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Ardhanarishvara – Lord Shiva’s Androgynous Figure


Lord Shiva is known for his unusual and idiosyncratic avatars but there are certain forms which make him the auspicious one ever. As far as his forms are concerned, his most powerful form, found in most of the temples in India and Nepal is Ardhanarishvara, Shiva’s androgynous form. This iconographic figure consists of half male form of Shiva and half female form of his consort Parvati.

Symbolization of Shiva’s androgynous form

Shiva's androgynous form

Ardhanarishvara is the amalgamation of two sides of the God, that is, male and female aspects which signifies identity of Purusha and Prakriti as one necessity. However, half male and half female side of energies present in nature are illustrated from the androgynous form, it is a symbolism of how Shakti (Parvati or female principle of the God) is inseparable from Shiva, the male principle of God. Ardhanarishvara form is an authentic symbol of Shiva’s wholeness that lies beyond dualism which should be the main aspect of every human being. The androgynous figure of Lord Shiva is known by different names around the world and exists in the different mythological text that contains the iconographic meaning of how all the power is beyond the god’s energy (even beyond gender). (Sources)

Origin of Ardhanarishvara

Ardhanarishvara - Lord Shiva’s Androgynous Figure
However, Ardhanarishvara has a various mythical origin but there are some stories that are evoked from ancient belief and because of which, the form is worshiped in most parts of the country. As far as speculations are concerned, here are some of the myths to consider:

One such mythical story is about a passionate and wise Shiva bhakta (worshiper), Bringi, who use to worship him without devoting to the feminine Shakti of Lord. Once, all the Saints and sages decided to visit Mount Kailash (resident of Lord Shiva) for his devotion. While Bringi was telling other to be around Shiva ignoring the feminine energy which is inseparable, he was left abandoned. To make him realize how important is the Shakti, Parvati took all the feminine energy out of him making his body just the structure of flesh and bones. Despite being weak, he still continues worshiping Shiva only as a masculine power. Moreover, Shiva offered him a stick which becomes a mean of massive support for Bringi, still, he was after worshiping Shiva. To inculcate him the true lesson of how inseparable Lord is without both feminine and masculine aspects, Shiva appears as Ardhanarishvara. (Sources)

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According to Skanda Purana, one of the sacred texts, there are certain incidents when Shiva’s Shakti, Parvati, ask him for the forever fusion so she could embrace him in her love. Shiva accepts her desire. So, she looped around his limbs and they remained as Ardhanarishvara. This became the symbol of the power of both Parvati and Shiva because it humanizes the two significant aspects of Purusha.

Magnifying form

Shiva's androgynous form

Even though Ardhanarishvara has various stories for its origin, there is archaic evidence from texts that suggest the existence of it. It is the form worshiped mostly in South-east Asia where a number of temples have Ardhanarishvara idol. These murtis of androgynous deity are mostly located in Thiruchengode temple and Kallakkurichi Taluk of Tamil Nadu.

According to Linga Purana, devotees should worship Ardhanarishvara to attain salvation through the union with Shiva and dissolution of the world. There are devotees and saints, like Kalidasa and Nayanar, who gives a prominent status to Ardhanarishvara in sacred songs.

Wrapping up

Ardhanarishvara - Lord Shiva’s Androgynous Figure

As Ardhanarishvara is one of the most popular and prominent forms of Lord Shiva, it provides a way to worship both God and Goddess as one power. This iconographic deity may have a significant position in Hindu religion but in the present day, only a few know about this form. Therefore, there are certain shrines, sacred texts, and shlokas which keep the iconographic cult sheltered. Afterall, it is a true symbol of what importance for masculine and feminine aspects holds to keep the world going.

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