Shiva literally means “auspiciousness, welfare”. He is the third god of the Hindu Triad and is the destroyer of all evil. He represents darkness (tamas), and is said to be the ‘angry god’. However, according to Hinduism, creation follows destruction. Therefore Shiva is also regarded as a reproductive power, which restores what has been dissolved. As one who restores, he is represented as the linga or phallus (Shivalinga), a symbol of regeneration.
He has a 1,008 names, including Mahadeva (the great god), Mahesh, Rudra, Neelkantha (the blue-throated one), and Ishwar (the supreme god). He is also called Mahayogi, or the great ascetic, who symbolises the highest form of austere penance and abstract meditation, which results in salvation.
Shiva is believed to exist in many forms. His most common depiction is as a dark-skinned ascetic with a blue throat, usually seated cross-legged on a tiger skin.
Shiva’s hair is matted and coiled on his head, adorned with a snake and a crescent moon. Ganga is always depicted flowing out of his topknot. Shiva has four arms and three eyes. The third eye, in the middle of his forehead, is always closed and only opens to annihilate an evil doer. A garland of skulls, rudraksha beads, or a snake hang from his neck. Shiva also wears snakes as armlets and bracelets. The serpent race, despised and feared by all other creatures, found a place of honour on Shiva’s sacred person, simply because he was moved by their plight.
In one hand, Shiva holds his trishul, the Pinaka. The trishul usually has a damaru or waisted drum tied to it. In another hand, he holds a conch shell and in the third, a rudraksha rosary, a club, or a bow. One hand is usually empty, raised in a gesture of blessing and protection. The other points to his feet, where the devotee is assured of salvation. He wears a tiger or leopard skin around his waist, and his upper body is usually bare, but smeared with ashes, as befits an ascetic. His third eye is believed to have appeared when Parvati, in a playful mood, covered his eyes with her hands. Immediately, the universe was plunged into darkness and there was chaos. To restore order, Shiva formed another eye on his forehead, from which emerged fire to restore light.
The light from this eye is believed to be very powerful, and therefore destructive. Shiva opens his third eye only in anger, and the offender is burnt to cinders.
The name Shiva does not appear in the Vedas. However he is identified with the Vedic god Rudra, lord of songs, sacrifices, nourishment, the healer of diseases and provider of property. According to the Shiva Purana, Shiva is said to have five faces, corresponding to his five tasks, the panchakriya: creation, establishment, destruction, oblivion, and grace. His five faces are associated with the creation of the sacred syllable Om.
Lord Shiva is said to live on Mount Kailash, a mountain in the Himalayas. His vehicle is Nandi the bull and his weapon, the trishul. Shiva’s consort is Parvati, who is also believed to be a part of Shiva. One of the most popular forms of Shiva is that of Ardhanarishvara.
According to a story in the Puranas, Brahma was unsuccessful at creation. He propitiated Shiva who took this form and separated Parvati from his body. Parvati has many incarnations, like Kali, Durga, and Uma. Their sons are Kartikeya and Ganesha.
Shiva is believed to have a large number of attendants, called ganas. These mythological beings have human bodies with animal heads. Shiva’s son Ganesha is the leader of the ganas.
Across the country, there are hundreds of temples and shrines dedicated to Shiva. He is usually worshipped in the form of a shivalinga, and also as an idol. He is worshipped by offering flowers. Ketaki Brahma Bel leaves, milk, and sandalwood paste are also pleasing to him. There is a special arati to Shiva and many hymns and poems in his praise.
There are many stories in the Puranas about the origin of Shiva. According to the Vishnu Purana, at the beginning of this kalpa Brahma wanted a child and meditated for one. Presently, a child appeared on his lap and started crying. When asked by Brahma why he was crying, the child replied that it was because he did not have a name. Brahma then named him Rudra, meaning “howler”. However the child cried seven more times and was given seven more names. Shiva therefore has eight forms: Rudra, Sharva, Bhava, Ugra, Bhima, Pashupati, Ishana, and Mahadeva, which, according to the Shiva Purana, correspond to the earth, water, fire, wind, sky, a yogi called Kshetragya, the sun, and the moon respectively. During the samudra manthan, when poison was churned out of the ocean, Shiva is said to have swallowed it to save the world from destruction. As he drank the poison, Parvati clasped his throat tightly so that the poison remained there and darkened his neck. Because of this, he is known as Neelkantha, the blue-necked one.
Shiva granted a peculiar boon to a demon called Bhasmasura, who wished that if he placed his hand on anyone’s head, that person would turn to ashes. No sooner was his wish granted than he menaced Shiva himself, who took to his heels and was saved by Vishnu, in the form of Mohini, the enchantress. Induced by Mohini to join her dance, the demon soon killed himself by placing his hand on his own head. Shiva and Mohini combined their energies and produced Hari-hara putra (Vishnu-Shiva’s son), later identified with Sasta or Aiyappa, a celibate tribal deity in Kerala, whose cult is now enormous in India.. He lives on in Mohiniattam, the feminine counterpart of Kerala’s dance theatre, Kathakali.
Shiva is the creator of dance and of the first 16 rhythmic syllables ever uttered, from which the Sanskrit language was born. His dance of anger is called the Roudra Tandava and his dance of joy, the Ananda Tandava. All the gods and sages were present when he first danced the Nadanta Tandava, a characteristically vigorous dance, and they begged him to dance again. Shiva promised to do so in the hearts of his devotees and in a sacred grove in Tamil Nadu, where the great temple of Chidambaram was built, the only one in all India dedicated to Shiva as Nataraja, the lord of dance. It is believed that on the 13th day of each bright lunar fortnight (see Hindu Calendar), after 6 o’clock in the evening, falls a sacred hour called Pradosha. Worshiping Shiva at this time is akin to worshiping all the powers in the universe, for this is the time when all the gods are believed to have assembled on Kailash to lose them in the ecstasy of Nataraja’s dance. Source- Gurjari.net