Everything you should know about the origin and symbols of Lord Shiva

He is the Lord of the Lord. Lord Shiva, Mahadeva is perhaps the most complex of Hindu deity. He is the Auspicious one (Shiva), The terrific one (Rudra), Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), Lord of the universe (Vishwanatha), He is the Destroyer and the Transformer. He is limitless, transcendent, unchanging, formless and also the one without beginning or without end.

SHIVA” means the auspicious one. It is humanly impossible to explain Shiva, just as it is impossible to explain the universe yet let’s make an attempt.

From simple human intellect, he is the one from whom the Brahman emerges, in whom it stays and within whom it goes back.

Here Brahmman is not mere the Universe but is the one who is the base and cause of the universe. Brahmman holds the universe. Shiva is reasons of all causes. He must not be seen as a Human-God. That’s a wrong notion. Scriptures call him the Nirgun Brahman and the Sagun Brahmman

Shiva exists in 3 states

  1. Nirgun: In this state he is formless, and the whole universe and creation lie in the pervasiveness of Shiva.
  2. Saguna: In the Saguna state Shiva is the entire universe and his “ansh” is present in the tree, the insect, the animal, male, female and the whole creation. In this state though all forms arise out of him yet, no form can describe him.
  3. Nirgun-Sagun: In the Nirgun-Sagun state Shiva is worshiped as the Shivalingam. The word Shivalingam has been derived from Sanskrit roots Shiva (Lord) + Lingam (Mark/Chinha/Symbol). Hence, Shivalingam is the mark of lord within its creation. Everything in the world arises out of a dome/a ball/ a pindi. Be it a tree which comes from a seed which is round, a child which comes from a cell which is round, all heavenly bodies are round, the minutes of cells are round and our very earth is round. Everything being round is a mark of the Lord/Shiva. Since Shiva can’t be comprehended, we worship his mark or we worship the whole Brahmman in a Shivalingam.

-The Yujur Veda 

Thus, it is important to understand that he is “Formless”. Though all forms belong to him and he is happy in whatever way you look at him yet there is no single form in the world that describes him.

The three forms in which the world appears i.e., “HE-SHE-IT” referred arises out of him. We refer to Shiva as “HE” to keep up with the conventions. However, Shivareferredbe to as:

SIVA – “Male”

Hence, He himself is beyond sexes of he, she and it and remains the base from where he, she and it emerges, stays transform and dissolves. (source)

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The philosophy behind the image and symbol of Lord Shiva

The image of Lord Shiva that you see in posters, tv, etc. has a philosophy behind it.

1. Blue Body of Lord Shiva

Contrary to the belief that he drank the poison/halahal of the ocean and so his body turned blue, the philosophical reason is that blue is the last colour that our eye can see. This is the only reason why the sky appears to us as blue when molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun.

Since the sky is nothing but space and space is limitless, birthless, deathless, boundless, directionless. Hence, Shiva is depicted as blue as he is the last that our aatma knows. He is just like the Sky/space which is limitless, birthless, deathless, boundless, directionless.

2. Bhasma

The smearing of Bhasma is seen as sacred by all Shiva devotees called Shaivites. Bhasma is a philosophical reminder to a devotee that:

“Do not be attached to this material body, to its maya, its kaya and its swaroop because your ultimate reality is the “bhasma”.As bhasma a human, animal, tree, guru, shishya, raja, rank none will be discriminated as u can’t discriminate that which bhasma is of a raja and which is that of a cow. hence, Bhasma is a reminder that this body and world are not the true realities”

Bhasma on Shiva Lingam

3. Trishool

Trishool or the trident of Shiva explains the philosophy of time. The 3 Shools are a philosophical symbol of “Past-Present-Future“.

It is a reminder to the devotee that:

“The existence of past, present and future lies within the hand of MAHAKAAL as he alone is the base on which time stands and he alone is the slayer of time”

4. Tripunda – Three Stripes on Forehead

The 3 stripes on forehead called the Tripunda are a symbol of the 3 Gunas

  1. Sattva Guna – is harmonious, pure, welfare and construction base, kindness, goodness, creative, balanced
  2. Rajas Guna – is confusion, overactive or eager, passionate, self-centered, egoist
  3. Tamas Guna – is lazy, heavy, destructive, impure, destructive
Image Credit – DeviantArt/swarooproy

These 3 Gunas exist nature, humans food, etc.

5. Damru or Damaru

It represents the cosmic sound. The sound of Damaru is called Pranavamand and represents the “Shabda Brahma” or OM. It is from which came out grammar and music.When a damaru is vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation.

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Shiva holds the drum known as Damaru which represents the creative input of the universe. From the stillness comes the first sound, the rhythm that accompanies Shiva’s dance. It is the pulsation of the universe -Spanda. It’s also said that the drum being shaped like two triangles with their points touching represent shiva and shakti and their relationship which manifests the material world. The drum is the primordial sound that emanates from the stillness.At one side its destruction and at the other side its creation, its our universe full of creations and is expanding enormously.At the center its a timeless region full of energy, it’s the place of holy union of Shiva and shakti. Credit – swarooproy

In the scriptures, it is said that when Shiva mode of creation, his damru vibrates 14 times. These 14 basic formulae contain all the alphabets in Sanskrit arranged in ways to facilitate various grammatical processes. Therefore, the Damaru represents the alphabets, grammar, and language itself.

6. The 3rd Eye of Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva is often depicted with a 3rd eye and called Triyambhkam, Trinetra etc. The third eye is a symbol for Shiva devotees to develop the sight of knowledge. Our 2 eyes are not always sufficient to judge things and know realities.

Shiva’s third eye represents the rejection of desire. Even a normal man must have Samta(balance), Sadhuta (purity of character) and Doordrishti (broader vision). He must not fall prey to desires arising out of women(other than wife), money(other than that which is earned by sweat and purity), fame(other than that which arises out of sattvic actions.

From the Yogic point of view, it is said that when the pineal gland or ‘third eye’ is awakened, one is able to see beyond space-time into time-space. It raises the frequency on which one operates and moves one into a higher consciousness.. with more research it is being realized that it is essentially a spiritual antenna the mystical third eye of ‘lord Shiva’. For many eons, the third eye has been seen as a way to reach higher levels of consciousness while still being present in a physical body.

The purpose of this third eye is the key here, which opens the door to the metaphysical interpretations that ancient wisdom talks about. The pineal gland is also responsible for secreting two extremely vital brain fluids related to our mental health. Those are melatonin, which is the hormone that induces sleep, and serotonin, which is the chemical that helps to maintain a happy, healthy balanced mental state of mind, among other functions. (source)

7. Rudraksha

Rudraksha has been derived from the Sanskrit roots Rudra(Shiva) Aksha (Teardrop). Hence, rudraksha means the teardrop of Lord Shiva. Since Shiva is Trinetra. Rudraksha is referred to Shiva’s 3RD eye. The eye of knowledge.

Lord Shiva - Rudraksha

Rudraksha is a symbolism to the Shiva devotees, yogis and sadhaks to balance their chakras and energies by wearing it as Rudraksha can lead a person to high spiritual know-how
It also helps to

  • cure ailments like blood pressure, stress, anxiety, depression, palpitations, lack of concentration, etc.
  • resist the flow of bio-electrical impulses that cross the desired ampere requirement (leading to an imbalance in the brain-body-mind circuit). The beads act in tandem with the heart, streamlining it and sending out specific impulses to the brain. The impulses in return generate positive brain chemicals that induce us with a sense of confidence and energy.
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8. The Moon Crescent – Ardha-Chandrama

From a scientific and philosophical point of view, the moon on Shiva’s forehead depicts control on time in terms of nature. The waxing and waning of the moon was used to calculate the days and months in earlier times.

Lord Shiva - Moon

Thus, the Moon symbolizes time and Lord Shiva wearing the moon on his head denotes that Shiva has complete control over time and is beyond the measure of time and is eternal.
Control on time and the moon is important to control nature. An example that I can quote here is the high tides and the low tides that arise due to the gravity of the moon. Hence, it is Chandrashekhara alone who can control time.

9. Snake – Vasuki

Shiva’s snake is known as “Vasuki”. Shiva never discriminates among his devotees. Even the most venomous creatures are accepted by Lord Shiva as an ornament.

Lord Shiva - Daughter

However, it must be understood philosophically that all good and bad arises from Shiva and finds Mukti in him. Hence, all Rishi, munis, avatars, and rakshas merged back into Shiva.

10. Baghambar Chaal And Yogic Posture

Shiva is depicted sitting on a baghambar chaal in a yogic posture. This suggests to a devotee that with the practice of Yoga and meditation one can know himself and him who understands his real roopa as “ahm brahmaasmi” or “Shivoham” sits victorious on all his fears. Tiger is an animal that produces fear.

Lord Shiva
Image credit – DeviantArt/LOGARITHMICSPIRAL

11. Ganga

The Ganga is considered the life source. It’s descend from the matted locks of Lord Shiva is a symbol of a continued flow of mental energies and knowledge which is the source of parmananda.

It is believed that King Bhageeratha performed Tapasya to MAHADEV to bring Ganga on to the earth so that he could help his 60,000 ancestors to be liberated. These ancestors were reduced to ashes by an angry saint (Kapil). Lord Shiva granted him the boon and to break the flow of the Ganga (so that the great flow doesn’t lead to destruction on earth), Shiva consumed it in his matted locks.


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