Hinduism: Iconography of Shiva

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In this essay I will provide a detailed explanation of the worship of Shiva in relation to the bhakti tradition. I will use an iconic visual representation of this deity to assist with my explanation of the beliefs and values associated with the devotion of the Deity. To do so, I shall begin my essay by providing a detailed outline of the classical Hindu god-concept against the background of the introductory statement.

That is, explain the Tri-murthi concept in relation to the Divine Principle, Brahman. I will then explain the iconic visual representation (attached) and the beliefs associated with Shiva.I shall also briefly explain which Hindu scriptures contain material or understanding in relation to Shiva. Then I will identify and explain some of the main puja rites performed at home or in temples dedicated to Shiva as well as discuss the significance of theses rites as an expression of bhakti.

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I shall then discuss the festival related to Shiva including the mythology, rituals and symbols associated with the festival. Lastly, I will briefly discuss how an understanding of the symbols in icons of the deities and in temples could contribute to learning and an appreciation of Hindu spirituality in a religiously diverse class.Kruger, Lubbe and Steyn (2009, p. 74) explain that the Epic Era (500 BCE-300 CE) is an important era because that is when Hinduism was born.

The concept of Brahman , defined by Nityananda (2000, p. 79) as the “Absolute reality” . Hence, Brahman can be seen as the incomprehensible, indestructible, unattached, unfettered, cannot be injured, cannot suffer, is beyond the cause and effects of phenomenal existence therefore the Divine Reality. This means that the divine principle is present and coincides with everything, however, Brahman can be personalized as Ishvara (the Lord).

Kruger et al (2009, p. 4) explains that concepts such as bhakti, karma, and jnana became seen as vital resources in order to achieve moksha. Kruger et al (2009, p. 76) describe bhakti as a teaching of Krishna.

This love or bhakti encourages people to be selfless by devoting their actions to God regardless of race, age, sex, gender, wealth or caste. Mitter (1982, p. 20) explains that bhakti is a devotion to God. Mitter (1982, p.

20) explains that idea of Brahman and Atman became difficult for many to understand hence, they needed spiritual guidance to lead them towards Mukti (the cycle of rebirths), hence the development of bhakti.Kruger et al (2009, p. 4) elaborates that during the epics avatars of Vishnu (Krishna and Rama) became central figures in Hinduism. Hence , the alliance of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva formed a triad of gods also known as the Tri-murthi.

Each deity represents three aspects of the universe, Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (sustenance or the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer or World- Renouncer). The Hindu deity I have chosen to focus on is Shiva , the World-Renouncer, whom is a part of the Tri-Murthi. De Grunchy and Prozesky (1991, p. 46) explain that Hinduism began in the Indus Valley, where a figure seated in a cross-leg position surrounded by animals can be seen.

This figure is known as the Hindu God Shiva. Mitter (1982, p. 23) describes that Hinduism consists of many deities which can be separated into either Vishnu or Shiva’s family. Mitter (1982, p.

25) goes on to explain that the followers of Shiva or Saivat’s see Shiva as the is the destroyer. A fierce God whom rules over life and death as well as fertility. He can be seen as a warrior or hunter who defeats forces of evil. Shiva’s consort is said to be as strong as him.

Voeils (2005, p. 29) explains that has three different forms. The first form is Nataraja or the lord of the dance.Murthis which represent Shiva in this form show Shiva with four arms and standing balancing on one leg with the other leg bent across suspended in the air.

This is symbolic of the energy and power he gives to the world as well as balance needed in life. He came also be seen dancing a demon dwarf which is symbolic of overcoming ignorance. Voeils (2005, p. 29) then goes onto explain Shiva in his second form as the Maha Yogi or geat Yogi.

This is when Shiva is represented in a seated position with one leg on the ground, this can be seen as a meditational posture.His right hand is raised up which represents Shiva stating : “ Do not fear I will protect as I destroy”. The third from of Shiva which Voeils (2005, p. 29) is the Lingum which is represents Shivas power to regenerate life as well as reach into the centre of the earth as well as space, the cosmic reality.

His consort described by Voeils (2005,p. 31) is the goddess Parvati, whom is the ideal loving and loyal wife who can be seen by Shiva’s side holding a lotus. Shiva’s consort may take two forms either as benevolent such as Parvarti or fiece as Kali or Durga.Mitter (1982, p.

6-7) explains that the goddess Kali may be worshipped in her own right for her fearlessness and for punishing wrong-doers however, she is gentle towards her followers. De Grunchy and Prozesky (1991, p. 59) state that Kali and Durga represent Shiva’s fearlessness as well as his power. Looking at the icon of Shiva which I have chosen to analysis (attached) is an image which is common amongst the iconography that relates to Shiva.

The reason I have chosen this icon is because it has many significant symbols that relate to Shiva.According to De Grunchy and Prozesky (1991,p. 9) Shiva can be seen as the Lord of Beasts, the Remover, as well as a Peace-giver. He is also seen as the god of the lingam, which is the stone pillar in the background of icon.

The Shiva lingam represents the fertility and production or biology as well as cosmic creativity. Firstly, we are drawn to Shiva because of the blue colour of his skin. Veoils (2005, p. 30) explains that his blue complexion is symbolic of a story in which Shiva drank poison in order to save the world from becoming destroyed by evil forces.

Another reason for his complexion is that blue is symbolic for the sky as well as the ocean.Which could be another representation of where Hinduism began , very high up in the Indus Valley. Secondly , we are drawn to the tiger skin on which he is seated on as well as the animal print cloth covering his body. Shiva is seen as the destroyer as well as a hunter, these could be symbolic of his skills as a hunter and power as a destroyer.

Danielou (1991, p. 216) states that the tiger skin and animal skin could be seen as a trophy to show all that his powers go beyond nature. Voeils (2005, p. 30) mentions that this could also suggest the need to overcome arrogance as well as his power to destroy enemies who are evil and ignorant.

Shiva is seated in a calm meditational position hence he is also see as Shiva the great Yogi. Voeils (2005, p. 29-30) describes this position as a symbol of Shiva’s calm mind through the use of meditation. His eyes are not completely opened which could also be seen as symbolic to Yoga or meditation indicating that he is focusing on his inner self.

Another unusual aspect we are drawn to is his third eye, which is situated in the middle of his forehead. This symbolizes wisdom. Voeils (2005, p. 30) mentions that the third eye is also a symbol of deep concentration.

Each of Shiva’s eyes represent sources of light that illuminate the universe. Danielou (1991, p. 214) states that these sources are the moon, the sun and the fire. De Grunchy and Prozesky (1991, p.

59) mention that the third eye can be seen as a Yogic eye. Danielou (1991, p. 215) explains that the matted hair of Shiva is associated with the flow of the Ganges river hence he can be seen as the Lord of Wind. The Ganges river is located in India and is seen as holy water which purifies all.

As seen in the icon , there is water flowing from his matted hair.Voeils (2005, p. 0) elaborates that the myth explains his knotted or matted hair saved the earth from destruction when the Ganges river was created. If his hair had not caught the flow of the river it would have destroyed earth.

The trident seen on the right side of Shiva represent three functions. According to De Grunchy and Prezesky (1991, p. 59) these three functions are of creation, preservation and destruction. Danielou (1991, p.

216) explains that the trident also symbolizes three arteries of the body as well as “the giver of punishment on the spiritual, subtle and physical planes”.However, Voeils (2005, p. 0) explains that the trident is symbolic of Shiva withdrawing himself from the pleasure of life hence he is a holy man. An serpent is always seen with Shiva.

Voeils (2005, p. 30) states that the serpent coiled around Shiva’s neck represents his inner power to control his desires. Another view on the symbolic significance of the serpent is described by Danielou(1991, p. 217) is that his greater than death even though it constantly surrounds him.

The serpent coiled around his neck can also symbol the cycle of life or time.Hanging on the trident we see what Danielou (1991, p. 19) describes as an “Hourglass-Shaped Drum” known as the Damaru is said to represent the rhythm and state of manifestation. Danielou (1991, p.

218) elaborates on the symbolic meaning of the garlands around Shiva’s neck and the ashes on his forehead.The garlands are representations of “the perpetual revolution of ages and the successive appearances and disappearances of the human races. ” The ashes on his head are therefore symbolic of the universes and gods he is said to have burned including Brahma and Vishnu hence he rubs their ashes on his forehead.It can also be symbolic of the belief that the ashes can protect one from winter or the “sublimited power of procreation”.

In the background of Shiva we can see the Himalaya mountains where it is believed that Shiva’s figure was seen in clouds as mentioned above. We also see what seems to be a city or a temple. Danielou (1991, p. 220) states that Shiva’s sacred temples are located in Varanasi.

This was referred to as the town of Kasi in which it is believed that Shiva’s son was born.Another thing I noticed was the Shiva Lingum, this represents, according to De Grunchy and Prozesky (1991,p. 9) the Shiva lingam represents the fertility and production or biology as well as cosmic creativity. He is also seen as the god of the lingam, which is the stone pillar in the background of icon.

This Shiva lingum also contains the ‘om sign’ which is a well-known Hindu symbol for a syllable in the sacred mantras. It is a primordial sound believed to be present during the creation of the universe. It also creates an almost relaxing sensation when said. Shiva is known to be the Guardian of the Vedas, a sacred text.

According to Danielou (1991, p. 43). The Hindu sacred texts are divided into two catergories: The Sruti, which is what is heard and the Smriti, which is what is remembered. The Sruti texts consists of the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.

Shiva guards the Vedas which means knowledge. According to Shattuck (1999, p. 59) the term bhakti means devotional. A form of bhakti shown to the gods is a ritual worship known as puja.

Shattuck (1999, p. 71) further explains that puja can be conducted in the home or at a temple because the rituals are similar.In Hindu homes on usually finds a shrine or even a shelf in the corner of the home which contains murthis and images of the gods and goddesses. Partridge (2007, p.

153) enlightens us about this ritual worship. The imagery and murthis create a feeling of the god/s being present within the home. Voeils (2005, p. 46-7) states that the common objects found within a shrine are: a small copper vessel containing holy water from the Ganges River, flowers, prasada (sweetmeats) or fruit, incense and turmeric or kum kum powder as well as sandalwood paste, a ghee lamp with a cotton wool wick, an aarti lamp and lastly a bell.

De Grunchy and Prezesky (1991, p. 68) explain prayers conducted at the temple or within the home follow the similar pattern. The god is treated as royalty and is invited to be present where the god is offered a seat. From there the devotee with bathe the gods or goddesses with water as well as offer water for sipping and a mixture of water and honey for drinking.

Then the devotee will dress the gods or goddesses with cloth and powders such as kum kum and turmeric will be applied to the image or murthi. Once this is done incense is lit as well as a lamp which is rotated in a circular motion around the image or murthi.The devotee will then offer Prasad and bow in bhakti (love and devotion) to the deity or deities. If the devotee is a follower of Lord Shiva the shrine will consist of murthis and images of Shiva and most likely Shiva and his consort.

The festival associated with Shiva is known as Shivratri which means ‘Night of Shiva’. This prayer is seen as festival and a vow. According to Verma (2007, p. 78) this is observed on the fourteenth day of Phalgun , February-March.

At this festival devotee worship Shiva throughout the night with bhajans and kirtans (hyms) and reciting the Shiva Mahima Strora or Shiva Tandava Stroa.The Shiva Lingam is a key component on this night. Holy water from the Ganges River , milk, honey , butter ghee and curd are poured over the lingam as well as Bel leaves and flowers. A mantra is chanted 1008 times this is done is sets of 10 though out the night.

Verma (2007, p. 79) explains the mythology associated with Shiva on this day. The story is about a hunter who lived in Varanasi , his name was Suswar. Unfortunately while hunting it became very dark and late he could not return home.

He was fearful of the beasts within the forest hence he climbed up onto a Bel tree for protection.During this time he suffered from fatigue and hunger and continuously worried about his family. He could not sleep and plucked the Bel leaves and threw them onto the ground throughout the night. A Shiva lingam was under the tree.

Suswar worshipped Shiva unknowingly through the offering of the Bel leaves. After the hunters death, Suswar was given a bliss obode of Lord Shiva and eventually was reborn as King Chitrabhanu. Chitrabhanu then observed Shivratri. Hence , the importance of the Shiva Lingam and the offerings on this day to Lord Shiva.

Based on what I have learnt throughout the Hindusim course. I believe that the understanding of symbols in icons as well as the deities in the Inter-Sen phase can instill core values within our learners such as respect, tolerance, appreciation and compassion towards each other and respect for the beliefs of leaners. Within the South Africa, we are blessed to have a country rich in diversity. The study of symbols in icons can help eliminate any misconceptions or negative thoughts learners have of certain religions.

Leaners are generally not exposed to various religions hence draw from their personal experiences and everyday knowledge to answer questions they might have. A good example of this was seen in our Hinduism lecture. A majority of the students have no knowledge of Hinduism and have not been exposed to the religion. When students saw certain icons they drew from their personal beliefs to try and understand what the icons could represent.

A common misconception was that the snake and the trident were symbols of evil, this was drawn from their religious knowledge of the Bible.As teachers it is our duty to expose learners to the diverse religions and cultures that surround them because simple misconceptions can lead to intolerance and a lack of appreciation for those around them. Religion and differences can cause chaos in society such as wars etc. However, if we educate learners and start instilling values at a young age.

We have the power to shape the next generation in a positive way , in which they can make intellectual choices based on facts they have learnt and with a deeper understanding and respect for those who are different.By exposing learners to the various symbols as well as religious murthis and iconography as well as the content. Learners will be able to develop a sense of appreciation, tolerance and acceptance of each other. Religion instills certain values and morals in one’s life.

Hence it is necessary to expose learners to the various religions as well as their beliefs values and traditions in order to allow learners to develop in all spheres such as moral, socio-culturally, spiritually and physical development within society.Therefore, we are enabling learners to cope with different experiences that could occur within their life. By providing leaners with the necessary knowledge about other religion we are enabling leaners to think critically and flourish within a diverse society in terms of adulthood, the workplace and for life. Therefore, it is important for leaners to have religious knowledge in order to instill values such as respect, tolerance as well as cohesion amongst the community.

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