Who is Shiva? And what is the meaning of theShivalinga, Shiva’s symbol or icon? Who is Parvati?Why do some people go on pilgrimage to a place like the Amaranath cave? What is the relationship between Shiva and Vishnu? What is the meaning of Shiva’s dance? In Hindu Dharma, God, or Brahman, is perceived as being beyond logical and associational categories. That is why it is nameless. But it assumes various forms when the context of the inquiry is limited. This is how a single all-pervading, omniscient entity assumes the form of many names. Each name is a Deva, a bright point of consciousness, that represents different angles to the same effulgence! The essence of the tradition is knowledge. Veda means knowledge. And the traditions is called Vaidika, “Vedic,” or equivalently, Aarya Dharma, “the noble way,”Satya Dharma, “the way of the truth,” orSanatana Dharma, “the eternal way.” God or Brahman is considered to be synonymous with truth. Ordinary knowledge is supposed to be full of paradoxes because it is limited knowledge. On the other hand, true knowldege cannot be apprehended in terms of conditioned experience or language. So how do you represent transcendental notions of reality and existence? By means of symbols. These symbols must be infused with movement since the underlying reality is that of change. This is the primal dance of existence! The Atharvaveda has a very famous hymn (10.7) which throws light on the mystery of Shiva. This is the hymn to Stambha, the cosmic frame or pillar of creation. This is the pillar which gives unity to the creation. It may be visualized as the axis around which the stars move. In what member (of the frame) does the earth rest? Where is the atmosphere? Where is the sky set? What is situated beyond the sky? The stambha sustains both heaven and earth here; the stambha sustains the wide space. It sustains the six wide directions. Into the stambha has entered this whole existence. The universe is seen as being woven together and interconnected. The symbol of the inter-connectedness of the physical universe is the invisible axis (pillar) around which the stars move; likewise, the unity of our experience is established by the axis of consciousness to which we bind our associations. According to Vedic thought this axis is universal; it is the same for all sentient beings. Vishnu, the Pervader, represents the mystery of the physical universe; Shiva is the axis of our consciousness. They are really not distinct since the physical universe can be apprehended only through consciousness. This is expressed in Harihara form which is half Vishnu and half Shiva. And the primacy of consciousness is what makes Shiva the Ishvara (the Enjoyer) or Maheshvara (the great Lord). Chaitanyatsarvamutpannam Jagadetachcharacharam All this universe, movable or immovable, has come out of Chaitanya or intelligence. (Shiva Samhita 49) In their fundamental conception Shiva and Vishnu represent complementarity. Nevertheless, over the centuries, each has come to represent both the aspects of separation and union. The creation of the universe is mirrored in the creation of each moment. To move on, we must destroy. That is why the supreme sacrifice is that of oneself, before we can fashion ourselves in a new image. Mudras (Divine Poses) of Shiva There are three dances associated with Shiva. The first is an evening dance in the Himalayas, watched by all the gods; this is the ordinary play of consciousness. The second is the Tandava dance in the form of Bhairava;this marks the end of one creation, one life, one universe. Thirdly, as a more explicit image we have the dance of Shiva as Nataraja, the lord of dancers, in the golden hall of the Chidambaram, the center of the universe in the sky of the mind, in the heart of the temple. The dance of Shiva represents five activities (panchakritya): Srishti(creation, evolution), Sthiti (preservation, support),Samhara (destruction), Tirodhana (veiling), and Anugraha (grace). These activities of the Supreme are mirrored in the consciousness of the individual also. Creation arises from the drum; protection proceeds from the hand of hope; from fire, held in the other hand, proceeds of destruction; the foot held aloft gives release. Shiva himself is shown as poised within a fiery arch. The arch represents matter, nature (Prakriti); and Shiva, dancing within the arch, is the Universal Spirit (Purusha). Ananda Coomaraswamy summarizes the essential significance of the dance thus: First, it is the image of his rhythmic play as the source of all movement within the cosmos, which is represented by the arch; secondly, the purpose of his dance is to release the countless souls of men from the snare of illusion; thirdly, the place of the dance, Chidambaram, the center of the universe, is within the heart. During the Rigvedic time the common name of Shiva was Rudra. Yaska in hisNirukta says that Rudra is so called because he bellows (Rauti), or because he runs (Dravati), or it is derived from the causal if the verb Rud, to roar. This indicates the basic idea of what makes it possible for us to integrate our senses, the idea of root-consciousness. The Nirukta also describes Rodasi, symbolizing heaven and earth or all creation, as the wife of Rudra. The universe exists because we can observe it! Parvati is the individual intelligence which must strive to unite with the cosmic intelligence. Intelligence is likened to a flash of lightning which is why Parvati is represented as being white, the daughter of Himalaya, the mountain which is Chitta, the repository of associations, memory. Shiva as the Lord of Yoga Shiva represents the tensions and the oppositions that lie at the basis of cognition, of creation. On the one hand, consciousness must focus entirely on the subject and on the other hand, it must define itself in relation to the rest. How are such contrasts achieved? Put differently, there are two ways we can approach reality. We can either be, or become, or more commonly, be in a constant vortex of becoming. If we accept ourselves as who we think we are then our relationship with the rest of the universe has a fundamental divide: the divide of I and it. Comprehension can now only proceed by reflecting on the rhythms of nature. This is the path of outer science or that of analysis. If we accept that proposition that our subjective impressions are merely a representation in terms of associational categories of a transcendental reality, then we can hope to transform ourselves into a reasonable simulacrum of this reality. Since this reality includes us, we can hope to be transmuted into it. The way of this change, this enlargement is the yogic way. Shiva, as the representation of this transcendental reality, is the self we seek to return to. Shiva is the Inner Lord who makes Yoga possible. Parenthetically, it should be noted that bhakti and yoga are the same. Bhakti arises from the root bhaj, “to separate,” or “two divide.” The original idea in bhakti was to meditate on the apparent reasons for our feelings of “separateness” from our transcendental self helping, in a paradoxical way, to merge into it. The feeling of separateness was heightened through a remembering of mythical or relating one’s existential aloneness to a longing for fullness. Of many gods other traditions also speak of a similar comprehensive view of reality. For example, in Paancharatra a cosmological system is built around Vasudeva-Krishna (Vishnu). From Vasudeva, identified as the transcendetal consciousness, develops Sankarshana (Balarama), who represents primal matter. In turn, the two Pradyumna (mind) and Aniruddha (ahankara) or self-consciousness. The dance of Shiva then is no different from whatever other name you use for it, resides in each heart. The dance is recreated in each moment and across ages. Indra’s pole, Shiva’s linga, or Krishna’s flute are all the same anchor which allows us to be whole. This dance is expressed in many ways in a human context. Whether such expressions represents the fundamental archetypes of human consciousness, we do not know. We have it in a variety of arts, poetry and music.