Saturday, July 31, 2010


Tension between the imageries of Siva

'If he is naked what need he has of bow?
If armed with bow then why the holy ashes?
If smeared with ashes what needs he has with a woman?
Or if with her, then how can he hate Love?'

- 'Asceticism and eroticism in the mythology of Siva', Wendy O'Flabberty.Translation from a Sanskrit poem written perhaps around 1000AD.

Bhikshatana Siva - The Wandering Mendicant.Matted unbound hair, naked except a girdle of snake around his hip,wearing sandals ( the only imagery of Siva wearing a footwear ), skull of Brahma in his left hand. Siva is naked, but, not ithyphallic. A dog accompanies Siva.

Interpreting the intrinsic meanings of Hindu Iconography is a subject that requires scholastic understanding of our religious history, ditto of mythological tales and study of allied fields. As I glanced through some of the work on Iconography of Siva, written by Western writers during my visit to NY in 2010, I found the list of books and articles each of them referred to is simply enormous. Among the writings I went through,I was most impressed by the book of Anne Marie-Gaston, an exponent of Bharat-natyam herself, on Siva’s dance-form, as expressed in wall-reliefs in temples across India and Stella Kramrisch. The other books I could lay my hands are by Homer John Custead and Charles Dillard Collins.

Present day anthropomorphic image of Siva

It is quite well understood that the worship of Siva as a ‘Linga’ has a long history. But, Siva in his sitting posture, with the crescent on his matted hair, tiger-skin covering his loin, trident on his right-hand, is comparatively new. The first image of a Yogi, wearing buffalo-horns as his head-gear, sitting in a straight posture, ithyphallic – ‘unencumbered by a loin cloth’ is where we start from. This image ( see below) is from Harappa and probably dates back to BC. Was he a god of Fertility? Was he a Lord of animals – a ‘Pasupati’ among the non-Aryan gods? There is no answer yet.

A pre-Vedic age imagery of an ithyphallic Yogi, presumed to be a god of fertility and a Lord of animals ('Pasupati' )

Then we have Rgveda slokas,referring to 'Rudra', the Roarer .The Roarer was an archer too. But, Rgveda has no mention of Siva .One point is very clear – Siva is no vedic god. A lot has been written by serious students of Siva’s mythology on evolution of Siva/Mahadeva from the Yogi of Harappa , tension between Siva’s imageries as erotic/ascetic, benevolent/ferocious.

A coin from Kushan era.King Vasudeva ( 190-230 AD ) on the left. On the right, Oshio - probably derived from a Prakrit word 'HAVESA',representing the Sanskrit word 'Bhavesha', the Lord of Being. The ithyphallic god has his trident in his left hand and is accompanied by his bull. ( Note : 1)

Bhikshatana Siva - The Wandering Mendicant, at Darukavana. Wives of sages submit themselves to Siva as an cuckolded sage gesticulates furiously. Siva's finger is raised upwards, a gesture copied centuries later by a sculptor , who created a statue of Siva's disciple Sambandar (Note : 2)
Photo : Obliged to Sardonik , Trekearth.

Yet another depiction of Bhikshatana Siva . Parsvanath temple at Ranakpur, Rajasthan. Siva is not young and his hairs not unbound like the preceding image . Siva is naked, but, not ithyphallic.Wives of the sages are seen dancing around him.I did not understand the relevance of the dancing figures when I took this photo in Sept,2009... thus missed out the details of the RH side.

Among the mythological tales woven around Siva/Mahadeva , the most interesting are :
  • Beheading of Brahma.
  • Bhikshatana Siva and his encounter with the sages of Darukavana after their wives fell for Siva’s charm.
  • Dance of Siva after he vanquished the challenges of the sages of Darukavana.
  • Slaying of Gajasura. Destroyer of Tripura.
  • Dance of Siva after Andhakasura was tamed & Gajasura slayed. 
  • Hari-Hara.
  • Androgynous Siva.
  • Birth of Kartikeya.
Stone statue of Natesh Siva from Bangladesh.Siva dances on Nandi , not Apasmara.
Siva is  ithyphallic.
Through ages, followers of Saiva sect have added to their sacred text. The ‘tales’ have been written and re-written, trying to establish the supremacy of Saiva sect above the other. Upper class Aryans have come into the fold of this sect….yet a large group of those on the fringe of the society continued to be followers of Siva.
A painting showing Siva and Parvati in mountain Kailash, as Ravana shakes it.This imagery has been used repeatedly by Indian sculptors.

All these, specially the rivalry among sects, added much to the ‘twists’ of the tales. One point is clear…. There seems to a lot of conflict between Siva and Brahma in Hindu mythology. One of the Western writers I mentioned above has drawn an arrow diagram that portrays the conflicts between the two from the starting phase to development in the Bhikshatana Siva and Natesh Siva imageries. 
I have taken the liberty of using a few photos from the Internet .I acknowledge the debt with thanks.

Three manifestations of Siva - somber,benign and ferocious. Photo taken at Chittor, Rajasthan.According to Hindu mythology, Siva has eight manifestations -Sarva,Pasupati,Ugra,Asani,Bhava,Mahadeva,Isana and Rudra.

No blog on Siva's Iconography can end without a para on and a photo from Elephanta Cave. A very nice reference book is written by Charles Dillard Collins , title being 'The Iconography and ritual of Siva at Elephanta'.We find the earliest reference of this cave in the record of Gracio da Orta, a Portuguese physician and scientist,in the company of Portuguese sea Captain Martin Afonso de Soma. He wrote : '.....On the walls , all around,there are sculptured images of elephants,lions,tigers,and many human images,some like Amazons, in many other shapes well-sculptured..Certainly it is a sight , well worth seeing, and it would appear that the devil had used all its powers and knowledge to deceive the gentiles into its worship'. An useful link to an exhaustive album is at :

I have picked a nice photo from this album. The relief shows marriage of Siva and Parvati , again an imagery which inspired sculptors through centuries .

Siva-Parvati's marriage - Kalyansundarmurti. Elephanta caves. Source - Internet.

I end with one terra cotta panel from the hexagonal temple ( 19th century) of Ilambazar, Birbhum district , WB which shows an unconventional depiction og the Ganges coming down to the earth ...... she is not shown as coming down on the matted lock of Siva !

From left to right : Bishnu,Ganga riding on makara, Bhagiratha praying with folded hands,Siva, ithyphallic Ganesha and Bhagiratha looks up as the river flows down to the earth.

Notes :
2.View :