
over the deadlest of the creatures. Snakes are also used to symbolize the Hindu dogma
of reincarnation. Their natural process of molting or shedding their skin is symbolic
of the human souls transmigration of bodies from one life to another.
Snake in the Neck
One snake 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 - time in cycles. The Lord wearing the curled snake like an ornament
signifies that creation proceeds in cycles and is time dependent, but the Lord
Himself transcends 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 Shiv signifies that Shiv's eternal laws of reason and justice preserve natural
order in the universe.
Rudra is another name of Shiv. Rudra also means "strict or uncompromising"
and Aksh means "eye." Rudraaksh necklace worn by Shiv illustrates that he
uses his cosmic laws firmly - without compromise - to maintain law and order in the
universe. The necklace has 108 beads which symbolize the elements used in the creation
of the world. Rudraaksh necklace worn by Shiv illustrates that he uses his cosmic laws
firmly - without compromise - to maintain law and order in the universe.
A tiger skin symbolizes potential energy. Shiv, sitting on or wearing a tiger skin,
illustrates the idea that he is the source of the creative energy that remains in
potential form during the dissolution state of the universe. Of his own Divine Will,
Shiv activates the potential form of the creative energy to project the universe in
The three-pronged trident shown adjacent to Shiv symbolizes his three fundamental
powers (Shakti) of will (Ichchhaa), action (Kriyaa) and knowledge (Gyaan). The
trident also symbolizes Shiv's power to destroy evil and ignorance.
Shiv's right hand is shown in a boon-bestowing and blessing pose. As stated
earlier, Shiv annihilates evil, grants boons, bestows grace, destroys ignorance,
and awakens wisdom in his devotees.
What does the Bali Peeth or altar which stands in front of the sanctum sanctorum
of the Shiv's temple represent? People should destroy their egoism and mineness
(Ahamtaa and Mamataa) before they attain the Lord.
Deer represents the Ved. Its four legs are the four Ved. Shiv is holding the deer in his
hand. This indicates that he is the Lord of the Ved.
Lord of Five
As the ruler
of the five directions of space, of the five elements, of the five human races,
of the five senses and all that is ruled by the number 5, Shiv is called "Panchaanan"
--One of the five faces looks upward, while the other four look to the four
cardinal directions. The face looking upward is The Ruler, Eeshaan, who is the
master of all knowledge.
--The Eastern face is called The Supreme Man, Tat-Purush. He is the enjoyer of
--The Southern face of Shiv is called Aghor, the Non-fearful. He represents the
eternal law and is the divinity of the shining darkness.
--The Western face is the Left Hand Deity, Vaamdev. He is the notion of I-ness (Ahankaar).
--The Northern face of Shiv is the Suddenly Born or Sadyojaat. In this aspect,
He represents the mind and the sacrificial elixir or Som Ras.
The conch shell, sometimes shown as an attribute of Shiv, is the symbol of the
origin of existence. It is called Paanchjanya, which means "born of five" - the
"five" being the five elements, Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Ether.
The Shiv Mantra is also of five letters - called "Panchaakshar".
Meditation on this Mantra activates the qualities of Sattwa and Rajas, helping
one to overcome ignorance, ego and attachment.
Namah Shivaaya is the Mantra of Shiv.
'Na' represents Earth and Brahmaa;
'Ma' represents Water and Vishnu;
'Shi' represents Fire and Rudra;
'Vaa' re[pesents Vaayu and Maheshwar;
'Ya' Aakaash and Sadaashiv and also the Jeev.
beauty of Shiv is that Lord Krishn accepts that Lord Shiv is supreme
and persuades Arjun to pray Shiv and obtain his Paashupat Astra.
Further Yajur Ved says that there is no difference in between Shiv and
aranam, Shivaaya vishnuroopaaya Shiv roopaaya vishnave,
Shivasya hridayam vishnur vishnushcha hridayagam Shivah,
yathaa Shivamayo vishnur yevam vishnumayashivah,
yathaantaram na pashchyaami tathaa me swasti raa yushi.