Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Siva or Shiva from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

The third member of the Hindu TRIMURTI, representing the destructive principle in life and also the reproductive or renovating power. He has other contrasting qualities, being a god of ascetics as well as of music, dancing and learning, and in all is a god of many attributes and functions. ‘Siva’, representing the Sanskrit word meaning ‘benevolent’, is only one of his many names. He is generally represented with three eyes and four arms and his symbol is the LINGAM. See also NANDI.

Summary Article: Shiva
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

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.



© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Shiva (or Siva)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

The third member of the Hindu trinity, the Trimurti . He is known as the Destroyer, but also represents generation as symbolized by the...

See more from Credo