Hari-Hara, The Unity of Shiva and Vishnu

In the early centuries of the Common Era, sectarian strife was a major issue between the followers of Shiva and the followers of Vishnu. With the advent of Advaita or non-dualistic philosophy, the differences between these two sects and many others have been partially reconciled. The unity of the major gods Shiva and Vishnu has become increasingly popular, and many temples now house the image of Hari-Hara.

The iconographical depiction of Hari-Hara or Shankara-Narayana combines the two deities, Shiva and Vishnu, into a single body. The icon itself is aesthetically pleasing; however, the underlying philosophy is even more beautiful.

The Hindu trinity is comprised of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the dissolver. Brahma represents the creation of the universe, this world, and everything within it. There is no way to refuse that the creation of all that surrounds us, as well as ourselves is astonishing. Therefore Brahma does not find himself to be the subject of sectarian division. The argument instead revolves around the relative greatness of Vishnu, the guardian of Brahma’s creation versus Shiva, the one capable of destroying the entire creation and providing a blank canvas for Brahma to begin again.

When looking at the descriptions of Shiva and Vishnu according to various texts, it is interesting to see the juxtaposition between them. Vishnu, who represents the Sattvic Guna is depicted as cloudy black in color, while Shiva who represents the Tamasic Guna is depicted as crystalline white. If that is not confusing enough, Vishnu who is responsible for the protection of the world is depicted as lounging on the back of a snake in the depths of the ocean while Shiva who is responsible for various culminations, one of which being sleep, is depicted as ever-awake and deep in contemplation.

 

While perplexing at first, the hidden symbolism is very significant. Vishnu is described to be the color of a dark rain cloud. In this context he is associated with water, which is appropriate because water is the basic necessity of survival. Only with water can plants grow to be later used for food, lumber, and clothing. Shiva is described to be the color of ash. From his third-eye emanates a ferocious fire. Fire is the basic element that causes destruction and stimulates renewal. After burning anything, the result is white ash, which represents the transient nature of life. The cycle of life can also be understood in the context of this symbolism. Vishnu resides in the bottom of the ocean while Shiva resides at the top of the Himalayas. This shows how man starts at the very bottom and is nurtured by Vishnu, then as he gains knowledge, prosperity, and energy (think Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and Parvathi!) he soars to the heights of this world and will eventually receive Moksha, another culmination granted by Shiva.

While this is only a drop in the vast ocean of symbolism and philosophy regarding these two major deities, it is an introduction to understanding the profound beauty behind the sculpture of Hari Hara. On the right stands Shiva, clad in tiger skins and yielding the axe that cuts our ties to this universe. On the left stands Vishnu clad in silk garments and yielding the conch that signals the victory of good and the mace that represents the power of the mind and body. Together on a single pedestal they stand and reassure us that our good qualities will be preserved and our bad qualities destroyed.

śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ

Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu

~Svasti~

 

Lord Krishna & Kaliya the Serpent

Brass Krishna statue

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The 8th Avatar of Lord Vishnu, Krishna came to know that a very large and poisonous serpent had made its home in a lagoon on the Yamuna River.  The serpents’ name was Kaliya.  Because the serpent was so poisonous that it killed all the fish in the river and even the trees and grass surrounding the lake were wilting from the effects of the poison.  When birds flew over the area, they immediately dropped dead and fell into the lake, due to the highly poisonous vapors emanating from the water. In that time, there were many frightful demons who had all kinds of mystic powers.  The Hindu God Krishna had specifically appeared to rid the world of all these disturbing elements.  Krishna came to this place with His cowherd boyfriends and decided to confront Kaliya, the king of the snakes.  He climbed the large Kadamba tree and from there, jumped into the poisonous waters of the Yamuna.

Brass  Krishna statue dancing on Kaliya the serpent

View our Brass Krishna statue dancing on Kaliya the serpent

Lord Krishna then began splashing about and making very loud noises just to disturb Kaliya serpent. Sure enough, Kaliya came up to the surface to see who was disturbing his domain. The huge black serpent; Kaliya (Kaliya means black) possessed over one hundred hoods, each decorated with a precious gem.  When he breathed, fire emanated from his nostrils.  He suddenly seized Krishna in his powerful coils, and bound the Lord as tightly as possible.  Unfortunately this serpent did not realize that within its coils was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, playing as a child and enjoying His earthly pastimes in the transcendental land of Vrindavana.  Without warning, Krishna, the Supreme Mystic, started to expand His body, and Kaliya, who began to feel the incredible pressure, was forced to release the Lord from his deadly coils. Krishna then jumped on to the hoods of the great serpent and started to dance, stamping His foot down on the heads of the snake demon, Kaliya.  This is the representation often seen in the Kaliya Krishna statues found in Hindu homes and temples. This stamping of Krishna, felt to Kaliya serpent like Indra’s thunderbolt striking a mountain. The Lord jumped from one hood to another, and Kaliya felt helpless and bewildered; in anger he spat fire from his many mouths but the Lord was so dexterous that His dancing movements caused the-snake to become dizzy.  After so many kicks from the Lord, Kaliya started to vomit blood before becoming almost unconscious. At that time, the many wives of the Kaliya serpent appeared and begged the Lord with folded hands to spare their husband.  Krishna decided to banish Kaliya to the great ocean never to return again.  Thereafter, the giant snake along with his wives, departed forever, and the transcendental Lord re-joined His cowherd boyfriends on the bank of the Yamuna, to continue their wonderful pastimes in the land of Vrindavana.