This falls on the 13th (or 14th) day of the dark half of Phalgun (February-March). The name means "the night of Shiva". The ceremonies take place chiefly at night. This is a festival observed in honour of Lord Shiva. Shiva was married to Parvati on this day.

People observe a strict fast on this day. Some devotees do not even take a drop of water. They keep vigil all night. The Shiva Lingam is worshipped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc., whilst the chanting of the Mantra Om Namah Shivaya continues. Offerings of bael leaves are made to the Lingam. Bael leaves are very sacred as, it is said, Lakshmi resides in them.

Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva, such as the Shiva Mahimna Stotra of Pushpadanta or Ravana's Shiva Tandava Stotra are sung with great fervour and devotion. People repeat the Panchakshara Mantra, Om Namah Shivaya. He who utters the Names of Shiva during Shivaratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths. Many pilgrims flock to the places where there are Shiva temples.


In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma, whilst resting on the bed of arrows and discoursing on Dharma, refers to the observance of Maha Shivaratri by King Chitrabhanu. The story goes as follows.

Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa, was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king.

The sage asked, "O king! why are you observing a fast today?" 

King Chitrabhanu explained why. He had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth. 

The king said to the sage: "In my past birth I was a hunter in Varanasi. My name was Suswara. My livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One day I was roaming the forests in search of animals. I was overtaken by the darkness of night. Unable to return home, I climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a bael tree. I had shot a deer that day but I had no time to take it home. I bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree. As I was tormented by hunger and thirst, I kept awake throughout the night. I shed profuse tears when I thought of my poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously awaiting my return. To pass away the time that night I engaged myself in plucking the bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.

"The day dawned. I returned home and sold the deer. I bought some food for myself and for my family. I was about to break my fast when a stranger came to me, begging for food. I served him first and then took my food.

"At the time of death, I saw two messengers of Lord Shiva. They were sent down to conduct my soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. I learnt then for the first time of the great merit I had earned by the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. They told me that there was a Lingam at the bottom of the tree. The leaves I dropped fell on the Lingam. My tears which I had shed out of pure sorrow for my family fell onto the Lingam and washed it. And I had fasted all day and all night. Thus did I unconsciously worship the Lord. 

"I lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages. I am now reborn as Chitrabhanu." 


The Scriptures record the following dialogue between Sastri and Atmanathan, giving the inner meaning of the above story.

Sastri: It is an allegory. The wild animals that the hunter fought with are lust, anger, greed, infatuation, jealousy and hatred. The jungle is the fourfold mind, consisting of the subconscious mind, the intellect, the ego and the conscious mind. It is in the mind that these "wild animals" roam about freely. They must be killed. Our hunter was pursuing them because he was a Yogi. If you want to be a real Yogi you have to conquer these evil tendencies. Do you remember the name of the hunter in the story? 

Atmanathan: Yes, he was called Suswara.

Sastri: That's right. It means "melodious". The hunter had a pleasant melodious voice. If a person practices Yama and Niyama and is ever conquering his evil tendencies, he will develop certain external marks of a Yogi. The first marks are lightness of the body, health, steadiness, clearness of countenance and a pleasant voice. This stage has been spoken of in detail in the Swetaswatara Upanishad. The hunter or the Yogi had for many years practised Yoga and had reached the first stage. So he is given the name Suswara. Do you remember where he was born? 

Atmanathan: Yes, his birthplace is Varanasi. 

Sastri: Now, the Yogis call the Ajna Chakra by the name Varanasi. This is the point midway between the eyebrows. It is regarded as the meeting place of the three nerve currents (Nadis), namely, the Ida, Pingala and the Sushumna. An aspirant is instructed to concentrate on that point. That helps him to conquer his desires and evil qualities like anger and so on. It is there that he gets a vision of the Divine Light within. 

Atmanathan: Very interesting! But how do you explain his climbing up the bael tree and all the other details of the worship? 

Sastri: Have you ever seen a bael leaf? 

Atmanathan: It has three leaves on one stalk. 

Sastri: True. The tree represents the spinal column. The leaves are threefold. They represent the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna Nadis, which are the regions for the activity of the moon, the sun and fire respectively, or which may be thought of as the three eyes of Shiva. The climbing of the tree is meant to represent the ascension of the Kundalini Shakti, the serpentine power, from the lowest nerve centre called the Muladhara to the Ajna Chakra. That is the work of the Yogi. 

Atmanathan: Yes, I have heard of the Kundalini and the various psychic centres in the body. Please go on further; I am very interested to know more.

Sastri: Good. The Yogi was in the waking state when he began his meditation. He bundled up the birds and the animals he had slain and, tying them on a branch of the tree, he rested there. That means he had fully conquered his thoughts and rendered them inactive. He had gone through the steps of Yama, Niyama, Pratyahara, etc. On the tree he was practising concentration and meditation. When he felt sleepy, it means that he was about to lose consciousness and go into deep sleep. So he determined to keep awake.

Atmanathan: That is now clear to me; you certainly do explain it very well. But why did he weep for his wife and children?

Sastri: His wife and children are none other than the world. One who seeks the Grace of God must become an embodiment of love. He must have an all-embracing sympathy. His shedding of tears is symbolical of his universal love. In Yoga also, one cannot have illumination without Divine Grace. Without practising universal love, one cannot win that Grace. One must perceive one's own Self everywhere. The preliminary stage is to identify one's own mind with the minds of all created beings. That is fellow-feeling or sympathy. Then one must rise above the limitations of the mind and merge it in the Self. That happens only in the stage of Samadhi, not earlier.

Atmanathan: Why did he pluck and drop the bael leaves?

Sastri: That is mentioned in the story only to show that he had no extraneous thoughts. He was not even conscious of what he was doing. All his activity was confined to the three Nadis. The leaves, I have said before, represent the three Nadis. He was in fact in the second state, namely, the dream state, before he passed into the deep sleep state. 

Atmanathan: He kept vigil the whole night, it is said. 

Sastri: Yes, that means that he passed through the deep sleep state successfully. The dawning of day symbolises the entrance into the Fourth state called Turiya or superconsciousness. 

Atmanathan: It is said that he came down and saw the Lingam. What does that mean? 

Sastri: That means that in the Turiya state he saw the Shiva Lingam or the mark of Shiva in the form of the inner lights. In other words, he had the vision of the Lord. That was an indication to him that he would realise the supreme, eternal abode of Lord Shiva in course of time.

Atmanathan: So it appears from what you say that the sight of the lights is not the final stage?

Sastri: Oh no! That is only one step, albeit a difficult one. Now think of how the story continues. He goes home and feeds a stranger. A stranger is one whom you have not seen before. The stranger is no other than the hunter himself, transformed into a new person. The food was the likes and dislikes which he had killed the previous night. But he did not consume the whole of it. A little still remained. That was why he had to be reborn as King Chitrabhanu. Going to the world of Shiva (Salokya) is not enough to prevent this. There are other stages besides Salokya. These are Samipya, Sarupya and finally Sayujya. Have you not heard of Jaya and Vijaya returning from Vaikunta?

Atmanathan: Yes, I have understood now. 


When creation had been completed, Shiva and Parvati went out to live on the top of Mount Kailas. Parvati asked, "O venerable Lord! which of the many rituals observed in Thy honour doth please Thee most?" 

The Lord replied, "The 14th night of the new moon, in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun, is my most favourite day. It is known as Shivaratri. My devotees give me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths and offerings of flowers, sweets and incense. 

"The devotee observes strict spiritual discipline in the day and worships Me in four different forms during each of the four successive three-hour periods of the night. The offering of a few bael leaves is more precious to Me than the precious jewels and flowers. My devotee should bathe Me in milk at the first period, in curd at the second, in clarified butter at the third, and in honey at the fourth and last. Next morning, he should feed the Brahmins first and, after performing the prescribed ceremonies, he can break his fast. O Parvati! there is no ritual which can compare with this simple routine in sanctity." 

Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Loid Shiva. She repeated it to Her friends who in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus was the sanctity of Shivaratri broadcast all over the world.

The two great natural forces that afflict man are Rajas (the quality of passionate activity) and Tamas (that of inertia). The Shivaratri Vrata aims at the perfect control of these two. The entire day is spent at the Feet of the Lord. Continuous worship of the Lord necessitates the devotee's constant presence in the place of worship. Motion is controlled. Evils like lust, anger, and jealousy, born of Rajas are ignored and subdued. The devotee observes vigil throughout the night and thus conquers Tamas also. Constant vigilance is imposed on the mind. Every three hours a round of worship of the Shiva Lingam is conducted. Shivaratri is a perfect Vrata.

The formal worship consists of bathing the Lord. Lord Shiva is considered to be the Form of Light (which the Shiva Lingam represents). He is burning with the fire of austerity. He is therefore best propitiated with cool bathing. While bathing the Lingam the devotee prays: "O Lord! I will bathe Thee with water, milk, etc. Do Thou kindly bathe me with the milk of wisdom. Do Thou kindly wash me of all my sins, so that the fire of worldliness which is scorching me may be put out once for all, so that I may be one with Thee-the One alone without a second." 

At the Shivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, the Shivaratri festival is celebrated in the following manner.

1.      All spiritual aspirants fast the whole day, many of them without taking even a single drop of water. 

2.      A grand havan is performed for the peace and welfare of all.

3.      The whole day is spent in doing the Japa of Om Namah Shivaya and in meditation upon the Lord.

4.      At night all assemble in the temple and chant Om Namah Shivaya the whole night.

5.      During the four quarters of the night the Shiva Lingam is worshipped with intense devotion.

6.      Sannyas Diksha is also given on this day to sincere seekers on the path.

Offer this inner worship to Lord Shiva daily: "I worship the jewel of my Self, the Shiva residing in the Lotus of my heart. I bathe Him with the water of my pure mind brought from the river of faith and devotion. I worship Him with the fragrant flowers of Samadhi-all this so that I may not be born again in this world."

Here is another formula for the supreme worship of the Lord: "O Shiva! you are my Self. My mind is Parvati. My Pranas are your servants. My body is your house. My actions in this world are your worship. My sleep is Samadhi. My walk is circumambulation of you. My speech is your prayer. Thus do I offer all that I am to you.

 MahaShivaratri  (Magha Krsna Chaturdasi)

[The 14th day of the dark half of every month- Krsna Chaturdasi- is called 'Shivaratri' or 'Maha-Shivaratri'. The one in the month of Magha (February-March) is christened 'MahaShivaratri', since it is the greatest of all.]

Of all the major Hindu festivals, MahaShivaratri is the only one wherein the austerity part (as signified by the very word 'vrata') is predominant. There is practically no festivity, revelry or gaiety in its observance, the whole thing being one of continuous solemnity. This is but natural since Shiva is the god of the ascetics, the very incarnation of vairagya or renunciation!

This vrata is open to all human beings. The basic disciplines to be kept up on this day are ahimsa (non-injury), satya (speaking the truth), Brahmacharya (continence), daya (compassion), Ksama (forgiveness) and anasuyata (absence of jealousy).

Fasting is one of the most essential aspects of this vrata. So also jagarana or keeping vigil in the night. Worship of Shiva throughout the night, bathing the Shivalinga with panchamrta (five tasty things- milk, curds, ghee, sugar and honey), homa, japa of the mulamantra (basic mantra, viz., Om Namas Shivaya) and prayer for forgiveness- are the other items involved in its observance.
               - Swami Harshananda, Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore

"Melt ye in praise of this secret word of God,
It is the touchstone of Truth, in all the four Vedas,
The Name of the Lord - NamaShivaya."
--- Saint Tirugnana Sambandar (Tirumurai Saint).


Legend : On a moonless night in February every year, occurs the night of Shiva, the destroyer. This is the night when he is said to have performed the Tandava or the dance of creation, preservation and destruction.

Practice : Devotees of Shiva fast during the day and maintain a long vigi during the night. In temples all across the country, bells ring, sacred texts are chanted and traditional offerings of leaves and milk are made to the Shiva lingam, the phallic symbol of the god. According to ancient scriptures, Shiva manifests himself in the form of a huge flaming lingam known as Jyotirlinga on Shivratri. It is the duty of every worshipper to worship this lingam with at least one bilwa leaf.

To help the devout keep awake, stories or katha expounding the greatness of Shiva are organised, devotional hymns and songs sung and sacred texts recited.

Shiva is worshipped to release the worshipper from the cycle of birth and rebirth. In Kashmir, the festival is held for 15 days; the thirteenth day is observed as Herath, a day of fast followed by a family feast

From other sources

What is the difference between the soul and the mind?

The soul is the consciousness or the knowing principle in man.
The mind belongs to the category of matter.

Shiva is the soul and Parvati is the mind.

The consciousness is the Reality, the unchanging, unmoving, all pervading soul.

Mind being matter is changeable and unreal.

We perceive objects through the organs of sense perception. The soul enables the organs to perceive the objects. The soul exists in all living beings as consciousness. It is the light of the soul that makes the sense-organs and the mind appear alive and luminous.

Shiva is the unchanging consciousness – Nirguna or without form or shape. This unchanging consciousness-Shiva – becomes saguna or with form, when Maya Shakti, which is Shiva’s illusive power appears as mind and matter. This phenomenon is known as Ardhanarishwar. (See Page ‘Ardhanarishwar’ in the column on the left.)

Shiva’s Maya-Shakti is known by various names such as Uma, Parvati, Kali, Durga etc. This Maya-Shakti or power inheres in Shiva just as the burning power inheres in fire, sweetness in sugar, whiteness in milk and meaning in the words.

Shiva stands for the Absolute, the unchanging, static background, of which Kali, the Shakti (power) is the dynamic expression. We call this Shakti or power Mother or Goddess. Goddess Kali combines in herself creative dynamism, destructive terror and redemptive grace.

God’s power that is enveloped by Tamo-guna-pradhana is Lord Shiva.

Shiva’s trishul or trident (the three pointed javelin like weapon) represents the three gunas –Sattwa,Rajas and Tamas. The Trishul is the emblem of sovereignity. Lord Shiva wields the world through these three gunas, which is the composition of Maya-Shakti or mind and matter. In other words, if one were able to analyse the composition of Maya-Shakti, it will be found to be made of the combination of the three Gunas (Sattwa-Rajas-Tamas).

Shiva is Trilochana, the three- eyed one, in the centre of whose forehead is the third eye, the eye of wisdom (gnana-chakshu). The burning power of the wisdom of the third eye destroys desires for worldly objects. Sensual desire and lust is represented by Kamadev, the god of love (Eros or Cupid). When a person reaches a state of perfect renunciation- he is said to have burnt all his desires. Shiva’s third eye burnt to ashes Kamadev- the god of love. The eye of wisdom leads to transcendental vision of the Supreme Reality.

We recite regularly the following Maha Mritanjay Mantra from the Sukla Yajurveda Samhita III. 60.

Om Trayambakam Yajaamahe Suganghim Pushtivardhanam,

Urvaarukmiva Bandhanaan Mrityor Mokshiya Mamritaat

[The meaning of the Mantra is as follows:]

I worship thee, O sweet Lord of transcendental vision (the three -eyed one or Lord Shiva). O giver of prosperity to all, may I be free from the bonds of death, even as a melon (or cucumber) is severed from its bondage or attachment to the creeper.

The word Shiva signifies the auspicious. The good Lord Shiva roots out sin and terror, and is the bestower of earthly happiness, promoter of good and auspiciousness. Shiva is also called Samkara which means doer of good.

Shiva takes one beyond the three bodies (Tripura), gross, subtle and causal that envelope the Jiva or the embodied soul. He is hence the Hara or the remover of all evil and the ideal of renunciation. Therefore we hail ‘Hara hara Mahadeva.’

In the Rigveda (x,121,4) it is written: Yasya ime himavanto mahitva. That the snow capped Himalayas appear as if they are meditating (dhyayativa), and they are the concrete symbol of the glory of the Supreme. Hence it is no wonder that most of its attributes are transferred to Shiva. Kailash (mountain) in the Himalayas is the abode of Lord Shiva.

The snowy Himalayas are white and Shiva’s body is also white – Gauranga (gauri = light complexioned). Karpura gaura = camphor hued white. Shiva’s body is smeared with bhasma or ashes to indicate renunciation, whitenes and purity. 

After Arati (devotional adoration of the Lord with waving of lamps) we usually recite the following prayer:

Karpur gauram karunaa avataaram, sansaar saaram 

Bhujgendra haaram, Sadaa vasantam hridayaarvinde,

Bhavam Bhavaani sahitam namaami

I  bow to that camphor-hued, white complexioned (Lord Shiva), who is Incarnation of compassion, 

who is the very essence of (consciousness; the knowing principle) of life (of the embodied soul); 

Who wears snakes as garlands, whose eternal abode is in the heart of the devotee, I bow to Him (Lord 

Shiva) and His consort Bhavani (Uma or Paarvati).

Karpur (camphor-hued); Gauram (white); Karunaa (compassion); Avataaram (incarnation); Sansaar (life of the embodied soul); Saaram (essence, the knowing principle or consciousness);Bhujagendra (wearer of snakes or who wields the Serpent power of Kundalini Shakti); Haaram (garlands); Sadaa (eternal); Vasantam (resides); Hridayaarvinde (in the heart of the devotee); Bhavam (Lord Shiva); Bhavaani (Uma or Paarvati); Sahitam (together); Namaami (I bow).

The rain water is locked up in the Himalayas as snow or ice and river Ganga (Ganges) falling from the heaven is locked up in the Jata (matted locks) of Shiva. Hence Shiva is called Ganga-dhara. River Ganga issues from the Himalayas, and Ganga flows down to earth from Shiva’s matted locks after release. The holy river flows down from Shiva’s head and therefore it symbolises the stream of wisdom.

Snakes are symbolic of the mental powers (the coiled up serpent power of Kundalini Shakti) under the control of the divinity. The moon symbolises mind in a state of tranquility and purity. The Damaru (a small drum-like instrument in Lord Shiva’s hand) represents the sabda Brahman. This is AUM and the sound of AUM (OM), from which all languages are formed.

The Mala (rosary) is made from the Rudraksha beads. The Shiva Purana (25th chapter) describes Lord Shiva, the Yogeshwar (master of Yoga), meditating for thousands of years for the benefit of people everywhere. According to the legend, when Shiva opened his eyes, some tear-drops fell on earth and grew into Rudraksha trees. These trees grow in several parts of India.

Both the Shiva Mahapurana and the Devi Bhagavatam describe Rudraksha beads as highly auspicious. The mere looking at Rudraksha beads creates auspiciousness. Touching the Rudraksha beads multiplies the auspiciousness manifold, and the wearing of Rudraksha Mala (rosary) augurs almost continuous flow of auspiciousness.

Rudraksha beads are found with from one eye to up to fourteen eyes or fourteen sided beads. Their medicinal and other uses are specific to how many sides there are on the beads. For example:

One sided Rudraksha bead is producer of worldly happiness and liberation, producer of wealth, destroyer of obstacles and problems, fulfiller of wishes and highly effective in tuberculosis type of diseases.

Two sided Rudraksha bead helps to increase mental powers, calms agitated minds, helps to overcome Tamasic Guna.

Three sided Rudraksha bead helps in acquiring knowledge and skills, helps increase digestive power, effective in reducing fever and in eye diseases.

Four sided Rudraksha bead works wonders in increasing memory, especially helpful to those with weak memory. Also improves power of speech. The procedure is to drink for twenty days, milk boiled with Rudraksha beads.

Since Shiva is the unchanging consciousness-Nirguna or without form, how to give a form to the formless for the purpose of worship? This dilemma is solved through the symbol of the Shiva-Linga. Like the inverted bowl with the limitless rim called the sky, the Shiva-Linga represents visible infinity. When Shiva and Shakti are separated into a duality of chit and sat- consciousness and manifest existence or matter (subject and object), the universe of different planes of existence comes into being. This is variously described as spirit and matter, Purusha and prakriti, Brahman and Maya, Shiva and Shakti, Linga and Yoni etc.

A legend

When creation was completed, Shiva and Parvati went to live on top of Mount Kailash

Parvati asked: "O adorable Lord, which of the many rituals observed in your honour does please you most?"

Lord Shiva replied: "The fourteenth night of the new moon in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun is my favourite day. It is called ‘Shivaratri’. My devotees give me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths and offerings of flowers, sweets and incense. The offering of a few bilwa (bael) leaves is more precious to me than precious jewels and flowers. My devotee must observe strict spiritual discipline during the day and worship me at night "

Parvati was deeply impressed by the words of Lord Shiva. She repeated them to her friends, who in their turn passed them on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus was the sanctity of Shivaratri broadcast all over the world.

On Mahashivaratri, the devotees observe strict spiritual disciplines during the day. The devotees worship Lord Shiva at night in four different ways during each of the four successive three hour periods of the night. Bathing the Shiva-Linga in milk in the first period, in curd during the second period, in ghee in the third period and in honey in the fourth and last period. Every three hours, a round of worship of Shiva Linga is conducted. Evils like lust, anger, jealousy, born of Rajas and Tamas, are subdued. The devotees break the fast after the fourth and last round. In the morning, the devotees should feed the Brahmins (priests) first and after doing the prescribed ceremonies, break the fast. The devotees observe vigil throughout the night. After the completion of the rites of Shivaratri, the devotee presents gifts or donations to the officiating priests.

According to Vedic scriptures, the performance of this ritual is both obligatory and desirable. The injunction laid down for the performance of the ritual for transforming the devotee’s body into a residence fit for the divinity are: non-injury to living creatures, truthfulness, freedom from anger, celibacy, compassion, forbearance, austerities, calmness, freedom from passion and malice. As a reward, it is said that one who performs the sacrifice of Shivaratri with all the attendant rituals and keeps the fast according to the rules laid down gets happiness and realises his most cherished desires.

In the case of Shiva as chief of ascetics, no food is generally offered as prasad. The daily ceremonials are of austerely simple kind. Water is poured on Shiva-Linga with perhaps a few oblations of flowers and bilwa leaves. It is remarkable that even in cases where food is offered to this divinity it is not allowed to be eaten by his votaries. According to the Brahminical rule, ‘leaves, flowers, fruits and water become unfit to be consumed after being consecrated to Shiva’.

The three most important religious activities during the Maha-Shivaratri festival are: fasting during the entire lunar day, keeping a strict night vigil and worshipping the lingam with offerings of foods, leaves, flowers etc. and with recitation of mantras. The two great natural forces that afflict man are Rajas (quality of passion) and Tamas (inertia). The Shivaratri Vrata aims at the perfect control of these two qualities.

The motivation behind the vrata or fast is mainly the promotion of physical and mental self-control by acts of penance, thanks giving, praise of the Supreme Lord and for desiring special boon.

Swami Shivananda of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, advised to offer this inner worship to Lord Shiva daily:

"O Lord Shiva, Thou art my self. My mind is Parvati. My pranas are Thy servants. My body is Thy house. All my actions in this world are Thy worship. My sleep is samadhi. My walk is circumambulation around Thee. My speech is prayer unto Thee. Thus do I offer unto Thee all that I am."

The following is from the Tulasi Ramayana, Uttara-Kanda, Doha   45:

"Sankara Bhajan Bina Nara Bhagati Na Paavai Mori"
Sri Rama said: "With joined palms I lay before you all another secret doctrine: without adoring Sankara (Lord Shiva) man cannot attain devotion to Me."

Lord Shiva
From other sources

Lord Shiva has at least four quite distinct characters, each of which has a female or active energising counterpart (shakti).

In the first place, as Shiva, Sada-Shiva, Shankara or Shambhu, the eternally blessed one or the source of blessings. He is the eternal reproducing power of nature, perpetually restoring and reproducing itself after dissolution, under which Shiva is often identified with the eternal creative essence, the great eternal Supreme being as Maha-Deva or the Supreme Lord termed Ishwara. Hence in this aspect Shiva is represented by the symbol of the Lingam and the Yoni combined.

Temples that hold this Shiva’s emblem or symbol, which is of a double form to express the blending of the male and female principles in creation, are probably the most numerous of any temples to be seen in India. There can be no doubt, in fact, that the Supreme creative power is universally worshipped throughout India, under the name of Shiva and of his consort Jagan-Matri, or Mother of the universe.

In the second place, as Maha-Yogi is the great representative Yogi or Tapasvi, who has attained the highest perfection and meditation and austerity. In this aspect Shiva appears as an austere naked ascetic (Digambara) with body covered with ashes and matted hair (dhurjati), abiding fixed and immovable in one spot (sthanu), teaching men by his own example the power to be acquired by renunciation, suppression of passions, and abstract contemplation and meditation as leading to the highest spiritual knowledge. In this aspect of the yogi, as in that of the reproducer, He is also sometimes called the ‘Blessed one’ (Shiva).

In the third place, Shiva is the entire reverse of the ascetical. In this aspect, living in the Himalaya mountains with his consort Parvati, often dancing with her the Tandava dance, He is surrounded by dwarfish troops (gana). This is the aspect in which He is worshipped by Tantrikas.

In the fourth place, as Rudra or Mahakala, he is the destroying or dissolving power of nature; when he is either a personification of all matter resolving itself into its constituent elements or of Kala (Time), the great dissolver. The more active principle of destruction being assigned to his consort Kali.

In the fourth place, there are yet two other aspects of Shiva. In the first of these, as the dissolver of the universe, He is the terrible destroyer (Bhairav), with His consort Kali engaged in the active role.

In the second of these, He is also called Bhuteswara, Lord of spirits or demons, haunting cemeteries and burial grounds, wearing serpents for garlands, and a string of skulls for a necklace. As Bhuteswara, He is sometimes surrounded by troops of imps and spirits (bhuta), and sometimes He is trampling on rebellious demons who have acquired too great power.

Here we may observe that in every one of his aspects, the consort of Shiva is not only His counterpart, but generally represents an intensification of his attributes. As destructress, She is Kali, as reproducer she is symbolised by the Yoni (Shiva’s emblem). She is the mother of the universe (Jagan-matri). She is the type of beauty in Uma. She has also her forms as a female ascetic (yogini). In her role as destructress, she is Bhairavi Durga. As a mountaneer, she is Parvati. All these attributes are combined in her aspect of Mother Durga.

Shiva and Parvati represent the gathering together, and unifying in one personality, numerous attributes, properties and functions belonging to various deities and various divine forces. 

The destructive energies of the atmosphere exhibited in wind and storm and personified in the Vedas as Vayu, Rudra and the Maruts; the all consuming potency of time; the fertilising properties present in dew and rain; the almighty agencies operating in creation and the same agencies operating as re-creation or reproduction; the power of asceticism exhibited in the Maha-yogi; the terrific frightful agencies and operations of demons and spirits; as Shiva, Sada-Shiva, Shankara, Shambhu- the eternally blessed one or causer of blessings; He is the eternal reproducing power of nature, perpetually restoring and reproducing itself after dissolution. Under which He is identified with the eternal creative essence, the great eternal Supreme Being as Maha-Deva or Supreme Lord Ishwara. 

Hence in this aspect, Shiva is represented by the symbol of the linga and yoni, rather than by any human personification. The Shiva-Linga symbolises the blending of the male and female principles in creation. This Supreme creative power is universally worshipped throughout India under the name of Shiva and His consort Jagan-Matri- mother of the universe- all these have been centralised in Shiva and His consort personified as half male and half female known as Ardhanarishwara (symbolising the union of spirit and matter).

From The Mahabharata, Sauptika Parva,
Sections VI/ VII

                         Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Aswatthaman, the son of Drona, said: I shall at this hour seek the protection of the puissant Mahadeva! I will take the shelter of that god, that source of everything beneficial, viz., the lord of Uma, otherwise called Kapardin, decked with a garland of human skulls, that plucker of Bhaga’s eyes called also Rudra and Hara. In ascetic austerities and prowess, he far surpasses all the gods. I shall, therefore, seek the protection of Girisha (Shiva) armed with the trident.

I seek the protection of Him called Fierce, Stanu, Shiva, Rudra, Sarva, Isana, Iswara, Girisha; and of that boon giving god who is the Creator and Lord of the universe; of Him whose throat is blue, who is without birth, who is called Sakra, who destroyed the sacrifice of Daksha, and who is called Hara; of Him whose form is the universe, who has three eyes, who is possessed of multifarious forms, and who is the lord of Uma; of Him who resides in crematoriums, who swells with energy, who is the lord of diverse tribes of ghostly beings, and who is the possessor of undecaying prosperity and power; of Him who wields the skull-topped club, who is called Rudra, who bears matted locks on his head, and who is a Brahmacharin (celibate). Purifying my soul that is so difficult to purify, and possessed as I am of small energy, I adore the Destroyer of the triple city, and offer myself as the victim. Hymned thou hast been, deserving art thou of hymns, and I hymn to thy glory!

Thou art robed in skins; thou hast red hair on thy head. Thou art pure; thou art the Creator of Brahman; thou art Brahma; thou art an observer of vows; thou art devoted to ascetic austerities; thou art the refuge of all ascetics; thou art the leader of diverse tribes of ghostly beings; thou art three eyed; thou art dear to Gauri’s heart; thou hast for thy excellent bearer a bovine bull; thou art the protector of all quarters; thou hast the moon as an ornament on thy brow! 

From the Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, sections CXL/CXLI
                         Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Uma said: O holy one, why are those faces of thine which are on the east, the north, and the west, so handsome and so agreeable to look at like the very moon? And why is that face of thine which is on the south so terrible? Why are thy matted locks tawny and so erect? Why is thy throat blue after the manner of the peacock’s plumes? Why, O illustrious deity, is the Pinaka always in thy hand? Why art thou always a Brahmacharin with matted locks? O lord, it behoveth thee to explain all these to me. I am thy spouse who seeks to follow the same duties with thee. Further, I am thy devoted worshipper, O deity, having the bull for thy mark!

The blessed and holy one (Shiva) said: …. I became four-faced through Yoga-puissance. Thus I showed my high Yoga- power in becoming four faced. With that face of mine which is turned towards the east, I exercise the sovereignty of the universe. With that face of mine which is turned towards the north, I sport with thee, O thou of faultless features! That face of mine which is turned towards the west is agreeable and auspicious. With it I ordain the happiness of all creatures. That face of mine which is turned towards the south is terrible. With it I destroy all creatures. 

I live as a Brahmacharin with matted locks on my head, impelled by the desire of doing good to all creatures. The bow Pinaka is always in my hand for accomplishing the purposes of the deities. In days of yore, Indra (king of heaven), desirous of acquiring my prosperity, had hurled his thunderbolt at me. With that weapon my throat was scorched. For this reason I have become blue-throated.

Uma said: O holy one, O lord of all creatures, O foremost of all observers of duties and religious rites, I have great doubt, O wielder of Pinaka, O giver of boons. These ascetics, O puissant lord, have undergone diverse kinds of austerities. In the world are seen ascetics wandering everywhere under diverse forms and clad in diverse kinds of attire. For benefiting this large assemblage of Rishis, as also myself, do thou kindly resolve, O chastiser of all foes, this doubt of mine. What indications has Religion or Duty been said to possess? How, indeed, do men become unacquainted with the details of Religion or Duty to succeed in observing them? O puissant lord, O thou that art conversant with Religion, do thou tell me this.

Maheswara said: Abstention from injury, truthfulness of speech, compassion towards all beings, tranquillity of soul, and the making of gifts to the best of one’s power, are the foremost duties of the householder.

Abstention from sexual congress with the spouses of other men, protection of the wealth and the woman committed to one’s charge, unwillingness to appropriate what is not given to one, and avoidance of honey and meat, these are the five chief duties. Indeed, Religion or Duty has many branches all of which are fraught with happiness. Even these are the duties which these embodied creatures who regard duty as superior should observe and practise. Even these are the sources of merit.

From The Mahabharata, Santi Parva, section XLVIII
                        Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Bhishma said: Salutation to thee in thy form of vastness! Thou hadst assumed the form of a recluse with matted locks on head, staff in hand, a long stomach, and having thy begging bowl for thy quiver. Salutation to thee in thy form of Brahmacharin. Thou bearest the trident, thou art the lord of the celestials, thou hast three eyes, and thou art high-souled. Thy body is always besmeared with ashes, and thy phallic emblem is always turned upwards. Salutations to thee in thy form of Rudra! The half-moon forms the ornament of thy forehead. Thou hast snakes for the holy thread circling thy neck. Thou art armed with Pinaka and trident. Salutation to thy form of Fierceness. Thou art the soul of all creatures. Thou art the Creator and destroyer of all creatures. Thou art without wrath, without enmity, without affection. Salutation to thee in thy form of Peace!

Shiva and Rudra
From The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Section CLXI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Shiva has two forms. One of these is terrible, and the other mild and auspicious.

Vasudeva said: O mighty armed Yudhishthira, listen to me as I recite to thee the many names of Rudra as also the high blessedness of that high-souled one. The Rishis describe Mahadeva as Agni, and Sthanu, and Maheswara; as one-eyed, and three eyed, of universal form, and Shiva or highly auspicious. 

Brahmanas conversant with the Vedas say that Shiva has two forms. One of these is terrible, and the other mild and auspicious. Those two forms again, are subdivided into many forms. That form which is fierce and terrible is regarded as identical with Agni and Lightning and Surya (fire, lightning and sun). The other form which is mild and auspicious is identical with Righteousness and Water and Chandramas (moon).Then again, it is said that half his body is fire and half is Soma (or the moon). That form of his which is mild and auspicious is said to be engaged in the practice of the Brahmacharya (Celibacy) vow. The other form of his which is supremely terrible is engaged in all operations of destructions in the universe.

Because he is great (Mahat) and the Supreme Lord of all (Iswara), therefore he is called Maheswara. And since he burns and oppresses, is keen and fierce, and endued with great energy, and is engaged in eating flesh and blood and marow, he is said to be Rudra. Since he is the foremost of all the deities, and since his dominion and acquisitions are very extensive, and since he protects the extensive universe, therefore he is called Mahadeva. Since he is of the form or colour of smoke, therefore he is called Dhurjati. Since by all his acts he performs sacrifices for all and seeks the good of every creature, therefore he is called Shiva or the auspicious one.

Staying above (in the sky) he burns the lives of all creatures and is, besides, fixed in a particular route from which he does not deviate. His emblem, again, is fixed and immovable for all time. He is, for these reasons, called Sthanu. He is also of multiform aspect. He is present, past and future. He is mobile and immobile. For this he is called Vahurupa (of multiform aspect). The deities called Viswedevas reside in his body. He is, for this, called Viswarupa (of universal form). He is thousand-eyed; or he is myriad-eyed; or, he has eyes on all sides and on every part of his body. His energy issues through his eyes. There is no end of his eyes. Since he nourishes all creatures and sports also with them, and since he is their lord and master, therefore he is called Pasupati (the lord of all creatures).

If there is one who worships him by creating his image, another who worships his emblem, the latter it is that attains to great prosperity for ever. 

Since his emblem is always observant of the vow of Brahmacharya, all the wolds worship it accordingly. This act of worship is said to gratify him highly. If there is one who worships him by creating his image, another who worships his emblem, the latter it is that attains to great prosperity for ever. The Rishis, the deities, the Gandharvas, and the Apsaras, worship that emblem of his which is ever erect and upraised. If his emblem is worshipped, Mahadeva becomes highly gratified with the worshipper. Affectionate towards his devotees, he bestows happiness upon them with a cheerful soul.

This great god loves to reside in crematoria and there he burns and consumes all corpses. Those persons that perform sacrifices on such grounds attain at the end to those regions which have been set apart for heroes. Employed in his legitimate function, he it is that is regarded as the Death that resides in the bodies of all creatures. He is again, those breaths called Prana and Apana in the bodies of all embodied beings. He has many blazing and terrible forms. All those forms are worshipped in the world and are known as Brahmanas possessed of knowledge. Amongst the gods he has many names all of which are fraught with grave import. Verily, the meanings of those names are derived from either his greatness or vastness, or his feats, or his conduct. The Brahmanas always recite the excellent Sata-rudriya in his honour, that occurs in the Vedas as also that which has been composed by Vyasa. Verily, the Brahmanas and Rishis call him the eldest of all beings. He is the first of all the deities, and it was from his mouth that he created Agni.

That righteous-souled deity, ever willing to grant protection to all, never gives up his suppliants. He would much rather abandon his own life-breaths and incur all possible afflictions himself. Long life, health and freedom from disease, affluence, wealth, diverse kinds of pleasures and enjoyments, are conferred by him, and it is he also who snatches them away. The lordship and affluence that one sees in Sakra and the other deities are, verily his. It is he who is always engaged in all that is good and evil in the three worlds. In consequence of his fullest control over all objects of enjoyment he is called Iswara (the Supreme Lord or Master). Since, again, he is the master of the vast universe, he is called Maheswara. The whole universe is pervaded by him in diverse forms. It is that deity whose mouth roars and burns the waters of the sea in the form of the huge mare’s head. 

[Note:The allusion is to the fiery mare’s head which is supposed to wander through the ocean.]