A Simple Guide to Help Understand Hindu Gods
Lord Shiva

The Hindu Trinity of Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

Hindus have a multitude of gods and goddesses that symbolize the one abstract Supreme Being or Brahman. The most fundamental of Hindu deities are the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. But many other gods and goddesses such as Ganesha, Krishna, Rama, Hanuman, and .

Lord Shiva

Shiva means "the One who is eternally pure". Lord Shiva, the destroyer, is the most powerful god of the Hindu Trinity. According to Hindu belief, this destruction is not arbitrary, but constructive. Shiva is therefore seen as the source of both good and evil and is regarded as the one who combines many contradictory elements. It might be better, however, to think of him as the God of Transformation, since he is often associated with creation that comes out of destruction. Shiva dissolves in order to create, since death is the medium for rebirth into a new life. So the opposites, life and death, and, creation and destruction, both reside in his character. Lord Shiva is the Lord of mercy and compassion. He protects devotees from evil forces such as lust, greed and anger. Shiva destroys evil, grants favors, bestows grace, removes ignorance and awakens wisdom in his followers. We call upon Lord Shiva to help us destroy what needs to end and create positive changes.He is generally represented an ever happy, smiling and tranquil and either immersed in deep meditation, or dancing.

A representation of Shiva has the following common features:

  • Shiva always has a blue face and throat. Strictly speaking his body is white, but images often show him with a blue body too.

  • He has matted hair which holds the flowing Ganges river and a crescent moon (like a halo) behind his head.

  • Shiva is dressed in a tiger skin, representing that he is the source of all creative energy.

  • A third eye: Also prominent is Lord Shiva's third eye, representing his ability to burn up anything which might hinder spiritual insight. The extra eye represents the wisdom and insight that Shiva has. It is also believed to be the source of his untamed energy. On one occasion, when Shiva was distracted in the midst of worship by the love god, Kama, Shiva opened his third eye in anger. Kama was consumed by the fire that poured forth, and only returned to life when Parvati, Shiva's consort, intervened.

  • A cobra necklace: the snake curled three times around his neck, representing the past, present and future, signifying that creation proceeds in cycles, though Lord Shiva himself transcends time. This signifies Shiva's power over the most dangerous creatures in the world. Some traditions also say that the snake represents Shiva's power of destruction and recreation. The snake sheds its skin to make way for new, smooth skin.

  • The vibhuti: Three lines drawn horizontally across the forehead in white ash. They represent Shiva's all pervading nature, his superhuman power and wealth. Also, they cover up his powerful third eye.

  • The trident: His trident symbolizes his three powers: will, action and knowledge. The three pronged trident represents the three functions of the Hindu triumvirate.

Lord of the Dance

Dance is an important art form in India, and Shiva is believed to be the master of it. He is often called the Lord of Dance. The rhythm of dance is a metaphor for the balance in the universe which Shiva is believed to hold so masterfully.

His most important dance is the Tandav. This is the cosmic dance of death, which he performs at the end of an age, to destroy the universe.

According to one Hindu legend, Shiva almost signaled the end of this universe by performing this dangerous dance before its time. This is the story.

One day, the father of the goddess Sati decided to hold a prayer ceremony. At this prayer ceremony, all the gods would be invited and offerings would be made to them. But Shiva had married Sati against the wishes of her father and he was not invited. Sati was deeply offended on behalf of her husband. In anger, Sati prayed intensely and jumped into the sacred fire that was burning on the day of the ceremony.

During this time, Shiva had been in the midst of deep meditation. But when Sati jumped into the fire, he awoke in great anger, realizing what his wife had done. The story becomes less certain at this point, but it is believed that Shiva started the cosmic dance of death. The whole universe was about to be destroyed before it was time. The gods who were present at the prayer ceremony were very concerned. In order to pacify him, they scattered the ashes of Sati over him. This did the trick. He calmed down and did not complete the dance. But he went into meditation for many years, deeply upset over the death of his wife, ignoring all his godly duties.

It was not until Sati was reborn as Parvati that Shiva finally came out of meditation. Through her love and patience, she taught him about family life and the importance of moderation.

Lord of the Dance
Shiva has two sons, the most well known of which is Ganesha, the elephant headed god, and Kartikeya.

Shiva's Family

So many of the Hindu stories feature Shiva I am going to take a moment to introduce some of the principle characters. I have separate links to each of these gods and goddesses but I thought a short description of who is who would be helpful here.

  • Lord Shiva's consort is Devi, the Mother-goddess and Divine Mother Energy. She appears in many different forms which including, Sati, the goddess of marital fidelity, the more peaceful Parvati (Uma in Thailand), and Kali, the goddess of death.

  • Sati - The first consort of Shiva. Sati married Shiva against her father's wishes and committed suicide by jumping into a cerimonial fire almost causing the end of the universe when the distraut Shiva started his dance of death.

  • Parvati - Sati was reborn as Parvati and Shiva fell in love with her and they were married.

  • Kali - Parvati turned into this outragious goddess of death when Shiva killed her first son.

  • Ganesha - The elephant headed god is the son of Parvati and Shiva. Why he has an elephant's head is a most interesting story.

  • Kartikeya - The second son to Parvati and Shiva.

Shiva - Wikipedia
I Love You.com
Hindu Gods - Shiva
Hundu Gods - Shiva

For more information about our travels write toBelli.

Since November 20, 2003, you are visitor number