Category Archives: 1. Saiva Deities


Some Hindus believe that Harihara is the Supreme God. In the Hindu tradition the supreme gods are Visnu and Siva.  Visnu is known as Hari and Siva is known as Hara. In Sanskrit Hari means a yellowish or khaki color, which represents the sun and the Soma plant. Put together Hari and Hara are Harihara, which is a combination of the two gods. Harihara is also commonly known as Shankaranarayana; “Shankara” is Siva while “Narayana” is Visnu. Devotees believe that Siva and Visnu are different aspects of the same reality. Sometimes they are thought to have been brought together because they were ‘rivals’ but there is no evidence to show that this is the case. Harihara is occasionally used in philosophical terms to indicate Visnu and Sivas unification of different aspects of the Supreme God (Olson). The most famous philosophical analogy is the yogurt and milk analogy, which says that yogurt is a groundwork of milk but yogurt cannot be used as milk. Siva is an expansion of Krishna but Siva cannot act as Krishna. Also Siva has a connection with the material world while Visnu and Krishna do not. It is thought that Visnu is a part of Krishna as the whole.

Harihara image (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)

Harihara was very popular in Cambodia in the beginning of the seventh century. It is thought to be popular in Cambodia because previous Cambodian rulers had worshiped Siva in the seventh and eighth century. The rulers tried to maintain and control southern Cambodia, which had a strong connection to Visnu. The northern rulers wanted an icon that would represent the unification of the south and north, which lead to Harihara. Evidence of Harihara worship was most commonly found deity during the seventh century in the Preangkorian Khmer empire (see Lavy 22-31). Archaeological evidence relates to clay Harihara figurines, which suggest that Harihara was the main deity being worshiped in seventh century Cambodia.  The worship of Harihara did not spread to India or Southeast Asia until many centuries later. The worship of Harihara began to die out of the Khmer culture in the thirteenth century.

Temple for worship of Harihara are very rare. One of the main temples for worship is in Shankaranarayana village. Shankaranarayana is located east of Kundapura in Karnataka, India. The village gets its name from the temple. The temple is thought to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World that was created by Maharshi Parashurama (Meister 167-170).

The main festival for Shankaranarayana is the Shankaranaraya Jaatre. The festival begins four days before Makar Sankranti, and celebrates the sun passing from one zodiac sign to another, and runs for a week. The first six days of the event consist of a variety of rituals devoted to Harihara. The last day of the festival is the main event, when Rathotsava is celebrated. This occasion frequently falls on January 16. At the Rathotsava festival, more then ten thousand people from different parts of India come to worship (Meister 170-173).

When Harihara is depicted with four arms, the right side is shown as Siva while the left side is Visnu. Siva is portrayed as being the destroyer and in his right upper hand holds a trident; the points on the tridents are believed to represent trinities for example, past, present, and future or creation, maintenance and destruction. Some people also believe that it represents the three channels of energy or nadis. The right side of the head of Harihara consists of Siva’s matted locks with a headdress. Siva’s third eye is visible on the right side of the forehead as well. On the left side of Harihara Visnu is shown calm and holding in his upper left hand the wheel emblem; his head is also portrayed with a crown; the crown represents Visnus’ supreme authority while the wheel represents the circle of life, unity, the sun, and reincarnation (Lavy 21).

Although not widely known, Harihara is a significant and interesting deity within the Hindu tradition.


Lavy, Paul A. (2003) Journal of Southeast Asia Studies: “As in heaven, so on earth: the politics of Visnu, Siva and Harihara images in Preangkorian Khmer civilization.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meister, Michael A. (1976), Artibus Asiae. Vol. 38, Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

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Cambodian History





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Article written by: Rose Naigus (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Siva and Parvati

There are numerous myths separately depicting Siva and Parvati, as well as being together.  As a couple, the majority of these myths can be found in the several of the Puranas, telling many tales on how Siva and Parvati came to be. Although Parvati can been seen as the reincarnation of Siva’s first wife Sati, their stories are very much different.  According to the Puranic myths of Siva and Parvati, their story begins with the demon Taraka. Taraka, the king of the demons, was oppressing the gods and creating havoc in the celestial world. The god Brahma had granted Taraka one boon. Taraka wished that no god could slay him except for the one who is born of the god with braided hair (Siva) (O’Flaherty 1975:155).

To avoid further chaos caused by Taraka, Brahma’s main concern was to find a woman or goddess who was capable of luring Siva into a sexual encounter or marriage (Kinsley 42).  This is a difficult feat because Siva is yogi who takes pleasure in tapas, which is described as a potentially destructive heat derived from extreme ascetic practices (Kinsley 42). Many texts describe Siva’s celibacy and the ongoing physical, emotional and mental battle between Kama and Siva. In one variation of this tale, Kama enters Siva’s heart where an immediate sexual desire stirs throughout his body (O’Flaherty 1973: 149). Siva is outraged by this attempt and expels Kama from his body using heat, causing Kama to leave his human form. As a last attempt, Kama shoots the arrow of desire into the heart of Siva and is immediately scorched and turned into ashes from the flame exerted out of Siva’s third eye (O’Flaherty 1973: 149). Rati, Kama’s wife who was distressed by the sight of her husband’s burnt body, started rubbing his ashes all over her body protesting that she was going to kill herself. Siva consoled her and reassured her that Kama would be reborn again, which is illustrated later on in the tale of the couple (Kramrisch 352).

Parvati whose name means “she who dwells in the mountains” was born to Himavat and Mena (Kinsley 41). According to Brahma’s plan, Parvati was born to practice austerities in order to marry Siva, and when united in marriage with Siva, their combined tapas will be so intense during love making that they would be able to create a son strong enough to destroy the demon Taraka (Kramrisch 350). In many ways, Parvati knew that they needed to be together in order to save the cosmos and everything in it; they were destined to be with each other. During the seduction of Siva, Parvati visits Siva trying to interrupt his meditations, where Siva dismisses her over and over again.  Her determination was as firm as the Mountain, her father (Kramrisch 356). She eventually leaves the palace, abandons the householder status and becomes a renouncer, much to the dismay of her mother, in order to practice austerities within the forest (Kramrisch 356 & Kinsley 43).

The austerities performed by Parvati, described in most versions of this myth, outdo many of the great sages (Kinsley 43). Eventually, her tapas generates so much heat that the universe begins to heat up, forcing Brahma to grant her a boon to acquire Siva as a husband, which is instantly rejected by Siva (O’Flaherty 1973: 153). This rejection causes Parvati to make the universe smoke which eventually frightens Siva, who is shaken from his own meditation (O’Flaherty 1973: 153). Brahma promises Parvati that Siva will come to her. Using her tapas, she heats up Siva’s seat on Mount Kailasa and Siva is forced to appear before her (O’Flaherty 1973: 153). He was swayed by Parvati and was drawn to her as an ascetic. Siva decided to test Parvati’s resolution, the intensity of her asceticism, the clarity of her mind, the purity of her devotion,

Bronze Masterpiece depicting Siva and Parvati (Patan Museum, Patan, Nepal)
Bronze Masterpiece depicting Siva and Parvati (Patan Museum, Patan, Nepal)

and her knowledge (Kramrisch 356-357). Seven sages were sent to Parvati to dissuade her from her duty and described Siva as being “naked, ferocious, dweller of the cremation grounds, the carrier of skills, a hermit, statue-like in action, a beggar, mad, fond of collecting ugly and terrible things, and inauspiciousness incarnate” (Kramrisch 357). Parvati, in response to their tests, does not deter in her mission and replies to the sages that they do not know the Great God (Kramrisch 357). Delighted with her determination and strength, they return to Siva retelling him what took place. He then goes to Parvati’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage; Parvati’s parents are honoured. The marriage ordeal is described in great detail in many variations of the myth with a common theme. During the marriage procession, Mena, Parvati’s mother sees Siva for the first time. She is outraged by his appearances and threatens to commit suicide and faints when told that the odd-looking figure in the marriage procession is her future son-in-law (Kinsley 43). He turns into something more suitable and beautiful in response to Mena’s cry.

After their marriage, Rati, Kama’s widow is said to have brought Siva to the ashes of Kama where Kama, as beautiful as before and wielding bow and arrows, emerged from the ashes (Kramrisch 363). Siva and Parvati then retreat to his mountain dwelling, Mount Kailasa, where they engage in intense sexual activity. Their lovemaking becomes so intense that it is said to have shaken the cosmos, frightening the gods (Kinsley 43). Parvati, according to Brahma’s plan, longed for a son of her own. As their lovemaking continued, the gods, in some texts, became impatient and scared of the child that would come from these two great deities. In one instance, the gods interrupt Siva and Parvati during sexual intercourse, causing Siva to spill his semen outside Parvati (Kinsley 43). This fiery, potent seed was transferred from one container to another, in many variations of the myth, where eventually it settles in a suitable place, often in the Ganges River, where it is incubated and born as the child Karttikeya.  The boon granted by Brahma to Taraka, the king of the demons, had been fulfilled and the child born of Siva seed defeats Taraka and rescues the world from utter chaos. After some time, Karttikeya finds his parents, where Parvati accepts the child as her own (Kinsley 43).

The Puranas identify Parvati’s willingness to have another child. Siva, on the other hand said ‘I am not a householder and I have no use for a son’ (O’Flaherty 1973: 211). However, Parvati still insists on having a child telling Siva that once they conceive a child he can return to his yoga, leaving all of the parental responsibilities to Parvati (O’Flaherty 1973:211). Siva yet again refuses to give into her request. Instead, in desperate want of a child, she creates Ganesa from the dirt and sweat of her body and commands him to guard the entrance of her house against any intruder (Kinsley 44). When Siva tries to enter their hermitage, Ganesa denies his entry. This infuriates Siva and leads him to decapitate young Ganesa. As a result, Parvati becomes upset and demands that Siva restore Ganesa’s life (Kinsley 44). Siva restores Ganesa to life yet with the head of an elephant and is said to have been put in charge of all Siva’s troops and heavenly attendants (Kinsley 44).

Siva and Parvati’s marriage and family life is portrayed as harmonious, blissful and calm. Some quarrels, recounted by some of the Puranic myths, occur throughout their marriage, where they leave each other for a brief period of time to practice their austerities, but eventually end up together recovering from their altercation because of the intimate love and devotion they have for each other.  Siva is a god of excesses, both ascetic and sexual, and Parvati plays the role of modifier (Kinsley 49). Much of the tension and conflict exhibited by this divine couple is identified with the concept that Parvati is Siva’s sakti, or power, which is often personified in the form of a goddess (Kinsley 49). Her role as sakti is active, in that she is sometimes identified with prakrti (nature), whereas, Siva is identified with purusa (pure spirit). Without Parvati, Siva’s power ceases to exist. Parvati’s sakti not only complements Siva, she completes him. The reason for Parvati’s existence is just that; the celestial world would not exist if it weren’t for their undying love for each other. Many metaphors illustrate this dependence on the couple as complementary opposites throughout the Purana texts. It can be argued that the two are actually one-different aspects of ultimate reality- and such are complementary, not antagonistic (Kinsley 50).





















Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kramrisch, Stella (1981) The Presence of Siva. United States of America: Princeton University Press

O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1975) Hindu Myths. London: Penguin Group

O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1973) Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook. An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist


Related Topics for Further Investigation






Mount Kailasa











Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Rachael Collette (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Siva and Demons

Siva is regarded as one part of the Great Hindu Trinity, alongside Brahma and Visnu. Brahma is the creator, Visnu the preserver and Siva the destroyer of the universe (Ghosh 13). Siva resides on Mount Kailasa along with his wife, Parvati. While he is known as the destroyer of the universe, Siva possesses a myriad of contradicting qualities. He is both terrible and benign; the supreme ascetic, yet a symbol of sensuality; granter of boons to those who are most devoted to him, and destroyer of those who displease him. It is these qualities which result in some interesting encounters with various demons.

While we can call some of the beings that Siva encounters and battles with “demons” in English, there is not always a clear-cut line between good and evil in Hinduism. Although gods are supposed to be different from demons, there is not always a clear cut distinction between the good characteristics of one and the evil characteristics of the other. While most Hindu demons behave in the way that is expected of them in the West – stealing, killing, raping, generally being evil – there are some demons in Hindu mythology that are righteous and practice asceticism. It is through this asceticism that the gods grant boons to these “good” demons, and it is through the abuse of these boons that they become evil. Siva’s mythology tells of encounters of both “evil” demons and “good” demons, and has even granted boons to some “good” demons, only to have them turn around and use their boons against him.

It is possible for demons to be born from gods, and for gods to cleanse demons of their “demon-ness”. The story of Andhaka illustrates both concepts. Once, Parvati covered Siva’s two eyes, and a drop of sweat fell into his third eye. From this, the demon Andhaka was born, with Parvati as his mother and Siva as his father. Siva saw the evil that Andhaka was capable of and gave him away to the demon king Hiranyaksa to raise. When Andhaka was older, he inherited Hiranyaksa’s kingdom. After meditating and sacrificing pieces of his own flesh, Andhaka was able to request a boon from Brahma. Andhaka wanted to live forever, but as all things must eventually die, Brahma could only grant him near immortality; Andhaka had to declare the conditions for his death. Wanting to make the conditions near impossible, Andhaka wished that his death would only come when he developed feelings for his own mother and that even if he desired his own mother, only Siva could kill him. One day, while in the forest, Andhaka encountered an ascetic and his beautiful wife. Andhaka tried to seduce the woman and demanded that the ascetic surrender his wife, as a man who had renounced his worldly ways would have no need for a beautiful woman. The ascetic refused, to which Andhaka sought to do battle with him, not knowing that the beautiful woman he lusted after was Parvati, his mother. This meant that the ascetic with whom he challenged to battle was Siva. Siva impaled Andhaka with his trident and burned him with his third eye. Siva’s third eye was so powerful, he not only burned away Andhaka’s body, but also his sins and demonic ways. Then Siva gave Andhaka a form with three eyes, a blue neck, and matted hair, and Parvati adopted him as her son (O’Flaherty 1973:191).

When seduction is used by both Siva and his enemy, Siva emerges supreme by virtue of his sexual powers (O’Flaherty 1973:184). Siva once commented on Parvati’s dark complexion, which angered her. She left to perform austerities to lighten her skin color and assigned her attendant, Viraka, to guard the door, fearing her husband’s lust would get the better of him and he would sleep with another woman before she could return. While she was gone, Adi, the shape-shifting son of Andhaka, learned of her absence, and devised a plan to avenge his father’s death by killing Siva. Adi figured that if he could destroy Siva’s linga (phallus), Siva himself would be ultimately destroyed. He snuck into Siva’s palace by transforming himself into a snake and slithered past Viraka undetected. He then transformed himself into Parvati, but placed sharp teeth inside the vagina. When Siva saw Adi in his Parvati form, he embraced him/her, but was suspicious that Parvati would return before completing her austerities. He began to look at his wife more closely and seeing that the Parvati in front of him was missing a birthmark, Siva suspected that it was a demon in disguise. He then placed a thunderbolt on the tip of his linga, and while making love to Adi, killed him with it.

So far, Siva has been shown to be able to spawn demons and to kill demons, but Siva also from time to time helped demons out. The demon Bana is one of these cases. Bana was the son of the demon Bali, but Siva and Parvati adopted him as their own son. With the backing of Siva, Bana became strong and hungered for war. He once complained to Siva that there were no wars to fight and that he was depressed. Siva smiled and told him that when his flagstaff fell, a great war would come to him. When Bana’s flagstaff broke, he happily relayed Siva’s message to his minister, Kusmanda, but Kusmanda, who was more level headed than Bana, could sense trouble brewing. Bana’s daughter, Usa, wanted a husband and Parvati told her that one night she would have a dream where a man would come to her and join with her in sexual union. The man in that dream would be her future husband. Sure enough, one night she had this dream and the man was Aniruddha, the grandson of Krsna. The problem lay in the fact that Krsna and Bana were sworn enemies. Usa asked her friend Citralekha to find Aniruddha and bring him to her, which she did. The two had a secret love affair, but Bana found out and sought to punish Aniruddha. Aniruddha proved to be an experienced fighter and Bana could not defeat him in physical combat. Under the advice of Kusmanda, Bana resorted to magic instead and managed to tie Aniruddha down with ropes made from snakes. Bana was about to kill Aniruddha, but the wise Kusmanda suggested that since the boy was such a great warrior, it might be better to inquire as to who he was and to protect him instead of killing him. If he did manage to secretly marry Usa, it would not look good if Bana killed his own son-in-law. Meanwhile, Krsna heard about Aniruddha’s capture and mobilized a great army to Bana’s capital, set on either rescuing his grandson or avenging his death. Bana’s army and Krsna’s army collided on the battlefield, but Krsna’s force proved to be the better and Bana was forced into a corner. This was unacceptable to Siva, who felt he needed to protect his adopted son, so he sent his own army to help Bana and even stepped on the battlefield himself. The war turned into a battle between Siva and Krsna, who was an avatar of Visnu. The Earth was under great stress from the war and Brahma requested that Siva step out of the fight, since both Siva and Visnu were invincible, so the fight would be never-ending. With Siva gone, Bana had no chance of victory and was facing defeat, but Siva took Bana away with him and granted him immortality. Aniruddha was rescued and was married to Usa and Bana’s kingdom was given to Kusmanda to rule.

These were only three examples of Siva’s encounters with demons. With Siva’s unique contradicting characteristics and the ambiguity of evilness of demons in Hindu mythology, there are a vast number of demon encounters that were not mentioned. Even the three examples given were only one version each of a myriad of versions for the same story. However, unlike Western mythology, where there is usually a distinct black and white aspect to good and evil, where gods are good and demons are bad, in Hindu mythology, sometimes the gods are good and the demons are bad, but other times, the gods do terrible things and the demons are righteous. Similar to India’s class system, “god” or “demon” is like a class that one can be born into. How one acts in that class is of their own volition.


Bhattacharji, Sakumari (2000) The Indian Theogony. New Delhi: Penguin Books India.

Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (2000) Indian Demonology: The Inverted Pantheon. Daryaganj:  Manohar Publishers & Distributors.

Ghosh, Mandira (2007) Shiva and Shakti in Indian Mythology. Gurgaon: Shubhi Publications.

Michaels, Axel (2008) Siva in Trouble. New York: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1973) Siva The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Los Angeles: University of California Press.












Mount Kailasa








Article written by Allan Chiem (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Nandi the Bull

There are animals that are deemed sacred in the Hindu tradition and deities to whom these animals are dear and connected to in worship. These animals are said to be the vahanas (vehicles), the means of travel for the gods and goddesses of the Hindu tradition (Wilkins 448). The vahana does not have just one sole purpose; aside from being a mode of transportation, many deities exalt their vahana to the level of protector or disciple. One vahana of prolific stature is that of Nandi [or sometime referred to as Nandin or Nandiksvara] the mount of lord Siva [The Destroyer deity]. Nandi is described as a white vrsa (bull), having a large notable hump and tall horns. Worship of the bull can be dated as far back as the days of the Indus Valley Civilization, some 5,000 years ago (Murthy 1). This particular bull is widely known and worshipped alongside Siva as a result of the latter exalting Nandi to the position of ganapati (leader of the ganas (a body of followers)), his main companion, his foremost sectary and most notably as his vahana (Chakravarti 103). Nandi is also evidently known as the doorkeeper of Siva. There are many instances of which describe the regular intimacy of Siva and Parvati (female consort of Siva) on Mount Kailasa, as it is believed that when the two deities wed they made love for a hundred celestial years. There are many variations to this episode depending on the narration, yet Nandi is ubiquitous in the motif of interruption. Nandi is the gatekeeper who deters others from interrupting the deities’ intimacy. Although through many depictions of the story, Nandi is eluded by the unexpected guests, thus the two deities are interrupted (see O’Flaherty 290-310). To this day a temple of Siva is not without a statue of Nandi facing the linga (phallus) in worship; illustrating the role of the gatekeeper. One of the more notorious known forms of Mahadeva (epithet of Siva) is that of Nataraja (Lord of Dance). It said that Nandi is a skilled musician and provides the music for Nataraja to perform the cosmic dance of destruction (Turner 335).

Image of Nandi, the bull mount (vahana) of Siva in its own shrine at Khajuraho, India
Image of Nandi, the bull mount (vahana) of Siva in its own shrine at Khajuraho, India

Many stories exist about the introduction of Nandi into the Hindu tradition. A few of the more well known depictions are as follows: In the Sivapurana it is explained that Nandiksvara is the son of the rsi Salankytana. Visnu [The Preserver of the cosmos] is impressed by the rsi’s pious meditations and grants him a boon [a wish]; that boon being a son, Nandiksvara almost instantaneously emerges out of the right side of Visnu. In the Mahabharata we hear another depiction of how Nandi became associated with Siva and the worship thereof. It is explained that Daksa Prajapati (an ancient creator god; a son of Brahma) offered the bull to Siva in an attempt to please him and in time Siva appointed Nandi as his vahana. It is also within this epic that Nandi is portrayed as his bull-faced human form of which he is known as Nandiksvara. The Skandapurana [one of the 18 puranas; devoted mainly to the life of Skanda/Muruga] describes Nandi’s origin as a transformation from Dharma [as a deity in this context]. Upon being asked for a boon, Dharma promises to take on the form of a bull and become the vahana of Siva. The Lingapurana and Kurmapurana depict how Siva was born as Nandi; being upset about the finite life of a bull he meditates upon Siva. After pious meditation the deity appears and grants Nandi immortality alongside the role as leader of his ganas (Chakravarti 102-105).

There is extensive symbolism associated with Nandi in the Hindu tradition and in some instances he projects exactly that of Siva. “Nandi conveys Siva in every sense for not only is he the conveyance of the god, but he conveys the presence of Siva and stands for Siva himself [sic]” (Sunderland 1). Anna L. Dallapiccola, author of the Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend, explains that Nandi on one hand symbolizes dharma and on the other hand virility, fertility and strength (Dallapiccola). As stated in the Skandapurana, it was Dharma that assumed the form of Nandi, which favors the idea of Nandi representing Dharma, emerging as Siva’s lifelong attendant of righteousness. The bull is generally deemed an adequate representation of the potent force of man because of the strength and sexual virility it posseses. The bull personifies fertility, of which in Hindu tradition takes manifestation through many forms of devi (female aspect of the divine: goddess), including Parvati (Chakravarti 94). A story arises about the two sons of Siva and Parvati; Vetala and Bhairava [born of Taravati and Candrasekhara, avatars of Parvati and Siva respectfully] of whom have not fathered any sons yet. It is Nandi who advises the two sons to procreate, as he implies there lack of sons is not appropriate (O’Flaherty 70). Thus the promotion of procreation by Nandi helps to confirm the association of fertility with him. “ Mythologically the god’s vehicle and attendant, the bull is, in the eyes of the students of history, a theriomorph duplicate manifestation or representation of the fertility and procreation aspect of Siva’s nature and energy [sic]” (Gonda 76). The idea that the bull generally roams the earth looking to procreate and satisfy its sexual impulses, speaks to the representation of fertility through the bull. Riding on the hump of the bull suggests the notion that Siva has mastered his sexual urges and brought them under control. It is often said only those who have mastered their impulses may ride atop the bull. The bull is often portrayed in images with a very robust frame and a loud roar. The roar of Nandi is said to be a symbol of Siva’s roaring vitality (Chakravarti 97).

Images and statues of Nandi are found in all temples dedicated to Lord Siva. Upon entering a Siva temple one will pass through the mandapa ( pavilion preceding the temple) of where Nandi is found, usually squatting on a platform facing the Sivalinga (prevalent icon of Siva; linga) in admiration of his symbolic form (Chakravarti 101). The largest statue of Nandi resides in the Nandi Mandapa of a Vijayanagara temple in Andhra Pradesh. The importance and elevated stature of Nandi is evident through the numerous uses of his image. Nandi was known to grace many different coins; one in particular being the Ujjayini (now known as Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh) coin of which Nandi is seen gazing up at his lord (Chakravarti 100). It was as far back as 400 BC that Nandi even graced punch-marked coins of other traditions. The Kushanas [a tribe from China, arrived 100 AD] of India minted gold coins with Nandi and Mahadeva on them. There are also many sites within the subcontinent that have been named after Nandi. Within the Chikkaballapur district there is a village titled Nandi. Nandigrama is the place where Bharata is said to have laid down the slippers of Rama and worshipped them as he awaited his return from exile; as illustrated in the Ramayana (Murthy 2). An interesting ritual of which often still takes place today at the funerals of Saivas [worshippers of Siva], is the release of a bull(s). The bulls are let loose by pious friends of the deceased, said to wander and eventually find themselves in the presence of Siva. The release of the bulls is meant to represent a gift to Siva as he found great delight in his sacred bull, Nandi (Wilkins 277).


Chakravarti, Mahadev. (1986) Concept of Rudra-Siva. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press

Dallapiccola, Anna L. (2002) Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. London: Thames & Hudson

Gonda, J. (1970) Visnuism and Sivaism. London: The Athlone Press

Murthy, Narasimha A.V. (2008) Nandi in Indian Tradition. Mysore: University of Mysore

O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1973) Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva. London: Oxford University Press

Peterson, Indira V. (1989) Poems to Siva. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Sunderland, John. (1969) The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 111 No. 798. London: The Burlington Magazine Publications

Turner, Patricia. (2001) Dictionary of Ancient Deities. London: Oxford University Press

Wilkins, W.J. (1975) Hindu Mythology.Calcutta: Rupa Co.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Indus Valley Civilization











Mount Kailas



Motifs of Siva

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Written by Chris Wolsey (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Skanda Purana

Skanda on Peacock Mount Kdei Ang, Cambodia. VI or VII century Musee Guimet, Paris
Skanda on Peacock Mount
Kdei Ang, Cambodia.
VI or VII century
Musee Guimet, Paris

The Puranas are a genre of smrti literature in India. The Puranas literally mean “tales of old” or “ancient,” which adheres to the idea that they are the sourcebooks for Hindu mythology (Rodrigues 290). Historical information is blended with pseudo-history and myth to create the legends found in the Puranas. It can be argued, like E. H. Rick Jarow does in his encyclopedic article on the Puranas, that they are the core texts of Hindu religiosity as some provide the cornerstones of particular devotional traditions, templates for institutions, social observations, and traditions of secular knowledge (Jarow 7497). They are sometimes described as being the narrative portion of Vedic sacrifice; a kind of fifth Veda (Jarow 7497). The Devibhagavata says “Sruti and smrti are the two eyes of dharma but the Purana is its heart” (Jarow 7499, XI.1.21). The Puranas are usually identified as having five characteristics (pancalaksana). These are creation (sarga), re-creation of the universe after its dissolution (pratisarga), genealogies of the gods, sages, kings, and patriarchs (vamsa), cyclic ages of humanity presided over by Manu, the father of humanity (manvantara), and royal dynastic histories (vamsanucaritam) (Jarow 7497). However, these characteristics make up only a small percentage of the vast and diverse narratives that cause the Puranas to be so difficult to define and comprehend. There are eighteen Mahapuranas (Great Puranas) in total. The thirteenth Purana is the Skanda Purana, which is the largest of the major eighteen Puranas as it contains the most number of verses. The Skanda Purana consists of doctrines and worship of Siva, as well as legends about Siva and his son Skanda (Tagare 1992: xvii). It is an expansive text, spread out over several books that address general topics of interest including social, cultural, political, historical, geographical, and religious themes (Tagare 1992: xvi). Through the description of narratives included in the Skanda Purana, the different legends presented about the worship of Siva and Skanda, as well as legends derived from specific regions in India, are what make this an influential smrti text in the Hindu tradition. The Skanda Purana, and the Puranas in general, are a tool for the modern historian of ancient India as they provide considerable help in reconstructing the past history as a major literary source containing such aspects of ancient Indian life listed above.

The Puranas are a genre of smrti literature in India. The Puranas literally mean “tales of old” or “ancient,” which adheres to the idea that they are the sourcebooks for Hindu mythology (Rodrigues 290). Historical information is blended with pseudo-history and myth to create the legends found in the Puranas. It can be argued, like E. H. Rick Jarow does in his encyclopedic article on the Puranas, that they are the core texts of Hindu religiosity as some provide the cornerstones of particular devotional traditions, templates for institutions, social observations, and traditions of secular knowledge (Jarow 7497). They are sometimes described as being the narrative portion of Vedic sacrifice; a kind of fifth Veda (Jarow 7497). The Devibhagavata says “Sruti and smrti are the two eyes of dharma but the Purana is its heart” (Jarow 7499, XI.1.21). The Puranas are usually identified as having five characteristics (pancalaksana). These are creation (sarga), re-creation of the universe after its dissolution (pratisarga), genealogies of the gods, sages, kings, and patriarchs (vamsa), cyclic ages of humanity presided over by Manu, the father of humanity (manvantara), and royal dynastic histories (vamsanucaritam) (Jarow 7497). However, these characteristics make up only a small percentage of the vast and diverse narratives that cause the Puranas to be so difficult to define and comprehend. There are eighteen Mahapuranas (Great Puranas) in total. The thirteenth Purana is the Skanda Purana, which is the largest of the major eighteen Puranas as it contains the most number of verses. The Skanda Purana consists of doctrines and worship of Siva, as well as legends about Siva and his son Skanda (Tagare 1992: xvii). It is an expansive text, spread out over several books that address general topics of interest including social, cultural, political, historical, geographical, and religious themes (Tagare 1992: xvi). Through the description of narratives included in the Skanda Purana, the different legends presented about the worship of Siva and Skanda, as well as legends derived from specific regions in India, are what make this an influential smrti text in the Hindu tradition. The Skanda Purana, and the Puranas in general, are a tool for the modern historian of ancient India as they provide considerable help in reconstructing the past history as a major literary source containing such aspects of ancient Indian life listed above.

In Chapter 36, in the third book (Brahma-Khanda) and second section (Dharmaranya-Khanda) of the Skanda Purana, we get the narrative of King Ama of Kanauj/Kanyakubja. Puranic evidence clearly indicates that King Ama was an influential monarch well known both to the Jaina and Brahmanical traditions and that he ruled from Kanauj as his capital appears now to be a well founded fact (Agrawala 112). P. Agrawala’s article “New ‘Skanda Purana’ Evidence on King Ama of Kanauj” says that this section of the text is extremely rich in cultural and ethnological material (110). During the Kali Age is when King Ama is on the throne. The Kali age is described in the Skanda Purana as an age of people that are full of lustfulness, greed, and destruction. The people of the Kali Age reject the Vedas and the class distinctions, so that all four castes are mixed. “Subjects became inclined to commit sins” under King Ama’s rule and Jainism was adopted instead of their Brahmanical tradition that follows the Vedic literature closely (Tagare 1996: 191, III.ii.36.34-38). This chapter’s explanation of the tendencies of the people from the so-called Kali Age is an example of the text’s richness in cultural and social material. It describes the relations between people of the same and different social castes that reflects the change in religious following from the traditional Hinduism to Jainism. The plight of the Brahmana class is what brings the Vedic tradition back. King Ama promises them if they bring Hanuman to him, he will restore their power and livelihood in his kingdom. However, when the Brahmins bring proof of Hanuman, the packet of hair from his left armpit, to King Ama, he went back on his word and expelled them, saying he will never give them anything (Tagare 1996: 210, III.ii.38.16-21).. The Brahmanas threw down the hair and when they departed the whole place was ablaze with flames of fire. In this episode of the burning of Kanauj by the Brahmanas, we presumably have a reference to some historical incident of incendiary destruction at Kanauj during King Ama’s reign (Agrawala 113). By Chapter 40, the legend of King Ama and the struggle of the Brahmanas to reinstate Vedic tradition during the upheaval of the Kali Age finishes with the reasoning behind why it is important to listen to this Purana. It outlines what the Vedas bring to society and what the Brahmanas are responsible for. The restrictions and regulations are laid out so “He who wants to do what is beneficial to his sons” is clear about how to do that (Tagare 1996: 239, III.ii.40.36-38). This legend in the Skanda Purana is an example of how particular legends of this smrti text can be used historically to situate the religious beliefs into the social (through the struggles of the Brahmana caste), the cultural (in the behavior of the people under the influence of Jainism with the rejection of the Vedas), and the political (with the emphasis on what King Ama does during his reign) history of ancient India.

The Skanda Purana’s also offer geographical and local information on the sites where the legends take place. In R. Mehta’s “Two Legends from the ‘Skanda Purana” – Study” she uses the legend of the goat-faced daughter of Bharata’s son in the Kaumarikakhanda and the legend of the woman with the deer’s face in the Vastrapathamahatmya to explain how these Skanda Purana texts can be used to eulogize the power and sanctity of a local tirtha (sacred place, usually destination of pilgrimages, that is associated with a deity or saint) (208). The legend of the girl with the head of a goat relies on the local flora and fauna as well as local geographical features of the Cambay region (Mehta 208). Migrating herds of cattle, sheep, and goat are an annual phenomenon (Mehta 208). Therefore the motif of the goat is an outcome of the local peculiarities of this site. The goat-faced girl’s voyage to Cambay after her realization of her previous birth relates to the fact that Cambay is a well-known medieval port (Mehta 208). Also, the legend’s praise of Siva indicates the Saivite learning of the legend, which adds to the site’s holiness (Mehta 208).

In the legend of the girl with the face of a deer, the girl narrates to King Bhoja of Kanyakuba the history of her seven births.A well-known motif in Indian literature is the relationship of two individuals through a series of birth, which is clearly an inspiration for this legend of the Skanda Purana (Mehta 208). The death of the deer in her sixth birth by a lion relates to true events in the Gir forests. The Gir forest is a sanctuary for lions even today, and their natural food includes the deer (Mehta 208). This region is also populated with a variety of deer (Mehta 208). As a result of these two facts about the geographical location of the legend, the local experiences are weaved into the narration of the legend. Another part of the legend that leads to this belief in the influence of local phenomenon on the Skanda Purana narrations is the legend’s disclosure of knowledge of the pervious births due to the intervention of Sarasvata, the best of the Brahmins (Mehta 209). The term sarasvata might refer to a tantrika or to a Brahmin from the Sarasvata caste (Mehta 209). While human speech by animate and inanimate objects is a widespread motif in Indian literature, the belief in the tantrika powers, which would make an animal speak in human tongues proposed in this legend, emphasizes the power of Sarasvata (Mehta 209).

While the studies of these two legends, outlined by Mehta, seem to reflect legends that explain local phenomenon in their stories, this is only one way to define the Skanda Purana. The title of this section of the Puranas, “Skanda,” is the name of Siva’s son Kartikeya, also called Skanda. The beginning of the Skanda Purana tells the tale of Skanda’s birth, starting with the narration of Siva’s marriage first to Sati and then to Parvati (Sharma 126; 128-129). The demon Tarakasura was tormenting the deities and could only be killed by a child. It was believed that only Siva’s son could kill Tarakasura (Sharma 128). Agni (the God of Fire) consumed the semen Siva discharged on the earth and Parvati cursed the earth for preventing her sexual intercourse with Siva and her ending her desire to have a son (Mani 747). Agni could no longer hold Siva’s semen as it was diminishing his powers, so Ganga (the river goddess) asked Agni to throw the semen into her waters, where it remained for nearly five thousand years (Mani 747). The semen, however, became a burden to Ganga as well, so the Brahma told her to take the semen to a forest in the Udaya mountain and deposit the semen on a particular kind of grass and after ten thousand years a male child would be born (Mani 747). When the child was born, called Subrahmanya, he let out a cry that brought the six Krttikas to provide him with breastfeeding (Mani 747). Since Subrahmanya looked at all six Krttikas, one after the other as it nursed, it developed six faces (Mani 747). After the birth of this child was known, the question of ownership of the child came up between Agni, Ganga, Parvati and the Krttikas (Mani 748). As the child had six faces, Siva said that it should be the Krttikas’ son under the name Karttikya, Ganga’s son under the name Kumara, Parvati’s son under the name Skanda, Agni’s son under the name Mahasena, and his own son under the name Guha (Mani 748). Siva declared this son would be a great yogi that will be known under all of these names (Mani 748). At his coronation, Siva’s son was crowned the army-chief, and as such the God of War. Skanda eventually defeats Tarakasura and takes a vow of celibacy that leads to his more humane treatment of women by looking upon them as equal to his much respected mother, Parvati (Mani 748).

The legend of how Skanda came to be born is important for the cult of Siva worship the Skanda Purana emphasizes. The locations of Siva’s semen deposits are considered holy sites and are used as sites of pilgrimage for believers of the Hindu tradition, especially the holy Ganga river. The emphasis on both the worship of the great Lord Siva and on specific localities within the legends included in the Skanda Purana make it an important text that deals largely with places of pilgrimage and therefore worship (Jarow 7498).


Jarow, E. H Rick (2005) “The Puranas.” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones.

Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 7497-7502.

Mani, Vettam (1979) Puranic Encyclopedia. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Mehta Rn, Kantawala Sg (1978) “Two Legends from the Skanda Purana.” Journal of

Indian History 56 (August): 203-211.

Minkowski, Christopher (2002) “Nīlakantha Caturdhara’s Mantrakāśīkhanda.” Journal of

American Oriental Society 122, no. 2 (April-June): 329-344.

Pk, Agrawala (1976) “New ‘Skanda Purana’ Evidence on King Ama of Kanauj.”

Quarterly Review of Historical Studies 15, no. 2: 109-114.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online.

Sharma, P.R.P. (2007) Encyclopaedia of Puranas Vol.2. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.

Tagare, G.V. (1992) Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology: Puranas in Translation –

The Skanda Purana Part I. Delhi: Mistilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Tagare, G.V. (1996) Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology: Puranas in Translation –

The Skanda Purana Part IX. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Related Topics











King Ama


The “Gir Forests”

The Kali Age

Laws of Manu


Websites Related to Skanda Purana

Written by Tianna Stevenson (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ekadanta: The Single Tusked One

Ganesa, the son of Lord Siva and the Goddess Parvati, is known to Hindus as the Remover of Obstacles. He is the much loved, elephant headed, pot bellied deity with a penchant for sweets. He is one of the gods propitiated by students seeking assistance with their studies. Ganesa is known by many other names: Ganapati (Lord of the Multitudes), Vinayaka (Remover of Obstacles), Ekadanta (Single-Tusked One) and Gajanana (Elephant-Headed One) (Grimes, 41) just to name a few. He was Vyasa’s scribe when Vyasa dictated the epic The Mahabharata. He is best known as the guardian of Parvati’s private chamber, where his duties resulted in his receiving his elephant head. It was in a similar situation that his tusk was broken too, while he was guarding the door to his parents’ private chamber.

While there are a few stories of how Ganesa’s tusk came to be broken or severed, the most common one says that Ganesa received his broken tusk during a fight with Parasurama (one of Visnu’s avataras), while he was guarding the door for both of his parents, who were inside making love (Courtright 74). Parasurama was a great warrior of Siva’s, and had just returned victorious from war, having fought successfully against the demons, using an axe bestowed upon him by Siva. Siva had given Parasurama the axe with the caveat that it not be used in vain. When his attempt to enter the palace and the bedroom of Siva and Parvati was rebuked by Ganesa, Parasurama grew angry and the two exchanged words. Parasurama’s words were angry, while the words of Ganesa, as set out in the Brahmanda Purana and the Brahmavairvarta Purana, were even toned and matter of fact. Ganesa simply informed Parasurama that his parents Siva and Parvati were inside engaging in intercourse and that the entry by anyone would be most improper. Parasurama, offended at being reminded of the applicable dharmic obligations of the situation, grew more and more angry, and attempted to push past Ganesa, dismissing him. Ganesa jumped in front of him, blocking his way.

Further argument ensued at this point, and Parasurama raised the axe as if to throw it at Ganesa. Ganesa, seeing this, seized Parasurama with his trunk, “lowering him down through the seven regions of the world and finally down to the ocean at the innermost part of the earth until Parasurama became so frightened he wanted to die” (Courtright 75). Ganesa then raised Parasurama back up and set him back down on the ground. Due to his very frightening experience, Parasurama mistakenly thought Ganesa had defeated him. When he realized that he was standing once again before Ganesa in front of Siva’s palace, he flew into a rage and threw Siva’s axe at Ganesa. Ganesa, not wanting the axe to be thrown in vain, took the blow of the axe blade in his left tusk, severing it and causing it to fall to the ground. When the severed tusk struck the ground “all the worlds shattered and trembled with fear” (Courtright 25). The God Skanda (Ganesa’s brother), who had been sitting guard along with Ganesa when Parasurama had approached, as well as others present during this altercation, had created such a commotion that their noise in addition to that of the falling of the tusk drew Siva and Parvati from their chamber. Parvati, protective of her son whom she noticed had been injured, provided Siva with an angry redress for not immediately jumping to Ganesa’s defence, accusing him of having a preference for Parasurama over that of his own son. She seethed at Siva that “virtuous people take better care of their slaves than you do of me” (Courtright 76). At this, Siva said nothing. Parvati then took her children and left, still angry that Siva has once again rejected his own child.

Ekadanta (Giant Ganesha image displaying his broken tusk, near Kolhapur, India)
Ekadanta (Giant Ganesha image displaying his broken tusk, near Kolhapur, India)

Parvati’s anger at Siva, and Siva’s quiet acceptance of that anger may provide some insight into the ideal that women are posses their own power in Hinduism. This would fall in line with other power-possessing Goddesses such as Kali, Tara or Sakti.

Another story of how Ganesa lost his tusk begins with Ganesa receiving many modakas (sweet, steamed coconut-poppy seed dumplings) from his devotees one evening. He ate so many of them that his belly grew very large and bloated. As Ganesa set off home, riding his mouse mount (musika), a snake slithered across his path. At the sight of the snake, Ganesa’s mount drew back in fear, causing Ganesa to fall to the ground where his sweet-filled belly broke open and all the sweets rolled out onto the ground. Ganesa got up, picked up his scattered sweets, and placed them back in his belly. He then killed the snake and used it to tie his belly closed.

While all this was going on, the moon was watching, amused. When Ganesa’s belly split open and the sweets rolled out all over the place, the moon laughed out loud at Ganesa’s predicament. Ganesa, one must remember, is often viewed as a child deity. Therefore, given his childlike status, it should come as no surprise that Ganesa grew angry, throwing a temper-tantrum at being the subject of the moon’s laughter, so angry in fact, that he plucked out his tusk and speared the moon through, causing darkness across all the land. It was not until the gods pleaded with Ganesa to restore the light of the moon that he did so, however, “only on the condition that the moon gain and lose its light by waxing and waning each month” (Courtright 81).

Ganesa’s removal of his own tusk is not restricted to just the story of his anger with the moon, he also removed it in his occupation as scribe to Vyasa. While he was transcribing the Mahabharata for Vyasa, his writing instrument broke, and without hesitation, he broke off one of his tusks and continued writing in accordance with the deal between the two that Ganesa would be Vyasa’s scribe so long as he would write without ceasing, and that Vyasa would dictate continuously (Grimes 76).

There has been some speculation by anthropologists and others, which suggests that Ganesa’s tusk is possibly representative of a lingam, especially so due to Ganesa’s paternity from Siva, who’s virility is embodied in his phallic emblem (Courtright 111). Further, it has also been suggested that it was an agent of Siva (or even Siva himself), who removed Ganesa’s tusk for the purposes of quasi-castration in order to jealously prevent Ganesa from approaching Parvati in an incestuous fashion, the quasi-castration having left Ganesa sexually ambiguous (Courtright 117). This would not be entirely unreasonable given the theme of Ganesa and Parvati’s close relationship throughout the myths. If it were the case then, that Siva was attempting to prevent Ganesa getting too close to Parvati by making him asexual, it would serve to further support the apparent continual denial of Ganesa by Siva which is evident throughout a great deal of the Ganesa myths. Siva is seen to act in either indifference or violence toward Ganesa, for example, by cutting off his head at the entrance to Parvati’s chamber, demanding, “don’t you know who I am?” or seemingly taking Parasurama’s side when he cuts off Ganesa’s tusk with the axe Siva had bestowed upon him.

One cannot help but feel sorry for Ganesa while reading his stories as he always seems to be on the receiving end of one misfortune or another, such as being beheaded by his father, having his belly split open and all his sweets falling out, or losing his tusk to a great warrior who is favoured by his father over him. However, given the necessity of balance in Hinduism, Ganesa likely must experience his obstacles before he can remove them.

Scholar and author John Grimes eloquently summed up Ganesa when he said: “Ganapati is a child, a god, an elephant, a siddha, four armed, and an enigma. He does exactly as he pleases. He is free. He is seen, but he is the seer. He sees what cannot be seen. He can be known, but he is the knower. He knows, but he knows nothing. His secret is that he is himself. His secret is that he is you. His secret is tat tvam asi” (Grimes 63).

References and Recommended Readings:

Brown, Robert L (1991) Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God. Albany: State University of New York

Courtright, Paul B. (1985) Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. New York: Oxford University Press

Grimes, John A. (1995) Ganapati: Song of the Self. Albany: State University of New York Press

Krishan, Yuvraj (1999) Ganesa: Unravelling an Enigma. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited

Michael, S.M. (1983) The Origin of the Ganapati Cult. Asian Folklore Studies, 42 no 1 1983, p 91-116

Seth, Kailash Nath. (19–) God & Goddess of India. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books Pvt. Ltd.

List of Related Terms:

Brahmanda Purana

Brahmavairvarta Purana


Ganesa Gita

The Mahabharata





Siva Purana



Noteworthy websites related to the topic:

Written by Stacy Hill (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Saiva Siddhanta

Saiva Siddhanta is a bhakti (loving devotion) tradition. This system is a dualist (this is somewhat problematic but will be discussed in the section on philosophy) form of Saivism that has ancient roots in north India, though is most popular now in southern Tamil regions of India (Prentiss 1996). The goal of this system is ultimately liberation (moksa) from the cycle of rebirth, achieved through the Lord (Siva).

Hillary Rodrigues translates Saiva Siddhanta to mean “the ultimate goal of Saivism” (Rodrigues 270). In a definition that expands from a literal translation to one more anchored in the Indian philosophical system, Dr. S.C. Nandimath tells us that Saiva Siddhanta “means a system of Saivism, the doctrines of which are logically proved and are accepted as true” (Nandimath 80). The portion about being “logically proved” will come up again when we turn to Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. In the past, Saivism and even Saiva Siddhanta had a very strong presence and development in northern India (Gwalior state for example), though now it appears to be most influential in southern Indian Tamil regions and Sri Lanka (Prentiss 1996).

Saiva Siddhanta is an ancient system that has an equally long textual tradition. Tracing its history through its literature we see that Saiva Siddhanta seems to have gone through earlier phases to later become the influential tradition it is now. According to the tradition the Saivagamas are the original works, but according to Nandimath “available copies are very corrupt; therefore an attempt to determine their age on linguistic evidence must be abandoned at present” (Nandimath 80). This is important because it directs us towards a more historical study, as does Nandimath’s approach to Saiva Siddhanta literature. In the earliest phases the literature appears to be somewhat ambiguous. The tradition appears to be found in inscriptions as early as 6th or 7th (Nandimath 80) century with the Pallava king Rajasimha. Nandimath also tells us that there is a very important link with the Saivacayas. He argues that the Saivacaryas became prominent around 900 CE (Nandimath 82) and had links with Saiva Institutions (mathas). It is through monasteries, and mathas that Saivism, and particularly Saiva Siddhanta was spread through out India. According to Nandimath the Saivacaryas were not simply Saivites; many were followers and teachers of Saiva Siddhanta. Vairocani and Srikanthasiva are said to significant Saivacarya teachers of Siddhanta doctrine. This demonstrates that as early as the 6th or 7th century, Saiva Siddhanta existed in some form and that it was spreading and still popular nearly one-thousand years later. This has been a short history of a massive amount of literature of Siddhanta Saivism produced over around two-thousand years of existence.

Ultimately, all Saivism sects directly trace their lineage back to the sage Durvasa. Somananda wrote that there was a time in which all rsis, the Saiva Sastras and their knowledge disappeared. This seems to have been heralded as a particularly spiritually bleak time. As mythic accounts tell, Siva took pity on the mortals and went to a particularly chaste sage named Durvasa, and charged him with spreading the sastras (Nandimath 83). Durvasa in kind “charged [his three sons]… with establishing spiritual order and of teaching men again the…Saiva faith and doctrine in their three aspects of Unity, Diversity, and Diversity in Unity” (Nandimath 83-84). Tryambaka is the immediate ancestor (after Durvasa) of Somananda, who is held to be responsible for establishing Kashmiri Saivism. There is disagreement as to which branch of Saivism was originally established by Somananda in Kashmir. Dr. S.C. Nandimath argues that because Tryambaka was charged with teaching the aspect of Diversity (here the dualist or rather the pluralist Saivism), it is most likely that Somananda and his ancestors also taught the dualist version of the Trika; “Trika refers to the triad of God, souls, and bonds, with which the philosophy deals” (Rodrigues 566). This is problematic because Trika generally is used in reference to a non-dualist philosophy, and has for some time. Rohan A. Duniwala states that Amardaka was “one of the reputed founders” (Dunuwila 26) of the pluralist Saiva Siddhanta. The issue here is on the specific roots and founders of Saiva Siddhanta. The position that Nandimath takes is based on an interpretation of the mythic account of the origin of Saivism (in which Somananda (descendent of Tryambaka) actually taught a dualist version of the trika), where as the argument that Dunuwila makes is based on tracing the history of literature (Dunuwila 27).

Saiva Siddhanta is a dualist tradition, though in reality this tradition appears to be pluralistic. The simile most often evoked to explain the basic elements of Saiva Siddhanta is that of the pot (Nandimath 145). Here Saiva Siddhanta claims “three important eternal entities” (Ibid). The three eternal entities are explained in terms of the evolution of the universe; here the name Siddhanta is evoking the logic previously mentioned. To start Saiva Siddhanta does not deny the reality of the material world. In fact, the existence of the material world is crucial to understanding Saiva Siddhanta. The three basic elements are the Lord (Siva), Matter (the world) and the Soul. These elements are eternal and are eternally different. In this system Siva “is both transcendent, yet immanent in all aspects of creation” (Rodrigues 270). To better understand what the above quote means we can think of the evolution of the universe as being conceived in this way: the Lord creates a pot (Lord and Matter), and only creates a pot for the use of a consumer (soul)(Nandimath 145-146). Through this simile we again see that all is dependent on the Lord and yet is distinct from him. Liberation, as is implied, is achieved through the Lord. The critical distinction in Saiva Siddhanta (that distinguishes it as pluralistic) is that once a soul becomes liberated and realizes it is like the Lord, the soul does not then become (or become united with) the Lord after liberation (i.e. “three eternal distinct entities” and “the Lord is immanent and yet transcendent”). While caught in the cycle of rebirth the soul is completely dependent on the Lord as the source of all knowledge and especially of liberation. By saying that the soul realizes it is like the Lord the system is recapitulating the idea that makes this system dualist; it is saying that the soul is intelligent like the Lord and also is liberated like the Lord. The important piece of information here is that the soul is like the Lord and is never equated with the Lord as per the three eternal entities. This is a major point of philosophical difference between Saiva monists and dualists, as both take Siva to be the immanent factor in the world. The point is that for monists once liberation is achieved the soul is no longer distinct from the Lord (in this system the only reality is Siva), while for dualists (or more appropriately pluralists) the soul and Siva are eternally different.


Dunuwila, R. A. (1985) Śaiva Siddhānta Theology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Nandimath, S. C. (2001) Theology of the Saiv¯agamas : a survey of the doctrines of Saiva Siddhanta and Veerasaivism. Thiruvananthapuram : International School of Dravidian Linguistics

Prentiss, Karen Pechilis (1996) Tamil Lineage for Saiva Siddhānta Philosophy. History of Religions, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Feb., 1996), pp. 231-257. Published by: The University of Chicago Press

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook an Online Introduction. Published by: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Related Terms:









Siva in Srikantha form

Matta-Mayura matha



Saiva Siddhanta Church:

Vedic Books (a good source for books on a variety of topics relating to Hindu religion/spirituality)

A general google search that has a lot of promising websites:

Written by Calvin Gee (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.


Siva has been recognized as an omnipotent creator deity, the Lord of the Dance, a deity of destruction and the maintainer of the universe. Part of the Hindu trinity, Siva is accompanied by Brahma and Visnu; however, Siva’s true devotees view him as the supreme Lord who creates, maintains and destroys the cosmos (Flood 150). Siva “contains all opposites within him and is even described as being half male and half female (ardhanarisvara)” (Flood 151). An example of these opposing virtues is that he is the destroyer and the regenerator of life, he is also claimed to be a great ascetic but also the symbol of sensuality (Ghosh 17). Siva’s physical appearance is rather interesting, his naked body is smeared with ash, and he is usually depicted with four arms. Siva’s nudity is particularly important because it exposes the linga. Many sages were upset by this exposure and spoke words that made Siva’s linga fall to the ground. Consequently, the three worlds were dishevelled, until Devi took the form of the yoni to hold the linga. Siva has three eyes, two eyes which witness the past, present, and future; the third eye, the inner eye, “…is responsible for higher perception, turning transcendental” (Ghosh 18). This eye is believed to have been the result of Parvati carelessly covering Siva’s two eyes. Siva wears a garland of skulls and necklace of snakes; this combined with the ashes on his forehead and body, represent detachment (Merchant 1). Siva is known to hold a trident in his hand; this trident represents the Hindu trinity. It also represents the nature of each person (creation, preservation, and destruction) (Ghosh 19). Matted hair and a crescent moon on his head top off the appearance of Siva, the crescent moon is said to represent perfect mind control (Ghosh 18). Siva possesses characteristics of three gods: Rudra, Indra, and Agni. Rudra is the god of destruction, and it is that destructive aspect which Siva takes on from Rudra. Siva is sometimes referred to as Rudra in the Puranas. Indra passes on to Siva “his phallic and adulterous character” (O’Flaherty 83). A similar characteristic between Indra and Siva is that they both have three eyes. From Agni, the God of fire, stems the intensity of asceticism and passion (O’Flaherty 83). He is worshipped and iconographically depicted typically in four main forms. The first depiction, The Lord of Yoga, touches on the appearance previously discussed as he mediates atop Mount Kailasa (or Kailash) in the Himalayas. The second depicts Siva as family oriented, with Pavarti and their two sons at his side. Siva’s third form is represented as a linga and the last depiction is of Siva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance (Flood 151).

Large statue of Siva in Bhaktapur, Nepal
Large image of Siva in Bhaktapur, Nepal

In western society Nataraja is the best known form of Siva. Nataraja translates to ‘King of Dancers’. “Nataraja dances, his right foot supported by a crouching figure, his left foot elegantly raised. Of his four arms, one swings downwards, pointing to the raised foot; another with palm held up signals, ‘Do not Fear!’ In his other hands he holds aloft a drum and a flame. The river Ganga sits in his hair. A cobra uncoils from his lower right forearm, and the crescent moon and a skull are on his crest. He dances within an arch of flames.” (Smith 1) This dance is the Dance of Bliss (anandatandava). This dance is of particular importance to Siva devotees because it is viewed as eternal, that is, having no beginning or end (Smith 1). The Cidambaram temple is considered by some the most important of all Siva temples. Cidambaram is said to be where the dance originated. Other temples dedicated to Siva always have a Nataraja shrine, or image next to the Siva linga shrine (Smith 1). It is said that Nataraja’s left foot is raised so those can bow before it, he grants all wishes, and is said to free one from rebirth if worshipped (Smith 2).

Parvati is Siva’s wife and the mother of his sons Ganesa and Skanda. Siva did not want a son nor did he need one as he never dies. Despites Siva’s opposition, Parvati insisted on having a child, explaining that she would take care of the son and Siva could be a yogi as he wished. This desperation further complicated Siva’s roles as an ascetic and householder, conflicting roles which some say make Siva a poor husband (O’Flaherty 211). Siva did not give into Parvati’s demands; however Ganesa was born from the unnaturally shed seed of the yogi (O’Flaherty 212). Parvati and Siva’s relationship is often contrasted to that of Rama and Sita in the Ramayana (Caughran 514). Rama and Sita are known for their love and devotion to one another, a mutual respect. Parvati, on the other hand commonly interrupts Siva’s meditation, she also argues and mocks him; however, Siva does not kill her as promised, though he does occasionally abandon her (O’Flaherty 211). Parvati questioned why she loved such an unusual god, one who indulged in activities that may repulse some such as the consumption of hemp. However, despite this, she not only loves him she is obsessed with him (O’Flaherty 236). As previously stated, Siva and Parvati’s dysfunctional marriage is often compared with Rama and Sita’s marriage. Siva and Parvati, however, allow one to reconsider Rama and Sita’s marriage as being ideal. The renowned quarrels between Siva and Parvati may enhance their sexual relationship, and their distance from one another can also be seen as strengthening their love (O’Flaherty 233).

Saivism is a faith based on the teachings of Siva; followers worship Siva or sometimes his consort Sakti. It was in India and Europe that symbols pertinent to Saivism first appeared. Symbols included the bull, the phallus, the ram, the snake and the Lady of the Mountains (Danielou 32). Although there was a wide spread of these symbols across the Asia and Persia, India is the only place to maintain traditions of Saivism. There are six branches of Saivism: Kalamukhas, Kapalikas, Kashmiri Saivism, Pasupata Cult, Saivasiddhanta, and Virasaivism (Ghosh 73). Kalamukhas and Kapalikas worship the destructiveness of Siva; they are known for their odd cult practice which is thought to draw on the descriptions of Rudra. They wore garlands made of human skulls, and their practices of cannibalism horrified some (Ghosh 75). The Kalamukhas were powerful during 700 AD – 1200 AD, and the Kapalikas during the seventh century. The opposite of the previous two branches Kashmir Saivism was Saivism at its finest. Its followers are monotheistic, viewing Lord Siva as the supreme and only reality. This branch is credited with being very scientific and logical (Ghosh 75). The fourth branch is the Pasupata Cult which state Siva “is without beginning or anadi, and cause of creation, sustenance, and dissolution of the world. He is both transcendent as well as immanent” (Ghosh 77). Saivasiddhanta is similar to the Pasupata Cult in regards to philosophy; the only difference is that the Pasupata Cult accepts thirty-six basic principles of the evolution of the world whereas Saivasiddhanta accepts only twenty-five. The last branch, Virasaivism, is characterized by its emphasis on the worship of Siva Linga (Ghosh 78). “Lingayata signifies the religion that considers the linga as the prime support or basis” (Ghosh 78).

Siva is without a doubt one of the main components of the Hindu tradition. He is a very complex god, exemplified by his multitude of forms. One main form of particular importance is the Nataraja, the dancing Siva. His struggle between asceticism and householder, resulting in conflicting values, furthers this complexion. His wife Parvati is completely in love with Siva, but this does not stop him from abandoning her occasionally in his pursuit of becoming a yogi. A highly developed creed developed around Siva, and cumulated in the monotheistic worship of Siva as the High God. Siva has been everlastingly worshipped and will continue to be worshipped by many.


Caughran, Neema (1999) “Shiva and Parvati: Public and Private Reflections of Stories in North
India” The Journal of American Folklore 112, No.446 (September): 514-516

Daniélou, Alain (1992) Gods of Love and Ecstasy : the traditions of Shiva and Dionysus. Vermont: Inner Traditions / Bear & Company.

Flood, Gavin D (1996) An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ghosh, Mandira (2007) Shiva and Shakti in Indian Mythology. Haryana: Shubhi Publications.

Merchant, Vasant V (2003) “Siva-Nataraja: The lord of dance, drama and music Siva—the cosmic dancer, transformer, liberator” International Journal of Humanities and Peace 19.1 (Annual 2003): 3(2)

O’Flahery Doniger, Wendy (1981) SIVA The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

Smith, David (1998) The Dance of Siva. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Bhairava the Terrible









Siva Siddhanta


The Trinity


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Article written by: Rachel Davis (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Nataraja: Lord of the Dance

Since the seventh century, Cidambaram has been the center of worship of Nataraja, the captivating iconic representation of Siva as Lord of the Dance (Smith 1). Although a very well known depiction of Siva, the Nataraja image is not very widespread. Most images of Siva as Nataraja are found in southern India (Gaston 47).

The term ‘Nataraja’ refers to the dancing posture of Siva. There are many different dances of Siva, one hundred and eight of which are sculpted on either side of the east and west gopurams (ornate, monumental towers) of the Nataraja temple at Cidambaram (Natarajan 84). The ananda-tandava is the cosmic dance of bliss; one of the many dances of the great Hindu god. It is in this pose that Siva is primarily worshiped in both the Golden Hall and the Hall of Consciousness in the Cidambaram temple. Earliest forms of dancing Siva date back to the fifth century (Smith 1). The sculptures of Siva dancing the ananda-tandava, however, only date back to the tenth century (Kaimal 397). The ananda-tandava is the particular dance, according to Hindu mythology, that Siva performed in the Golden Hall of Cidambaram, or Tillai as it is also known, at the request of his devotees (Gaston 47, Natarajan 84).

In south India there are five sacred places, each with a linga associated with one of the five elements: earth, water, fire, wind, and ether (air). The Cidambaram temple is famous for its akasa lingam, Siva as the formless space or ether (Natarajan 2). Siva is predominantly worshiped in the form of the linga, not in an anthropomorphic form such as the Nataraja. This is what makes the dancing Siva so unique. Siva dancing the ananda-tandava is the most celebrated and beloved of the Nataraja figures. There is extensive symbolism embedded within each element of the elaborate posture. It should be noted that, the degree to which the Nataraja images have always held this meaning is questionable. The significance of the images has likely evolved, and changed over the years, and there is little evidence surviving from medieval South India to decipher their original meaning (Kaimal 391). That being said, I believe that the following description of Siva as Nataraja is just a small insight into what the icon means to people today.

Unmai Ulakham, a Tamil text, eloquently begins to describe the ananda-tandava: “Creation arises from the drum; protection proceeds from the hand of hope; from fire proceeds destruction; from the foot that is planted upon Muyalahan proceeds the destruction of evil; the foot held aloft gives mukti…..” (Klostermaier 162). Usually in the form of a statue, Siva has four arms and stands on his right leg. One right hand holds a drum shaped like and hourglass that symbolizes creation. The other is raised, palm up, in the sign ‘do not fear’ (abhaya) with a serpent wrapped around the wrist. One left hand holds fire, the symbol of destruction, and the other points downwards towards the raised foot of liberation. His hair is braided and jeweled, and the lower locks whirl in the dance (Coomaraswamy 86). His matted or braided hair refers to the ascetic nature of Siva. Often, there is a cobra, a skull, a crescent moon, or the river goddess Ganga entrapped within his hair. Siva integrates male and female attributes by sometimes wearing a man’s earring in the right ear, and a woman’s in the left. He is adorned with an abundance of jewlery, and a long piece of cloth is tied around his waist. The majority of Nataraja icons will also have a third eye. Underneath Siva’s right foot is a dwarf, or demon. This is to represent his victory over ignorance. Finally, Siva in a perfect balance between creation and destruction, is encircled by a ring of fire which not only represents the universe, but also consciousness.

This dance of Siva is also thought to represent his 5 activities: Shrishti (overlooking, creation, evolution), Sthiti (preservation, support), Samhara (destruction, evolution), Tirobhava (veiling, embodiment, illusion, giving rest), and Anugraha (release, salvation, grace) (Coomaraswamy 87). Siva is part of the Hindu Trinity, with Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Siva as the destroyer. However, in the context of Siva as Nataraja, he becomes a fusion of the three. The dance of Siva symbolizes the action of cosmic energy in creating, preserving, and destroying the universe (Natarajan 86). The dance of Siva has also been called a synthesis of science, religion, and art (Natarajan 2).

The legend of the Cidambaram temple incorporates the popular Pine Forest myth of Siva. It begins with Siva disguised as a handsome, naked, wandering sage. Accompanied by Sesa, and Visnu disguised as an entrancing woman, the three go to the Pine Forest to test the sages and the fidelity of their wives (Coomaraswamy 85, Smith 33). With their negative magical power, the sages were stealing the forces of creation. The rsis attempted to destroy Siva for the intrusion by means of their sacrificial fire and incantations. The first of their attempts was a tiger. Siva peeled off its skin and wrapped it around himself. The second was a snake, which also failed. Siva began to dance as Nataraja, and the furious sages set a dwarf monster upon him. Siva placed his foot on the dwarfs back, breaking it, and resumed the ananda-tandava. Sesa, entranced by Siva’s dance, begs for another opportunity to behold the dance. Siva promised to dance again in Tillai, the center of the world (Natarajan 85).

Numerous legends exist surrounding Siva’s many dances. One tells of a competition between Siva and Kali, during which Siva dances the urdhvatandava, the High Tandava pose (Smith 24). Other dances of Siva include the evening dance in the Himalayas, and the dance performed in cemeteries and on burning grounds (Coomaraswamy 98).

Chola bronze depicting Siva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), his iconic form at Cidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu
Chola bronze depicting Siva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), his iconic form at Cidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu

The bronze Nataraja is housed at the innermost place in the Cidambaram temple, the cit sabha, or the Hall of Consciousness. The kanaka sabha, or the Golden Hall, is directly in front the cit sabha. This is where the rituals of worship are performed. In this courtyard there is also a shrine to Visnu, known as Govindaraja. The famous akasa linga resides in the next surrounding courtyard. The third surrounding courtyard is immense, containing various shrines, halls, and the temple tank. It has four gateways or gopurams, one leading in from each direction (Smith 5). Most of the buildings have been significantly renovated and none are older than 1070, but the existing buildings were likely built in the images of their predecessors (Kaimal 398). The cit sabha is thought to be a copy of the oldest, original shrine, which would have been built before the tenth century (Kaimal 399).

It is interesting that this specific dance of Siva has gained so much prominence over all the others. In doing so it has become encompassed by a vast amount of symbolism, and is of great significance to many people of southern India. One explanation is the prestige that was given to the Nataraja image from the tenth to thirteenth centuries by the Cola dynasty. Some scholars believe that the Nataraja actually represented a victory dance ancient Tamil warrior chieftains would perform, over the bodies of their dead enemies. The Cola kings expanded their dynasty through military aggression, therefore, it seems reasonable to suspect that the early Cola kings saw the Nataraja as a perfect emblem because of its warrior connotations (Kaimal 405). Secondly, it is thought that the Nataraja icon was catalyzed into fame by priests and kings in an attempt to attract pilgrims and bring the town spiritual prestige. Through this process a mythic identity was generated for the icon to identify it more with Siva, and less with local, malevolent deities. It was also around this time that the name of the city was changed from Tillai to Cidambaram (Kaimal 406).

Many festivals are held at the temple of Cidambaram such as Brahmotsavam, Ani Thirumanjanam, Thai Poosam, Natyanjali and Arudra Darsanam. The bronze Nataraja and the icon of his consort are decorated with flowers and paraded around the city during the ten-day festival of Arudra Darsanam (Natarajan 137). Natyanjali is a dance festival that coincides with the auspicious day of Maha Sivaratri, the Great Night of Siva. The celebration lasts for five days between February and March, during which people come from all over India to dance at this holy site (Pintchman 194).

Although the ancient history of the Nataraja image is obscure, and the original meaning of the icon may be lost forever, it has been reborn to a new life full of legend, worship and celebration.




Coomaraswamy, Ananda (1991) The Dance of Shiva: Fourteen Indian Essays. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Gaston, Anne-Marie (1982) Siva in Dance, Myth and Iconography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kaimal, Padma (1999) “Shiva Nataraja: Shifting Meanings of an Icon.” The Art Bulletin 81, no. 3 (September): 390-419.

Klostermaier, Klaus K. (1984) Mythologies and Philosophies of Salvation in the Theistic Traditions of India. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Natarajan, B. (1974) The City of the Cosmic Dance: Chidambaram. Delhi: Orient Longman.

Pintchman, Tracy (2007) Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. Oxford: Oxford Univesity Press.

Smith, David (1998) The Dance of Siva: Religion, art and poetry in South India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Related Readings


Davis, Richard H. (1999) Lives of Indian Images. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fuller, Christopher J. (2004) The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Related Research Topics


Pine Forest Myth

Cola dynasty

The 5 sacred lingas


Ani Thirumanjanam

Thai Poosam


Arudra Darsanam


The evening dance of Siva

Siva’s dance on the burning grounds

Rudra Tandava


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Written by Cheyenne Conrad (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Goddess Parvati

The goddess Parvati is worshiped in the Hindu tradition for her affection and beauty. Her name denotes “she who dwells in the mountains.” (Kinsley 41). Parvati is one of the many consorts of Siva, a powerful Hindu god who resides in the mountains. There are many different identities depicted of the goddess. People who view Parvati as the auspicious goddess, call her “Sarvamanagala” (Smith 50). Parvati is also represented as “Ambika”, which refers to her role as a mother, and as “Girija”, the daughter of the Himalayan mountain deity. She is also referred to as Kali, a goddess who is known as “the dark one”. This is because Parvati has a dark complexion (Kinsley 42). As well as the diverse names that describe Parvati, there are many songs, stories, stone carvings, and Pahadi paintings of the goddess.

The mythology of Parvati is largely based on her relationship with Siva. Her association with Siva is described as essential in order for cosmic reproduction to occur, which entails the preservation of the world (Kinsley 41). Sanskritic manifestations derive from the Vedas, which are developed in the Puranas. Dravidian manifestations draw from Tamil country origins, which describe distinct characteristics of the mythology of Parvati. Lastly, autochthonous tradition, also known as the folk tradition, includes legends and folk stories about Parvati (Dehejia 12). Although diverse, together, these traditions formulate a good interpretation of the goddess and describe Parvati as a “dedicated and loving wife.” (Dehejia 39).

Bronze masterpiece depicting the goddess Parvati, consort of Siva; 14th century, Thanjavur Palace Museum
Bronze masterpiece depicting the goddess Parvati, consort of Siva; 14th century, Thanjavur Palace Museum

In the Sanskritic tradition, as described in the Puranas, Parvati is a reincarnation of Sati (Kinsley 37). The goddess Sati was the first wife of Siva who takes her own life in a yajna sacrifice. The gods were concerned with Siva’s state of isolation from others. Thus, they felt that Parvati was destined to marry Siva (Dehejia 16). Himalaya, the father of Parvati, stated that in order for Parvati to become the wife of Siva, she must complete penance. However, Parvati had difficulty performing penance which led to her father asking Kama, the God of love, for assistance. Kama shot arrows at Siva, which in return, angered him. Siva burned Kama to ashes and this deeply hurt Parvati. Parvati escaped to the mountains where she performed austerities (Dehejia 19). These austerities were so frequent and intense that Siva became allured by Parvati’s physical appearance. The marriage of Siva and Parvati is subsequently arranged. Their marriage and family status is described as peaceful and pleasant. Siva and Parvati spent their time sitting on Mount Kailasa, while conversing about Hindu philosophy and engaging in sexual activity (289). However, there were times when the marriage was a challenging endeavor. Parvati and Siva would quarrel and offend each other. At times, Siva behaved so poorly that Parvati would leave him. Siva would often make comments about Parvati’s dark skin, and gave her the nickname “blackie”. Parvati removed herself from the household and settled in the forest, where she performed austerities (Kinsley 44). The legend, the Varaha Purana, states that the devi did this until Brahma granted her wish of changing her complexion from dark to golden.

Regarding the family life of Parvati and Siva, Parvati wanted and eventually gained a son to protect her from intruders coming into her apartment (Kinsley 44). At one point, however, her son would not let Siva enter the apartment. This angered Siva, who spoke of the lack of auspiciousness in Saturn, which led to the beheading of the child. The child’s head was later replaced with the head of an elephant and was named Ganesha. Parvati had two more children, Kartikaya and Andhaka. In the Sanskritic tradition, Parvati is described as being a devoted wife and mother to her sons (Dehejia 25).

Parvati's austerities (tapas) and her worship of Siva are depicted on this pillar at Darasuram Temple in Tamil Nadu
Parvati’s austerities (tapas) and her worship of Siva are depicted on this pillar at Darasuram Temple in Tamil Nadu

Parvati, in the Tamil tradition, is similar to the Sanskritic tradition because it places an emphasis on the bond between Parvati and Siva. In the 4th century, the Tamil region was ruled by Jains, and the Hindu tradition arose in the 5th century (Dehejia 26). This mythology is largely derived from the Silappadikaram and Manimekalai epics from Sangam literature. Like the Sanskritic tradition, the marriage between Siva and Parvati is an important component in both traditions; however, Tamil mythology is mainly based on Parvati and her manifestations. In the Sanskritic tradition, Siva is characterized as being powerful figure and Parvati is known as his loyal consort (Dehejia 28). In the Tamil tradition, Parvati has a split personality. There is the southern goddess, who is depicted as being dark and violent, and then there is the northern version of the devi, who is romantic and quiet (Dehejia 34).

The folk tradition includes the adivasis group. This tradition includes characteristics of Sanskritic and Tamil, but still possesses some differences. For example, instead of worshipping one particular god, the folk worship Parvati is a mixture of the 4 other consorts of Siva. Thus, the folk tradition views one goddess as having many notable features, such as affection, power, and beauty. According to the folk tradition, Khandoba and his consort Mahalsa are the equivalent to Siva and Parvati in the Sankskritic tradition. Khandoba is a deity known as the “killer of demons” and like Siva, this god is associated with the mountains (Dehejia 35). Mahalsa is a reincarnation of Mohini, whom Khandoba was deeply drawn too.

Parvati is adored by painters, poets, and musicians for her divine beauty. The goddess is worshiped in images both with and without Siva (Smith 52). Literature such as the Puranas is known to be one of the earliest and most popular depictions of Parvati. In this script, her life and relationship to Siva are expressed (Dehejia 43). The poet Kalidasa wrote Kumarasambhava, which describes the alluring devi. Along with literature, there are many songs written about Parvati that are mainly sung by women (Dehejia 57). Many women sing about the time in her life when the goddess left the home she was born in to her home in Kailasa. Along with literature and songs written about Parvati, there are also many images depicted of the goddess that are highly valued pieces of work. Temple images of Parvati and her consort Siva are worshipped four times a day (Smith 51). There exists special festivals in honor of Parvati. For example, in a temple once a year, the marriage of Siva and Parvati is re-enacted (Smith 52). The most popular marriage re-enactment occurs during the Caitra month (April-May). Another festival that honors the goddess occurs throughout nine days. This gathering, known as Navaratri, occurs in Asvayuja (October-November), and is said to be “her” time (Smith 51).

There are various images depicted of Parvati. Many images express the bond between Parvati and Siva. Some icons portray Siva as the possessor of Sakti (cosmic power), known as saktiman and Parvati as Sakti. One well known image of Parvati and Siva is the Ardhanarisvara. This image was developed in the 10th century and is made of sandstone (Dehejia 73). It depicts a half male and half female being, which accentuates the interdependent relationship between the goddess and her consort (Kinsley 50). Another icon of Parvati and Siva is known as the Wedding of Siva and Parvati, which was created in the 17th century and is made of ivory (Dehejia 82). In the image, Parvati is offering her right hand to Siva during their wedding ceremony. This icon represents the feelings of bliss and anticipation that were experienced during this festive day. Along with the many images depicted of Parvati and her unification with Siva, other illustrations relate to stories and songs in the Puranas, the Hindu culture, and other festivals and rituals (Dehejia 62).

Although Parvati has little responsibilities as a goddess, she has gained respect and adoration throughout India. The devi is a devoted mother and wife. She is worshiped for her exquisite charm and the love she shares with others (Kinsley 41). Thus, Parvati deserves recognition for representing all that beautiful, both physically and spiritually.


Dehejia, Harsha (1999) Parvati: Goddess of Love. New Jersey: Grantha Corporation

Foulston, Lynn (2002) At the Feet of the Goddess: The Divine Feminine in Local Hindu Religion. Portland: Sussex Academic Press

Kinsley, David R (1986) Hindu Goddesses: visions of the divine feminine in the Hindu Religious tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press

O’Flaherty, Wendy Dowger (1973) Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press

Smith, Daniel H (1991) Handbook of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Saints. New Delhi: Ashish Singhal for Sundeep Prakashan

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

  • Agni
  • Arjuna
  • Devi
  • Durga Puja
  • Dyaus- pitr
  • Ganesa
  • Indra
  • Kali
  • Rg Veda
  • Sakti
  • Siva
  • Soma
  • Surya
  • Mahabharata
  • Varuna
  • Vayu

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Article written by: Genna Barsky (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.