Followers of Hinduism who focus their worship upon Shiva are called Shaivites or Shaivas (Sanskrit Saiva). Shaivism, along with Vai?ava traditions that focus on Vishnu and Sakta traditions that focus on the goddess Shakti, is one of the most influential denominations in Hinduism.
Shiva is usually worshipped in the abstract form of Shiva linga. In images, he is generally represented as immersed in deep meditation or dancing the Tandava upon Apasmara Purusha, the demon of ignorance in his manifestation of Nataraja, the lord of the dance. He is also the father of Ganesha, Murugan, and Ayyappa.
As both the destroyer and the corpse, he is death. His dance of life follows Kali's but so too his dance of death. In one creation myth there love making wrought the world. Guess what happens if they do it again? Poof Shiva can be both gentle and fierce depending on the soul he is claiming. As the corpse he lies beneath Kali as she tramples him in her holy ecstacy. As the destroyer and Howler he shatters evil, both in men and demons. These last two faces of death take only the most wicked to a just and horrendous afterlife where suffering erases sin.
All that has a beginning by necessity must have an end. In destruction, truly nothing is destroyed but the illusion of individuality. Thus the power of destruction associated with Lord Shiva has great purifying power, both on a more personal level when problems make us see reality more clearly, as on a more universal level. Destruction opens the path for a new creation of the universe, a new opportunity for the beauty and drama of universal illusion to unfold. As Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram or Truth, Goodness and Beauty, Shiva represents the most essential goodness.
Forms of Shiva
Shiva has many forms, which are visible in his Panchavaktra form with 5 heads, a combination of all Shiva energies : Aghora (resides in the creamation grounds), Ishana (most often appears as the shivalingam), Tat Purusha (meditating), Varna Deva (the eternal Shiva) and Saddyojat or Braddha Rudra (the old wrathful form). The last also forms the connection to the Rudraksha mala - a rosary made of the dried fruits of the Rudraksha tree.
Another form is the Nataraj. Shiva Nataraj's dance represents both the destruction and the creation of the universe and reveals the cycles of death, birth and rebirth. His Dance of Bliss is for the welfare of the world. In the pose of Nataraj, the King of Dance is giving darshan to his beloved devotees within the "Hall of Consciousness", which is the heart of man. Under his feet, Shiva crushes the demon of ignorance called Apasmara Purusha, caused by forgetfulness. One hand is stretched across his chest and points towards the uplifted foot, indicating the release from earthly bondage of the devotee. The fire represents the final destruction of creation, but the dance of the Nataraj is also an act of creation, which arouses dormant energies and scatters the ashes of the universe in a pattern that will be the design of the ensuing creation.
Yet another manifestation of Lord Shiva is said to be Hanuman, the ultimate karma yogi, in never-ending selfless service to Ram. The fact that this is not really clear can be perfectly explained by the understanding that a true karma yogi will never take the credit for his acts, as they would otherwise not be entirely selfless. The ego would still get the credit. So, in order to respect Shiva as a true karma yogi, let us not pay too much attention to this manifestation.
The Mahamrityunyaya form of Shiva is the great conqueror of death. The Mahamrityunjaya mantra is one of the two main mantras of the Vedas, next to the Gayatri mantra. It is chanted to remove death and disease. This form of Shiva also is the being of pure joy, referring to the unconditioned enjoyment of the perfectly peaceful mind. That is the true nature of the divine elixir that this Shiva offers his devotees in no less than four hands.
Another main form of Shiva is Ardhnarishwara, half Shiva, half Shakti. Also related to Shiva is Indra.
The Shiva Lingam
Lord Shiva is conceived in his unborn, invisible form as the Shiva Lingam. The Lingam represents the male creative energy of Shiva. This main symbol of Shiva is worshipped in virtually every Hindu temple and home. The phallus is not worshipped as such, but through it Shiva is worshipped as the supreme consciousness. Embracing the base of the linga is the yoni, the female organ, as the universal energy, as Shakti, Shiva's spouse. Through profound understanding of this symbol, the mystery of creation can be understood as an act of love.
When Ganga incarnated on Earth, Lord Shiva captured her in his hair to avoid that she would flood all of Earth (See the Life of Ganga).
Shiva worshippers (Shaivites) are among India's most ascetic yogis, their body smeared with ashes, dressed in saffron colors and wearing a Rudraksha mala. The path of Shiva can thus be seen as the inward-going path, the great journey to find the self. This path is complementary to the path of Vishnu, which is the outgoing path, bringing out the self from within and letting it manifest in the universe and our lives.
Further reading (free e-books):Mama San Ra Ab Rampa - Flor Silvestre
Francesca De Grandis - Goddess Initiation
Howard Phillips Lovecraft - The Festival
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