Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about Śiva at Wikipedia: Siva (and Shaivism), Encyclopedia Mythica: Siva, Kamat's Potpourri or the Urday website (including Siva Linga).

SHIVA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The name Siva is unknown to the Vedas, but Rudra, another name of this deity, and almost equally common, occurs in the Veda both in the singular and the plural, and from these the great deity Siva and his manifestations, the Rudras, have been developed. In the Rigveda the word Rudra is used for Agni, and the Maruts are called his sons. In other passages he is distinct from Agni.

He is lauded as "the lord of songs, the lord of sacrifices, who heals remedies, is brilliant as the sun, the best and most bountiful of gods, who grants prosperity and welfare to horses and sheep, men, women, and cows; the lord of nourishment, who drives away diseases, dispenses remedies, and removes sin; but, on the other hand he is the wielder of the thunderbolt, the bearer of bow and arrows, and mounted on his chariot is terrible as a wild beast, destructive and fierce."

In the Yajurveda there is a long prayer called Satarudriya which is addressed to him and appeals to him under a great variety of epithets. He is "auspicious, not terrible;" "the deliverer, the first divine physician;" he is "blue-necked and red-coloured, who has a thousand eyes and bears a thousand quivers;" and in another hymn he is called "Tryambaka, the sweet-scented increaser of prosperity;" "a medicine for kine and horses, a medicine for men, and a (source of) ease to rams and ewes." In the Atharvaveda he is still the protector of cattle, but his character is fiercer. He is "dark, black, destroying, terrible." He is the "fierce god," who is besought to betake himself elsewhere, "and not to assail manking with consumption, poison, or celestial fire."

The Brahmanas tell that when Rudra was born he wept, and his father, Prajapati, asked the reason, and on being told that he wept because he had not received a name, his father gave him the name of Rudra (from the root rud, 'weep').

They also relate that at the request of the gods he pierced Prajapati because of his incestuous intercourse with his daughter. In another place he is said to have applied to his father eight successive times for a name, and that he received in succession the names Bhava, Sarva, Pasupati, Ugradeva, Mahandeva, Rudra, Isana, and Asani.

In the Upanishads his character is further developed. He declared to the inquiring gods, "I alone was before (all things), and I exist and I shall be. No other transcends me. I am eternal and not eternal, discernible and undiscernible, I am Brahma and I am not Brahma." Again it is said, "He is the only Rudra, he is Isana, he is divine, he is Maheswara, he is Mahadeva."

"There is only one Rudra, there is no place for a second. He rules this fourth world, controlling and productive; living beings abide with him, united with him. At the time of the end he annihilates all worlds, the protector."

"He is without beginning, middle, or end; the one, the pervading, the spiritual and blessed, the wonderful, the consort of Uma, the supreme lord, the three-eyed, the blue-throated, the tranquil. He is Brahma, he is Siva, he is Indra; he is undecaying, supreme, self-resplendent; he is Vishnu, he is breath, he is the spirit, the supreme lord; he is all that hath been or that shall be, eternal. Knowing him, a man overpasses death. There is no other way to liberation."

In the Ramayana Siva is a great god, but the references to him have more of the idea of a personal god than of a supreme divinity. He is represented as fighting with Vishnu, and as receiving worship with Brahma, Vishnu, and Indra, whom the gods, from Brahma to the Pisachas, worship." The rival claims of Siva and Vishnu to supremacy are clearly displayed in this poem; and many of those powers and attributes are ascribed to them which were afterwards so widely developed in the Puranas. Attempts also are made to reconcile their conflicting claims by representing Siva and Vishnu, Siva and Krishna, to be one, or, as it is expressed at a later time in the Harivansa, there is "no difference between Siva who exists in the form of Vishnu, and Vishnu who exists in the form of Siva."

The Puranas distinctly assert the supremacy of their particular divinity, whether it be Siva or whether it be Vishnu, and they have developed and amplified the myths and allusions of the older writings into numberless legends and stories for the glorification and honour of their favourite god.

The Rudra of the Vedas has developed in the course of ages into the great and powerful god Siva, the third deity of the Hindu triad, and the supreme god of his votaries. He is shortly described as the destroying principle, but his powers and attributes are more numerous and much wider.

Under the name of Rudra or Mahakala, he is the great destroying and dissolving power. But destruction in Hindu belief implies reproduction; so as Siva or Sankara, 'the auspicious,' he is the reproductive power which is perpetually restoring that which has been dissolved, and hence he is regarded as Iswara, the supreme lord, and Mahadeva, the great god.

Under this character of restorer he is represented by his symbol the Linga or phallus, typical or reproduction; and it is under this form alone, or combined with the Yoni, or female organ, the representative of his Shakti, or female energy, that he is everywhere worshipped.

Thirdly, he is the Mahayogi, the great ascetic, in whom is centred the highest perfection of austere penance and abstract meditation, by which the most unlimited powers are attained, marvels and miracles are worked, the highest spiritual knowledge is acquired, and union with the great spirit of the universe is eventually gained. In this character he is the naked ascetic Digambara, 'clothed with the elements,' or Dhurjati, 'loaded with matted hair,' and his body smeared with ashes.

His first or destructive character is sometimes intensified, and he become Bhairava, 'the terrible destroyer,' who takes a pleasure in destruction.

He is also Bhuteswara, the lord of ghosts and goblins. In these characters he haunts cemeteries and places of cremation, wearing serpents round his head and skulls for a necklace, attended by troops of imps and trampling on rebellious demons.

He sometimes indulges in revelry, and, heated with drink, dances furiously with his wife Devi the dance called Tandava, while troops of drunken imps caper around them.

Possessed of so many powers and attributes, he has a great number of names, and is represented under a variety of forms. One authority enumerates a thousand and eight names, but most of these are descriptive epithets, as Trilochana, 'the three-eyed,' Nilakantha, 'the blue-throated,' and Panchanana, 'the five-faced.'

Siva is a fair man with five faces and four arms. He is commonly represented seated in profound thought, with a third eye in the middle of his forehead, contained in or surmounted by the moon's crescent; his matted locks are gathered up into a coil like a horn, which bears upon it a symbol of the river Ganges, which he caught as it fell from heaven; a necklace of skulls (mundamala), hangs around his neck, and serpents twine about his neck as a collar (nagakundala); his neck is blue from drinking the deadly poison which would have destroyed the world, and in his had he holds a trisula or trident called Pinaka. His garment is the skin of a tiger, a deer, or an elephant, hence he is called Krittivasas; sometimes he is clothed in a skin and seated upon a tiger-skin, and he holds a deer in his hand. He is generally accompanied by his bull Nandi. He also carries the bow Ajagava, a drum (damaru) in the shape of an hour-glass the Khatwanga or club with a skull at the end, or a cord (pasa) for binding refractory offenders. His Pramathas or attendants are numerous, and are imps and demons of various kinds.

His third eye had been very destructive. With it he reduced to ashes Kama, the god of love, for daring to inspire amorous thoughts of his consort Parvati while he was engaged in penance; and the gods and all created beings were destroyed by its glance at one of the periodical destructions of the universe.

He is represented to have cut off one of the heads of Brahma for speaking disrespectfully, so that Brahma has only four heads instead of five.

Siva is the great object of worship at Benares under the name of Visweswara. His heaven is on Mount Kailasa.

Three are various legends respecting Siva's garments and weapons. It is said that "he once visited a forest in the form of a religious mendicant and the wives of the Rishis residing there fell in love with his great beauty, which the Rishis, perceiving, resented; in order, therefore, to overpower him, they first dug a pit, and by magical arts caused a tiger to rush out of it, which he slew, and taking his skin wore it as a garment; they next caused a deer to spring out upon him, which he took up in his left hand and ever after retained there. They then produced a red-hot iron, but this too he took up and kept in his hand as a weapon. The elephant's skin belonged to an Asura named Gaya, who acquired such power that he would have conquered the gods, and would have destroyed the Munis had they not fled to Benares and taken refuge in a temple of Siva, who then destroyed the Asura, and, ripping up his body, stripped off the (elephant) hide, which he cast over his shoulders for a cloak." - Williams.

BHAlRAVA. (mas.), BHAIRAVI (fern.) [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] 'The terrible.' Names of Siva and his wife Devi. The Bhairavas are eight interior forms or manifestations of Siva, all of them of a terrible character :-(1.) Asitanga, black limbed; (2.) Sanhara, destruction; (3.) Rum, a dog; (4.) KaIa, black; (5.) Krodha, anger; (6.) Tamrachuda, red crested; (N Chandrachuda, moon crested; (8.) Maha, great. Other names are met with as variants: Kapala, Rudra, Bhishana, Unmatta, Kupati, etc. In these forms Siva often rides upon a dog, wherefore he is called Swaswa, 'whose horse is a dog.'

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM