Courtesy and Copyright Times of India
The devout spend the entire month of Sravana in austerities and worship of Shiva, culminating in the Sravana Purnima on Raksha Bandhan day, as His trident represents all three, sattva, rajas and tamas. The elephant skin attire indicates that he is beyond pride; the tiger skin symbolizes his going beyond lust, and the snake around his neck represents wisdom and eternity.
The Shivalinga signifies the basic principles of advaita: non-dual, indivisible, non-doer, non-enjoyer, unattached, without qualities. The Dakshinamurthy invocation describes Shiva as the youthful guru, facing southwards, teaching his elderly disciples through silence, with the jnana mudra. The Lingashtakam sings of the glories of the formless advaitic linga, symbol of the cosmos, Brahmanda.
The Shiva Mahima Stotra sees him as the Inexpressible Truth. The three-eyed Shiva’s blue stained neck is a symbolic reminder of His capacity to remove poisons (the undesirable) from the world. The Yajur Veda describes Shiva as the master-yogi and the repository of knowledge; He is Mahadeva, the great God. The Panchakshara Mantra, “Om Namah Shivaye”, is a timeless chant of the name of Shiva, the inscrutable yet easy-to-please Ashutosh.
Bhishma in his discourse on Dharma to Yudhishtar in the Mahabharata’s Shanti Parva, describes the observance of the Mahashivaratri fast by King Chitrabhanu, who, in his previous birth as Suswara the hunter, roamed the forest in search of game. Once he had to spend the night atop a tree, and he kept himself awake by shedding tears in remembrance of his family and by plucking and dropping the leaves of that tree. Unconsciously, he ended up “worshipping” the linga embedded in the earth, with offerings of bael leaves, and tears.
This story represents every man’s journey of the Overself, passing through the jungle of the mind, with its conscious thinking and subconscious desires, where the wild animals of lust, hatred, greed and jealously roam and which have to be subdued. This we can do by rising above them, just as Suswara climbed up the tree. The bael leaves, sacred to Shiva, with three leaves on one stalk, represent the working and surrender of the Ida, Pingala and Sushmna nadi to the Higher Self, Shiva, the tree representing the spinal column in Kundalini literature. Suswara’s nightlong vigil is a call to alertness and discrimination, his fast represents the ability and need to balance his excesses with austerity, and the dawning of the day symbolizes the awakening into the cosmic consciousness, through the dark night of the soul. To some Shiva is the embodiment of asceticism. In his fierce Rudra aspect, He is the God who releases men of bondage and wanders in cremation grounds. To others, he is the Universal Father, Bhole Baba, who blesses all without prejudice. From Lalleshwari in Kashmir to Karaikal Ammaiyar and the Nayanars of Tamil Nadu, from Vivekananda who reportedly had a vision of Shiva at Amarnath to Ramana Maharishi who found Him in the Arunachala mountain, Tiruvannamalai, abhaktas and advaitists have all been drawn to the magnetic appeal of Shiva.
Ananda Coomarswamy sees Shiva as the fountainhead of all Indian dance and culture traditions. Fritjof Capra views the Shiva tandava, the primordial dissolution and creation, as an allegory of the movement of sub-atomic particles, drawing parallels between Indian mysticism and nuclear physics. So Shiva is anadi, with neither beginning nor end.