Symbolism in Shaivism
Philosophy Of Symbols
Lord Siva represents the destructive aspect of Brahman. That portion of Brahman
that is enveloped by Tamo-Guna-Pradhana Maya is Lord Siva who is the all-pervading
Isvara and who also dwells in Mount Kailas. He is the Bhandara or store-house for
wisdom. Siva minus Parvati or Kali or Durga is Nirguna Brahman Himself. With Maya-Parvati
He becomes the Saguna Brahman for the purpose of pious devotion of His devotees.
Devotees of Rama must worship Lord Siva for 3 or 6 months before they take to worship
of Rama. Rama Himself worshipped Lord Siva at the famous Ramesvaram. Lord Siva is
the Lord of Ascetics and Lord of Yogins, robed in space (Digambara).
His Trisul (trident) that is held in His right hand represents the three Gunas—Sattva,
Rajas and Tamas. That is the emblem of Sovereignty. He wields the world through
these three Gunas. The Damaru in His left hand represents the Sabda Brahman. It
represents OM from which all languages are formed. It is He who formed the Sanskrit
language out of the Damaru.
The crescent moon indicates that He has controlled the mind perfectly. The flow
of the Ganga represents the nectar of Immortality. Elephant represents symbolically
pride. His wearing the skin of the elephant denotes that He has controlled pride.
Tiger represents lust; His sitting on tiger’s skin indicates that He has conquered
lust. His holding a deer on one hand indicates that He has removed the Chanchalata
(tossing) of the mind. Deer jumps from one place to another swiftly. His wearing
of serpents denotes wisdom and eternity. Serpents live for a large number of years.
He is Trilochana, the three-eyed One, in the centre of whose forehead is the third
eye, the eye of wisdom.
‘Hoam’ is the Bija Akshara of Lord Siva.
He is Sivam (auspicious, Subham), Sundaram (beautiful), Kantam (effulgent). “Santam
Sivam Advaitam” (Mandukya Upanishad).
I bow with folded hands crores of times at the lotus-feet of that Lord Siva who
is non-dual, who is the Adhishthana, or support for the world and all minds, who
is Sat-Chit-Ananda, who is the Ruler, the Antaryamin, the Sakshi (silent witness)
for everything, who is self-effulgent, self-existent and self-contained (Pari-purna),
who is the remover of the primitive Avidya and who is the Adi-Guru or Parama-Guru
That Lord Siva I am in essence. Sivoham, Sivoham, Sivoham.
Snake On The Body Of Siva
Serpent is the Jiva or the individual soul which rests upon Siva, the Paramatman
or the Supreme Soul. The five hoods mean the five senses or the five Tattvas, viz.,
earth, water, fire, air and ether. They also represent the five Pranas, which hiss
in the body like the serpent. The inhalation and exhalation are like the hissing
of the serpent. Lord Siva Himself became the five Tanmatras, the five Jnanendriyas,
the five Karmendriyas and other groups of five. The individual soul enjoys the worldly
objects through these Tattvas. When the individual attains knowledge through control
of the senses and the mind, he finds his eternal resting abode in Lord Siva, the
Supreme Soul. This is the esoteric significance of Lord Siva wearing the snake on
Lord Siva is absolutely fearless. Srutis declare, “This Brahman is fearless (Abhayam),
Immortal (Amritam).” Worldly people are afraid even at the very sight of a snake
but Lord Siva is wearing serpents as ornaments on His body. This indicates that
Lord Siva is absolutely fearless and immortal.
Generally serpents live for hundreds of years. Wearing of serpents by Lord Siva
signifies that He is Eternal.
Significance of Bhasma, Nandi, Etc.
Namassivaya is the Mantra of Lord Siva. ‘Na’ represents earth and Brahma; ‘Ma’ represents
water and Vishnu; ‘Si’ fire and Rudra; ‘Va’ Vayu and Mahesvara; ‘Ya’ Akasa and Sadasiva
and also the Jiva.
Lord Siva has white complexion. What is the significance of white colour? He teaches
silently that people should have pure heart and entertain pure thoughts and should
be free from crookedness, diplomacy, cunningness, jealousy, hatred, etc.
He wears three white-lined Bhasma or Vibhuti on His forehead. What is the significance
of this? He teaches silently that people should destroy the three impurities, viz.,
Anava (egoism), Karma (action with expectation of fruits), and Maya (illusion),
and the three desires or Eshanas, viz., desire for landed property, desire for woman,
desire for gold, and the three Vasanas, viz., Lokavasana, Dehavasana and Sastravasana,
and then attain Him with a pure heart.
What does the Balipitha or altar which stands in front of the sanctum sanctorum
of the Siva’s temple represent? People should destroy their egoism and mineness
(Ahamta and Mamata) before they attain the Lord. This is the significance.
What does Nandi or the bull which is in front of Sivalinga represent? Nandi is the
attendant or doorkeeper of Siva. He is the vehicle of Lord Siva. He represents Satsanga.
If you make association with the sages, you are sure to attain God-realisation.
Sages will show you the way to reach Him. They will remove pitfalls or snares that
lie on your path. They will clear your doubts and instil in your heart dispassion,
discrimination and knowledge. There is no other safe boat than Satsanga to reach
the other shore of fearlessness and immortality. Even a moment’s Satsanga or association
with the sages, is a great blessing to the aspirants and the worldly-minded persons.
They get firm conviction in the existence of God through Satsanga. The sages remove
the worldly Samskaras. The company of sages is a formidable fortress to protect
oneself from the temptations of Maya.
Lord Siva represents the destructive aspect of the Godhead. He is seen absorbed
on the mountain peak of Kailas. He is an embodiment of serenity, renunciation and
indifference to the world. The third eye in the centre of His forehead represents
His destructive energy which when let loose destroys the world. Nandi is His favourite.
He is the door-Keeper. He is seen hushing all nature, so that the Lord may not be
disturbed in His Samadhi. The Lord has five faces, ten hands, ten eyes, two feet.
Vrishabha or the bull represents Dharma Devata. Lord Siva rides on the bull. Bull
is His vehicle. This denotes that Lord Siva is the protector of Dharma, is an embodiment
of Dharma or righteousness.
Deer represents the Vedas. Its four legs are the four Vedas. Lord Siva is holding
the deer in His hand. This indicates that He is the Lord of the Vedas.
He has sword in one of His hands. This signifies that He is the destroyer of births
and deaths. The fire in one of His hands shows that He protects the Jivas by burning
Philosophy of Abhisheka
Salutations and adorations to the blissful Lord Siva, the lover of Uma or Parvati,
the Lord of all beings (Pasupati).
“Alankarapriyo Vishnuh, Abhishekapriyah Sivah—Lord Vishnu is very fond of Alankara
(fine dress, beautiful ornaments, etc.); Siva is fond of Abhisheka.” In Siva temples,
a pot made up of copper or brass with a hole in the centre is kept hanging over
the image or Linga of Siva, and water is falling on the image throughout day and
night. Pouring over the Linga, water, milk, ghee, curd, honey, cocoanut water, Panchamrita,
etc., is Abhisheka. Abhisheka is done for Lord Siva. Rudra is chanted along with
the Abhisheka. Lord Siva is propitiated by Abhisheka.
Lord Siva drank the poison that emanated from the ocean and wore the Ganga and moon
on His head to cool His head. He has the fiery third eye. Constant Abhisheka cools
The greatest and the highest Abhisheka is to pour the waters of pure love on the
Atmalinga of the lotus of the heart. The external Abhisheka with various objects
will help the growth of devotion and adoration for Lord Siva and eventually lead
to internal Abhisheka with pure abundant flow of love.
Abhisheka is a part of Siva Puja. Without Abhisheka, worship of Siva is incomplete.
During Abhisheka Rudra, Purushasukta, Chamaka, Maha-mrityunjaya Japa, etc., are
chanted in a particular rhythm and order. Monday is very important day for Lord
Siva and the thirteenth day of the fortnight (Pradosha) is very sacred. On these
days, devotees of Siva worship Him with special Puja, Abhisheka with Ekadasa-Rudra,
Archana, offering plenty of Prasad, and illumination.
In Ekadasa-Rudra Abhisheka, every Rudra is chanted with distinctive articles for
Abhisheka. Ganga water, milk, ghee, honey, rose-water, cocoanut water, sandal paste,
Panchamrita, scented oil, sugarcane juice and lime juice are made use of for Abhisheka.
After every Abhisheka, pure water is poured over the head of Siva. When Rudra is
repeated once, the different articles of Abhisheka are made use of after every stanza
of the Rudra. The Abhisheka water or other articles used for Abhisheka are considered
very sacred and bestow immense benefits on the devotees who take it as the Lord’s
Prasad. It purifies the heart and destroys countless sins. You must take it with
intense Bhava and faith.
When you do Abhisheka with Bhava and devotion, your mind is concentrated. Your heart
is filled with the image of the Lord and divine thoughts. You forget your body and
its relation and surroundings. Egoism gradually vanishes. When there is forgetfulness,
you begin to enjoy and taste the eternal bliss of Lord Siva. Recitation of Rudra
or Om Namassivaya purifies the mind and fills it with Sattva.
If you do Abhisheka with Rudrapatha in the name of a person suffering from any disease
he will be soon freed from that disease. Incurable diseases are cured by Abhisheka.
Abhisheka bestows health, wealth, prosperity, progeny, etc. Abhisheka on Monday
is most auspicious.
By offering Panchamrita, honey, milk, etc., to the Lord, thoughts of your body diminish.
Selfishness slowly vanishes. You derive immense joy. You begin to increase your
offerings unto the Lord. Therefore, self-sacrifice and self-surrender come in. Naturally,
there is an outpouring from your heart, “I am Thine, my Lord. All is Thine, my Lord”.
Kannappa Nayanar, a great devotee of Lord Siva, a hunter by profession, did Abhisheka
with the water in his mouth for the Linga at Kalahasti in South India and propitiated
Lord Siva. Lord Siva is pleased by pure devotion. It is the mental Bhava that counts
and not the outward show. Lord Siva said to the temple priest: “This water from
the mouth of Kannappa, my beloved devotee, is more pure than the water of the Ganga”.
A devotee should be regular in doing Abhisheka for the Lord. He should get by heart
Rudra and Chamakam. Ekadasa Rudra is more powerful and effective. In Northern India,
every man or woman takes a lota of water and pours it on the image of Siva. This
also causes beneficial results and brings about the fulfilment of one’s desire.
Abhisheka on Sivaratri day is very effective.
May you all recite Rudrapatha which describes the glory of Lord Siva and His manifestations
in every living being, in every animate and inanimate being! May you do Abhisheka
daily and thus obtain the grace of Lord Siva! May Lord Visvanatha bless you all!
Fruit of Abhisheka and Rudra Japa in Siva’s Temple
Chamaka is divided into eleven sections. Each of these is then combined with Namaka
(Rudra) and repeated. This is called Rudra. Eleven such Rudras make one Laghu Rudra.
Eleven Laghu Rudras make one Maharudra. Eleven Maharudras make one Atirudra.
Rudra is to be repeated after performing the initial Sankalpa, Puja, Nyasa, Anga.
Panchamritasnana and Dhyana. The fruit of Rudra Japa is stated as shown below:
No. of Japa
Fruit of Japa
Freedom from Bala graha (diseases common to children).
Freedom from imminent difficulties with which one is faced.
Freedom from the evil effects of certain planets occupying unfavourable positions.
Freedom from great fear.
The fruit of one Vajapeya sacrifice; and also attainment of peace of mind.
Getting the favour of kings and great wealth.
Attainment of wishes for objects and having no enemies.
Enjoyment of great happiness.
Attainment of son, grandson, wealth, grain, Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha and freedom
Attainment of the favour of kings and becoming the Lord of great wealth.
Fulfilment of impossible tasks.
Acquirement of vast lands.
Attainment of the seven worlds.
Freedom from births and deaths.
Materials for Abhisheka
Pure water, milk, sugarcane juice, ghee, honey, waters of sacred rivers, sea water.
For getting rain, Abhisheka should be done with pure water.
For freedom from diseases,
and for begetting a son, Abhisheka should be done with milk.
If Abhisheka is done
with milk, even a barren woman begets children. The person also attains plenty of
If Abhisheka is done with Kusa water, one becomes free from all diseases.
He who desires wealth, should perform Abhisheka with ghee, honey and sugarcane juice.
He who desires Moksha, should do Abhisheka with sacred waters.
Source: Reproduced, with the general permission, from Lord Siva and His Worship,
WWW edition 2000, By Sri Swami Sivananda © The Divine Life Trust Society