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The Significance of Nandi (the bull) in Lord Shiva Temples

Lord Shiva rides on Nandi, the bull. It means that Nandi is the vehicle of Lord Shiva. According to Hindu dharma, Nandi is considered to hold truth and righteousness.

The Background of Vahanas in Hindu dharma

In Hindu dharma, every Hindu god has his/her own Vahana, which is the Sanskrit root for the word “Wagon”. These vehicles are generally the endangered species that Hindus wanted to protect, ie. Eagle, peacock, swan, tiger, owl, lion. Each of these animals stands for specific qualities that are in parallel with the image and functions of Hindu deities.

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For instance, Garuda the eagle is the Vahana of Vishnu since he is the protector and agility is an essential quality to have for him; Simha the Lion is the Vahana of goddess Durga as Durga is a female general who fights in fierce wars and lion indicates courage and feistiness; Hansa is the vahana of goddess Saraswati who is known for knowledge and swan indicates beauty and purity, the qualities that need to be in knowledge.

The History of Nandi

Golden Nandi at Pashupatinath Temple
Golden Nandi at Pashupatinath Temple

Like the other Vahanas, Nandi the bull is the vahana of Shiva, the god of destruction. Dating way before 3000 BC, Shiva with Nandi is one of the oldest representations of Hindu dharma and Hindu images. Many scholars believe that this representation sprouted when people back in the days wanted a god to protect their cattle, which were their most important wealth and property. If you look at other civilizations, notably the Apis of Egpty and Marduk of Mesopotamia, the Bull is also used as God forms.

The Significance of Nandi

Sri Dakshina Mukha Nandi Teertha

Strength, load bearing capacity, and virility are three important qualities of Nandi. As Shiva didn’t have to fight fierce battle most often or travel between the world quickly since he spent most of his time meditating, he didn’t have to choose an agile vahana. For him, it was about connecting to people, and back in the days, bulls were the form of transportation in ancient India, and it made sense for him to connect to people through Nandi.

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Bullock Cart
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These are anthropomorphic properties of Nandi:

  • He is the protector of Hindu morality and religious way.
  • He is the head of 18 Siddhas of Hindu dharma.
  • He can grant many boons since he is the vahana of the main god Shiva. In South India, many people believe that if they convey their wishes to Nandi’s ears, then their wishes can be fulfilled.

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