Shiva Mahadev, perhaps the most enduring Hindu Devata, is difficult for many people, particularly in the Western world, to imagine, much less to understand. The reality of Shiva is hidden in mystery, transcendence, enigma and paradox that cannot be confined to definitions, ideologies or beliefs. Shiva presents to us a vast yet indefinable reality beyond the mind and its limited perspectives of time, place and person. Shiva’s complex symbolism, and the depths of Shaivite psychology and philosophy is meant to break down the hubris of the dualistic mind and the conflicts it has created in its efforts to control the world.
Shiva has a multidimensional existence at all levels of the universe, from our dense physical world to all the lokas of the cosmos and ultimately to the supreme Brahman beyond all possible manifestations. Everything in essence is pervaded by Shiva, who is like boundless space and light.
Today, under the domination of the machine, our thinking and perception is becoming ever more linear, superficial and lacking in depth perception, trapped inside the screen of our shifting thoughts and biased opinions. This makes Shiva even harder for us to perceive and we tend to reduce him to one level only, as if He were but a physical form or mental image. Yet Shiva remains as the inscrutable power to take us beyond our preconceptions, conditioning and expectations. We live in the immutable reality of Shiva but with our inner eye closed as if we were our own reality, when we are but a transient play of artificial desires and borrowed imaginations, not seeing the real universe in which we truly live, which is full of the wonder of Shiva.
Shiva is Mahayogi and Adi Yogi, the great Yogi and the original Yogi, though the scope of his all-encompassing Yoga is seldom comprehended. He is the most well-known Yoga deity and Yoga guru among all the Devatas. The Sanskrit language and all mantras arise from the sound of his drum, which reverberates through all of space. He holds the immortal unitary Prana behind the breath, which no poison or disease or body or mind can disturb.
All Yoga asanas reflect Shiva’s natural movement, which is a dance of stillness leading to the Tandava, which dissolves all that is merely outward or apparent into the fire of pure consciousness. Samadhi is Shiva’s natural state of awareness, untainted by thought, which holds the fullness of bliss, Purnananda. His state is
Nirvikalpa, beyond any formations, conclusions or imaginations of the mind.
Shiva is perhaps the most enduring Hindu Devata or that of the entire world, such as ancient stone formations reveal on every continent, as the sacred mountain, pyramid, obelisk, cosmic tree, pillar and the great Shiva linga, used to recognise and worship his supreme power to ascend over everything by the steadiness of his own being and fearlessness.
Shaivite Yoga Traditions
Shiva represents the main Vedic deities going back to the oldest Rigveda and its Rishi mantras.
As Trinayana, his three eyes are the Sun (Surya), Moon (Soma) and Fire (Agni), the three main devatas of the Rigveda. Indra is his lightning form. Shiva is called Rudra in the Vedas, the maker of sound and thunder, but he is also Soma, the nectar of immortality, with which Rudra (who is also called Agni) are often combined. He is dramatically lauded in the famous Rudram chant of the Krishna Yajurveda, which resonates through all Shiva temples even today, thousands of years later.
The older Shaivite Vedic Yoga was based upon Rudra and his forces as the Rudras or Maruts, with Vishnu as Evayamarut and Indra a Marutvan. Maruts as the great Vedic Rishis who were Mahayogis and could travel freely over the Earth, its mountains and seas, and through all the lokas.
In the Mahabharata and before, Shiva is called Pashupati, which connects to the Pashupata Yoga attributed to the Rishi Lakulish. Pashupati is not just the lord of animals, he is also the lord or ruler of what is seen, the seer of all.
Later, Shaivism developed as the Shaivite Nath Yoga of Gorakhnath and Matsyendra Nath, which included Hatha Yoga and Siddha Yoga. Yet Shiva and the Nath Yoga are mentioned by Adi Shankara, who knew their secrets as well. Adi Shankara was Shiva in manifestation as Dakshinamurti.
Most Yoga historically has been a Shaivite Yoga, yet not in any sectarian sense. Often it is Vishnu who teaches Shiva like Matsyendranath to Gorakhnath. It is Shiva who teaches Yoga to Parvati, his Shakti. Yet it is Parvati who holds the Yoga Shakti that brings about all transformations compared to which Shiva is but a silent, immobile witness in pure transcendence.
Shiva has his special forms, forces and expressions throughout nature. Shiva on Earth is first of all the mountain. All mountains in all countries are forms of Shiva. In the atmosphere, Shiva is thunder and lightning which sets in motion the seasons, life and movement through the winds and pranic forces. In the sky beyond is Shiva as both the Sun and the Moon, our prime luminaries. He rules over the Nakshatras of Mrigashira (Soma) and Ardra (Rudra), which mark what is called the constellation of Orion in western traditions, and the place of Osiris and immortality for the ancient Egyptians. Immortality is only possible when we return to our Shiva nature of silence, stillness, solitude and yet all encompassing Being, Consciousness and Bliss.
Awakening to the Reality of Shiva
In India today there is a great revival of Shiva bhakti, epitomised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s devotion to him, with the renovations of His temples in Kedarnath, Kashi and Ujjain. As Shiva is Mahakala, the lord of time in Ujjain, a new Shiva Yuga is slowly emerging for all.
The entire world and humanity as a whole needs to discover the presence of the infinite and eternal Shiva, inspiring an honoring of nature’s vastness, the wilderness, and the boundless and uncharted realms of pure consciousness and light around and within us, which we are quickly losing our connection to.
Mahashivaratri is the sacred time of the Hindu year to worship Shiva Mahadev and draw in his awareness which takes us beyond all ignorance, duality, sorrow and death. The night of Shiva is the day for all the Devatas, the time of inner light which is self-illumining beyond all horizons. May Mahashivaratri awaken you to your eternal Shiva nature! Om Nama Shivaya!