I have tried to make this a comprehensive piece. It covers –
1.    Background about the Lord.
2.    Philosophy.
3.    Symbols like Linga, Nandi and Rudraksh.
4.    Significance of Mount Kailash and links to 42 pictures of Kailash Yatra.
5.    Read about Pilgrim centers of Lord Shiva and links to Shiv temples in India. (atleast 125 pictures).

1. Background about the Lord
The figure of Siva as the great Yogin, Pasupati, Mahadeva, appear to have been known to the people of Mohenjo daro as shown by the very important seal in the figure of the divinity who can only be identified with the Siva of the later times. Siva was referred into in the Rig Veda and may not be an intruder into the Hindu pantheon.

Saivism popularity’s with foreign kings, Kushanas and the Huna king Mihirakula continued (320 to 750 a.d.). Tirumular’s “Tirumandiram” is supposed to be a masterpiece on the Saiva doctrine.

The beginnings of Kashmir Saivism (regard the individual soul and the world as identical with Siva) are to be traced to the Sivasutras whose authorship is traced to Siva himself. The sutras are said to have been revealed by a sage Vasugupta who lived towards the end of the 8th century a.d. The Ultimate Reality is Siva himself.

1000 to 1300 a.d. – Saivism continued to flourish in Kashmir. The deity of the Royal house of Nepal is Pasupati. In Bengal and Assam Siva was revered too. The Cholas were great patrons of Saivism. The Kailasa Temple at Ellora was built by the Rashtrakutas and completed between 758 and 773 a.d.

Om Shivaya Namah is a powerful mantra. Lord Shiva has the power to invoke wisdom in an individual. By chanting the mantra, one is invested with various powers of action, will and vidya shakti or strength of understanding and learning. Chanting should be done while concentrating in between the eyebrows. The third eye, which is that of intuition, opens.

2. Philosophy
Siva is one of the Gods of the Trinity. He is the Lord of Destruction. Some of us view this negatively. Creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin. For something to be created, destruction of what exists is essential. If the Indian cricket team is to rise from the ashes the old team has to be done away with. Or morning dies to give birth to noon. Siva is married to Uma who represents Prakrti or perishable matter. Siva’s marriage with Uma signifies that the power of destruction has no meaning unless it is associated with perishable matter.

Lord Siva sits in a meditative pose at Mount Kailash (from personal experience I can tell you that if you sit in that posture for fifteen minutes a day, back problems will never bother you). His posture symbolizes perfect inner harmony experienced by a man of Realization.

The snow-white background symbolizes the absolute purity of mind. When the mind is agitated, you are distracted, loose focus, do not see the divinity in you. When your mind is steady and pure you recognize your supreme Self. That is the state of Lord Siva at Kailash.

The Lord has his eyes half open half closed. They indicate that his mind is absorbed in the inner self while his body is engaged in the outside world. What this means that he is involved with the outside world but is not attached to it. It is when we get attached to the fruits of action that our mind gets agitated.

The state of meditation shown in Siva’s posture is symbolic. Meditation is the gateway to self-realization. In order to meditate you must have a pure calm mind. That happens only when you perform self less actions. By such actions your ego and vasanas fall away. Then, your mind gets purified.

Lord Siva is shown with a Trishul in his hand. The three prongs represent the three gunas, the three thought-textures ie sattwa, rajas and tamas. The sattawa-guna is the state of mind where it is pure, serene and contemplative, rajogana when it is agitated and tamoguna is when it dull and inactive. Every human has varying degrees of the three gunas.  It is a three-pronged weapon, which symbolizes the destruction of the ego with its three fold desires of the body, mind and intellect. With this weapon Siva indicates his victory over the ego and attainment of the state of perfection.

Siva is said to have a third eye known as Gyana Chaksu. Lets not take it literally but what it means that Siva has a Divine vision of Reality.  When you transcend the limitations of your mind, body and intellect, you gain the realization of the Self. That is what Gyana Chaksu indicates.

3. Linga
God is formless. But in order to bless us he assumes innumerable forms. The Linga form in which we worship Iswara is symbolic of his formlessness and form. The shape of a Linga has neither head nor limbs like other images. The Baana Linga which is egg shaped serves to remind us that Isvara has neither a beginning nor an end, just like the sky.

Isvara assume many forms to guide the functioning of the universe, one such form is Natraja, Siva in a cosmic dance. The Lord who performs this illuminating dance appears in the form of Lingodbhavamoorthi on Sivaratri to shower his grace on us. It is our duty to fast, vigil and worship him at midnight at least with one leaf of the Bilva tree.

Siva is a development of the Vedic Wind or the storm god Rudra. He inspires love and reverential fear, wins the human hearts and is worshipped emotionally. He is not only dreaded but revered, as the destroyer of evil-doers, hatred, diseases and is a nourisher who bestows long life.

Nandi the Bull.
The bull is considered to be the Vehicle of Lord Siva. It is called Nandi in a Siva temple. Nandati iti Nandi – one who is full and happy is also called Nandi. The perfect man, realized soul can alone be happy. The head of a bull is turned towards God in a temple, indicating that the bull’s actions are dedicated to God, in the absence of ego and desires. By worshipping a bull, the Hindu invokes the spirit of dedication to higher values and service to fellow human beings.
In a predominantly agricultural country, the bull plays a very important role in the lives of farmers. It toils the whole day in the hot sun, in weather conditions as diverse as Assam, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. Yet, what does it get in return except some water and dry grass? It does not go on strike or ask for stock options. It goes on and on serving its owner without expecting fruits of action. It has no desires, does not want to wear a ten-yard Kanjeevaram saree or Color Plus shirts. In a way, it symbolizes Hindu philosophy. Men of any religion can achieve self-realization by giving up desires, doing self-less deeds without worrying about the fruits of action.

When we go to a Siva temple we first offer our salutations to Nandi, the Bull in front of the deity. Placing the two fingers, the index finger and the thumb of the right hand on the two horns of the bull, we have the vision of the silhouette of Lord Siva through the circle thus formed. Offering our prostration’s to Nandi first, is a form of love at the mental level and respect at an intellectual level, which is the first sign in the step in the path of perfection. Then we try to identify ourselves with this perfect soul and try to enjoy the vision of Lord Siva by transcending the matter developments. When we place the thumb and the index finger on the two horns of the bull, the index finger Jiva representing the ego centric entity gets resolved in contact with the Thumb Reality, in the circle of fullness that is formed through the two horns of the bull, which stand for Viveka and Vairagya, enjoyed by the man of perfection symbolized by the bull. 

Ardent devotees of Lord Siva wear a string of beeds known as Rudrakshamala which they use for counting while repeating the mantra. It is a compound of two words, Rudra meaning Siva and Aksha meaning eyes ie Eyes of Siva. The seeds are of four colors as if to indicate the four Varnas. The colors are whitish (brahman), reddish (kshatriya), gold (vaisya) and dark (sudra). The Rudraksha beed is found in Nepal. You have hordes of shopkeepers selling it outside the Pasupati temple in Kathmandu.

 According to the Yoga Sara, spiritual powers corresponding to the Gods reside in the beeds according to the number of faces and thus determine the type of mantra for which they are suited. A beed with one face is said to be sacred to Siva, two to Siva and Parvati, three to Agni, four to Brahma, eight to Ganapati, nine to Bhairava ir Siva, ten to Vishnu and twelve to Surya. The most favored Rudrakhsmala is the one with six faces ie the mala of Subramanya who is the second son of Siva and Parvati.
The beeds are seen in three sizes. Big ones of the size of an Amalaka fruit, medium size of the fruit of Jujuba and small ones. It is believed that the smaller the size of the beed the greater the efficacy. The single and double phased beeds called Brahmapura and Gowri-Shanker are considered to be the most effective irrespective of their sizes. The beed that has a natural opening allowing the string to pass through is considered to be the most sacred. The Rudraksha jabalopanishad mentions that “ In the crust of the beed dwells Brahma, in its hollow rests Vishnu and in its mouth is located Siva while in the Bindu abide all the celestials ”.

Medical science is beginning to believe that wearing a genuine Rudraksha has a salutary effect on controlling blood pressure, cancer, and jaundice.

4. Significance of Mount Kailash
Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike worship the abode of Lord Siva, Mount Kailash. To the Hindu, it is the abode of Siva and Parvati. It is said that they had bathed in holy lake Mansrovar. Devout Hindus believe that one can see the shape of Om made from snow on this mountain. Buddhists of Nepal and Tibet consider Mount Kailash as the center of the Universe. They believe that one Parikrama will wash their sins while one hundred Parikramas will give them salvation. Jains believe that Tirthankar Rushabhdev resided there and Gautam (first disciple of Lord Mahavir) visited this mount. Doing a Parikrama round the Kailash has tremendous religious significance for followers of these sects.

Our Tibetan guide discouraged Indians from undertaking the Parikrama since the Tibetans want only themselves to undertake the yatra. You can travel to Mount Kailash, economy class through Uttar Pradesh or executive class via Kathmandu.

How do we have a Sankaracharya temple in the Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley.  
While resting in the Valley the learned Brahmans told Sankarachrya (S) that unless he defeated the learned persons of Sarada Pitha they would not accept the supremacy of his philosophy. With his arguments he defeated all the learned men at that high seat of learning including Jains and Buddhists. The King of Kasmira or Kashmir has made arrangements for the S’s stay at Srinagar but the S chose to stay near an ancient Siva temple overlooking the city. Since then the temple has popularly been known as the S temple. Briefly, after the Muslim conquest of North India large-scale conversions of Hindus took place, which is how Islam entered the Valley. In fact I remember Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah saying that their family converted in 1859.

Kedarnath is amongst the most important Saivite shrine in India. It was from here, a place known as Gandhi Sarovar, that Yudhister departed to heaven. Kedarnath is at the head of the Mandakini river. According to legend, the temple now extinct, was built by the Pandavas at the present sight where Adi Sanakaracharya built the present day Kedarnath in the 8th century a.d. behind which lies Sanakaracharya’s samadhi.

Also visit –
1.    More about the festival -
2.    Pilgrim centers of Lord Shiva -
3.    Jyotirlings on the site
4.    Shiv Temples on the site

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