Shiva – the destroyer and cosmic dancer

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Shiva – The Destroyer

Shiva is one of the main gods of Hinduism and one of the gods of the Hindu Trinity. Shiva is “the destroyer”, but also means “the loving one” or “the auspicious one”. Shiva’s wife is called Parvati, together they have 2 sons, Subrahmanya and Ganesha. Shiva’s mount is the bull Nandi. The holy mountain Kailash in the Himalayas is his home. Shiva has many names and is depicted in many different ways. He is considered an Uryogi and cosmic dancer and symbolises impermanence on the one hand, but also the infinite and the highest consciousness.

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Shiva’s manifestations

Its manifestations can be divided into 5 different categories:

  1. The Cosmic Dancer
  2. The Young Ascetic
  3. The Lord of Destruction
  4. The Loving Spouse
  5. The Benevolent Protector

The name Shiva (Sanskrit: शिव śiva) literally means kind, friendly, beneficial, wholesome, loving, happy and joyful. In his portrayal, he is usually only lightly clothed or naked. His hair is loose or tied in a knot. He is depicted with 3 eyes, symbolising the sun, the moon and the fire. He is also often shown meditating.

And even though he is the god of destruction, he is worshipped because Hinduism carries the idea that only through destruction something new can be created.

Therefore, he also has the role of a creator. This dual role makes him special. On the one hand, he is considered terrible and evil, on the other hand, good and benevolent.

The most famous names of Shiva

He is known by a total of 1008 names, based on numerous legends. Each of the names refers to a particular quality attributed to Shiva. The most common epithets include Mahadeva, Mahayogi, Nataraja, and Rudra.


The name Mahadeva means “Great God” and is one of Shiva’s most popular names. Followers of Shiva believe that he is the greatest god of all time. Accordingly, the 3 gods of the Hindu Trinity are all aspects of Shiva. Shiva embodies all 3 faces: creation, preservation and destruction, or the child, the youth and the old man, but also past, present and future. Many Indian temples are called Mahadeva temples.


Mahayogi means that Shiva is the Lord of Yoga and the Yogis. He is often depicted in intense meditation. He is seen to be at peace and happy with himself. Shiva exudes tranquillity of mind. Shiva Mahayogi is worshipped mainly in northern India.


The epithet Nataraja means “king of the dance”.  As Nataraja, Shiva performs a cosmic dance. This symbolises the creation, destruction and re-creation of the universe. Shiva as a cosmic dancer is one of the better known representations of Shiva and Hinduism in the western world. Shiva is depicted with 4 arms in a circle of flames. This symbolises the edge of the universe and the expanding energy of the god. The left leg is raised into a dancing figure. The right leg stands on the dwarf demon Apasmara, who is lying on the ground. He embodies ignorance and stupidity. In his upper right hand he holds an hourglass drum of the wandering ascetics, in his lower right hand he shows the gesture of protection. In one left hand a flame is blazing and the other left hand is parallel to the left leg.


The epithet Rudra means something like “wild god”. In this meaning he shows his two faces. He is the feared god of storm and destruction, who at the same time has a friendly face. He is also credited with healing powers, health and good deeds.

What is the Trimurti?

Trimurti is a Hindu concept. It involves the three cosmic functions being united by three deities. That is:

  1. God Brahma, as the originator, creator
  2. God Vishnu, as the Sustainer
  3. God Shiva, as the destroyer

These 3 aspects are a unity and are mutually dependent and complementary. The Trimurti is represented by the three gods side by side or as a three-headed figure with six arms.

In addition, the Trimurti symbolises the three cosmic qualities of earthly matter (gunas).

  1. Shiva (Tamas): ignorance, inertia, spiritual darkness, black, fire
  2. Brahma (Rajas): activity, passion, new beginning, red, earth
  3. Vishnu (Sattva): clarity, goodness, harmony, white, water


There are several currents in the Hindu religion. One of the most widespread is Shivaism. Shiva plays a central role and is the highest deity. The followers believe that Shiva is superior to all other gods and is the origin of the entire universe. Within Shivaism there are different currents: epic-puranic, Vedic-Brahmanic and esoteric-sectarian Shivaism. Some streams place great emphasis on the fact that there is a possibility of becoming one with God. Then, attaining a Shiva-like state is salvation. In order to achieve this, Atman (the soul) has to break free from all fetters of matter and karma. There are many different groupings in Shivaism. Many of them practise the teachings of yoga and tantra.

Shiva’s Position in the Hindu Pantheon

Husband of Parvati

Parvati is Shiva’s wife. Just like Shiva, she embodies preservation and destruction. Superficially, she is the symbol of the life-giving and life-sustaining mother. As a mother, she is never depicted as angry. However, when she embodies the aspect of destruction, she is depicted as Kali or Durga. In Shaktism, she is the embodiment of divine energy. Shiva, who is at rest within himself, needs this to carry out his functions. There are a number of images to illustrate the relationship and identity of the two: One shows Parvati as the earth and Shiva as the sky, or Parvati as the light and Shiva as the sun.

Another depiction shows the two as one figure: Ardhanarishvara. The left half of the body is female, i.e. Parvati, and the right half is male, i.e. Shiva.

Father of Ganesha

Shiva and Parvati are considered the parents of Ganesha. According to legend, Parvati modelled and brought Ganesha to life while Shiva was away. He was supposed to be a guard while she bathed. When Shiva came back, Ganesha refused him entry. In anger, Shiva cut off his head. He regretted the deed and brought him back to life. In return, he had an elephant killed so that Ganesha could put its head on.

God of the ascetics

Shiva is the god of opposites: On the one hand, he, Parvati and Ganesha form the “Holy Family”, on the other hand, he is a great ascetic and loner. As the god of ascetics, he is said to have remained in deepest meditation on his mountain Kailash.

The representation of Shiva

There are a variety of depictions of Shiva: usually he has four arms, a third eye on his forehead, blue skin and long hair. Blue is the colour of the gods. He got it when he drank the poison of the primordial sea. It was released by the other gods when they were in search of immortality and threatened to destroy the universe. His wife held his neck and saved him. But he turned blue.

Shiva wears a crescent moon as a crown and sits on a tiger or lion skin, with a snake coiled around his neck.

With Nandi the bull as mount

Shiva is often depicted with the bull Nandi. Legend says that one day Nandi was frightened by infinity. In desperation, he set out to find a way out of this infinity. He met Shiva and threw himself at his feet. He begged Shiva to take him as a mount. Nandi is a deity in his own right. He is the god of joy. He is often depicted as a man with a bull’s head. In Shiva temples he is often depicted kneeling.

With Parvati, his wife

Shiva and Parvati are depicted together with their son Ganesh as the “Holy Family”. Sometimes they are also joined together as one deity. (See item “Spouse of Parvati”).

Meditating on Mount Kailash

Kailash is Shiva’s holy mountain where he dwells. Kailash is a real mountain located in Tibet. Walking around the snow-capped mountain is considered a sacred act. There is nothing on the mountain, so it is the perfect place for meditation without distractions.

With trident and/or drum

Shiva often carries a trident and/or a drum. The trident (Trisula) symbolises the Trimurti of the gods, drives away demons and destroys the false ego. The hourglass drum (Damuru) with its sound embodies the creation of the universe. The fact that he carries it in his hands shows that the entire creation arose from his divine will.

Third eye on the forehead or in the hand

The two eyes of Shiva represent the sun and the moon. The third eye symbolises fire, it is the eye of knowledge and wisdom. The third eye is a sign that Shiva is primarily devoted to meditation. His two eyes, which are usually half-closed, also show that he is absorbed in meditation.


In the lingam, just as in Shiva, Hindus see a creative, sustaining and destructive force. The Shiva- linga is often said to be the male creative power, which is shown in the symbol of the phallus.

Legend has it that Shiva went mad with grief when his wife Sati (she was later reborn as Parvati) died. He went around and many women fell in love with him. This made the men angry and they cursed him that he would lose his manhood. Shiva did not notice this until Vishnu and Brahma told him about it. The men agreed to take back the curse. On the condition that he should only be represented by the linga.


The most well-known representation of Shiva in the Western world is as the “King of the Dance”. He performs a cosmic dance. This symbolises the process of creation, destruction and re-creation of the universe.

Shiva’s significance in yoga

According to legend, Shiva was angry with himself for cutting off Brahma’s head. He had to find a way to keep his mind under control. He realised that he needed to balance his mind and body. He found yoga, which he began to teach. His students were ascetics, sages, monsters and gods who felt the pressure of life. He performed 840000 postures (asanas). Which are based on the movements of animals, birds and trees. Shiva is therefore considered the first yogi who gave mankind the wisdom of Hatha Yoga.


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