Shiva – The Symbolism



He is the Transformer. He is the Destroyer of Ego.  He is the most powerful and majestic manifestation of the Supreme, and he is one of the ‘Trimurtis’. At the highest consciousness, he is the formless, limitless, and transcendental, absolute Brahman, the one and only ultimate truth. He is the ‘Nataraja’, the Lord of Dance, and he is also an extraordinary musician. He is benevolent and fierce.He is an ascetic, a householder, a husband, a father, but never a son. He is an epitome of contradictions.


He is Shiva – the auspicious one.


Tonight in India, millions of Hindus observe Maha Sivaraatri -The Great Night of Shiva. There are several legends pertaining to the specialty of this day. I’m not here to narrate the legends. I’m here to contemplate on the metaphorical meaning of the concept we call ‘Shiva’.


Lord Shiva is indeed one of the most fascinating concepts in Sanatana Dharma. His appearance is almost incredibly metaphorical and symbolical :

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  • On his head, he wears a crescent moon. Moon symbolizes mind. A crescent moon denotes a mind that is intoxicated with the bliss of absolute consciousness (‘Soma’ is a name for moon, and also for the intoxicating drink of the Devas) , yet alert. In other words, the crescent moon symbolizes the mental state of a perfect yogi, completely still and detached, but always alert.
  • From the matted hair on his head flows the holy River Ganga which represents the flowing divine knowledge.
  • The Third eye on his forehead symbolizes perception of that which is beyond the physical and materialistic.
  • The snake (‘Vasuki’, as it is named ) around his neck denotes energy that has reached its peak. Snake is the symbol for ‘kundalini’, which is the unmanifest power within each of us. It also denotes the ever prevalent alertness even when his eyes are half closed.
  • The Trishul or Trident symbolizes the following – The three gunas (satva, rajas, and tamas), the three states (waking, dreaming, sleeping), and the three fundamental aspects of life (pingala, ida and sushumna – the left, right and central nadi). Shiva holds the Trishul to show that the Divine is above all the three gunas and states, yet he upholds them together. The word ‘trishul’ also means that which destroys the physical, spiritual and ethereal sufferings.
  • The Damru represents the rhythm of the universe. It also shows expanding and contracting nature of creation (as shown by its shape) and the concept of cyclic cosmos.
  • The blue tinted body of Shiva signifies his unfathomable, infinite and limitless nature. Shiva is, after all, absolute consciousness that it beyond any physical manifestation.


This list does not end here. The formless Shiva is given several metaphorical manifestations like the Shivalinga. With the Lord’s grace, I might write about them one day.

अहं निर्विकल्पो निराकार रूपो, विभुत्वाच सर्वत्र सर्वेन्द्रियाणाम् । न चासङत नैव मुक्तिर्न मेयः, चिदानन्दरूपः शिवोऽहम् शिवोऽहम् ।। 6 ।।

ahaṃ nirvikalpo nirākāra rūpovibhutvā ca sarvatra sarvendriyāṇaṃna cāsangata naiva muktir na meyaḥcidānandarūpaḥ śivo’ham śivo’ham

I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation (mukti). I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

-from Atmashatkam by Adi Shankara.







5 thoughts on “Shiva – The Symbolism

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