THE SYMBOLISM OF THE GREAT LORD SHIVA

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INTRODUCTION

According to the Puranas, in the beginningless beginning there was only the One without a second. It has been given various names such as Parashiva, Purushottama Vishnu, Parabrahma and Parâshakti, etc in the various Puranas, where predominance is given to one aspect of Divinity. The One then willed to become manifest as Diversity (Eko’ham Bahusyâmi). It then assumed the Primordial Aspect of Ishvara or Ishvari or AUM or Mahavishnu or Sadâshiva Maheshvara, the Will Divine (also called Elohim in Bible and Allah in Coran). Associated with the Divine Will is Its Potency or Shakti: its active nature.

The Divine Will then manifests as the Trimurti, Trikâla and Triguna. It becomes Brahmâ or the Creative Power, Vishnu or the Sustaining Power and Shiva or the Constructive-Destructive Power. Each of the three inseparable aspects of the Divine Will is predominated by one particular mode of nature (Guna). Brahmâ is

predominated by Rajas or passion/ expansion/activity; Vishnu by Sattva or purity/stability/light and Shiva by Tamas or concreteness/contraction/ignorance. Brahmâ is also considered as Substance, the Unmanifest Potential or Hiranyagarbha (Golden Egg). Shiva is Structure, the Manifest or Virat (Cosmic Form). Vishnu is Soul, the Imperishable Substratum. Manifestation is thus an interplay of these three major forces. The Divine Will also offers Grace, Reward and Protection to those spiritually connected to It.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SHIVA In the Shiva Puranas, the Divine Will is identified with Maheshvara Sadâshiva and the Cosmic Material and Potency with Maheshvari. Let us examine the Shiva principle at the three different levels of existence.

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(A)

GEOSPHERE: COSMIC/ UNIVERSAL/ NATURAL LEVEL (BHUH)

At this level, Shiva as Bhootanâtha is the manifestation of the five elements (panchamahabhuta) - earth, water, fire, air and space. He is thus depicted with five faces or facets: Panchânana. The whole universe (Prapancha) is made up of the five (pancha) elements. So Shiva is also Vishvanâtha, Lord of Universe and Bhava or Manifestation and Becoming. He is even called Guna Sâmbhava: that is Manifest through as well as manifesting the Guna or Modes of Nature. As Girisha or Kailâshpati, Lord of Mountains, Shiva represents Earth (solid state of manifest objects); as Gangâdhara, Holder of Ganges, He represents water (fluids). As Trilochana or Tryambakam, His third eye represents fire (light, heat, energy) and hence His epithet Kâlâgni Bhairava. As Trishulapâni, His trident (Trishula) stands for air, prana and time (past, present, future). The central dent stands for prâna or life force while the two side dents are air moving from the right and left nostrils to the lungs and back. As Damaruhasta, Bearer of mini-drum, He stands for space - as sound moves in space. Shiva’s popular name as Digambara means one whose garment is space, one clad with space. Sound is also the mystical symbol of the manifest universe. His Rudraksha rosary stands for evolutionary process and the law of nature, which constantly brings about new forms and species and keeps things turning in cycles. As Chandrashekhara or Induchooda or Chandramaulishvara, Bearer of moon as his crown, the moon stands for the crown of earth and the measurement of time in terms of tithis and pakshas. Life forms on earth are influenced by the moon. Shiva is called Kâlabhairava, Trikâleshvara, Kâlatmaka (lord and embodiment of time) meaning Shiva is Time as the beginning and end of everything manifest. He is Mahakâla, time as the destroyer. Around his neck is a garland of skulls and bones (Gale runda mâlâ) symbolising the physical structure of living entities, including man. It also stands for death: Shiva is equally named Hara, The Destroyer. His Three Eyes are sun, moon and fire (Surya, Sashânka, Vahni) and they represent Light and Energy forms. In brief, at this level, Shiva is the Structure of the manifest (Vyakta) - elements, lifeforce, space, time, light, darkness and evolution. He is also the death or

deconstruction of all structures. So in Shiva’s representation we have Structure along
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with its phases such as Construction, Destruction and Reconstruction.

Structure

(Bhuteshvara Shiva) has always Shadows or spirits hanging around (Bhutas, pretas, etc) as it is always built from past impressions or vâsanas, which still haunt it. Shiva’s wife or Shakti is Pârvati, active power of earth, elements and nature. She is Simhavâhini. Her tremendous power is represented by her mount, the king of animals, the Lion. Her power is creative, preservative and destructive: She is

Trigunamayi. As Umâ, She is a serene and wonderful force of nature like a sunset, waterfall, flowery forest, cool breeze, etc. As Kali, Chandika, Chamundi, she represents reckless and violent forces of nature like volcanoes, drought, cyclones, plagues, etc, which bring about death, desolation and destruction. Manifestation, Evolution and Destruction are symbolised by the cosmic dance and embrace of Shiva and Shakti.

(B)

BIOSPHERE: BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION (BHUVAH)

As Pashupati, Lord of beasts or living entities, Shiva manifests as the BIOSPHERE, the world of all living (sentient) creatures. He is all species manifest on earth: snakes or reptiles, bull or mammals like deer, sheep, etc, giant animals like the elephant or small creatures like rats (rabbits, squirrels), flying creatures like the peacock, predators like the lion and tiger and domesticated animals such as the dog. His sitting on an animal’s skin reflects his seat in all animal forms. As Kailashnath, He is also manifest as all trees (Vanaspati) and all herbs (Aushadhi). At the biological level, Shiva and his consort, Sati, represent the initial unity of gender as Ardhanarishvara (half male half female) and the separation but complementariness of the sexes is depicted by Shiva and Parvati. Shiva also stands for Prâna or Life-force, the Lord of living entities (Pashupati) or Emotions/ Urges (Rudra, the weeper) and his five heads represent the five major life winds (pranas or vâyus) essential for maintaining a living being- breath or respiration, evacuation, motion-emotion(circulation), digestion and sleep or regeneration. This is readily observable in the case of a new-born. As it is born, it starts breathing, crying/moving and excreting. It is then fed and put to sleep. Instincts, needs, urges, whims and emotions are irrational just like animals (pashu). His wife is the physical and vital energy. Both operate at the physical and vital levels, at the seat of impulses,
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instincts and drives. Both operate at the levels of breath, excretion (including sex), digestion, movement (blood circulation/motion/emotions) and trance (sleep/dream/ death) - mostly at subconscious and unconscious levels. Shiva’s Bull stands for the sexual and aggressive/defensive drive in living animals and He is Nandivâhana. Who can carry life force other than the sexual and vital urge? Emotions and instincts can be as cool as moon (Soma), as destructive as fire (Agni), as vicious and selfish as the serpent (Vasuki) and as pure and altruistic as the sacred waters (Gangâ). The serpent also represents the self-preservation instinct. Emotions are principally aroused by three sources (Trishula)- self (ones own activities), others (other beings activities- war, charity) and natural forces (cool weather, famine, drought, plagues). In Shiva and His Shakti, there is everything whether good or bad, creative and destructive. He is Nâgendrabhushana with the serpent as adornment, Neelkantha with the reservoir of all poisons stored in his throat, and Gangâdhara, who offers the holy water to cure diseases. He is both Shivam (Auspicious) and Rudram (Terrible).

In the Puranas, after their initial blissful union, Sati and Shiva had to get separated. This means that to move from geosphere (matter) into biosphere (life), Shiva and his Shakti had to drift apart. Pârvati (Annapurna), as Annamaya Kosha, manifests first as elements and earth and later through tapas (mutation or incubation) tries to awaken the latent involved lifeforce or Prânamaya Kosha (Pashupati). When Pranamaya Kosha manifests, it

absorbs Kâma or the Urge to become and continue (the sexual urge) into itself and manifests gender differences and sexual attraction. This is depicted by Shiva reducing God of Love (Kâma) to ashes, which are then smeared over His bodyBhasmabhushana. Being given that Kâma has been absorbed into Shiva, Rati or Attraction (Shakti/wife of Kama) also resides close to Shiva. Both Rati and Kâma continuously pine to reunite and this generates attraction of the opposite sexes. Shiva is thus the passionate, instinctive and emotive layer of personality- prânamaya kosha. His wearing the skin of animals as clothes indicates that He resides deeper within skin, that is, within the annamaya kosha (body and bodily organs). The

presence of ghosts and spirits around him points to the carrying over of the subtle
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pranic impressions of dead persons in the lives of living persons: the past continues to haunt the present through the genes and the brain-mind complex. The company of serpents, ghosts, the smearing of ashes, the dancing in cremation grounds together with the garland of skulls all point toward death and destruction, which is an inevitable feature of the biosphere, the world of the living. The garland of skulls points to the fact that any living creature in the biosphere has to ultimately embrace death. The presence of lingams highlights the principle of sexual

complementariness and the birth of any unit of the biosphere out of sexual fusion, through the action of an erect male genital.

(C)

PSYCHOSPHERE:- SPIRITUAL LEVEL (SUVAH)

At the spiritual level, Shiva is the Space of Awareness (Chidâkash/ Chidambara) and his consort or Shakti is the Reservoir of Spiritual Energy gathered through Tapas (Chit Shakti). Here Shiva is depicted as Jyotir-Lingam, the symbol of divine light of awareness. Pârvati is the daughter of Mountain king Himavant, the immovable power of stillness and concentration. Shiva is the unborn (Ajam), self-born (Shambhu, Swayambhu), the first and foremost of all cosmic forces (Devâdideva). That is, as one enters into meditation, one first of all encounters Shiva, the dark boundless space of awareness. This is the only doorway to the Divine. Shiva is dark because the mind is still bound in ignorance or avidyâ. Let us therefore proceed further into path of meditation and grasp the spiritual significance of Shiva.

SHIVA AND THE INWARD PATH OF MEDITATION: Any spiritual aspirant, who wishes to secure the vision of Divinity, should after observing the basic rules of religious purity(yama/niyama) gather energy and move forward towards Shiva. The Shiva Puranas highlight on the essential elements of the path towards the complete vision through esoteric symbolism. The aspirant first proceeds to Mount Kailash, the highest peak on earth or symbolically the highest part of the human body, namely, the head or mind. As one approaches the Mount, one meets Nandi, the bull-carrier of Shiva. The bull here stands for contentment, selfless service and capacity for hard work. The seated and immobile position of the bull indicates the stilling and control of the basic instinctual
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drives. To reach the blessed Presence of the Shiva, one has to develop acceptance of reality and toil as hard as a bull. This task has to be undertaken with joy (Ananda varshâ). Nandi is also the continuous effort to remain spiritually conscious and

attentive in the present moment. Staying focused on awareness is usually undertaken by concentrating the prana at the third eye. Nandi equally stands for the four ends of life, namely striving to attain right conduct (Dharma), prosperity (Artha), moral pleasure (Kâma) and spiritual enlightenment (Moksha). And Shiva is the goal of spiritual enlightenment.

Facing Nandi’s seat (third eye) lies the entrance to the Cave of Shiva, where the Dark Formless Form of Shiva is seated in Divine Absorption. The dark formless form is the dark space of silent, boundless awareness (Vyomakesha) into which one enters after closing the eyes and making the vision single-pointed at the third eye. It is the first spiritual state. The seated, immobile form of Shiva symbolizes the immovable presence of awareness in the present moment. On the dark form of Shiva, one could discern marks of ashes in three parallel lines which indicate the mortality of the physical, vital and mental sheaths which cover the Soul, Spark of universal life. Once physical/ vital/ mental stillness is secured, material consciousness subsides and gives way to the transparent spiritual consciousness.

Close to Shiva is the Trident in a standing position with a Damaru at the joint. The trident stands for the three pathways of neural energy (Prana channels) in the spine. It shows the long central Sushumna Nadi starting from the base of the spine and ending at a point just behind the brow-centre, at the back of the head. The two side nerve channels, Ida and Pingala, are reduced to the length of breath taken through each nostril to the lungs or heart. The Damaru, at the heart centre, stands for the Sound Currents behind the heartbeats which are heard in silence and the vibrations of the Primordial Sound (AUM) rising from the heart into the Space of Awareness.

The spiritual movement starts from the Heart centre (Anâhata chakra) and, as it proceeds, pierces the Throat centre (Vishuddha Chakra) whereby purity of consciousness is ensured. Shiva is called Neelkantha or Blue-throat, the One who
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absorbed the poison of darkness and destruction (kâlakoota). During inquiry and meditation (spiritual churning), the dark and lethal aspects of our consciousness emerge, all of a sudden, and only the silent meditative awareness (Shiva) has the capacity of absorbing and neutralizing them. After their absorption/neutralisation and the generation of purity, precious spiritual gifts and treasures emerge from the depth of consciousness to be offered to the various levels of one’s being (gods).

A closer look at Shiva reveals the presence of snakes on his body (Nâgendrahâra). This symbolises the activation and movement of spiritual currents and energies within the space of awareness and the body-mind complex. Shiva has also three eyes

(Trilochana). Each eye is represented by Sun (right), Moon (left) and Fire (centre). Awareness functions during sunlight or the day, during moonlight or the night and during firelight or the light of meditation (fire of Yoga). It is this Firelight emerging from the Third Eye of Wisdom or Divine Vision (agnya) that destroys the world mirage (pralaya) and reduces lust and craving to ashes (Kâmadahana). The opening of the third eye affords the perception of Oneness or Non-duality.

Shiva, as Dakshinamurthi- the preceptor or inner guru, is depicted as showing the Chinmudra, the gesture of awareness of divinity. This mudra symbolises the

Mahâvâkya: I AM GOD- SOHAM, SHIVOHAM. The thumb stands for Divinity, the forefinger is individuality. Both meet to form a whole, beyond time, space and causality (three other fingers). Here the Boundless Space of Awareness is genderless, neither male nor female, formless, nameless, without beginning, middle or end. It is timeless and immeasurable. In that void, the Light of Divinity as Sadashiva or

Jyotirlingam, the formless infinite light shines in all Its glory and majesty.

This vision of Divinity does not only lead to personal salvation; it also showers its grace on the collectivity for its welfare and elevation. This is evidenced by the constant flow of the Ganges from the crown of Shiva’s head. The Gangâ is the flow of divine bliss and wisdom, which cleanses the mind and body of any person who comes into its contact. The Light of Divinity is the highest cleansing agent and it is readily available to any one who enters into the Light.
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Shiva is also called Chandrashekhara, the one who wears as crown the moon. The presence of the crescent moon on Shiva’s matted locks teaches us that during spiritual awareness the mind’s habitual activity is reduced to its strict minimum. Moreover, as one goes deeper into meditation, the mind is overpowered by a peaceful coolness symbolised by the moon. The presence of the moon as an adornment further reflects the continuous downpour of Ambrosia (blissful secretions from Soma chakra in the brain) into the meditative state.

Shivaratri is celebrated during the darkest waning phases of the moon cycle symbolising the absorption into void, Pralaya or ending of time and space and evolution. It is final emancipation into divinity or Mukti. As the moon or ego gradually surrenders its borrowed light rays to the sun or Atman, it draws closer to Divinity and finally merges into Divinity.

The wife of Shiva beside him is his Ever-active Divine Shakti or power and his two sons, Ganesha and Kumâra, are his Infinite Intelligence and Eternal Majesty.

In the final analysis, one finds here that the spiritual path takes a tremendous leap to the heart, it then moves through the throat, the third-eye and end into the crown of the head, wherein is located the Channel to Divinity (Brahmarandhra). As one moves along the path, one starts experiencing Divinity as One Whole (whatever may be the name given to it by language or culture).

THE SYMBOLISM OF SADASHIVA LINGAM: The most common name of the Shivalingam is Sadâ Shiva Lingam. According to a particular tradition, Parashiva is equated with the Vedantic Brahman, the Supreme Absolute Substratum of everything. Sadashiva is Ishvara, Divine Will, the Ruler of Cosmic Power and Manifestation. The Divine Will is represented by the Oval Phallic symbol while Its Cosmic Power appears like a coiled up serpent round the Oval symbol. The combination of Will and Power makes up the Lingam. Ishvara or Sadashiva is said to manifest as a Trinity. The Trinity is equated with AUM, the Source of Creation, its Span and its End and thus It is represented by
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Brahma, the Creative Principle, Vishnu, the Preserving Principle and Shiva, the Destructive Principle. Although depicted as three, these principles are in fact only One Principle with three aspects (Trimurthi). The term Lingam means both symbol and sex. It is the symbol of Unity in Diversity, the Incomprehensible Form and Nature of the Sacred (Divine Mystery), the interplay of the manifest, unmanifest and imperishable (in the Cosmic Drama). The lingam points to a higher reality (Spark of Universal Life) beyond the ephemeral world of space, time and causality as represented by the three paralell lines of ashes and the red dot at the centre of the lines. The red dot is the Soul or Spark of Universal Life. As the symbol of sex, it points to the complementariness of male and female. It also highlights the complementariness of spirit and matter, manifest and unmanifest, phenomenon and noumenon. Life is the dance of Shiva and Shakti (Cosmic Dance). It also reveals that biological life is born out of sexual fusion and ends in ashes. The only Truth is the Soul. Lingam is the symbol of birth, death and immortality. Yogis use it as a means to perceive the transitory nature of human existence and to conceptualise the Spark of Divine Light permeating both existence and death. This is the essence of the lingam, which offers both inspiration and guidance to aspirants. The lingam is also the symbol of Unity of the Trinity. Brahma, the creator, is

represented by the marriage of the male and female sexes. He is the Generator and is represented by the letter A. Vishnu, the preserver, is represented by the pot of water placed over the lingam. Vishnu is Nârâyana, the abode of waters. Water preserves life; water is life. So Vishnu is Ordainer/Organiser and is represented by letter U. Shiva is the Destroyer and is represented by fire and ashes. The three parallel lines stand for space, time and causality and the red dot in the centre is the fire of death. Whenever water from the pot drips on the lingam, the ashes and fire are washed away or cooled down and death is delayed. When the water of life is over, destruction is inevitable. Shiva, the Destroyer, is represented by the letter M. If we take the first letter from Generator, Ordainer and Destroyer and combine them, we get the word GOD. If we combine the three letters representing the Trinity, we get the word AUM. The lingam is also a representation of the Earth, which is worthy of respect and adoration. We are all born out of earth and will all be finally reduced to dust. The
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three parallel lines are the tropic of cancer, the tropic of capricorn and the equator. The Earth is believed to be mystically connected to The Cosmic Source, which is its support. The lingam as jyotirlingam simply shows the flame of a lamp which is used as an aid to meditation. The offering of Bilva leaves reflects the awareness of the Unity of the Trinity. The pouring of sacred waters is a pledge to protect and preserve life and living beings on earth. Keeping vigil during Shivaratri signifies an attempt to

transcend darkness and ignorance through wakefulness or awareness (keeping vigil).

Koosraj KORA VENCIAH koosradha@gmail.com

1990

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