The Simplistic Image of Lord Shiva
by D. P. Bhan
[In old Kashmir festivals mentioned in the Nilmata, you will understand how difficult it must be for an European scholar to learn about these rites; also how great the risk is nowadays of such old festivals and other ceremonies being lost for good under the sad changes which are taking place in Kashmir. - Aurel Stein]
We Hindus believe in the Supersoul from which other souls are born in the form of lives. After the completion of the life-cycle of human beings or return to the Supersoul, we merge with it, depending upon the deeds and merits we have accumulated in our life-time. Lord Shiva is the Supersoul and prevails over everything and is everywhere. In other words, He is the source of all divine powers, all living and non-living beings.
The universe is created by Shiva in His own image for He is Unlimited Consciousness and consciousness alone exists. In the concept of Swatantriya (absolute independence) in the Shaiva philosophy, it is the sovereignty of will which makes Him both immanent and transcendent and form and space do not limit Him. He has endowed each individual with three inherent faculties of will, cognition and action and these faculties, when in perfect harmony, lead the individual to a state of Eternal Bliss.
Shiva is called Om which represents the five elements of the process of a life-cycle. Om has three sound elements which give the sounds of vowels, such as 'A', 'Ou' and 'Ma', and two physical elements, such as a 'dot' and a 'crescent'. 'A' represents birth, 'Ou' life, 'Ma' death, 'dot' disintegration of the body into original five elements and 'crescent' the soul moving to another physical body or returning to merge with the Supersoul. In the human form, each element of this life-cycle process also represents one face each of the five faces of Shiva. Therefore, Om also stands for Shiva and denotes the Universe.
Shiva is depicted as a five-facad form to represent these five elements that support life on earth. Each face has three eyes, which also represent birth, life and death.
Shiva appears as a luminous lingam. Although it has a special form, the Lingam is considered as a formless and infinite object representing the Lord as the universe. The base of the object representing 'Ou' is considered to be 'Om' which depicts the Lord and the Universe. Such a set is worshipped as Shiva everywhere in the Hindu world. The lingam also is believed to have five faces. Four faces are usually carved on all four directions and the fifth, which is not carved, is believed to be facing upwards.
Shiva represents the life-cycle and five life- supporting elements which have a form of five faces representing the five elements. The life-cycle represents the creation of life from five elements such as earth, water, fire, air and ether, then the maintenance of life and the completion of life, i.e. death, which means separating the physical body from the soul. The body disintegrates into five elements and returns to their original elementary forms.
Shiva, the God of gods, is incorporeah whereas Shankara - the destroyer, who comprises the Hindu trinity along with Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the sustainer - does have a divine physical form of subtle body like other deities.
The Sanskrit word Shiva is the confluence of two phonetic parts - Shi and Va, meaning redeemer and liberator. Similarly, the Sanskrit suffix linga or lingam (to Shiva) signifies sign, symbol, the quality and characteristics of an entity, when subdivided into phonetic consonants li, lin or laya and ga, gam or agaman, respectively, refer to the process of destruction and recreation which Shiva epitomises. This concurs with the etymological composition and connotation of the term 'god' that may be deciphered to define the divine dispensations of generation, operation and destruction.
In human form, Shiva is called Maheshwara. He is depicted as half-naked human, donned in a tiger skin, decorating his head with a crescent and the Ganga, wearing serpents on his limbs and around his neck, holding a trident and the body massaged with ashes. These are all symbolic languages which convey the messages of Shiva. The trident symbolises the Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. The crescent and the Ganga indicate that Shiva is as clear as the Ganga and as cool as the crescent. Serpents represent anger and threat. The serpents under His arms and neck mean that He has control over anger and is fearless. The tiger skin around His waist and below means the ferocious animal power under His control. The ashes on His body mean that all living beings are subject to death. Thus, this human look is unique and conveys the messages of the Lord to the mortal world.
As Maheshwara in human form, He first created Vishnu, the most beautiful divinity with a radiant head and four limbs holding four different things, and assigned Him the task of creating the cosmos and the cosmic world. As ordained, Vishnu created the cosmos and the cosmic world. After this arduous job of creation, He rested by floating on the ocean in the cosmic world. Hence, He is also called Narayan, the name derived from the waters on which He floated.
Shiva and Shankara are one and the same deity. Shivratri is the day when Shankara married Parvati. The mythological and scriptual references are interpreted to it in a metaphorical rather than literal sense.
Shivratri symbolises the darkest night of the year, meaning the darker side of human character and the darkness of ignorance. And Shiva manifested Himself to enlighten the world. Such manifestations may even be through the form of illumined souls. The Puranic tradition, pertaining to Shivaratri, has it that Shiva manifested Himself as Jyotirlinga, or a being of light, on this night at a time which was indescribable because of its cosmic splendour. There was neither light nor darkness, neither movement nor stillness. It was probably the twilight hour. The luminous being of light is also called Sadashiva or eternal benefactor. Shiva also means Kalyana or welfare and benefication. The Jyotirlinga was not phallic in shape but oval. It is believed that it was given a phallic shape in stone or marble due to the degeneration in popular practices.
Maheshwara then created Brahma with four faces and placed Him on the lotus grown out of the navel of Vlshnu lying on his back and floating on the ocean of the cosmic world. He gave Brahma four faces to enable him to see in all directions at once to expedite the creation of the world. Brahma first created five life-supporting elements such as earth, water, air, fire and ether and then mountains, hills, lands, rivers and so on. Thereafter, he gave birth to holy men, named them and assigned them duties. Finding it a never- ending process, he felt the need for a biological process of creation for sustaining life on earth but could not think of how to do it. Therefore, He began meditating to Maheshwara for gaining knowledge of the process of creating the biological life.
Maheshwara in a human form of half-male and half-female, called Ardha. Nareshwar, appeared before the meditating Brahma. As soon as Brahma opened His eyes, Ardha Nareshwar split into a male and a female human. Thus, Brahma obtained the knowledge of the male and female of all kinds of creatures on the earth for the biological process of creation.
As the process went on, it became clear to Brahma that there should be a life-cycle rather than the never- ending creation of lives by biological means. Therefore, He requested Maheshwara to develop a process that would complete the life-cycle of living beings on the earth.
The Lord then created another divine spirit, called Rudra, to complete the life-cycle of living beings developed by Brahma. Thus, Rudra became the symbol of completion of the life-cycle of living beings. In other words, Rudra represented the death or the end of life. As such, He created three divine spirits representing birth, life and death. Brahma became the symbol of birth, Vishnu the administrator of life on earth and Rudra synonymous with death. Here, death should be understood as the completion of a life-cycle and as the splitting of a physical body into a spirit called a soul or a corpus.
Maheshwara created an abode called Kailash for Himself and another called Vaikuntha for Vishnu beyond the universe because the universe follows the life-cycle that had to come to an end one day, which means the extinction of the universe in the present form. Therefore, Kailash and Vaikuntha are eternal, permanent and beyond the network of the life-cycle of the universe. No births and deaths occur in those two abodes. Good souls tend to perform meritorious acts on this earth to enable their souls to travel to Vaikuntha after death and live there permanently.
Centuries ago, outstanding spiritualists of Kashmir propounded a new theistic thought in the form of Kashmir Shaivism. Known as Shaiva- Siddhas, the works of some well-known scholars, describing their spiritual experiences based on these Siddhas, augmented the concept of Kashmir Shaivism. Treatises like Shivdrashti by Somananda, Shivstrotavali by Uptal Deva and Pratyabhijna Darshanam by Abhinav Gupta are renowned for their merit. Abhinav Gupta, who excelled among them, came from a family of Brahmin scholars who had settled in Kashmir during the reign of King Lalita Ditya (700-730 A.D.). Attriya Gupta, a Brahmin scholar of Kanouj in Uttar Pradesh, was brought by the king and settled in Kashmir which he made into a citadel of Sanskrit learning and literature. He set up a school of Shaiva philosophy at Parihaspur on the banks of the Vitasta.
Abhinava belonged to the lineage of this family. He was the son of Narasimha Gupta, popularly known as Chukhalaka. He brought out many scholarly works of excellence which put Kashmir Shaivism on a firm footing and distinguished it from the original Shaivism of thousands of years old. He propounded the Shaivistic philosophy of "Recognition" - recognising one's own self and cosmic self-consciousness. According to him, Shiva is all around, in everything; it is for one to try and find one's own real self to become Shiva himself.
Abhinav Gupta composed a good collection of hymns on Shiva which we often recite. Such was his ecstatic devotion to the Lord that he entered the Bhairav cave at Magam in Badgam District reciting these hymns with a hundred of Shiva devotees and attained Nirvana around the end of the tenth century. He is thus remembered as Shiva Incarnate.