- Shiva, “the beneficent one,” is the divinity at the center of the largest Hindu religious sect. The tra-dition identifies Shiva with the Vedic god RUDRA, a fierce divinity who caused diseases of cattle and men and was propitiated out of fear. Rudra was known by the epithet shiva (as he was known to relent).Shiva as a separate divinity first appears in the RAMAYANA (c. 600–300 B.C.E.) and MAHABHARATA (c. 700 B.C.E.–100 C.E.) epics; he is cited in the SHVETASHVATARA UPANISHAD (c. 300 B.C.E.) as the highest divinity. Clearly Shiva has ancient roots in North India. Some see his form in a seal from the INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION (c. 2600 B.C.E.) showing a seated figure with a buffalo-horned headdress and an erect penis.It is clear that the worship of Shiva is quite ancient, many centuries more ancient than the first extant SHIVA LINGAM, which dates to the first century C.E. The LINGAM is an erect penis; it is the aniconic form that represents Shiva in the inner sanctum of virtually all temples dedicated to him. The lingam is nearly always shown surrounded by a circular stone rim that represents the YONI, or sexual organ, of the goddess, indicating his association with the divine feminine from a very early time.In the stories of Shiva he is found first with his wife, SAT I, who tragically dies, and then with Sati’s reincarnated form PARVATI. His divine family includes the amusing elephant-headed god GANE-SHA, Shiva and Parvati’s elder son, and KARTTIKEYA, the eternal youth with his peacock vehicle.The basic Shiva myth depicts him in his youth as a fierce, ascetic naked wanderer with matted locks and smeared with ashes from human crema-tion grounds. He gads about willfully, not observ-ing any social convention.This all changes after the gods learn that only a son of Shiva can defeat the demon that is trying to usurp their power. They send Parvati to seduce him and then send the god of love to induce him to succumb. The uncooperative Shiva simply burns the god of love to ashes.Eventually, however, Shiva does take to Par-vati, and their lovemaking is famous in the lit-erature. As they make love in a beautiful pleasure grove, his passion is so strong that everything in the grove becomes female—including an unfor-tunate king who happens into the grove. Shiva’s son was actually born by accident when he spilled his semen into fire. The fire could not contain the energy and so gave the seed to the GANGES. She, with all her coolness, could not contain it either, The major deity Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance so she abandoned it in a bank of reeds. There Karttikeya was born, so named because he was weaned and raised as a child by a group of female stars called the Krittikas. The demon was eventu-ally defeated.Shiva is famed as Lord of the Dance; as such his NATARAJA form is known to all India and found in grand representation in many temples. He is also the Lord of chaos, who destroys all the uni-verse with his final dance. But of course he may dance that same universe into existence again, if he so chooses.Further reading: Stella Kramrisch, The Presence of Shiva (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, Siva: The Erotic Ascetic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.