Śiva

Śiva Diety

The ancient name of Śiva is Rudra, the Wild God. His seminal myth is told in the most sacred, most ancient Indian text, the Ṛgveda (c. 1200–1000 BCE; hymns 10.61 and 1.71). When time was about to begin he appeared as a wild hunter, aflame, his arrow directed against the Creator making love with his virgin daughter, the Dawn. They had the shape of two antelopes. Some of the Creator's seed fell on the earth. Rudra himself as Fire (Agni) had prepared the seed, from which mankind was to be born. From a rupture of the undifferentiated plenum of the Absolute some of the seed fell on the earth. Rudra's shot failed to prevent its fall; time, which was about to begin, came in between, in the shape of the flight of his arrow. The Creator, Prajāpati, terribly frightened, made Rudra Lord of Animals (Paśupati) for sparing his life (Maitrāyaṇī Saṃhitā 4.2.12; after 1000 BCE). The gods, as they witnessed the primordial scene, made it into a mantra, an incantation, and out of this mantra they fashioned Vāstoṣpati, "lord of the residue (vāstu)," "lord of the site (vāstu)," or "lord of what is left over on the sacrificial site." However, Paśupati—"lord of animals," "lord of creatures," "lord of the soul of man"—is Rudra-Śiva's most significant name.

Fundamental pairs of antitheses inhere in the primordial Ṛgvedic myth of Rudra Paśupati and Rudra Vāstoṣpati. As Fire he incites Prajāpati toward creation; as the formidable hunter he aims at the act of creation, meaning to prevent the "incontinence" of the Creator, the shedding of the seed. Rudra acts as hunter and yogin in one. The scene has for its background the plenum of the uncreated or the Absolute that was and is before the mythical moment of the inception of the life.
 
In the Vedic sacrificial ritual, Vāstoṣpati receives as an oblation the remainder of the sacrifice. The power of the completed sacrifice is left in the remainder and magically ensures the continuity of the rites, of the entire tradition—and of the order and rhythms of art. Vāstoṣpati is the guardian and protector of the site, the buildings and their content, in later Hinduism.
 
Jan Gonda, in his article "The Śatarudriya," in the festschrift Sanskrit and Indian Studies (Dordrecht, 1980, p. 75), considers Rudra "the representative of the dangerous, unreliable and hence to be feared nature." Looking at Śiva from another angle, Daniel H. H. Ingalls, in "Kālidāsa and the Attitudes of the Golden Age" in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (1976), sees that "Śiva represents the reconciliation of good and evil, of beauty and ugliness, of life and death—the vision solved all problems and could transmute a man's suffering into joy." Neither of these views refers to the primordial and central myth of Rudra, in which Rudra acts as consciousness of metaphysical reality or the Absolute in its relation to life on earth.
 
In Vedic times, the fierce hunter had the power over life and death, to afflict a mortal wound or to heal it. He was worshiped with the words "Do not hurt me" and also invoked as "lord of songs, lord of sacrifice, bringing cooling remedy, radiant like the sun, like gold" (Ṛgveda 1.43.4–5). He was praised as the lord of the high and the low, of robbers, of the ill-formed, but also of craftsmen working in wood, metal, and clay. Praise went to him in the flux of waves, in young grass and the desert, in soil and air, house and palace. This is how the Śatarudriya hymn of the Yajurveda (after 1000 BCE) invokes him, an omnipresent power whose shape reverberates in uncounted Rudras like him who are his retinue. Rudra's color is copper red, his throat deep blue; one of his names is the Blue-Red One. His home is everywhere, but particularly in the North, in Himalayan caves but also on crossroads, cremation grounds, and the battlefield.
 
The gods meant to exclude Rudra from the Vedic sacrifice. This is mythically accounted for by the primordial flight of his arrow. Rudra, though he had been made lord of animals, was not himself born yet as a god. The story of Rudra's birth has several versions. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (9.1.1.6; c. mid-first millennium BCE) tells of Prajāpati, from whom all the gods departed except Manyu (Anger). Prajāpati cried. His tears fell on Manyu, who became thousand-headed, thousand-eyed, hundred-quivered Rudra. Rudra was hungry. Prajāpati asked the gods to gather food for Rudra, who stood there flaming. The gods appeased Agni-Rudra. By the Śatarudriya offering and hymn they drove out his pain, his evil. The Śatarudriya sacrifice was the first to be performed on completion of the Vedic sacrificial altar. Rudra, as soon as he was born from Prajāpati, was given this place in the Vedic sacrifice. To this day the Śatarudriya hymn is recited in Śaiva temples every morning.
 
On being born, Rudra was invested with the cosmos by Prajāpati. His eightfold domain consisted of the five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and space—together with sun and moon, the measurers of time, and the sacrificer, or initiate. Rudra is the totality of manifestation. He did not create the cosmos. He became and is the cosmos. God and the world are one. As the cosmos is a product of Śiva's eight forms, so is the human being, the microcosm.
 
The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (c. late first millennium BCE), like the Ṛgveda, implores Rudra not to injure man or beast. The formidable hunter is everywhere, he merges with the ogdoad and transcends it, he rules over all the worlds, makes them appear and withdraws them at the end of time. In him at the beginning and at the end the universe is gathered. The dweller in the mountain resides in the cave of the heart of man. He is immanent and transcendent, the one supreme God. Though he has a face, a hand, a foot on every side, no one can see him; he is seen only with the mind and heart. Those who know the Lord by introspection, yoga, and loving devotion (bhakti) are freed from the fetter (pāśa) of worldly existence, for he is the cause of worldly existence and of liberation. In his auspicious, unterrifying form he is the Lord, the omnipresent Śiva, hidden in all beings.
 
Rudra, the "wild god," is one with Śiva, the auspicious, supreme god whose splendor encompasses his primordial form. His being in manifestation is to be meditated upon as a river of five streams from five sources (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 1.5). They are the five senses with their objects "an impetuous flood of five pains." If Rudra as the ogdoad is the cosmos, as the pentad he is the five senses, the sense perception and experience of the cosmos. Five is Śiva's sacred number in particular. His mantra, "Namaḥ Śivāya," has five syllables, and his "body" is said to be constituted of five mantras (Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 10.43–47; c. third century BCE). They evoke the body of God in the five directions of space, in the five elements, in the five senses.
 
Vedic Rudra, the fierce hunter, is clad in the skins of wild animals. In the Mahābhārata (c. 400 BCE–400 CE), Śiva is seen by the hero Arjuna, in a vision, as an archer and an ascetic. A hymn of the Ṛgveda (10.136), on the other hand, celebrates Rudra drinking from one cup with an ascetic. The Mahābhārata sums up the relation of Śiva to yoga, saying that "Śiva is yoga and the lord of yogins; he can be approached by yoga only."
 
In post-Vedic times Prajāpati's role as creator was taken over by Brahmā. Rudra decapitates his father, Brahmā. Various reasons are given in the Puranas (fourth through fourteenth centuries CE); one of them, the lusting of Brahmā for his daughter, recalls the primordial scene. The head of Brahmā clings to Śiva's hand. Śiva as a penitent beggar, the skull his begging bowl, goes on a pilgrimage of expiation. After twelve years the skull falls from Śiva's hand in Banaras, and Śiva is released from his sin. His pilgrimage takes the god to a hermitage in a forest of deodar trees. The hermits believe that the young, naked beggar has come to seduce their women—and Śiva's phallus (liṅga) falls from his body, by his own will or by a curse of the sages; it then arises as a flaming pillar. These events are part of the play (līlā) of Śiva in this world to enable his devotee to recognize God in the guises he assumed. The sages apparently fail to identify the begging bowl, Brahmā's head or skull (brahmaśiras), in the beggar's hand. Brahmaśiras is also the name of Śiva's most formidable weapon, the Pasupata weapon.
 
Most of Śiva's myths are known to the Mahābhārata. The myth of Śiva the ascetic, paradoxically, is the theme of his marriage to Pārvatī, daughter of Parvatarāja, "Lord Mountain." In it is included the story of the destruction—and resurrection—of Kāma, the god Desire, an archer who aimed his arrow at Śiva but was reduced to ashes by a glance from Śiva's third eye. Fire and ashes belong to Śiva as much as serpents and the moon's crescent, for Śiva's nature is twofold: he is fierce as fire, yet cool and calm as the moon. He is the reluctant bridegroom, the indefatigable lover, and the ascetic. He is the savior of the world; he swallowed its poison, and it left a dark blue mark on his throat. He destroys demons or shows them his grace. He defeats death; he is the death of death, for he is time and transcends time as eternity. He is the teacher who in silence expounds to the sages music, yoga, gnosis, and all the arts and sciences. He is a dancer, Lord of Dancers, who dances the world in and out of existence. He is a male god inseparably united with his female power (śakti). One image shows him half male, half female. His theriomorphic form is the bull called Nandin (Joy). His main attributes are trident, skull, and antelope. His symbol is the liṅga, the (phallic) pillar, the most sacred object of worship—although none is known in India prior to the third to second century BCE. The liṅga stands erect in its double significance; full of creative power, and also of the yogic power to withhold the seed. Its symbolism is akin to the meaning of the primordial scene.
 
Whereas the relation of Śiva to Brahmā-Prajāpati is crucial, that of Śiva to Viṣṇu is one of coexistence or subordination but also of amalgamation and interchange. Viṣṇu sometimes carries the name of Śiva or Rudra; Viṣṇu is conjoint in one type of image with Śiva as Harihara; in one painting Viṣṇu-Kṛṣṇa carries Śiva's insignia, trident and serpent, whereas Śiva holds Kṛṣṇa's flute. Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism are complementary, although sectarian rivalry led to the conception of the gruesome Śarabheśa. To each of the three great Hindu gods is assigned one of the three tendencies (guṇa) of cosmic substance (prakṛti), that of Śiva being tamas (darkness), the disruptive tendency that precedes every new creation.
 
In the darkness of the flood between the dissolution of the universe and the beginning of a new world, the flaming pillar of Śiva's liṅga arose and was worshiped by Brahmā and Viṣṇu. This is celebrated by vigil, vows, fast, and worship on Mahāśivarātri, the Great Night of Śiva, the climax of the religious year, on the fourteenth lunar day of the dark half of the last month of the lunar year. The last night of each month is Śiva's Night (Śivarātri) and the evening of each day throughout the year is the time for his worship.
 
Bibliography
 
Eliade, Mircea. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Translated by Williard R. Trask. 2d ed. Princeton, 1969. The basic work on yoga clarifies the conception of God (Īśvara) in the yoga system and that of Śiva the Great God and Great Yogin.
 
Gonda, Jan. Die Religionen Indiens. 2 vols. Vol. 1, Veda und älterer Hinduismus, 2d rev. ed. Stuttgart, 1978. Vol. 2, Der jüngere Hinduismus. Stuttgart, 1963. A most thorough and judicious presentation of the religions of India, including a survey of the character and history of Śaivism.
 
Gonda, Jan. Viṣṇuism and Śivaism: A Comparison. London, 1970. In their juxtaposition the two views of the world define one another. Copious, detailed notes enrich the scope of the book.
 
Kramrisch, Stella. The Presence of Śiva. Princeton, 1981. A presentation focused on the ontological and cosmogonic implications of the mythology of Śiva and the persistent themes within its network.
 
O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Śiva: The Erotic Ascetic. London, 1981. Reprint of Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Śiva (1973). A monograph that structurally and masterfully analyzes one fundamental aspect, the erotic-ascetic polarity within Śiva; based on hitherto mostly unpublished textual sources.
 
Rao, T. A. Gopinatha. Elements of Hindu Iconography, vol. 2, parts 1 & 2 (1916). Reprint, New York, 1968. Although first published in 1916, this work remains a comprehensive and valid support of Śaiva studies.
 
Scheuer, Jacques. Śiva dans le Mahābhārata. Paris, 1982. This book fills a gap in the present knowledge about Śiva by establishing Śiva 's position in the central theme of the Mahābhārata.
 

Stella Kramrisch

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