The Iconographic Genesis of Shiva
Shiva, the Mahadeva, represents one of the three visible forms, or the functional aspects of God, namely, the creation, preservation and dissolution, that is, bringing the cosmos into existence, sustaining it and finally withdrawing it from existing. Lord Shiva represents the last of these three aspects, that is, dissolution or destruction of the cosmos. The other two aspects, the creation and the preservation, are represented respectively by Prajapati or Brahma, and Vishnu. Prajapati Brahma and Vishnu are Vedic gods. In the Rigveda, Prajapati and Brahma are mentioned as two gods, though both almost alike responsible for the act of Creation. Hence, in later Vedic literature, they merge into one entity, and are sometimes alluded to as Prajapati Brahma and sometimes as two synonymous terms alternating each other. In Puranic literature, Brahma gets pre-eminence and the term Prajapati is used only as the other name of Brahma to avoid monotonous repetition of the same nomenclature. Initially, that is, in the Rigveda, Vishnu is a subordinate type of god, but later by Puranic era, he attains the status of the Lord of the universe and the principal Vedic god.
Shiva as such, or as Mahadeva, is not alluded to in proper Vedas. The Rigveda, however, frequently mentions a brown complexioned sun-like brilliant and gold-like glowing animal-skin-wearing entity by the name of Rudra, or Ishan, who, as per the Rigvedic description, is synonymous of a violent non-Aryan jungle or tribal god capable of subduing, by his mighty arrows, even the most wild of animals. He did not hesitate even to kill human beings and sought delight in such destruction. Hence, the Rigveda is somewhat critical of his wildness and invokes him for not destroying his devotees, their ancestors, offspring, relatives and horses. It is only gradually and somewhat in simultaneity that the Rigveda softens and sophisticates him into a civil god of Aryan kind and includes him into the Vedic pantheon. The later Vedic literature identifies in Rudra the proto form of the subsequent Shiva. When Puranas perceived the formless God manifest in His triple function, which He performed as the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer, both initially and finally, as well as always, they chose Shiva to represent one of these functional aspects of Him and elevated him to the status of the Great Trinity.
Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, Only the Time-Bound Manifestations of the Timeless God
Shiva, as well as Brahma and Vishnu, do not represent God but only His functional aspects, which manifest in Creation, in sustaining the Creation and, finally, in withdrawing the Creation, which occurs after every kalpa, which is the scheduled age of each Creation. Obviously, after the Creation is withdrawn and the kalpa comes to an end, God's functional aspects too disappear and so does the Great Trinity representing them. Thus, the Trinity, with each of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu having a scheduled life-span, is the time-bound manifestation of the timeless One, that is, the Trinity disappears after its allotted life-span to re-appear when the next kalpa begins, but the Omnipresent God neither appears nor disappears because He is always there before the time began and after its scale has exhausted. In Indian cosmological tabulation, Shiva's life-span is double of the Vishnu's and Vishnu's double of the Brahma's. Brahma's life-span comprises of 120 Brahma years, which are equivalent to 300 million, 9 hundred thousand, 17 thousand and 376 years of human calendar.
Shiva Precedes Trinity-Partners
Pashupati, the Lord of Animals
Mohenjo-daro (Indus Valley)
circa 2000 B.C
Shiva, thus different from what the Puranas proclaim, is not Brahma's creation. He rather precedes his Trinity counterparts, Brahma and Vishnu, on time scale. This pre-eminence of Shiva over others as much reflects in their related theological chronology and availability of their iconic representations in visual arts. Brahma and Vishnu have their roots in the Vedas, and not before. Shiva has a pre-Vedic origin, as his worship cult seems to have been in vogue amongst the Indus dwellers, even around 3000 B. C. The excavations of various archaeological sites in the Indus valley reveal two sets of archaeological finds that suggest the prevalence of the cult of worshipping both, his anthropomorphic as well as symbolic representations. This excavated material includes a number of terracotta seals representing a yogi icon and the phallus type baked clay objects, obviously the votive lings, suggestive of some kind of phallus-worship cult of the non-Aryan settlers of the Indus cities. Seated in meditative posture, the stern looking Yogi figure wears a typical head-dress made of buffalo horns and is surrounded by various animal icons, lion, elephant, buffalo-type bull, rhinoceros etc. and the bird forms above.
In some seals, this Yogi figure consists of three heads. That the symbolic phallus icons and the anthropomorphic representations relate to one and the same entity becomes obvious from the iconographic thrust, which defines the Yogi form. One of the most significant cardinals of this Yogi iconography, and perhaps more so than others, is its well erect and emphatically exposed phallus, similar to the Urddh-ling Shiva icons, a cult of Shiva, which dominated Shaivite sculptural art for centuries from around the period of Kushanas. These finds, datable to the period from 3000 B. C. to 1000 B. C. or even later, show the continuity of such worship cult till much after the Vedic era. This is further affirmed by the Rigveda itself. The Rigveda at least twice talks of the phallus worshipping non-Aryan tribes and vehemently condemns the practice.
Shiva in Later Vedic Cult and in The Mahabharata
Bhava Shiva (A Particularly Beneficent Aspect)
The Vedas, in their later cult, admit into Vedic pantheon the jatadhari holy Shiva with all his manifestations, namely the bow and arrows carrying archer Sharva, the all pervading Bhava, the benevolent Shambhu and the animal-skin wearer Krittivasanah, but do not approve his phallus worship.
Panchanana or Five-Headed Shiva
In Brahmanical order, Shvetashvara Upanishad is perhaps the earliest treatise that refers, though not directly, to this aspect of Shiva-worship with some degree of reverence when it calls him the Lord of all yonis, that is, the commander of genital faculties of all living ones. It is, however, in the Mahabharata that his phallus worship has been directly alluded to. The Mahabharata widely follows the Indus perception of Shiva. The Mahabharata, in tune with the Indus Shiva, perceives him as Trishira, or Chaturmukha, that is, having three heads, or four, as Digvasas, that is, without cloth, as Urddh-ling, that is, with upward erect phallus, and as yogadhyaksha, that is, the Lord of Yoga. The Mahabharata goes a little ahead and conceived him also as five headed, four facing the four directions and fifth looking upwards, that is the guardian of the entire cosmos. It is from this five headed Shiva concept that his Sadashiva form seems to have evolved, as these five heads also symbolize five powers- para, adi, icchha, jnana and kriya, that is, all that is perishable, all that is timeless, and the desire, knowledge and act, of which the entire creation comprise.
Vrishavahana Shiva and Parvati
Mahabharata's epithet of Pashupati for Shiva is also an adherence to the Indus iconography of Shiva image. The Mahabharata perceives him further as Shardularupa, Vyalarupa and in many other animal forms and as Vrishvaha, or Vrishvahan.
Vishnu as Hayagriva
The Skand Purana numbers his animal heads as seven, two of which, namely that of the goat and the horse, he had given respectively to Brahma and Vishnu.
Five Headed Hanuman
Thus again the number of heads comes to the same five as perceived in the Mahabharata. In visual arts, this Mahabharata iconic vision of Shiva has been widely followed. Shiva's Trishira, Chaturmukha, Yogi, Pashupati, Vrishvaha and Urddh-ling images, whatever their medium, the stone, canvas, metals and so on, are quite in vogue in Indian arts. The animal headed Shiva is a rarity. However, in visual arts, which allow greater scope for imagination to operate, such as painting, Shiva has been depicted sometimes with multiple animal heads, although to avoid inclusion of his human face these heads are planted on the form of Hanuman, who is Shiva's incarnation. Such Hanuman forms have heads of animals that have attained mythical heights, say, the horse-headed god Hayagriva, the boar-headed Varah, the great eagle Garuda, and the jungle monarch lion or Simha. Such five-headed and ten-armed figures not only carry most of Shiva's attributes in these hands but such figures also stand upon the form of Apasamara, one of the most characteristic features of Shiva iconography. This iconographic perception defines, on one hand, Shiva as Pashupati, the lord of animals, and on the other as containing within him the entire animal world.
Shiva Linga Assembly with Dripping Vase for Milk
Shiva's Pre-Aryan Origin
Obviously, Shiva had a pre-Aryan origin but where, when and how he came into being, or say into human perception, is not known. This much is, however, certain that a god like him was the presiding deity of the Indus inhabitants and he was worshipped as both, iconically as well as symbolically, that is, as Pashupati and Mahayogi and as Ling.
This in all certainties seems to the initial form of Shiva. May be, the Indus inhabitants shared their god with West Asian settlers who worshipped a similar god Teshav. Teshav, too, was a bull riding deity like Vrishvaha Shiva. He also carried, like Shiva, a trident, pinakin, the bow, arrows, which shot as lightening, danda, the rod, parashu, the axe, and so on. Incidentally, Teshav's consort was also named Maa and was worshipped as Jaganmata, that is, the world mother. Her name so much corresponds with Shiva's consort Uma who too is worshipped as Jagat-janani, the mother of the world. Jaganmata sounds so much like Indus Mother Goddess. Both, Shiva's consort Uma and Teshav's consort Maa rode a lion. Images of Jaganmata, recovered in excavations, have honeybees hovering around her face. One of the Uma's forms so closely resembles with this honeybee hovering image of Maa. Markandeya Purana alludes to Uma's relation with honeybees, or bhramaris, when it calls her as Bhramaridevi. May be Shiva's consort had some prior tradition of her association with honeybees. It is for such reasons that the known historian Roy Chowdhari, in his Studies in Indian Antiquities, emphatically holds that Rudra-Shiva had some kind of genetic relationship with various gods whose images have been recovered from Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Indus Valley.
Shiva in Vedic Pantheon
Whatever Shiva's origin, the pre-Aryan or from Brahma's frown, as claims the subsequent Puranic tradition, the all assimilating Aryan culture and Vedic religious cult elevated him into its own Order and placed him always on par with its other two great gods, Vishnu and Brahma, and sometimes even above them.
Later Vedic literature invested him with various attributes and details of his person. He has been conceived as thousand eyed, animal skin clad and as possessed of long hair braided into a crown-like shape, the jatamukuta, blue neck, black abdomen, blood-red back and as containing in him all medicinal herbs and drugs, that is, possessed of the power to redeem every one of all kinds of ailments and the cycle of birth and death. Thus, Vedas perceived him initially as the violent jungle god of non-Aryan kind but later they discovered the other aspect of his being, that is, the well meaning benevolent Shiva. It was this perception of Shiva that seems to have prevailed all after and defined his all subsequent forms, manifestations and visions. Brahmans and Upanishads identify this Vedic perception as Shiva's two aspects, one that of the destroyer and the other of the auspicious benevolent divinity. The Mahabharata identified these two aspects as Ghora and Shiva. Of these Ghora has been equated with fire and Shiva, also mentioned as Maheshvara, has been vested with the deeply spiritual and auspicious saumyarupa, that is, serene and sublime divine being.
Shiva in Myths and Legends
In the course of time, the tradition of faith, both oral and scriptural, and the folk and urbanized, wove around Shiva hundreds of myths and legends and invested his image and visual forms with numerous new dimensions and meaning. The violent jungle god of Vedas and the grim looking horn wearing Yogi of Indus emerges upon the altar of the believing ones, on painter's canvas, in metal casters' mould and in the strokes of hammer and chisel, as the harmless Bholanath, the innocence Lord and the good incarnate, as the supreme auspice, the most formidable of divine powers, the paramount lover and the holiest model of the Vedic family cult. The term Shiva becomes synonymous of the 'auspicious', good and well being and in him alone, India's all-time maxim, 'Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram', that is, he alone is truthful, benevolent and beautiful, finds its true meaning. In his context, love becomes a divine phenomenon and family the holiest institution. He never codifies his conduct nor sets it to any established rule, but he is all the way the most devoted husband, who passionately loves his consort, and a unique father. He marries Sati, the daughter of Brahma's son Daksha-Prajapati against her father's wishes. Daksha organizes a great yajna and to slight Shiva does not invite him.
Virabhadra, Shiva's Most Trusted Guard
Sati, in hope to rectify her father's error, goes to attend the yajna, though Shiva does not approve it. Instead of correcting himself, Daksha humiliates Sati also for marrying a tribal brute. Sati, unable to bear her husband's insult by her father, ends her life by immolating herself into yajna-fire. The outraged Shiva, who madly loved Sati, longed to avenge Daksha's act and created out of his frowns Virabhadra, a young warrior endowed with all of Shiva's powers to destroy Daksha's yajna.
Shiva and Family
After Virabhadra has destroyed the yajna, entire yajna-bhumi and the capital of Daksha, Shiva retires to forest and wanders in wilderness for thousands of years till Uma, the daughter of Himalaya, and hence also known as Parvati, that is, one born of the Parvata, or mountain, is able to win his love by her long rigorous penance. This time he has in Uma, or Parvati, not a mere consort he loved madly but also the most accomplished woman possessed of paramount beauty, the most caring and devoted wife and as much loving mother. To complete the holy family, they have, or have been conceived with, five sons, two, Karttikeya and Ganesh, the real ones, and three, Vanasura, Virabhadra and Nandin, the adopted ones, though none of the five were born of his consort's womb. Ganesh was born of Parvati's body elements and Karttikeya those of Shiva.
Brahma Chastised and Shiva's Repentance
Shiva, the Supreme Beggar (Bhikshatanamurti)
Malla Dynasty, Nepal. 16th century Copper (Height 9")
Indian mythology accounts how Brahma, the creator of all beings and all things, was fascinated by the beauty of his own created Sarasvati, and thereby his daughter. To escape her father's notice, Sarasvati turned herself into a female deer. But Brahma did not fail to take note of it and converted himself into a male deer and began chasing her to have sex with her. The moral being as Shiva was, he did not approve a father molesting his own daughter. He did not fail to notice this immorality of the deer turned Brahma when he saw him chasing Sarasvati disguised as she-deer and to chastise him, he, the great archer as he was, shot at Brahma, the male deer. To save himself from Shiva's arrows Brahma returned to his real form but not before he had incurred some loss. He had lost one of his five heads. Whatever Brahma's immorality, Shiva's act amounted to Brahma-hatya, the sin of killing a Brahmin. As the related legend has it, the sin of the Brahma-hatya rose from where Brahma's head fell and stuck to his wrists. Failing to free himself of it, Shiva sought advice and was suggested to beg and live on begging as repentance till the Brahma-hatya fell down and freed him from its clutches. With the kapal, the skull made of Brahma's dissected head, in his hand, Shiva moved to the Oak Forest and wandered there for many thousand years. Ultimately, the Brahma-hatya separated from his body and fell down on earth. It was thus that his Mahabhikshuka and Kapalin forms evolved.
The Curse of Shiva
Another tradition has it differently. Deer turned Sarasvati ran to save herself from Brahma and Brahma to save himself from Shiva's arrows hid in the sky amidst planets and yet lie hidden as two stars. Brahma's fifth head was removed, according to this legend, for a different reason. Brahma and Vishnu often claimed their relative priority over the other. Once they set to settle it and decided that whosoever first discovered the end of Shiva's Jyotirling would be acknowledged as his superior by the other.
The Jyotirling descended deep below the earth and rose above into sky and both ends were unfathomable. Brahma proceeded upwards and Vishnu downward but both ends were far from their reach. Brahma, however, connived with a Champaka or Ketaki flower and using it as witness claimed to have reached his end of the Jyotirling. Annoyed by Brahma's falsehood Shiva appeared bursting the Jyotirling and to chastise Brahma for his lie removed Brahma's fifth head by the nail of his thumb.
Shiva, the Bholanath in the Real Sense of the Term
The Emergence of the Ganga on the Earth
As he was a moral being, so he was simple, innocent, generous, benevolent and easily manageable, and hence, even the wicked ones often won his favor and boons of invincible powers and sometimes used them even against him. He, however, as readily punished them when he knew their designs and intentions. Ganga was mad in love for him and wished to unite with him by whatever mean, fair or fowl. When Bhagiratha did rigorous penance to bring Ganga from heaven to the earth for his ancestors' death rituals and redemption, Ganga designed to fulfill her long cherished desire of reaching Shiva. She appeared before Bhagiratha and agreed to emerge on the earth but warned at the same time that her current, unless Shiva took her on his head, would cleave the earth. Bhagiratha underwent another round of penance, pleased Shiva and got his prayer granted. But, when Ganga landed on his head and showed her supremacy, Shaiva kept her arrested into his hair till she herself prayed him to let her be released. For long containing Ganga into his hair, Shiva becomes known as Gangadhara Shiva.
Ravana Shaking Mount Kailash
It was the same with Jalandara, who was caused by Shiva himself. Shiva had opened his third eye for punishing Indra but on Brahispati's intervention let the fire emitting from it fall into the ocean. Out of this fire and from ocean's womb rose a male child. As he rose from jala, the water, he was named Jalandara. Later, when he grew into a gold-like glowing youth, he was married to the daughter of Kalanemi, the founder-father of demon clans. Jalandara was now exceptionally powerful and wished to drive out Indra and his crew from Indraloka. Indra prayed Brahma for help but he was helpless against his might. Vishnu declined to act against him, as, being ocean born, he considered him his brother-in-law. Finally, the great sage Narad incited Jalandara to obtain Parvati, the most beautiful woman in all three worlds, and thus put him against Shiva, as he knew that Shiva alone could destroy him. Arrogant Jalandara challenged Shiva to hand him over his consort and in the process became victim of Shiva's wrath and got killed. Something of the similar kind happened in the case of Ravana, the king of Lanka. Pleased by his penance Shiva blessed him with the boon of immortality. This bred in Ravana vanity and arrogance. This vain and arrogant Lanka ruler wished to have Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva, shifted to Lanka. He went to Kailash and to uproot it began shaking it. His act of uprooting it sent tremors across the Mountain. Shiva perceived Ravana's arrogance and was annoyed. To punish Ravana he pressed the Mountain by the thumb of his foot, but before it crushed Ravana, he prayed for Lord's mercy and the compassionate Lord forgave him. Out of this compassionate nature of Shiva there emerged his Ravananugraha-murti, that is, the form of him who was kind to Ravana.
Shiva in Saumya and Raudra-rupas
The Dance of Shiva
Thus, Shiva's divine perception as well as iconic visualization developed into two directions, one growing out of his serene sublime benevolent Saumyarupa and the other out of his awe-striking Raudra-rupa. Even in his Saumyarupa, contrary to his Vaishnava counterparts, that is, Vishnu, Brahma or even Indra, whom Puranas define using feudal terms and iconography, Shiva is a simpler being, an amalgam of both, the Raudra and the Saumya rupas. In both aspects, jatamukuta is his crown, elephant hide his cloak, lion skin his loincloth, snakes his necklace, yajnopavita and other ornaments, bhang his favored drink and the shade of a roadside tree his castle. He is delighted in dance and dances for both, to create as well as to destroy, and in lasya as well as in Tandava and his Tandava is the Anand-tandava as it aims at re-creating and setting the cycle of creation-destruction-and recreation in motion.
He assists Devas, the gods, in their exploits and battles against demons but unlike them and always differently and in mightier way. Both, the gods and the demons, wish to be immortalized and for obtaining the immortalizing nectar join hands to churn ocean, which contained such nectar. But before the ocean yields nectar, there emerges from it the all-annihilating venom. Even by its vapors it begins to suffocate the entire creation. All, gods and demons, flee to save their lives leaving the creation to its destiny. Shiva comes to rescue. He deposits the venom into his throat and saves the creation from its devastating effect. Stored perpetually in the throat, the venom renders it blue and gives Shiva yet another name of Neelakantha, that is, the blue throated one. It was in consideration to such exploits that in subsequent days the Vaishnavites and Shaivites were seen with daggers-drawn on the question of the pre-eminence of their respective gods. Ultimately the wise ones of both sects had to discover for the votive images the Harihara form, which combined Hari and Hara, that is, Vishnu and Shiva, into one sanctum image and inspired sectarian unity.
In his purer Raudra-rupa, besides what the Vedas and Puranas perceived in it, these aspects farther expand. He is now perceived as Bhairava, Kapalika, Kalabhairava, Mahakala and in similar other terrific forms. He is the presiding deity of cremation ground, which is his loving abode. He rejoices dancing around a burning pyre and as much upon a dead body. The dark nights, when howls of jackals, wolves and other ignominious animals echoed, are his chosen hours to operate. These jackals and other animals living on human flesh are, otherwise too, his best companions. Bhairava wears around his neck the garland of human skulls and around his waist the girdle of dismembered human hands. Now, besides snake ornaments, scorpions make his earrings and ghostly spirits dance around him. The human skull is his cup and ashes of a burnt corpse his talc, with which he smears and adorns his body. In ritual worship, wine and flesh are his chosen offerings.
In these terrific forms of Shiva , Smashan-Kali, Mahakali, Chhinnamasta, Chamunda, Vagulamukhi etc. are his female counterparts, perceived in Puranas often as his consorts.