Shiva Lingam-Yoni                                  Shiva as Lord of the Beasts with Parvati              Shiva Nataraja--Lord of the Dance
Images used with permission.

Basic Description:  Shiva is one of the main Deities worshiped in Hinduism.   A member of the Hindu trimuti, the others are Brahma and Vishnu.  Shiva is portrayed as a wanderer, destroyer, and the god of the dance.  Shiva-Rudra is considered to be the destroyer of evil and sorrow, whereas Shiva-Shankara is the doer of good.  Shiva lives on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas.

Alternate Names:  Mahadeva (Great god), Rudra, Mahayogi, Pashupati, Nataraja (Lord of the Dance), Bhairava, Vishwanath, Bhava, Bhole Nath.  Parvati’s other names are Uma, Gauri, Durga, Kali, and Shakti.

History/Practices:  The name of Shiva is not found in the Vedas; however he is associated with Rudra. It is possible that Shiva was a non-Aryan god adopted by the Indo-Aryans. The name Shiva means auspicious.  Worship and practice for the followers of Shiva closely resemble that of all Hindu worship, with the addition of the focus on the Lingam.  The Lingam is the object of worship and adoration in worship devoted to Shiva.  The lingam is the physical representation of Shiva.  The word lingam literally means a sign or distinguishing mark, and it refers to Shiva's reproductive organ, the symbol of his male virility and power.  Shaivites often distinguish themselves by marking themselves with three horizontal lines on their forheads.

Iconography:  In art Shiva is depicted as white, but with a black neck.He is dressed in a tiger skin.His hair is bound up with a snake; he wears another around his neck and a third across his chest.He wears the symbol of the moon and has a third eye on his forehead.  Shiva is also portrayed as the lingamand as the Lord of the Dance.

Mythology:  Some myths of concerning Shiva:

Rudra Birth Myth:  The lord of beings and the dawn had a child.  The child was weeping and his father asked him why.  The child said that it was because his evil was still with him and because he had not yet been given a name.  His father said that his name would be Rudra since he was weeping (rud).

Shiva Birth Myth:  Brahma and Vishnu were born first, they were alone together arguing about who was the most powerful.  Suddenly before them appeared a lingam.  The lingam went up as far as they could see and down as far as they could see.  Together they decided to try and explore it.  Vishnu became a boar and traveled down for a thousand years, but never found a base.  Brahma became a goose and traveled up for a thousand years, but never found a top.  They both returned to where they had started and the lingam became Shiva, thus proving that Shiva was the most powerful.

Wanderer Myth:  This legend says that Brahma and Shiva were born at the same time and instantly began fighting for superiority.  In the battle Shiva cut off one of Brahma’s heads and his hand instantly became paralyzed.  Since Shiva was weakened, Brahma unleashed a powerful demon on him and Shiva ran and took refuge in the city of Benares.  There he was absolved of his crime and the head was removed from his hand, but he was condemned to a life of wandering.

Black Neck Myth:  While the great milk ocean was being churned the serpant spit poison out at the ocean.  In order to keep it from going into the ocean, Shiva caught it in his mouth and swallowed it and Parvati, to keep it from poisoning him choked him, trapping it in his throat.  This is what gives him a black neck.

Marriage to Sati Myth:  Daksha, son of Brahma, had a daughter named Sati who was quite lovely.  When the time came for her to marry, he invited all of the gods to come so that she could have her choice.  However, he did not invite Shiva because he thought him not good enough for his daughter.  Sati adored Shiva and when she saw that he was not among those assembled she threw the wedding garland into the air and implored Shiva to come and receive it.  Instantly he appeared and did so and the stunned Daksha was forced to give Sati to him in marriage.

Death of Sati Myth:  Some time later another assembly of the gods was held and when Daksha entered Shiva did not rise in respect, this began a feud between them.  Sati came to her father to find out the cause of his hatred of Shiva and argued to defend him, when her father would not listen, she threw herself on the sacrificial fire to redeem her husband.  When Shiva heard of this he was infuriated and went straight to Daksha’s house and killed him, he then took the body of Sati and in his madness and grief began to dance a furious dance which shook the world.  Vishnu was concerned by the effect of this dance and feared what would happen if it was allowed to continue, so he took the body of Sati from Shiva and cut it into many pieces and spread them over the earth.  Once Sati’s body was gone Shiva came to himself and repented his actions and the death of Daksha.  He restored Daksha to life, but substituted a goat’s head for Daksha’s.  Eventually Sati was reborn as Uma or Parvati.

Third Eye Myth:  One day Parvati snuck up behind Shiva and put her hands over his eyes.  Instantly the worlds were plunged into darkness, but a third eye sprung up on Shiva’s forehead and saved the universe.

Lingam Myths:  The first Lingam origin myth is found in the Shiva birth myth given above.


Hermits Wives:  ParvatiAfter the death of Sati, Shiva wandered the wilderness.  One day in the woods he came across the wives of some hermits, who asked him about his madness.  He explained he was sad because of the death of his wife.  One of the women laughed at this and exclaimed that no one would marry someone looking so ragged and ill.  At this Shiva was infuriated and grabbed her intending to rape her.  Her husband came just as this happened and cursed Shiva to be forever worshipped in the form of the Lingam.

Bhrigu’s Curse:The sage Bhrigu came to consult Shiva, but was forced to wait outside for a long time.When Shiva and Parvati eventually came to the door it was apparent that they had been making love.The sage, angry at having been made to wait, cursed Shiva to be worshipped in the form of the Lingam.

Riding Animal:  Shiva's riding animal is a white bull named Nandi, which means the joyful.  Nandi was given to Shiva by Daksa-Brahma, who is also referred to as Prajapati.

Consort:  Sati, who dies and becomes Uma or Parvati.

Other References on the Karma-to-Grace website:


Danielou, The Myths and Gods of India.  Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1991.

Moor, Edward.  The Hindu Pantheon.  Los Angeles: Philosophical research society, 1976.

Thomas, P.  Epics, Myths and Legends of India.  Bombay, India: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd, 1961.

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