Different forms of Lord Shiva
Lord Shiva, who is also called ‘Mahadeva’, means ‘great god’. Lord Shiva is one of the Trimurti or trinity along with Brahma and Vishnu. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva have a cosmic responsibility of Creation, Maintenance, and transformation respectively. Shiva is both form and formless. He is ‘Ananta’ or endless. He is worshipped in many forms with different situations. The different forms are sometimes called as ‘Murthis’. There are two types of murthis – Bhoga Murty and Yoga Murti. Bhoga murti means Shiva sitting with Shakti and Yoga murti means Shiva in a yoga posture without Shakti. Mahashivaratri is the festival associated with Lord Shiva.
Read: Mahashivaratri Festival
Lingodbhava – Emergence of the Linga
Lingodbhava is one of the forms of Lord Shiva. There is a story mentioned in Shiva Purana, Vayu Purana, and other scriptures.
As per the legend, once Vishnu was in Yoga Nidra at the end of the Kalpa and there appeared Lord Brahma. He introduced himself as the creator of the universe to which Vishnu responded that he is the one who is the protector of this universe. So, Brahma and Vishnu got into an argument as to who is superior among them. The argument became endless and Lord Shiva decided to sort out the problems. In another version of the story describes as both Brahma and Vishnu wanted to find the ‘Aadi’ (or beginning) and ‘Antya’ (or end) of Shiva. So they approached Lord Shiva to clarify the doubt. Shiva appeared as a pillar of flame in front of them. He told both Brahma and Vishnu to find out the source of the flame. He told whoever finds the head or the foot of the flame would be declared as great. Curious to find the source of the flame, Brahma took the form of a swan and flew upwards to see the top of the fire while Vishnu took the form of a wild boar to discover the foot of the fire. In spite of massive effort, they were unable to find it. In the end, they realized their mistake and both surrendered to this form of flame. Shiva then appeared in front of them in the form of a linga. They worshiped the Shiva and got dissolved with their ego. This linga form of Shiva is called as Lingodbhava. It will be depicted in the western wall at the sanctum of Shiva temples. As Shiva is the only God who is formless, he is represented in the form of Lingam. The graphical representation of this narration can be found in many of the Shiva temples.
Chandrasekhara – Moon ornamented form
This is the most beautiful form of Lord Shiva with Moon crescent on his head. Here he is depicted with hands in a position of giving a boon to devotees.
There is a legend associated with the name ‘Chandrashekhara’. There was a king called Daksha, who had twenty-seven daughters who are represented as stars. Moon is said to have married these twenty seven daughters. But Moon had a special affection towards one of the wives called Rohini. So other wives were angry and complained with Daksha. Hearing this, Daksha got angry and cursed the Moon to lose his luminance every day. Hence Moon started losing luminance day by day. Because of this, Moon went into the hiding. With this scenario, herbs in the earth did not get the light from the Moon and also it affected the living beings. Then other Gods advised Moon to take refuge with Lord Shiva. Shiva wore Moon on his head and gave boon wherein Moon will grow for 15 days and then decay for the next 15 days.
Another legend is that, once upon a time there was a king who had three wives. But he was worried as he had no children. Based on the suggestion from the sages, he started worshipping Lord Shiva. Happy with his relentless tapas, Shiva appeared before him and gave him fruit and told to give it to all the three queens with equal parts. Likewise, they consumed the fruit. Then King made love to each one of them in the appropriate season and after nine months each one of them delivered part of a baby. Miraculously all the parts joined and became a child. As Shiva himself born as a child and the child had Moon as his diadem, they named the child as Chandrashekhara.
Dakshinamurthi – One who is facing South
Dakshinamurthy is one of the forms of Lord Shiva who is regarded as the conqueror of the senses, who has ultimate awareness and wisdom. Dakshinamurthy is regarded as the ultimate Guru, who will help disciples to go beyond ignorance. So if one doesn’t have a Guru and aspiring to have one, can worship Lord Dakshinamurthy as his Guru and in due course of time, they will be blessed with a self-realized Guru.
As per the story, once Lord Brahma’s four sons namely Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Sanatkumara did tapas to have the self-realization and find the ultimate truth. But they were unable to come out of the illusion or maya. So they decided to go to Lord Shiva. Happy with their desire to find the ultimate truth, Shiva assumed the form of Dakshinamurthy and sat under the banyan tree with them. Shiva took turiya samadhi form and transferred the required knowledge to them. Turiya samadhi is a state of total silence but there will be absolute awareness. In this position, there is no need to utter any words, but everything will be realized.
Somaskanda is a form of Shiva depicted with consort Uma (or Parvati) and child Skanda. Here Sa+Uma+Skanda means ‘with Uma and Skanda’. This form shows Shiva with four arms and sitting with Uma. Skanda is standing between them in a dancing posture with a feeling of ecstasy. This family portrait of Shiva with family was originated to counter the argument as celibacy is the way to find the ultimate truth. This form is said to be representing a combination of asceticism and sensuality. Generally, Somaskanda form of Shiva is worshipped to get a good husband or child like Skanda.
It is mentioned in Puranas that Maha Vishnu worshipped Somaskanda Murthy to have a son. Lord Vishnu wanted a son who would be an epitome of charm. After worshipping Shiva, he got the son named Manmatha. There are few temples in South India for Lord Somaskanda.
Ardhanarishwara is a combination of Shiva and Shakti. It can be called as the lord whose other half is a woman. The male half stands for Purusha and female half represents Prakriti. Every human being will possess both male and female energies (Purusha and Shakti) in varying proportion. But in Ardhanareeshwara form, both are in equilibrium or in perfect balance and cannot be separated. It is said that when inner masculine and feminine meet, one will be in a perfect state of ecstasy.
Gangadhara – Shiva holding Ganga on his matted hair
Lord Shiva got this name because he held Ganga on his head. There is a story behind this name mentioned in the scriptures. There was a king named Sagara and once he performed Aswamedha Yaga. According to the rules of the Yaga, the emperor has to send a horse to travel through different kingdoms. Whichever king objects to the yaga, will stop the horse and then they have to battle it out with the emperor. Emperor’s sixty sons were accompanying the horse. These sons were very cruel. If they were successful in the Yaga, then they get more power and will be bad for humanity. So all the Devas complained to Indra and Indra assured them of help. So Indra stole the horse and hid near the ashram of Sage Kapila. The unruly sons discovered the horse and thought saint has stolen it. They started abusing him. At that time, the saint was meditating and as he got disturbed, he opened his eyes. Because of his power, all of them reduced into ashes.
Grandson of Sagara came and asked for forgiveness from Sage Kapila. But Sage said he cannot bring them back and in future, Bhagiratha will give moksha to them. After some generations, Bhageeratha was born in the family. He realized that for the upliftment of these ancestors, the river Ganga from the heavens should flow on the ashes. He did severe austerities to get permission from Indra and then Ganga herself. After the rigorous tapas, he was able to convince the goddess Ganga. She agreed to come down but told him to find a person who could withstand the force with which she will descend to earth. So again he meditated on Lord Shiva. Pleased by his effort, Shiva agreed to help him. So Ganga flowed into the earth through tangled hair of Lord Shiva and gave moksha to ancestors. Lord Shiva thus got the name Gangadhara. It is believed that Haridwar is the place, where Lord Shiva held the flow of Ganga. (Read: Places to visit in Haridwar)
Veerabhadra is a gigantic form of Shiva with three eyes resembling three suns. He looks like tandava murti with one leg on Daksha and his head touching the sky. He is mentioned in Skanda Purana and Bhagavatam. Veerabhadra is believed to be the destroyer of ignorance and protector.
There is a story behind this name. There was a king named Daksha, whose daughter was Sati (incarnation of Parvati). Shiva married Sati in swayamvara. But Daksha was not happy with Shiva. Once daksha performed a yajna and did not invite Shiva. By the urge of seeing parents, Sati came to the yagna uninvited. Daksha insulted her and Shiva in front of others. Unable to bear the insult, Sati immolated herself in the fire. Upon hearing the news of Sati, Shiva got into deep anger and sorrow. He removed a strand of hair from his matted locks and threw on the ground. A huge volcano erupted from the spot and Lord Veerabhadra and Rudrakali were born. Shiva ordered them to go and destroy the sacrifice of Daksha. Veerabhadra along with Shiva gana’s destroyed the yagna. After the destruction, all the gods prayed to Shiva to forgive Daksha. Compassionate Shiva then restored the situation and forgiven Daksha.
He is also called as Bhairava. The meaning of Bhairava in Sanskrit is ‘terrific’. Bhairava is the fierce manifestation of guardian deity of Lord Shiva and he is also called as ‘kshetrapala’. He is depicted as fierce, eyes filled with anger, with many kinds of weapons, naked and with a smile on the face. The dog is his vehicle. He looks threatening to the wrong doers and protects the people of righteous nature.
There is a legend which is mentioned in Shiva Purana. Once Brahma and Vishnu got into a conversation and Vishnu asked who is the supreme creator of this universe. Brahma told Vishnu that he is the supreme and told to worship him. Later Brahma got egoistic and started interfering in Shiva’s work. Brahma’s 5th head made fun of Shiva. Now Shiva took a small nail which assumed the form of Bhairava. Bhairava cut off the 5th head, which was an ego. That is the reason Kala Bhairava murthi is shown holding the brahma kapala in the hands. Then Shiva appointed Bhairava as the protector deity. He ensures that no one will misuse the properties of Shiva temple.