I guess it might seem strange to some that there are so many gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, but, as each deity represents a different aspect of life and its problems, it helps us focus our prayers. If you ask a Hindu to name his/her favourite god or goddess, you’ll get different answers, even from members of the same family – my favourite is Krishna; my dad’s was Shiva; my mum’s was Murugan; my gran’s was Saraswati … But we also know that all the gods and goddesses are basically the same nameless and formless divine energy.
Today, I’ll tell a bit more on Shiva. Shiva's abode is said to be in the Himalayas at Mount Kailasa.
Statue of Shiva meditating at Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas
He has a third eye, which is believed to have appeared when Parvathi, in a playful mood, covered his eyes with her hands. This plunged the universe into darkness, and chaos erupted. To restore order, Shiva formed another eye on his forehead; full of fire, this restored light. But Shiva only opens his third eye in anger, for whoever or whatever it is directed at, is burnt to ashes.
In the war between the demigods and demons, the demigods were being weakened. They approached Brahma for help, who in turn, asked Vishnu. He said that churning the great ocean would produce a nectar, and whoever drank it would become immortal; he also warned them that first a deadly poison would be released. The demigods had to make a truce with the demons for their aid would be needed in churning the ocean. To stir something so vast, they had to use a mountain; the king of the serpents, Vasuki, agreed to be the ‘rope’. But the mountain was too heavy and began to sink. Vishnu took the form of a turtle and swam under the mountain to hold it up. As Vishnu had warned, the poison appeared. None could withstand it but Shiva, who gathered it in his palms and drank it; it turned his throat blue, giving rise to one of his many titles, ‘Nilakantha’, which means ‘Blue Throat’.
When Ganga, the goddess of the river Ganges, came tumbling down to earth, Shiva caught her in his hair to cushion her fall, and to prevent the great river causing untold damage to the land.
One of Shiva’s most well-known forms is Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance (in Sanskrit, ‘Nata’ means dance, and ‘raja’ means lord). At any show/festival that features Indian classical dance, there is always a statue of Nataraja on the stage.
Nataraja’s dance represents the destruction and the creation of the universe. He stands in a flaming halo, which represents time with no beginning or end. He is standing on, and crushing the demon of ignorance. In his top left hand, he holds fire, which will destroy the universe; and in his top right, he holds the drum, which will make the first sounds of creation, as it sounds like a heartbeat.
Shiva’s energy comes from Shakti, his spouse, who is depicted as Parvathi, the reincarnation of his first wife, Dakshayini. They represent equality of the male and female in marriage. When Shiva does his dance of destruction, Parvathi balances this with a slow, creative step of her own.
When Shiva resisted the life of a householder, Parvathi’s desire to be a mother proved to be greater than his resistance, and they had two sons, Ganesha and Murugan.
Ganesha, Shiva, Parvathi, Murugan (taken at Batu Caves, Malaysia)