SHIVA (HIS SYMBOLS)
Many symbols have come to be associated with Lord Shiva and although their origins are obscured by time, their meanings are as true and vibrant as ever.
In Hindu mythology, as in many cultures, snakes are considered a sign of mystical and sexual power. The garlands of serpents, naga, worn around Lord Shiva’s neck represent the nhallus or linga. So strong is the belief in its power that barren women worship Shiva’s erect penis and those who dream of serpents, believe they will conceive. Devotees also rub red vermilion powder onto the erect penis of Shiva LakuUsha, the giver of wishes, to overcome infertility. Throughout the entire subcontinent, all varieties of phallic shapes symbolize Shiva.
Ever present at Shiva’s side is a trishul, trident, signifying His mastery over the three qualities of Nature, the gums: wisdom and purity, stimulation and passion, inertia and impurity. These three attributes bind man to the illusory world, or Maya. Shiva Himself is known to have overcome the three gunas, and is in a perfect state of equilibrium. The trident also embodies the three aspects of the Hindu trinity: Lords Brahma the Creator; Vishnu the Preserver; and Shiva the Destroyer, and the vertical structure of the trishul connects heaven and earth, bridging the gap between devotees and their Lord.
As Shiva yogis constantly wander from one pilgrimage place to another, they carry only a few possessions, one of which is an enormous trident. When a yogi reaches a place sacred to Shiva, he drives his valued trishul into the earth, leaving it as a permanent offering to His omnipresence.
The damaru is a two-sided finger drum indicating the masculine and feminine aspects of nature. The male aspect Shiva, and the female Shakti, are joined in divine embrace. Another symbol of this male-female union is the Sri Yantra mandala, a geometric form made up of two superimposed triangles; the upturned being the phallus of Shiva while the inverted one is the vagina or yoni, representing Shiva’s consort the sensuous goddess Parvati. The three horizontal lines He wears on His forehead are Tripundaka. These markings signify the three syllables which make up the primordial vibration, A-U-M;the trident; and the three gunas, qualities of nature. The lines are generally made of ash from a holy fire or ground sandalwood paste, and are believed to cool the brain while meditating.
Shiva’s matted locks are piled high, crowning His head and providing a cushion for the River Ganges to break her fall as she flows down from heaven to earth. He wears a crescent moon nestled in His hair, as it signifies His perfect control of the mind. The tiger is the symbol of lust and as the Lord has conquered His passions, He uses its skin as His seat.
Shiva’s third eye shines with eternal wisdom which He bestows on His devotees. He wears a necklace of seeds from the Rudraksha tree, believed to be His tears fallen from heaven. Rudraksha seeds usually have five facets, sometimes more or less, the most valued being the one faceted seed. A strand of one hundred and eight rudraksha, believed to absorb negativity, is used as a rosary by devotees of Shiva, to recite His divine name.