SHIVA – THE DARK-SKINNED ASCETIC WITH A BLUE THROAT
Shiva is believed to exist in many forms. His most common depiction is as a dark-skinned ascetic with a blue throat. Usually seated cross-legged on a tiger skin, Shiva’s hair is matted and coiled on his head, adorned with a snake and a crescent moon. Ganga is always depicted flowing out of his topknot.
Shiva has four arms and three eyes. The third eye, in the middle of his forehead, is always closed and only opens to annihilate an evil doer. A garland of skulls, rudraksha beads, or a snake hangs from his neck. Shiva also wears snakes as armlets and bracelets.
The serpent race, despised and feared by all other creatures, found a place of honor on Shiva’s sacred person, simply because he was moved by their plight.
In one hand, Shiva holds his trishul, the Pinaka. The trishul usually has a damaru or waisted drum tied to it. In another hand, he holds a conch shell, and in the third, a rudraksha rosary, a club, or a bow.
One hand is usually empty, raised in a gesture of blessing and protection, the other points to his feet, where the devotee is assured of salvation.
He wears a tiger or leopard skin around his waist, and his upper body is usually bare, but smeared with ashes, as befits an ascetic. His third eye is believed to have appeared when Parvati (Parvati, the goddess of power, is Shiva’s cosmic consort), in a playful mood, covered his eyes with her hands.
Immediately, the universe was plunged into darkness and there was chaos. To restore order, Shiva formed another eye on his forehead, from which emerged fire to restore light.
The light from this eye is believed to be very powerful, and therefore destructive. Shiva opens his third eye only in anger, and the offender is burnt to cinders.
According to the Shiva Purana, Shiva is said to have five faces, corresponding to his five tasks, the panchakriya: creation, establishment, destruction, oblivion, and grace. His five faces are associated with the creation of the sacred syllable Om.
SHIVA’S RESIDENCE IS THE MOUNT KAILASH
Shiva is said to live on Mount Kailash, a mountain in the Himalayas. His vehicle is Nandi the bull and his weapon, the trishul. Shiva’s consort is Parvati, who is also believed to be a part of Shiva. One of the most popular forms of Shiva is that of Ardhanarishvara.
According to a story in the Puranas, Brahma was unsuccessful at creation. He propitiated Shiva who took this form and separated Parvati from his body. Parvati has many incarnations, like Kali, Durga, and Uma. Their sons are Kartikeya and Ganesha.
Shiva is believed to have a large number of attendants, called ganas. These mythological beings have human bodies with animal heads. Shiva’s son Ganesha is the leader of the ganas.
Across the Hindu country, there are hundreds of temples and shrines dedicated to Shiva. He is usually worshipped in the form of a shiva lingam. He is worshipped by offering flowers, milk and sandalwood paste.