Back to Home Page or Contents or Hindu Mythology or Article Index
Shiva (or Siva), in Hinduism, is one of the major gods and the center of worship of numerous devotional cults. Shiva composes a triad along with Brahman and Vishnu, and his worship called by a variety of names is primary in Hinduism. Shiva does not appear in early Vedic scriptures where the god Rudra, the Howler or Roarer, the Terrible One, is dominant; as Shiva later assumes a more dominant god role it is from Rudra's characteristics that he assumed the role of destroyer.
Shiva, in the fullest sense, is a god of the common people, although at first excluded by the Aryans. Representations of a god appearing identical to Shiva have been discovered in the cities of the Indus Valley, especially those of stamp seals, where he is shown three-faced and seated in the lotus position of meditation, surrounded by animals, and wearing what appears to be a headdress of horns. In these small representations he appears to be lean and ascetic, his body marked by painted stripes, and his arms extended over his knees. In other representations Shiva is fair, with four faces and three eyes. The third eye, situated in the middle of his forehead, has a fiery glance from which all created things shrink. Three horizontal lines sometimes represent Shiva's third eye, a mark worn by devotees.
It is because the horns of his previously mentioned headdress resemble the horns of the buffalo that Shiva has been associated with the later buffalo god Mhasoba, the deity of primitive pastoral tribes who, though most commonly located in the South, wander all over the subcontinent. The buffalo god was in conflict with the Earth Mother, the goddess of the rival food-gathering (agricultural) people; eventually the two are found linked as male and female, the forerunners, it is presumed, of the Shiva and Shakti (or Shiva-Parvati, Shiva-Durga, etc.) of more prehistoric times. Shiva is also a god of various goblins and demons, minor deities inherited from primitive ages, and is closely identified animals, not only his famous bull Nandi (a bull alone is another motif of the Indus stamp seals) but also a sacred cobra, and the elephant god Maha-Ganapati or Ganesa, his son; he is occasionally glad in a tiger skin or is accompanied by a dear. Possibly all these animals are totemic remnants that have coalesced around this god. Also, over the millennia, innumerable local gods have been absorbed into his more powerful cult and became identified as aspects of Shiva. He has 1,008 names (108 in some recensions), which are but manifestations of his accreted power, and so leading to one of his names of Mahadeva or Mahesvara (the Great God). A.G.H.
Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions: A Short Encyclopedia
of Religions of the Orient, Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1978,
Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980, pp. 79-82