This week, we celebrate Maha Shivrati in honour of Lord Shiva. This made me think — What does Shiva mean to me?

For me, Shiva is the most powerful and mystical deity in Hinduism. Every culture, every civilization, every person needs some form symbolism to inspire them. Beyond religion, allow me to share my humble insights on the symbolism of what Shiva stands for, what we can learn and apply in our lives:

  1. Name — Shiva stands for ‘The Auspicious One’ and has numerous other names such as Shankar, Mahadev, Mahesh, Rudra, Natraj, Bholenath, Chandrashekhar etc. Each name is a facet of his personality and the positive qualities which he embodies. Likewise, being aware of our different facets and positive qualities is what drives credibility of character.
  2. The First Yogi —Shiva is known as Adiyogi, which means the first yogi. Shiva was the first to adopt yoga and meditation as a way of life. As Adiyogi, he showed the way to live in harmony with nature. He also adopted the life of an ascetic and deeply explored the science of consciousness.
  3. Destroyer of Darkness — Shiva is also known as the Destroyer or Transformer. The deeper symbolism is that we can overcome our inner demons and embrace the shadow within through self awareness, self awakening and self control. By working on ourselves, we can transform the darkness into light both within and around us.
  4. Core Values — Shiva exemplifies positive values of Courage, Detachment, Equality, Honesty, Humility, Innocence, Justice, Respect and Self Control. This represents the values every human being can aspire to live by.
  5. Balance of Energies — The essence of Shiva is Shakti, which means power. The deeper meaning is that we all have an equal balance of masculine and feminine energies within us. When we honour both the masculine and the feminine within and around us, we become truly powerful and impactful.
  6. Third Eye — Shiva has a Third Eye on the forehead. While this represents the pineal gland, the deeper meaning is the awakening of consciousness. Opening the third eye allows us to access higher levels of wisdom and consciousness. Opening the third eye also means embarking on a spiritual journey of enlightenment.
  7. Snake around the Neck — The snake represents the Ego. When we master our ego, it becomes like an ornament which we wear — a prized asset which defines who we are. When left untamed, like a snake the ego can bite and harm us. Also, the snake is coiled three times around the neck of Shiva — this represents the three forms of time — past, present and future — that we transition through.
  8. Trident —Also known as the Trishul, the Trident is the weapon of Shiva. This spear has three prongs which represent Three Powers as well as Three States. The Three powers are Will, Knowledge and Action. These powers when aligned help us achieve our goals. The Three States are actually states of consciousness – Waking, Dreaming and Sleeping – which we experience as human beings.
  9. Crescent Moon —The moon on Shiva’s locks of hair represents a mind which is at peace. It depicts that when our mind is calm and clear like the moon, we are able to achieve inner peace, self discipline and great achievements. In essence, it stands for being the Master of one’s own mind.
  10. Ganges flowing — The Ganges (or Ganga) river flows from Shiva’s head. Ganga represents a river of purity as well as the river which brings life. The deeper symbolism is that of Flow – flow of energy, flow of knowledge, flow of purity. It means we can access Flow in our everyday life – like a river flows with changes, with time and with energy.
  11. Drum — The drum attached to the Trident is called Damru. It represents the cosmic sound energy – the power of words and mantras which create impact around us through beats, rhythm and vibes. Sound is energy in waves. The deeper meaning is how we can raise our inner vibrations much like sound waves.
  12. Mantra —Shiva has a powerful mantra which people recite – Om Namah Shivaya – Om being the first vibration of the Universe – Namah means to bow. This mantra is a passage to know and understand ourselves, to dedicate time to our inner self and our deepest nature. The deeper meaning of this mantra is simply “I bow to my inner self”.
  13. Ashes on the Body — As an ascetic, Shiva’s body is smeared with ashes. It symbolizes the ultimate truth that death is a reality which we will all experience. The ashes reminds us to stay grounded and humble while accepting the cycle of life and death.
  14. Tiger Skin — Shiva wears only a tiger skin as clothes. It symbolises courage as well as detachment from material things. The deeper meaning is about one’s inner power – the tiger being a metaphor for inner strength, power and resilience.
  15. Beads — Also known as Rudraksha which Shiva wears around his hands and neck like a rosary. Made from dried seeds, these are sacred beads which stand for purity and concentration. It symbolizes how we can sanctify the mind through meditative practices.

In my view, Shiva symbolises a mystic who has mastered himself, has nothing to prove and is able to direct energy with intention. In essence, Shiva was the first yogi who conquered his mind, balanced his energies and accessed authentic power.

What insights do you draw from Shiva?