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Siva (also spelled Shiva) is one the major deities in the Hindu pantheon. Known in the West through shallow popularizations as the "Destroyer God," and contrasted with Brahma ("the Creator God") and Visnu ("The Preserver God"), he is actually far more than one-third of a triad to his Indian devotees (called Saivites), for they view him as the Supreme Being, the ultimate Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer of the Universe. To goddess worshipping Hindus (called Saktiites), who devote themselves to female divinities such as Kali, Durga, and Parvati, Siva is the "consort," described in various religious texts as the teacher, pupil, friend, lover, husband, or sacrificial victim of the goddess who is the Supreme Being. Among those who worship Visnu (Vaisnavites), Siva is a fairly minor god, one whose chief distinction is that he aided and assisted Visnu during the creation of the universe by drinking a poison that developed during the churning of the buttermilk sea from which the cosmos was precipitated.

Siva is typically depicted as a thin, near-naked man with long hair worn in a top-knot. He usually has two arms when shown seated in meditation as an ascetic and four arms when shown performing his tandava dance of cosmic destruction. In his ascetic form he sits on or is clothed in a tiger-, leopard-, or lion-skin. He carries a double-headed drum and a trident or gig, called in Sanskrit a trisula, which he uses as a weapon. His vehicle is a bull whose name is Nandi. His chief decoration consists of the crescent moon in his hair, and bracelets and necklaces of living cobra snakes (nagas). He is sometimes shown holding prayer beads (malla) in one hand. His forehead is marked with a design of horizontal stripes.




Because one of the major sites of Siva-worship is the ice cavern of Amarnatha in Kashmir, where a giant natural ice-stalagmite serves as a linga, Siva is often shown meditating in the snow among mountain ranges. In his hair, especially in contemporary images, one can often find the small face of the goddess of the river Ganges spouting water, symbolic of his home in the mountains, from which the sacred river begins its course. This Himalayan image also accords with Siva's status as the consort of two ancient regional mountain goddesses, Uma and Parvati. As the consort of Parvati, the god is usually shown in an outdoor domestic setting, a happy husband and the father of the elephant-headed god Ganesh and his half-brother Kartikeya.

On the contrary, when Siva is viewed as the consort of the fearsome Bengali goddess Kali, his usual posture is supine and motionless beneath her treading feet (a pun on Siva and saiva, the latter meaning "corpse") as she dances above him brandishing a beheading knife, her tongue protruding and her hair dishevelled. Such pictures often take place in a cremation ground, and the most extreme devotees of Siva typically mark their bodies, especially their foreheads, with ashes and live in extreme voluntary poverty, near naked in emulation of their god.

In northern India, Nepal, and Tibet, a fierce protector god called Bhairava, has come to be identified with Siva. He is identifiable by his bulging eyes, blue or black skin, and distinctive mustaches.



Whether one views him as the Godhead, the consort of the Goddesses Durga, Parvati, or Kali, or as a minor god, Siva is both the most ascetic and the most erotic of the Hindu deities. His universal symbol is the linga (sometimes spelled lingam) or penis; in fact, the very word linga means "sign," "symbol," or "mark." Scholars debate the origin of Siva's worship, but it seems to have been endemic in India among the Dravidian people before the so-called Aryan invasion, for there are Aryan texts in which the native people of the sub-continent are laughingly referred to as "penis-worshippers."

The Siva linga stones shown here are of a type found exclusively in the Narada River in central-western India. They can only be collected from the riverbed during the dry season of the year, and the work of gathering, shaping, and polishing them is performed by a few families who have passed on their traditional techniques from one generation to the next for hundreds of years. The linga shape itself represents Siva; it is a grey composite rock made of basalt, agate, and quartz. The reddish-brown markings, called the yoni (female genitalia), represent Shakti and are comprised of iron oxide that was deposited in the river bed millions of years ago by a meteorite, in what seems to have been a divine copulation between the Goddess and the God. The one at left is 1 1/4" long, suitable for use as a pocket piece, and the one at right is 2 1/4" long, appropriate for placement on a small altar. Larger sizes are available -- up to 3 or 4 feet in length -- but due to the difficulty of finding large stones with clear markings of the most desirable type, and the time it takes to work them, they are quite rare and are priced accordingly.

Hindu gods and goddesses appear or are described on the following Lucky W Amulet Archive web pages:



Related pages of interest:

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