Shiva dances at Ellora

they called this the dancing skanda. i still think this is shiva himself ( the jattas probably give him away). but having come upon skanda, here is an interesting story.

The Kumbh Legend In Skanda Purana

The ancient Hindu scripture, the Skanda Purana, recounts the legendary origin of the Kumbh Mela. The Devas or Gods and the Asuras or Demons sought the nectar of immortality, hidden in the depths of the ocean. Using Mount Meru as a churning stone with the python, Vasuki Naga, coiled around it like a rope, balanced on Vishnu who had assumed the form of a tortoise, the epic exercise began. On the one side, the Devas took hold of the python's tail , on the other, the Asuras held his head. Together they turned the gigantic contraption and churned the ocean into a ferment. The beleaguered ocean then threw up enough deadly poison to swamp and destroy all the three worlds.

Before it could do so, however, Lord Shiva descended from the heavens, and swallowed it up. Parvati held his throat in order to stop the poison from descending, this turned his throat blue, hence he is called Nilakantha. After the ocean had purged itself, the universe was granted a treasure trove of boons. Among these was a flying horse, a wish-granting cow, a priceless jewel, a magic moon, a skycar, a musical instrument, the apsara Rambha, Lakshmi the goddess of wealth, and Vishwakarma the mystic architect. Ultimately, Danwantri the divine healer, appeared bearing the Amrit or nectar of immortality. The jar that held it, was the Kumbh.

As the Asuras made a grab for the Amrit , Rambha began dancing to distract them. Jayanta, son of Indra , transformed himself into a large bird and flew off with the Kumbha . Jayanta's flight to paradise took him twelve days. On his journey, he flew over the Earth, stopping at four places. First, Prayag or Allahabad, then Haridwar, Trimbakeshwar (near Nasik) and finally, Ujjain. At each place, a few drops of nectar fell into the river. These, therefore, are the holy places of the Kumbh Mela, and the significance of the ritual bath.


Gangadhara Shiva - Ganges in Shiva's Jatamukuta

Bhagirata was the renowned king and forefather of Rama of Raghu Vamsa. His forefathers known as Sagaras were burnt down due to a curse. In order to uplift his ancestors from the curse and finally get them to heaven, he wanted to bring the river Ganges to earth. The concept is that when the waters of the Ganges touch the ash of Sagaras, they would be uplifted from their sin.

Bhagirata performed very severe austerities to get Indra's acceptance. He gave permission to bring the Ganges to the earth. However, the decision of coming down to earth would be Ganga's. So Bhagirata again started his penance and prayed to the Goddess to descend. She agreed to come down, but he was warned that earth would not withstand the force with which she would descend.

Bhagirata worshipped Lord shiva for help. He performed severe austerities to pleasing Lord Shiva. Shiva was pleased with his devotion and agreed to hold the Ganges when she descends to earth. Ganges blinded by her own pride and ignorance thought that the Lord wouldn't be able to withstand the force! She descended with an intention to flow down with heavy force on the Lord.

Lord Shiva, the creator of the entire universe arrested her flow in His Jatamukuta! She tried her best to release herself only to get locked further.Bhagirata, prayed to the Lord to show mercy on the Goddess and release her. Ganges flowed gently down from his matted locks to purify the earth and the Sagaras off their sins. Ganges then flowed gracefully and blessed Patala with her waters. Thus the ancestors of Bhagirata were resurrected by the holy water of the Ganges.

Shiva sculptures depict Ganges in Shiva's Jatamukuta. This is most often seen in the Nataraja sculptures with Ganges on one side and the crescent moon on the other!


Kalyanasundara Murti - wedding of Shiva and Parvati

Mother goddess Shakthi was reborn as parvati, the daughter of the king of Himalayas. As a young child, she was not interested in playing with the other children. She was more inclined towards meditating on Lord Shiva in the mountains and she desired to marry him. For that she wanted to perform austerity in the snow covered Himalayas. Her parents hesitated, but finally had to subdue to the determination of Parvati.

Lord shiva who was happy with her worship, came as an old devotee to her place. Parvati offered her respect to the old bhakta of her beloved lord. Now, he tried to convince her that she shouldn't waste her youth doing tapas, but should enjoy life getting married ! He further suggested that she could get married to him, instead of desiring for Lord Shiva Who dances in the cemeteries and wears skulls and bones! parvati, without knowing who he is, got very angry on hearing his words told him that she showed him respect only because he seemed like a devotee and she would not want to hear any little blasphemy of God further.

The Lord, pleased with her determination and devotion, reveals who he is. He gave her the boon she yearned for and accepted to marrying her. The Himalayan king's family was delighted to have their beloved daughter wedded. The region was decorated and shining with prosperity. The young beautiful Parvati was decorated with beautiful ornaments for the wedding.

Now came the groom, lord Shiva to the wedding place on an old bull, with skull and bone ornaments, with the skin of the tiger as the clothing, accompanied by the roar of the bhuta ganas !! Having seen this form of Lord Shiva, the wedding was called off. In order to please the royal family and having realized the hypocrisy in society Lord Shiva decided to change his form, into a groom in glittering beautiful wedding robes and golden ornaments! The queen could not belive that what came in such a hidious form now looked so devine and beautiful ! The enchanting Lord in the wedding robe got married to the daughter of the mountains and this form of god is called kalyana sundhara.

Click here for the complete story


The Nataraja in dance

The Nataraja is definitely one of the most popular sculptures, brought to the lime light under the Cholas. The form had been sculpted before, but in bronze its a class apart.

This form of Tandava is one of three steps in dance, this being the final pose. The beauty is seen in a series of Natarajas sculpted under the Chola rule. Over three centuries we see this form take shape most beautifully in bronze. Shiva stands on the Apasmara purusha on his right leg, while his left leg almost rises into the air but has still not left the ground - this is the lalita pose.

When he raises his leg mid way into the air but yet not out stretched its in the Chatura pose, and when he finally stretches his left leg out and points to it in the gaja hasta pose with his left hand, the right hand continuing to remain in abhaya pose - signifying "do not fear" and seek refuge in lord Shiva, it is the final Nataraja.

Interestingly there are around 108 poses depicted in shiva's dance. For now, click here to view another sculpted pose of Lord Shiva.

Click here to know more on the dance of Shiva


Shiva Bhikshatana - the enchanting mendicant.

This story of Shiva portrays him as a mendicant who went through the villages and seduced wives of brahmins. It was this yogic personality that gave Lord Shiva his irresistible looks.

As described in the Suprabhedagama, Shiva is said to have passed the slopes of Mount Meru without any garments. The wives of the Rishis fell in love with him and lost their chastity. The rishis wild with rage, performed incantations to kill Shiva, the seducer of their wives. From their ceremonial grounds there came snakes, a Krishna-Mriga, an Apasmarapurusha, a Parasu, a bull, a tiger, a lion and several other things.

The latter took for his sport the black deer, the snake and the parasu, the apasmarapurusha was trampled under his feet, the lion and tiger were killed as worn as garments, while the skull and the moon were placed on his jatamukuta.

There are of course various versions to what he carries as attributes. The snakes are either on his waist or in his jatas. The primary point here is that the Bhikshatana murti leads to him possessing most of the attributes depicted in the Nataraja.

Nataraja and its various forms

What is evident from looking closely at the themes that best describe shiva at Elephanta is that they all belong to his "soumya rupa" or his lasya form. Apart from these sculptures (click here for the list of sculptures) Shiva is known to be depicted in two forms - the soumya rupa and the ghora rupa. Most of his stories depict him in one of these two forms.

Now take for example the Nataraja itself, he is said to have performed the dance in both forms. The tandava itself has various parts to it. In all these sculptures Nataraja is said to stand onthe apasmara purusha, hold the damaru, covered in tiger and lion skins and have a snake around his waist.

How did he come around possessing these icons! This leads us back to the story of Bhikshatana Murti. A mythological story that clearly shows how he came to possess these attributes.


The Trimurti at Elephanta.

The Elephanta Nataraja re-emphasizes the beauty of sculpture. Here mostly destroyed Nataraja carries the following attributes. In a Nataraja sculpture, Shiva is depicted with the following attributes

His upper right hand carries the Damaru, the upper left a bowl of fire, which is destruction, the dissolution of form.. The lower right hand is raised in blessing, betokening preservation. The right leg, representing obscuring grace, stands upon Apasmarapurusha, a soul temporarily earth-bound by its own sloth, confusion and forgetfulness. The uplifted left leg is revealing grace, which releases the mature soul from bondage. The lower left hand gestures toward that holy foot in assurance that Shiva's grace is the refuge for everyone, the way to liberation. He wears the skins of lions and tigers on his loins and the moon and skull adorn his jatamukuta.

The circle of fire represents the cosmos and especially consciousness. The all-devouring form looming above is Mahakala, "Great Time." The cobra around Nataraja's waist is kundalini shakti, the soul-impelling cosmic power resident within all.

This is the enlarged view of Nataraja at Elephanta.
See this post on Nataraja


The Nataraja - extension of the Trinity

The misconception of this sculpture being a part of the trinity is age old. The assumption is that the preserver as seen in Elephanta is Vishnu when actually, as mentioned earlier its Vamadeva, while the destroyer is Bhairava. Very clearly these are aspects of Lord Shiva himself.

The sculpture has been given another form in the later Chola sculptures. Here of course the three forces of Shiva have been depicted symbolically, there is no human form representing all three forms of Shiva, but instead the feminine form of Vamadeva the creator is replaced by the Damaru - the symbol from which creation issues forth. The other hand carries fire, the symbol of distruction or Bhairava.

Shiva himself in the center is the preserver and this dance of Anandha Tandava depicts reassurance and perservation of all those who seek refuge in him. This is Shiva Nataraja from the Chola period dated bck to the 11 -12th cen AD, Madras Museum.

Courtesy: photo copyright © Madras Museum

The merging of Vrishabhavana and Ardhanarishwara

This is indeed an extremely interesting sculpture. What typically is known as the Ardhanarishwara has been treated differently here at Elephanta. With the introduction of Nandi and the pose of Shiva, this sculpture brings together two aspects of Lord Shiva.

Vrishbhavana is the name given to Lord Shiva with his bull Nandi, a casual pose with his right arm resting on the bull.
Ardhanarishwara is the merger of Shiva and Parvati described in an earlier posting. This sculpture truely unique and maybe the only one of its kind is found here at Elephanta.
The over all theme gives an idea of attendants at the bottom of the panel, flying celestial figures to depict the heavens and the abode of the Lord at the Kailasa peak. The central definitely being the imposing sculpture of Lord Shiva in a combination of Vrishabhavana and Ardhanarishwara. The bull is realistically sculptured and almost larger than life as if to almost walk out of the panel. Parvati is depicted in the tribhanga pose (the S shaped twist to the body in three parts). This pose is followed in most of the sculptures of the goddesses in the south during the later Chola period.

Photo courtesy: www.colby.edu/art/AsianArt


Elephanta rock cut temples

Western india is famous for a string of rock cut temples ranging in date from the 2nd century BC to the 12th cen AD.around Mumbai. within a radius of 20 kms lie several caves which include the buddhist rock cut temples of Kanheri and Kondivite and the brahmanical caves of Elephanta, Mandapesvar and Jogeshwari.

The island of elephanta originally known as gharapuri, derives its name from a massive stone elephant now displayed in the victoria gardens at Mumbai. Except for a few Kshatrapa coins of the 4th cen AD found here, nothing is known of the history of elephanta prior to the defeat of mauryan rulers if konkan by the chalukyan emperor Pulakesin 2 of badami in a naval battle of the island in 635 AD.

there are three caves (rock cut temples) out of which one is dedicated to shiva. others are of no particular interest. the main cave datable to the mid 7th cen AD conprises of a pillared hall in which a small shrine with four entrance doors is flanked by dwarapalas. it is a unique example of gupta and chalukyan art. while the massive but graceful figures of divinities and guardians and certain architectural features such as square pillars with cushion capitals suggest chalukyan influences the depiction of mountains and clouds and the hair styles of the women are reminiscent of gupta art.

Click here for more information

All about Shiva - truely an enigmatic diety!

Here is more on Lord Shiva. I know i sound religious, but to be honest i have been really fascinated with this diety. he is truely amazing and terribly anti-social at the same time, which is whats most interesting. here is something of interest to you. A list of his various forms as far as I can remember, in alphabetical order(they were my mailing list folders :D)


Most importantly, the linga is sculpted only for the lingodbhava murti!

Photos courtesy: Michael D. Gunther

Shiva at Elephanta for the tourist.

To the untrained eye, Elephanta is all but a tourist spot, known to have a few sculptures which are almost reduced to dust now. Elephanta caves are remote, carved into a hill near the Mumbai coast.

Little is known about the true nature of these caves except for a few sculptures that speak of the glories of Lord Shiva. Interesting facts are that these caves at Elephanta are the only surviving caves that depict Shiva. No where else in India do we find a cave dedicated to Shiva, with a Linga in the central shrines. The silence and the darkness of these caves does have a lot in store for us.

I had learned before that there is more to that darkness than what meets the eye. Here is an idea on what is actually the biggest quest of life. A series of iconographic sculpture depicting the paradoxes of life. In case you are headed to Elephanta, this is what you should look for.

These sculptures include:
Marriage of Shiva and Parvati - Kalyanasundara murti,
Shiva holding the Ganges - Gangadhara,
Ravana shaking Kailasa - Ravana Anugrahamurti,
Shiva as Ardhanarishwara,
The dancing shiva - Lasya form Nataraja,
The lord of the yogis - Yogiswara
The destroyer of evil - Samharamurti
Trimurti - comprising of Aghora, Shiva and Vamadeva
Shiva who bestows gifts - Anugrahamurti

Right through the cave His aura is felt - silent, enigmatic, meditating... Interestingly, Shiva has many more forms like the Bhikshatana, Gajasuvadhamurthi, Tandava Nataraja, Lingodbhava murthi, none of which are depicted in this cave, but do make a permanent appearance in later temples of south India.


Dwarapalas of shiva temple - Elephanta.

The Linga shrine in the cave temple of Shiva is unusual in having four entrances, one at each cardinal direction. Beautiful dvarapalas guard the entrances. Although detached from the walls, the shrine is, like everything else in the cave, cut from a matrix of living rock.

Extensive damage has been done to these guardian sculptures, by the Portuguese. Yet their appearance and their crowns gives us a hint of how flamboyant they are. Their silence speaks of a thousand wars long time ago. The yajnopavita is very clearly defined here, of what is commonly known as the brahmin holy thread.

These dwarapalas remind us of Egyptian deities along the temple walls at Abu Simbel. Large life size sculptures re-emphasize either the supernatural or the imperialism of the ruling dynasty. The trend of dwarapalas continued though they were borught down well in size. Few temples later show four gateways to the shrine within, its was a piece of architecture that was slowly stopped as a practice.

This image is of the dwarapalas at Elephanta caves near Mumbai.

Photos courtesy: Michael D. Gunther / www.art-and-archaeology.com


Deep within the walls of Elephanta

This is a silent cave, built by the Vakatakas and located off the Mumbai coast,which is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Strange but true, its one of its kind and truly magnificent. It has an aura of suspense and a shroud of the unknown envelopes this cave.

Within its walls are one of the greatest treasures of art history. All the cave walls depict a story from Shiva's exploits. These mythologies include:

Andhakasuravada murthi
Kalyanasundara murthi

This cave has a lot to contribute not only to the iconography of Shiva but also to cave architecture during those ages. Its very evident that they were still experimenting with cave architecture and attempting to give full justice to the canons of architecture for the garba griha. In this cave we see the garbha griha has 4 entrances each in a cardinal direction.
The striking features of this dark place is a square linga enshrined in a garbha griha, with life size dwarapalas on all side which are damaged but beautiful.

Elephants is one of very few cave temples that depict Lord Shiva to the fullest. The other Shiva temple during the same period is Kailasanatha temple at Ellora.


Bhringi the three legged sage.

Bhringi, a great devotee of Lord Shiva, is shown sculpted here on the walls of a Shiva temple in the Vijayanagar period. The story of Bhringi is quite interesting.

Sage Bhringi was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, but he never considered Parvati to be a part of his worship.

As always, sage Bhringi meditated over Lord Shiva at his abode at Mount Kailasa. At the end of his worship he would religiously circum-ambulate Lord Shiva. Parvati having seen this ritual of Bhringi, chose to be part of it and sat closer to Lord Shiva. Sage Bhringi noticed this, and realizing what had just happened, turned himself into a bee and went around Shiva thrice.

Parvati was enraged and Shiva wanted to teach Bhringi a lesson that Parvati is an integral part of Him and cannot be excluded. He merged Himself with Parvati such that Bhringi would have to circum-ambulate both of them.

Bhringi is often depicted as a skeleton in most images, this is because Parvati cursed him in fury to become thin and completely emaciated, so weak that he could not stand. Shiva, moved by Bhringi's plight, gave a 3rd leg for support.

Hence Bhringi is always depicted with three legs.

Chaturamukha Linga

Chaturamukha linga or the four faced linga: typically a linga is devided into three parts - the rudra bhaga which is the bottom most part, most often this is not visible as it is placed in the groove of the yoni. the second part is the vishnu bhaga and the top most part is the shiva bhaga. only 3/4ths of this linga will be visible above the yoni. come to think of it shaivism pretty much deals with fertility worship.

More on shiva: The mythology of Shiva is complex and contradictory. He is sometimes depicted as a chaste, wandering ascetic, but at the same time an ideal family man, monogamous, powerful and fertile. Shiva is usually worshipped in the form of the linga, an erect phallus. Rather than an image charged with sexuality, the linga is regarded more as a symbol of the god's energy and potential.

The four faces, each pointing in a cardinal direction, allude to Shiva's most prominent aspects. These comprise Bhairava, a manifestation of Shiva in his terrifying form, two faces which show his different attitudes as a withdrawn and serene ascetic and lastly, Parvati, his consort, the embodiment of feminine power.

The four-faced linga is sometimes regarded as symbolic of the five elements – Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Space, the latter alluded to by the invisible face imagined to be on top of the sculpture and referred to by the vertical axis.


The lingam - Phallic symbol of Lord Shiva.

Shiva is one of the oldest dieties in the Indian pantheon of Gods. He was first depicted on Indus valley seals as Pashupata. The first depictions are of him in a yogic pose, with a horn crown over his head. He is surrounded by animals including a unicorn. Mukha lingas are found across the country. the Ekamukha linga, dvimukha linga chatura mukha linga, so on and so forth.

His later sculptures depictions his various exploits. He is depicted in his symbolic form, the phallus in most temples in the Garba Griha. His human form adorns the outer walls. This sculpture is from the early 5th cen AD, the place - cave 4, udayagiri, MP.
This is a single faced linga, The rock-cut caves at Udayagiri seem to have been the focus of a complex mixture of Shiva worship (interior), Vishnu worship (exterior), sun worship, and astronomical activity including the prediction of monsoons.

His jattas, long ear lobes(like buddha) and his third eye!!!

Ardhanarishwara - union of Shiva and parvati

The sculpture of ardhanarishwara is one of the most unique sculptures ever conceived. It depicts the union of shiva and parvati. The story behind the making of this sculpture goes as follows. Sage Bhringi was an ardent devotee of lord shiva, but he never considered parvati to be a part of his worship.

As always, sage Bhringi meditated on lord Shiva. The sage regularly worshiped lord Shiva at his abode in the Kailasa moutain. at the end of his worship he would religiously circum-ambulate Shiva. On one of these regular occasions, Parvati observed him and moved up close to Shiva so that bhringi would have to go around both of them instead of Shiva alone.

Sage bhringi noticed this, and realizing what had just happened, he turned himself into a bee and went around shiva thrice. This enraged Parvati and Shiva noticed what had happened. In order to teach bhringi a lesson that parvati is a part of him and cannot be excluded, he merged himself with parvati such that bhringi would have to circum ambulate both instead of just him.

The sculpture depicts the same form that shiva aquired in order to let bhringi know that he is incomplete without parvati.

An add on: bhringi is often depicted as a skeleton in most images, this is because parvati having noticed that bhringi did not go around her, cursed him in fury to become thin and completely emaciated, so weak that he could not stand. shiva, moved by bhringi's plight, gave a third leg for support.

The ideology behind Soma Skanda

Most mythologies that circle around Shiva have subtle meanings in the science of Kundalini. The concept of Kundalini deals with Shiva in many ways. It is a school of thought that enables a human being to attain salvation through certain practices.

Its a belief that every human being has male and female energy within him/ herself. The female energy is typically referred to the kinetic energy and resides in the Muladhara chakra at the tip of the spinal chord. This element is represented as "Parvati" from the mythological perspective. The element of Shiva is the inactive energy which is housed in the region of the third eye. The merger of these two energies is defined as enlightenment which can be realized by individual experiences alone and cannot be explained.

As the female kinetic energy rises through the spinal chord upwards it has to pass through various energy centers called chakras. When the chakra at the throat region is activated, the aspirant is no longer dependent on the external world for his sustenance. The eternal drink of immortality or Soma/Amrit is believed to flow freely and the aspirant turns "immortal".

Soma Skanda in simpler terms, is the result of the union of these two potent opposite forces giving rebirth to the aspirant as an evolved being. This is best described in mythology as the union of Shiva and Parvati resulting in the birth of Soma Skanda and hence results in immortality.


The concept of Shiva - Somaskanda murthi

In Indian iconography, Shiva is often depicted in one of two forms. The soumya(pleasant) rupa(form) and the (a)ghora(terrific) rupa. In ancient times Shiva cults across India has been accepted as esoteric, magical and often non conformist. He is worshiped at cremation grounds, his company is depicted as ghosts and dwarfs and ganas etc... His exploits in various mythological stories appear reasonably rebellious to social order, yet he is one of the most respected deities in the pantheon of Gods.

Depictions of him in soumya rupas are related to his family. Here the reference is made to his son Karthikeya also called Soma Skanda. Soma - is also a drink. It is an intoxicant, it is also the elixir to immortality.

Shiva is also associated with the Tantric school of thought that deals with the raising of the Kundalini. This sculpture, though very simple and basic holds a far more amazing concept than what meets the eye.

Somaskandamurthy is one of the most famous sculptures of Shiva and depicts Shiva with Parvati and their son Karthikeya. This sculpture is a Chola sculpture from then 10th century AD, in the Rajaraja Museum at Tanjore.

Photos courtesy: Michael D. Gunther / ww.art-and-archaeology.com