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’.”
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.
Shiva as Ardhanari, or Ardhanarishvara, translates to ‘Lord who is half woman.’ Ardhanarishvara is the androgynous combination of Shiva and his consort Parvati, split down the middle as half man half woman. Shiva, usually depicted on the right, is often adorned with headdress of a half crescent moon, serpent earring, third eye upon the center of his forehead, and wears a sacred thread across his chest. Parvati down the left is commonly portrayed with basket shaped crown, kundala earing, red dot matching Shiva’s third eye, and multi-colored or white linen dress. Visually, Shiva and Parvati embody their corresponding gender vigorously so as to starkly contrast their opposing counterpart.
Ardhanarishvara is said to characterize the fusion of the masculine and feminine energies of the world and exemplifies how Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from Shiva, the male principle of God. The merger between these masculine and feminine energies is regarded as the root of all creation.
God is both Shiva and Parvati, “both male and female, both father and mother, both aloof and active, both fearsome and gentle, both destructive and constructive” and unifies all other oppositions of the universe.
It is believed that Parvati is not just Shiva’s consort, but an actual part of him.
Ardhanari is one of the most popularly worshiped forms of Shiva and can be found in virtually every temple or shrine throughout India and south-east Asia. It is often regarded that the ultimate goal of a devotee is to be united with Shiva as Parvati is in the Ardhanarishvara form.
The practice of yoga in the United States has been on a constant rise over the last 30 years since its introduction in the 1980s as a wonderful form of physical health and well being regardless of its original religious context. As of January 2012 it was estimated that over 20 million Americans regularly practiced yoga as both a form of exercise and spiritual release, up from around 4 million in 2001.
It is no question that given the swelling numbers many have found value in the practice to both their physical and mental health. Today yoga is even used as cancer treatment to decrease symptoms of depression, insomnia, pain, and fatigue in patients. Hatha yoga specifically has become very popular in the west for its incorporation of physical exercise, breathing control, and meditation. If you are looking for a way to reduce stress, symptoms of tiredness, increase general mood, and to get your body in shape, yoga is a great practice for all age groups and gender.
Slowing down and taking the time to become in touch with ones body can be a highly fulfilling practice as we all struggle with the stresses of daily living in our modern fast paced society. As the Buddha said,
“Meditate. Live Purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.”
Almost all of us have a special place we hold dear and go to clear our heads and think…a favorite park bench, out for a run, sitting with our toes in the sand. But what many don’t realize is that it isn’t the destination that is key, but actually the state of mind that place brings to you. Instead of escaping somewhere external, try yoga and meditation. Anyone can develop inner peace, without really going anywhere but in.
To help with your practice, add a Dakshinamurthy statue by Lotus Sculpture to your meditation corner. Shiva in the form of universal teacher, Dakshinamurthy, can help guide you in your path to inner awakening.
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