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Aspects of Lord Siva

Comparable to the Vyuhas or emanations of Lord Vishnu, is the Pancanana form of Lord Siva. Pancanana or the five faced one represents the five aspects of Siva vis a vis the created universe. The five faces are respectively Isana, Tatpurusa, Aghora, Vamadeva and Sadyojata. The face Isana turned towards the zenith, represents the highest aspect and is also called Sadasiva. On the physical plane, it represents the power that rules over earth or sky and on the spiritual plane, it is the deity that grants Moksa or liberation. Tatpurusa facing east, stands for the power that rules over air and represents the forces of darkness and obscuration on the spiritual lane. Aghora, facing south and ruling over the element fire, stands for the power that absorbs and renovates the universe. Vamadeva facing north, ruling over the element water, is responsible for preservation. Sadyojata, facing west represents the power that creates.

Iconographically, all the five aspects are shown in different ways. There are several other aspects in which Lord Siva is depicted or worshipped. These can be broadly divided into the following categories.

1.Saumya or Anugraha Murti
2.Ugra, Raudra or Samhara Murti
3.Nrtta or Tandava Murti

Peaceful form of Siva as also the form showing mercy and grace belong to the first group. The forms showing grace belong to the first group. The forms showing grace or granting boons to Candesa, Nandisvara, Vighnesvara or Ravana belong to this category.

All terrific aspects can be classed under the second group. Kankala Bhairava represents Siva who cut off the fifth head of Brahma for having reviled him and who had to wander as a beggar for twelve years to get rid of that sin. Gajasuravadhamurti represent him as killing the demon Nila (an associate of Andhakasura) who had assumed the form of an elephant. Tripurantaka murti depicts him as destroying by his arrow, the three cities of iron, silver and gold built on the earth, in air and in heaven by the three sons of Andhakasura who had become almost invincible because of these three impregnable shelters. Sarabhesamurti pictures Siva as Sarabha (an imaginary animal more ferocious than the lion) destroying the Narasimha form of Vishnu, a story obviously conceived by the Saivites to assert the superiority of their Lord over Vishnu. Kallari murti portrays him as vanquishing Yama, the god of death, who wanted to take away the life of Markandeya, a great devotee of Siva. Kamantakamurti illustrates him as destroying Kama, the god of lust, by the fire emitted through his third eye. Andhakasura vadha murti shows him as vanquishing Andhakasura and later on, on supplication, conferring on him the commandership of the Ganas (dwarf attendants). Andhaka became Bhrngisa.
Lord Siva is a great master of dance. All the 108 modes of dancing known to the treatises on dancing have come from him. It is said that he dances every evening in order to relieve the sufferings of creatures and entertain the gods who gather in Kailasa in full strength. (hence he is called sabhapati, the lord of the congregation).

Only nine modes of dancing are described of which the Nataraja aspect is the most well known. The Nataraja icon shows him with four hands and two legs, in the posture of dancing. There is the Damaru (drum) in the upper right hand and fire in the left. The lower right hand is in Abhayamudra (pose of protection) and the left is pointing towards the uplifted left foot. The left foot is resting on the demon Apasmarapurusa. The whole image may or may not be surrounded by a circle of blazing fire.

Sivas dance indicates a continuous process of creation, preservation and destruction. The Damaru represents the principle of Sabda (sound) and hence Akasa (ether), which proceeds immediately from the Atman and is responsible for further creation or evolution. Fire represents Pralayagni, the fire that destroys the world at the time of dissolution of the world, and hence symbolizes the process of destruction. Thus Damaru and fire represent the continuous cycle of creation, preservation and destruction. The other two hands indicate that he who takes refuge at the feet of the Lord will have nothing to fear. The Apasmara purusa (Apasmara = epilepsy) symbolizes ignorance which makes us lose our balance and consciousness. He is trampled upon by the Lord for the good of the devotees who take refuge.


Several other dancing postures of Siva like Anandatandava murti, Uma tandava murti, Tripura tandava murti, and Urdhva tandava murti are also mentioned in the Agamas.

Siva is a great a master of Yoga and spiritual sciences as he is of music, dancing and other arts. As a universal teacher he is called Daksinamurti. Since Siva was seated facing south (daksina = south) when he taught the sages in a secluded spot on the Himalayas, he is called Daksinamurti. He has three eyes and four arms and one of the legs is trampling upon the Apasmarapurusa. Two of the arms (the front right and the front left) are in Jnanamudra and Varadamudra poses (showing the imparting of knowledge and bestowing of gifts). The back hands hold the Aksamala (rosary) and, either fire or serpent. He is the very model of the perfect Guru. He is surrounded by several Rsis eager to learn Atmavidya (self knowledge) from him.


Siva is said to have appeared as a blazing pillar of fire, of immeasurable size, to destroy the pride of Brahma and Vishnu. Lingodhbavamurti depicts him as manifesting in the heart of the Linga. The image has four arms. Brahma and Vishnu stand on either side adoring him.

The Bhiksatanamurti shows Siva as a naked Bhairava begging his food in the skull cup. It is almost the same as the Kankalamurti.


The Haryardha murti, also called as Hari hara and Sankaranarayana, has Siva on the right half and Vishnu on the left. A fusion of these two aspects into one god is an obvious attempt at a happy reconciliation of the warring cults of Siva and Vishnu.


The Ardhanarisvara (half man and half woman) form with parvati as the left half represents the bipolar nature of the created world and hence the need to look upon woman as equal and complementary to man.

Article courtsey : Sri Ramakrishna Math Mylapore, Chennai.

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