Siva- His Form and Cosmic Dance

Symbology of the Siva Image
Siva is snow-white in color which matches with his abode, the snow-clad Himalayas. White stands for light that dispels darkness, knowledge that dispels ignorance. He is the very personification of cosmic consciousness. It may look paradoxical that Siva who represents Tamas (the force of darkness and destruction) is pictured as white, whereas Vishnu who represents Sattva (the forces of light and enlightenment) is pictured as dark. This is not surprising because the opposing gunas are inseparable.
The three eyes of Siva represent the sun, the moon and the fire, the three sources of light, life and heat. The third eye can also indicate the eye of knowledge and wisdom and hence his omniscience.  If the sun and moon form his two eyes, then the whole sky including the powerful wind blowing in it forms his hair. He is therefore called Vyomakesa (one who has the sky or space as his hair).

Tiger is the ferocious animal that mercilessly devours its victims. Desires, which consume human beings without ever being satiated, can be compared to a tiger. That Siva has killed the tiger and wears its skin as his apparel shows his complete mastery over desire.

The elephant being a powerful animal, wearing its skin implies that Siva has completely subjugated all animal impulses. The garland of skulls that he wears and the ashes of the funeral pyre with which he has besmeared his body indicate that he is the lord of destruction. The garland of skulls can also mean successive appearance and disappearance of the human races.

Siva is the lord of yoga and yogis and hence often shown as sitting in deep meditation immersed in the enjoyment of his own self. The Ganga - being a purifying agent, adoring of Siva by its waters indicates that he is the very personification of purity. Moon stands for time as its waning and waxing determine the fortnights, months etc. By wearing it as a diadem, Siva shows us that even time is only an ornament for him i.e. he is beyond time itself. Snakes, which are generally considered as instruments of death, which occupy as garlands around his neck means that he is Mrutyunjaya i.e. conqueror of death.

Siva is often portrayed as having several hands varying in number holding a variety of objects, the chief among which being trishul and damaru. Trishul being an important weapon of offence and defense indicates Siva as the supreme ruler. It also represents philosophically the three gunas viz. sattva, rajas and tamas. It can also mean the three processes of creation, sustenance and dissolution. Siva is thus the master of the three gunas from whom the whole cosmic process starts. Significance of damaru will be dealt with in detail in the section dealing with his cosmic dance in this essay.

The image or icon of Siva is never installed as the mulamurti in the sanctum-sanctorum (garbha griha) of Siva temples. They are only used as processional deities (utsava murtis) for festivals and other public celebrations. The mulamurtis in the temples will always be in the form of Sivalingas.

The universally worshipped form of Siva is Linga. Literally, Siva means auspiciousness and Linga means a sign or a symbol or a representation. Hence Sivalinga means a sign or symbol of the Great God of the Universe - mahadeva who is all auspiciousness, truth and beauty (satyam, sivam sundaram).  As earlier stated, Siva means the one in whom the whole creation sleeps or rests after dissolution. Linga also means the same thing - a place where created objects get dissolved. Since according to Sanatan Dharam, it is the same god that creates, sustains and destroys the universe, the Sivalinga represents symbolically God Himself. This is illustrated in the picture given below.

Whether Sivalinga is a phallic emblem or not is a moot point on which opinions differ and hence it is not of much relevance for our study.

In the Sivalinga, the lowest part is called Brahmabhaga and represents Brahma, the creator. The middle part is called Vishnubhaga and represents Vishnu, the sustainer. These two parts are embedded on a pedestal. The Rudrabhaga which is cylindrical and projects outside the base is the one to which worship is offered. Hence it is called Poojabhaga. The Poojabhaga also contains certain lines which are technically called Brahmasutra, without which the Linga does not become fit for worship.

Other Forms
Siva is worshipped in several aspects some of which are given below together with their implications.
1. Saumaya or Anugrahamurti - peaceful form showing mercy and grace to the devotees.
2. Ugra, Rudra or Samharamurti - Aggressive or terrific form like Kankala Bhairava who cut off the head of Brahma.
3. Nritta or Thandavamurti - (Dealt with in detail later)
4. Dakshinamurti - Siva is a great master of Yoga and spiritual sciences. He is a universal teacher. Seating facing the south he taught the sages in a secluded spot on the Himalayas. Hence he is called Dakshinamurti.
5. Lingodhbhavamurti - Siva is said to have appeared as a blazing pillar of fire, of immeasurable size, to destroy the pride of Brahma and Vishnu. This form represents him as manifesting in the heart of the Linga. The image has four arms. Brahma and Vishnu stand on either side adoring him.(Linga Purana - Ch 17 - 20)
6. Bhikshatanamurti - Siva is shown as a naked Bhairava begging his food in the skull cap.
7. Haryardhamurti - also called as Harihara and Sankaranarayana. This is a form fusing Siva on the right and Vishnu on the left.
8. Ardhanarisvaramurti - This is a form of Siva, half man and half woman representing the bipolar nature of the created world signifying woman as equal and complementary to man, a sort of women’s empowerment, to put in modern language.    

The Siva form cannot be complete without his vehicle, Nandi, the bull. It is customary to propitiate the other attendants of Siva also who are called ganas - pramathaganas, bhutaganas.etc.

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