In Hinduism, the third chief god (with Brahma and Vishnu) making up the Trimurti. As Mahadeva (great lord), he is the creator, symbolized by the phallic lingam, who restores what as Mahakala he destroys. He is often sculpted as Nataraja, performing his fruitful cosmic dance.
His consort or shakti (female principle) is Parvati, otherwise known as Kali or Durga.
Shiva is portrayed in a variety of ways by different Hindu sects and worshippers. To some Hindus he is the destroyer of evil; to others he is the creator, preserver, and destroyer. He is depicted with the River Ganges flowing through his hair. Tradition tells how the Ganges used to flow in heaven but was needed on earth; the river knew that her fall to earth might destroy her, so Shiva broke her fall through his hair. The crescent moon in his hair shows his creative nature.
As Nataraja, ‘Lord of the Dance’, he contains and expresses the cosmic energy of the universe, and dances the world into existence and destruction. In this form his hair falls loose, symbolizing his power. He holds a drum on which he beats out the rhythm of creation, and is surrounded by a circle of fire, symbolizing destruction. The upright hand is in the mudra (hand gesture) of protection, and he stamps on the demon of ignorance. He is worshipped before Indian classical dance performances in recognition of the divine element in all the arts.
Shiva's vehicle is Nandi, the bull, a symbol of male strength and fertility. Shiva wears snakes coiled round his arms and neck, showing his power over deadly animals and, by extension, over life and death. He is also portrayed as a meditating figure holding a trident that symbolizes his three aspects of creator, preserver, and destroyer. These three aspects are also denoted by three horizontal lines on his forehead, also worn by Shaivites (followers of Shiva).
In temples dedicated to Shiva, he is worshipped in the form of a lingam, a cylindrical phallic shape rising out of a horizontal base, the yoni. These two forms symbolize the male and female aspects of god, out of whose unity the world is created.