In Indian tradition, Shiva Tattva, is often represented in a distinct form of Shankara sitting in meditation holding implements such as Damaru and Trishul. He has a mark of vibhuti on His forehead. He wears a snake around His neck. He has a matted hair with Ganga flowing out from these locks. He has a crescent moon on His head as a ‘decoration’. He rides a Bull called Nandi, His Vahana, vehicle.
Is this the real form of Shiva or is it a visual representation with each of these aspects of His form having some significance?
Shankara etymologically comes from “Sham karothi ithi Shankara”, meaning, “that which does good”.
Thus the form of Shankara brings to bearing that Shiva, the auspicious and with the potential to manifest all goodness, can only be realized through deep meditation, a state when the sound of OM reverberates through our mind, being and senses.
The Trishul as the name itself suggests, is a trident, a spear with 3 spikes to it.
The Trishul of Shiva seems to be conveying the significance of 3 to us.
The 3 Forces of Trinity
At one level, this Trishul denotes the concept of Trinity in the Universe where the Trinity represent the divine forces of the Universe.
What are these three divine forces of the Universe?
In the ancient Indian texts, the Trinity or the divine forces have been expressed as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva i.e. the creator, preserver and destroyer respectively.
The Indian Rishi, seer scientists, have expressed that for the Universe to go through its cycles, this Trinity, these 3 divine forces are an essential requisite and it is essential for these 3 forces of the Trinity to work in tandem.
This concept of Trinity has also been discussed by different civilizations in their own variant forms.
The 3 states of Divinity
At another level, the Trishul or trident of Shiva is perhaps to remind us constantly of the 3 states of Shiva namely
Arupa – Formless,
Rupa-Arupa – Formless Form and
Sarupa – With form.
The 3 states of Man
Trishul also denotes the 3 modes of action in mankind and that which drives these acts. They are;
1. Kayika, physical actions
2. Vaachika, speech
3. Manasika, to do with the mind
These 3 modes of action do find a equivalence in the 3 states of the divinity as well, for example
- Kayika with Sarupa or manifested form
- Vaachika with Rupa-Arupa for the formless form
- Manasika with Arupa for the formless
It is pertinent to note here that the ancient Greek divinity of Europe, Poseidon, also had a trident in his hand.
The other prominent implement in Shiva’s hand is the Damaru.
The Damaru is a rustic, very ancient variety of hand held drum, with a central bead attached to string which swings and beats on both sides of the drum in an alternating manner.
What is the significance of this Damaru in Shiva’s hand?
Shiva represents the Cosmic being and the Cosmic power that causes the cycles of creation, dissolution and regeneration which happen in regular rhythmic intervals as the acts of Nature.
The implement that best exemplifies the beat of the rhythm is a drum.
The primeval drum is the Damaru.
As Shiva oversees the rhythmic of dissolution and regeneration, the Damaru best exemplifies the implement most needed by Shiva to keep up this rhythm.
The cosmic rhythmic beat is such that, it causes everything in this Universe to merge in unison with this beat and dissolve back into Shiva. This event is therefore called Pralaya. Thus when Shiva beats His Damaru, He causes the Pralaya or natural dissolution of this Universe.
Tryambaka comes from the roots tri meaning 3 and Ambaka which means eyes.
The name Tryambaka for Shiva thus is said to mean Shiva the 3 eyed.
Modern physiology indicates the presence of a gland called the pineal gland in the brain, behind and between the eyebrows which is considered to be the focal point for concentration. The 3rd eye of Shiva is also but a way to remind us to open our eyes and see, experience Shiva in all the three states, Arupa – the Formless state, Rupa Arupa – the Formless Form state and Rupa – the Formful state.
The third eye is to realize Shiva in His formless Arupa state which is at once vast, terrific and terrifying.
The Forehead Mark – Vibhuti
Of the 5 primordial elements, the Fire element, Agni, is associated with Shiva. This is exemplified by the story of the Lingodhbhava. Fire acts on anything and everything and reduces it to a state of ash or Bhasma. So Bhasma is a product of Agni or Shiva acting on it. It is considered symbolic of Shiva’s act of destruction for regeneration.
The word Vibhuti means resplendent or glowing, with extraordinary powers.
The smearing of the ash or Vibhuti is meant to destroy one’s ego and ignorance and give rise to a new self, glowing with the realization of Shiva.
Moon on head-Chandrasekhara
The moon weaves a magic in the sky every fortnight.
Once, the New Moon phase is reached, there is no moon visible from the earth. From there, it grows again and recreates a Full Moon again within the next fortnight as part of a beautiful celestial show of Nature. Shiva as the divinity of regeneration, in His pictorial form, has a very thin crescent moon on His head.
This thin crescent symbolically depicts the regenerative aspect in the monthly cycle of the moon from the thin remnants of the previous cycle.
Regeneration is also connected with fertility and what is interesting to note here is that, in humans, the women’s fertility cycle of 28 day period exactly coincides with the 28 day cycle of the moon.
The Chandrasekhara or Somasekhara form of Shiva brings out to us the intrinsic correlation between the phases of the moon, fertility and the humans.
Nandi –The Bull
Shiva’s Vahana, Vehicle is the bull called Nandi. A bull is called Rishabha in local language and it is a Pashu. The loose translation for Pashu is animal. But Pashu is also an encompassing term that includes all living beings or bodily forms.
Shiva as a principle of the Universe can only be realized through subtler means and not in a physical or gross form. Thus Pashu or bodily forms are a stumbling block in the way towards realizing Shiva.
Only when one is willing to go beyond the bodily level of understanding and hones the subtler senses, can one understand and realize Shiva Shankar and peace.
This Shivaratri, let us imbibe the significance behind Shiva’s visual form as we immerse ourselves in the Shiva Tattva.
[Selective excerpts from the book Understanding Shiva in the Bharath Gyan Series by D.K.Hari and D.K.Hema Hari]
Also watch the 19 Short Films on ‘Understanding Shiva’ here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9QLcyiVla352leXqBX6smjKtdhJ7ZhOQ