Glory to you, O Shiva! Glory to you, O Omkaara! May Brahma, Vishnu and the assembly of other gods, including the great Lord Shiva, relieve me of my afflictions!
As many know, Hindu God Shiva comes in many different forms. One such popular form is that of Shiva as Harihara, an important integration between Hindu God Shiva and Hindu God Vishnu. The worship of Shiva as Harihara is an important form as it reiterates to devotees that worship of Shiva, Vishnu, or any of the prominent Hindu Gods is but the worship of every prominent Hindu God, one and the same. When one worships Shiva, one also worships Vishnu, and all the other important deities collectively in the spirit of divine oneness. All followers of Hinduism are all looking for one thing, the divine. When one comes to fully realize this concept, they understand that we are all worshiping the same inherent thing, dharma, just from different approaches. Both Vishnavites and Shaivities worship Harihara as a form of the one supreme god.
There is often much debate within Hinduism as to the inherent importance of Shiva and Vishnu. Vishnavites believe that Vishnu is the supreme god, while Shaivities believe Shiva to be the ultimate being. Conversely others believe that both are equal, manifesting different aspects of the same Supreme Being. In many cases, however, even if one is preferred over the other, much respect is allotted to the other.
“Shiva and Vishnu are one and the same entity. They are essentially one and the same. They are the names given to the different aspects of the all-pervading Supreme Soul or the Absolute. ‘Sivasya hridayam vishnur-vishnoscha hridayam sivah—Vishnu is the heart of Siva and likewise Siva is the heart of Vishnu’.”
Although Hindu God Shiva is most often depicted in human like form, the worship of Shiva as lingam or linga is also a very important practice within Hindu society. Shiva is often worshiped in the form of a vertical rounded column. Within Hinduism linga means symbol while Shiva is thought to be one who is all knowing. Therefore, Shivalinga stands as a symbol for the great God of the universe who is all-auspicious.
Within the Shivalinga Hindus believe lays all the knowledge of the universe. Since hindus believe one god creates, sustains, and draws back the universe the Shivalinga is a symbol of God himself. This symbolism was brought to life in the Vedas where devotees sung praise to a sacrificial post.
This Lingam is used for worship in temples throughout the world. Many debate whether the lingam is actually a symbol of the actual body of Shiva himself, or simply as a spiritual metaphor for the all-knowing God. Most Hindus believe it is a source of divine energy, and give offerings to the linga in their temples. The Lingam is said to be a limitless and endless pillar symbolizing the infinite.
Tripurantaka is a form of Hindu God Shiva, the Destroyer. As Destroyer of Evil, one of Shiva’s most pronounced legends tells of Shiva destroying 3 mythical cities known as Tripura.
Legend has it an evil demon by the name of Taraka had 3 princely sons. As they grew each served penance to Brahma, the great Creator, in order to get in his good favor. They gained immense power in the process. Pleased with them, Brahma bestowed on them each their own city in the sky. These three fortresses were virtually impenetrable and they were granted life for a thousand years as they lived their lives in their great kingdoms. Only by an arrow merging the three cities setting them ablaze could they be destroyed. Armed with this immense power bestowed by Brahma, the three demon sons began to wreak havoc on the universe. From cliff sides within their great citadels they would taunt and threaten the gods, mounting attacks from the sky.
Seeing no end to their harassment within their virtually impassable cities, the great Hindu Gods went to Shiva for help. Lord Shiva agreed to help but waited for the perfect moment to strike. Shiva created a bow, arrow, and chariot from pieces of the gods in order to mount his attack. As he raced into the sky, Shiva hit the converged cities with a flaming arrow as Brahma steered the divine chariot. The arrow was created from Hindu God Vishnu, protector and preserver of the universe, destroying the three cities and freeing the gods from the princes reign of torment. Forgiving as he was, Shiva forgave the repenting princes and gave them each duties within his abode. Originally Shiva devotees, he recognized their following of an evil path, but forgave them of their sins. After destroying the cities, Shiva smeared the ashes of the three cities on his forehead. This has become a widely known symbol of Shiva and devotees smear ash on their foreheads in his honor to this day.
Durga is a vicious form of Hindu Goddess Devi, known for her indestructible nature. She is commonly depicted with 18 arms all carrying weapons as she rides atop a fierce tiger. She carries a weapon given to her by each of the Gods including Hindu God Indra’s (God of Destruction) lightning bolt and Hindu God Vishnu’s (The Preserver) Discus. These weapons are endeared to her as a defender of the world. She is frequently seen slaying demons especially the buffalo demon known as Mahishasura. It is said that she was created in order to fight off the incredible might of the asura Mahishasura, who could not be defeated by any male or god alike. Mahishasura had been reigning incredible terror upon the earth and as the gods became helpless, Hindu God Shiva turned to his wife Parvati for help. Parvati responded by traveling to an ashram to take on the role as female goddess warrior. The Gods also turned to Brahman, the supreme creator of all gods, for help and together they banned together emitting beams of light from their bodies. The beam of light expanded to the Ashram where Hindu Godess Parvati had ventured and out of the light Durga was born, a fierce and eager female warrior goddess. She was formed of the female aspects of Brahman just as Shiva had once been formed of Brahmans male counterparts. The gods were blessed and endeared by her. As she fought with the revered Mahishasura she exclaimed:
“Roar with delight while you still can, O illiterate demon, because when I will kill you, the gods themselves will roar with delight”.
Eventually paralyzed by the blinding light constantly emanating from Durga’s body, the buffalo demon was slain with one swift slice of her sword as she erupted in laughter.
This account of her ferocious stand off and conquering of the buffalo demon is celebrated annually in the national festival Durga Puja, which falls on October 19-24th of 2012. As an endeared Goddess, Durga’s divine feminine energies are thought to be a manifestation of all the gods.
Shiva, Hindu God of Destruction, is also known as Nataraja, Lord of Dancers, in one of his most popular forms. He is depicted as sacred dancer, dancing to restore the universe of its fatigued nature making way for Brahma to create within the universe. He has a restorative power revitalizing the universe and preparing for growth. Shiva as Lord Nataraja is his most popular within Hindu temples. His likeness is often sculpted in bronze as Shiva dances around a ring of flames. His left leg is often raised balancing over a lesser being that stands as a metaphor for the ignorance of the world. Shiva as Nataraja is a powerful symbol of Indian culture for its spirit and energetic nature. He represents the precise flow and generation of the universe. Shiva as Nataraja is perhaps the most renowned symbol of Hindu art.
Shiva’s dance is often said to come in two forms. The first form represents the gentle, or the nature associated with creation upon the earth, while the second from is said to be that of violence as he destroys the tired and suffocating ways of the universe. Shiva terminates what is weary in order to create what is profound. He tears down the old in order to make way for the new.
Legend has it that one day Shiva journeyed to a thick forest in the South of India in order to confute with the multitude of heretical sages that lived within. Traveling with him was Hindu God Vishnu, The Preserver, disguised as a woman. Upon arrival, the sages became very angry towards Shiva and attempted to destroy him via powerful incantations. They first induced a violent tiger which was no match as he skinned it in one foul swoop and draped it around his body like a blanket. Next appeared a deadly serpent of which Shiva quickly overtook and hung like a necklace about his neck. Through all their confrontation simply Shiva danced about their ring of fire laughing, destroying everything they threw his way. Thus, Shiva became the lord of dancers, a symbol of the divine.
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