Shiva and Durga: Their Real Identity
By Stephen Knapp
Since our analysis of the Vedic texts indicated that the Bhagavatam was the most ripened fruit of Vedic knowledge, as well as being the commentary of all Vedanta by Srila Vyasadeva Himself, we will include the conclusive descriptions as found in the Bhagavatam to reach our definitive understanding.
The most prominent of all the Vedic gods consists of the Trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Brahma assists in creating the world, Vishnu maintains it, and Shiva helps in its annihilation. (I have dealt with this aspect much more extensively in my book, How the Universe Was Created, so I’ll not include that here.) Those that follow the Vedic path, can generally be divided into three main categories; namely those who worship Shiva and are Shaivites, those who worship Shakti or the Goddess and are Shaktas, and those who worship Vishnu, the Vaishnavas. So let’s take a look at who is Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga.
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One of the most significant of all the Vedic gods is Shiva. And one of the most noted of all the goddesses is Shiva’s wife, Durga. They also go by many other names. For example, Durga is also called Parvati and Sati, which means chastity. The name Shiva means auspicious. Shiva is known by many different names according to his function. When, for example, he expresses himself through space and time, he is known as Eshwara. He is called Sadashiva when he functions through air, which incorporates the principles of both sound and touch. Shiva is known as Rudra when he operates through fire, which incorporates the principles of sound, touch and form.
Shiva is the embodiment and controller of tama-guna, the mode of darkness, inertia, and the tendency towards annihilation. This is how he assists in the destruction of the cosmic creation in the end times, as well as in the exhibition of continuous forms of death and destruction that we see every day. However, this demise and dissolution can also be viewed as a renewal, which is also considered to be a part of Shiva.
We can find additional characteristics of Lord Shiva in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.2.2) in which it states that Lord Shiva is the spiritual master of the entire world. He is a peaceful personality, free from enmity, always satisfied in himself. He is the greatest among all the demigods. He is the spiritual master of the world by showing how to worship the Supreme. He is considered the best of all devotees. Therefore, he has his own spiritual line or sampradaya called the Rudra-sampradaya that comes directly from him. These days it is also found in the Vishnusvami-sampradaya, or the Vallabha-sampradaya.
Shiva is described as the most powerful, second only to Lord Vishnu.1 In this way, he is not the Supreme, but is almost as powerful. Although he has nothing to attain in this material world, he is always engaged for the benefit of everyone in this universe, and is accompanied by his material and dangerous energies like goddess Kali and goddess Durga. They serve him by killing all kinds of demons and impious persons. War represents Kali’s energy of devastation. Sometimes we see pictures of a fierce form of Kali standing with one foot on the body of Shiva. This is because Shiva sometimes has to lie down in front of her to pacify her from killing all the demoniac people in the world. In this way, Shiva controls the material energy. Lord Shiva is also in control of the destructive energy, tamo-guna, the mode of darkness, and is assisted by Kali and Durga in this purpose. Durga helps him in keeping the majority of the living beings in the darkness of ignorance. That is why Durga and Kali are described as dangerous potencies. Only those who are serious about spiritual life are protected from this darkness.
Shiva is often shown as a handsome young man, with long hair from which flows a spurt of the Ganga (Ganges) River (an emblem of purity) and in which is also a crescent moon. He is also white or light bluish in complexion, sometimes with a third eye between the eyebrows on the forehead, and usually with four arms (a sign of universal power) holding a Trishula (a trident, showing his ruling proficiency over the three modes of nature), the Damaru (small hour-glass shaped drum, the beating of which represents language or the alphabet), and exhibiting the mudras (hand positions) of Abhaya (protection) and Varada (giving blessings).
It is also said that Shiva’s drum represents srishti, the creation; the abhaya hand (giving blessings) represents sthiti, or preservation; his foot that presses down symbolizes tirobhava, or the veiling effect; and the uplifted foot means blessings (anugraha), especially toward seeing through the veil of illusion caused by ego. When he is shown with an axe, it represents samhara, destruction.
Sometimes he is shown with eight, ten or even thirty-two hands. These represent his various potencies and contain such things as an Akshamala (rosary that signifies being the master of spiritual sciences), the Khatvanga (magic wand which shows his being an adept in occult sciences), a Darpana (a mirror showing that the creation is a reflection of his cosmic form), a chakra (disc), a noose, a staff, a bow, a Pashupata spear, a lotus, sword, and so on. He is often sitting on or wearing a tiger skin. The tiger skin represents his command over his desires, which often consumes common men like a tiger.
Shiva is often shown with serpents entwined around his arms, waist, neck and hair. Snakes often invoke fear. So this represents how Shiva is free from fear. The snake also signifies time. If a poisonous snake bites someone, it is only a matter of time before that person will die. And time catches up with everyone sooner or later. So Lord Shiva is the Lord over time and death. These serpents also indicate that he is surrounded by death but beyond the power of it.
Shiva is also seen with ash from the cremation grounds smeared over his body. This is called vibhuti. It symbolizes death or detachment from the world and lust. It also indicates that our bodies, being inert matter in their essential form, will also become ashes when we die and if the body is cremated. Thus, we must rise above the bodily identification and become conscious of our real identity within. Ash is the sign of Shiva’s complete renunciation of the world.
Sometimes Shiva is shown wearing a garland of skulls. The skulls are representative of his being the lord of destruction and the cyclical nature of the appearance and disappearance of the material creation.
One of the most beautiful forms of Lord Shiva is portrayed in his dancing position, known as Nataraja, the king of dancers. As Nataraja, Shiva holds his damaru drum in his upper right hand. This indicates nada, the sound of the universal development. In his other hand, he holds a flame of destruction. Together these indicate both creation and destruction, the counterpoints of all material existence. His right hand is also held in the position of blessing and protection. As Nataraja, he also wears the skin of a tiger, which he slew. This represents the ego, which will fight when attacked and must be killed by the knowledge of the guru, or the wisdom of Nataraja himself. As Nataraja, he is shown with one foot subduing or standing on the body of Mahamaya, the illusion which is the cause of all suffering. The other foot is raised upward, which represents the attainment of the turiya state beyond the states of waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and the influence of the mind and creation. Thus, he is completely free from all of these.
There are many stories that relate how and why Shiva appears the way he does. For example, Lord Shiva is shown at times with a third eye in between his eyebrows on his forehead. It is said that his third eye represents the eye of wisdom, or inner sight. The other two eyes represent the balanced form of love and justice. Thus, Lord Shiva is not too harsh nor too lenient, but views everything with the proper proportions of love, justice, and inner knowledge. Together, Shiva’s three eyes also represent the sun, moon and fire, the means by which the universe is illuminated. How Shiva got a third eye is explained that one day Shiva’s wife Parvati covered Shiva’s eyes with her hands and the whole world was enveloped in darkness. Then Shiva willed the third eye to manifest, which sent forth light, heat and fire.
Another story is that once when the heavenly Ganga river was descending onto the earth, the weight of its force would have crushed the world, so Shiva accepted it on his head, wherein it stayed until it was ready to be released. The Ganga River is considered to have entered the universe when the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as Vamanadeva kicked the outer shell of the universe with His toe, thus letting in some of the water of the Karanadakashayi Ocean, the spiritual water that surrounds the universe. This became the holy Ganga. Thus, it is considered the foot wash of the Lord. So Lord Shiva takes this water on his head.
Shiva’s Ganga water is also said to represent the flow of knowledge and devotion to God. Shiva is known as the foremost devotee of Lord Krishna, Vishnu, or Lord Rama, which is one of the meanings of the spout of Ganga water on Shiva’s head.
The Bhagavatam (10.41.15) relates: “The water of the river Ganga [Ganges] has purified the three worlds, having become transcendental by bathing Your [Lord Vishnu’s] feet. Lord Shiva accepted that water on his head, and by that water’s grace the sons of King Sagara attained heaven.”
Another story is that during the time when the demons and demigods were churning the ocean of milk, many objects started to be produced from it. One was the moon, which Shiva took and placed in his hair. This represents the phases of the moon or the passing of time, which is but an ornament for Shiva since he is not affected by it. The crescent moon also signifies the happiness of life, especially when it is based on a spiritual purpose. The rays of the moon enhance one’s inspiration and energy for spiritual life, just as it is said that the rays of the moon nourish the vegetable kingdom. It represents the cooling light of the knowledge of the Self, and the way life should be when lived in that knowledge.
Another object that appeared from the churning was the severe poison which Shiva drank to keep it from spreading. However, Parvati, being alarmed at this, grabbed his throat so it could not go down, which is where he kept the poison, and which made his throat turn blue.
Shiva is often portrayed standing next to or on his bull, Nandikeshvara or Nandi (meaning joyful). Symbolically, Nandi represents the animal tendencies, such as the urge for sex, which are tamed and docile by Lord Shiva’s mastery over it. Thus, he rides on Nandi, who is obedient to Shiva’s command. Nandi also represents strength and virility. He is often seen in temples of Shiva in a reclining position in front of the main shrine, gazing toward the image of Shiva. Nandi also represents the jivatma, the individual soul, and the animalistic impulses that will carry it away into material existence, unless such tendencies are curbed.
KRISHNA DEVOTEES ARE DEAR TO SHIVA
AND SHIVA IS DEAR TO THEM
Shiva works for the benefit of everyone, and tries to help the living beings make spiritual advancement. This is why he has his own line of disciplic succession. This is also why he says to the sons of King Pracinibarhi, “Any person who is surrendered to the Supreme Personality of God, Lord Krishna, the controller of everything, is very dear to me.”1
The sons of the King were going to practice austerities to worship Lord Vishnu and while searching for a suitable place happened to find Lord Shiva. His bodily luster was like molten gold, his throat was bluish, he had three eyes, and was accompanied by musicians who were glorifying him. Shiva is the protector of the pious and those of gentle behavior. So he was pleased to speak to the princes the way he did. He continued in this way:
“A person who is directly surrendered to Lord Krishna, or Vishnu, in unalloyed devotional service is immediately promoted to the spiritual planets. I, Lord Shiva, and other demigods attain these planets only after the destruction of the material world. You are all devotees of the Lord, and as such I appreciate that you are as respectable as the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. I know in this way that the devotees also respect me and that I am dear to them. Thus no one can be as dear to the devotees as I am.”2
In this way, a devotee of Krishna does not disrespect Lord Shiva, but worships him as the greatest of devotees of Lord Krishna. A Krishna bhakta also prays to Lord Shiva, but asks Shiva to assist him in attaining the favor of Lord Krishna, and not merely for material benefits. As we find in the Tulasi Ramayana (Uttara-Kanda, Doha 45), Lord Rama says “With joined palms I lay before you another secret doctrine: without adoring Sankara (Lord Shiva) man cannot attain devotion to Me.” So in this way, Shiva can assist us in attaining devotion to Lord Krishna and His expansions.
After Lord Shiva had spoken to the sons of King Pracinabarhi, he relates a particular mantra for their benefit, which is pure and auspicious for anyone who wants to attain the ultimate goal of life. This mantra is called Shiva’s Song, and consists of verses 33 to 79 of the Twenty-fourth Chapter of the Forth Canto in Srimad-Bhagavatam. He starts his prayer with this verse:
“O Supreme Personality of Godhead, all glories unto You. You are the most exalted of all self-realized souls. Since You are always auspicious for the self-realized, I wish that You be auspicious to me. You are worshipable by virtue of the all perfect instructions You give. You are the Supersoul; therefore I offer my obeisances unto You as the supreme living bring.”
Through the remaining 45 verses of this prayer, Lord Shiva praises the many qualities, characteristics, and powers of the Supreme Being in the form of Lord Krishna. At the end of many years in which the sons of the King, called the Pracetas, repeated this prayer everyday, Lord Vishnu Himself appeared to them. He said, “Those who will offer Me the prayers composed by Lord Shiva, both in the morning and in the evening, will be given benedictions by Me. In this way they can both fulfill their desires and attain good intelligence.”3
Also in the Bhagavatam (4.6.42-53), we can see Lord Shiva’s greatness among the demigods. During the disastrous ritual of Daksha, who displayed great dislike toward Shiva and Shiva’s wife, Durga (Sati) immolated herself in fire. Sati was Daksha’s own daughter and could not tolerate the insults her father made toward her husband, Shiva. So while in meditation she burst into flames. Thereafter, Lord Brahma and the demigods went to pacify Lord Shiva. Brahma consoled Shiva and addressed him as “My dear Lord,” and called him the controller of the entire universe, the combination of mother and father of the universe, and the Supreme Brahman, beyond this creation. Therein we can see that Brahma, the partial creator of the universe, offers praises to Lord Shiva as a superior. This is to appease Lord Shiva, since it is known that his anger can annihilate the universe.
When the ritual was able to continue and Daksha offered the clarified butter with the mantras from the Yajur-veda, Lord Vishnu appeared there in His original form as Narayana. As described in the Bhagavatam (4.7.18-29) as soon as Lord Vishnu appeared, all the demigods, including Lord Brahma, Shiva, the Gandharvas and sages, immediately offered their respectful obeisances. In the presence of Lord Vishnu’s glaring effulgence from His body, everyone else’s luster faded. Everyone offered their prayers to Him. Therein, Lord Shiva addresses Lord Vishnu, “My dear Lord, my mind and consciousness are always fixed on Your lotus feet, which, as the source of all benediction and the fulfillment of all desires, are worshiped by all liberated sages because Your lotus feet are worthy of worship. With my mind fixed on Your lotus feet, I am no longer disturbed by persons who blaspheme me, claiming that my activities are not purified. I do not mind their accusations, and I excuse them out of compassion, just as You exhibit compassion toward all living entities.”
After all the personalities had offered their prayers to Lord Vishnu, He replied to Daksha, “Brahma, Shiva and I are the supreme cause of the material manifestation. I am the Supersoul, the self-effulgent witness. But impersonally there is no difference between Brahma, Lord Shiva and Me. I am the original Personality of Godhead, but in order to create, maintain and annihilate this cosmic manifestation, I act through My material energy, and according to different grades of activity, My representations are equally named. One who is not in proper knowledge thinks that the demigods like Brahma and Shiva are independent, or he even thinks that the living entities are independent. A person with average intelligence does not think the head and other parts of the body to be separate. Similarly, My devotee does not differentiate Vishnu, the all-pervading Personality, from anything or any living entity. One who does not consider Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva or the living entities in general to be separate from the Supreme, and who knows Brahman, actually realizes peace; others do not.” 4
What this indicates is the interdependence of the demigods on Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is the ultimate cause of the universal creation. Lord Brahma was born out of Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva was born from Lord Brahma. It is the energy that comes from Lord Vishnu, in the form of Lord Brahma and Shiva, that creates and annihilates the universe. Lord Brahma is manifested for the continuation of the creation, while Lord Shiva assists in the annihilation. In this way, they are interconnected and work together like parts of a single body. Yet, they all play distinct and significant roles in the affairs of the cosmos, but are dependent on Lord Vishnu. When we see that all living beings are expansions from the Supreme Lord and His energy, then one can achieve real peace.
In fact, it is said that these sages and devotees who see with such equal vision become worshipable by Lord Shiva, Brahma and Lord Vishnu. Once when Lord Shiva was traveling, he met the great sage Markandeya as he was coming out of his yogic trance. At that time, Markandeya offered prayers to Lord Shiva who blessed the sage and then asked if there were any benedictions that the sage wanted. As described in the Bhagavatam (12.10.19-22) Suta Gosvami said: “Lord Shiva, the foremost demigod and the shelter of the saintly devotees, was satisfied by Markandeya’s praise. Pleased, he smiled and addressed the sage. Lord Shiva said: Please ask me for some benediction, since among all givers of benedictions, we three--Brahma, Vishnu and I--are the best. Seeing us never goes in vain, because simply by seeing us a mortal achieves immortality. The inhabitants and ruling demigods of all planets, along with Lord Brahma, the Supreme Lord Hari and I, glorify, worship and assist those brahmanas who are saintly, always peaceful, free of material attachment, compassionate to all living beings, purely devoted to us, devoid of hatred and endowed with equal vision. These devotees do not differentiate between Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma and me, nor do they differentiate between themselves and other living beings. Therefore, because you are this kind of saintly devotee, we worship you.”
LORD SHIVA’S POSITION
In the Bhagavatam (4.3.23), Lord Shiva himself tells his wife, Sati, he is always engaged in worshiping the Supreme Personality known as Lord Vasudeva, Krishna, who is revealed in pure consciousness, by offering obeisances.
Herein, we can see that in actuality Lord Shiva is subordinate to Lord Vishnu, Krishna, in that he is also a part of Lord Krishna’s universal form, as described in the Bhagavad-gita (11.15). Therein we find: “Arjuna said: My dear Lord Krishna, I see assembled together in Your [universal] body all the demigods and various other living entities. I see Brahma sitting on the lotus flower as well as Lord Shiva and many sages and divine serpents.”
In the pastimes of Lord Krishna in Vrindavana, we find that Lord Shiva had also tried to enter the rasa-lila dance between Krishna and the gopis, the cowherd damsels. The Mahadeva Gopisvara temple in Vrindavana is said to mark where Lord Shiva desired to become a gopi in order to enter the dance with Lord Krishna. So Lord Shiva was trying to enter into the most confidential pastimes and devotion of Sri Krishna.
In another light, Lord Shiva is Lord Krishna’s brother-in-law. At the time of Krishna’s birth pastime in Vrindavana, Yasoda bore a daughter, Katyayani or Durga, and Mother Devaki bore a son, Lord Krishna. To save Him from the nefarious King Kamsa, Krishna’s father, Vasudeva, brought Krishna from Mathura to Gokul and exchanged Him with the daughter of Mother Yasoda, taking the daughter back with him. When King Kamsa came to get the new born from Mother Devaki, the child rose into the air and exhibited her form as the eight-armed Durga and chastised Kamsa. Durga is Lord Shiva’s wife, and in this pastime Lord Krishna’s sister, so it can also be said that Shiva is the brother-in-law of Lord Krishna.
In another place in the Bhagavatam (8.12.10), when Lord Shiva was bewildered by the Supreme Lord’s form as a beautiful woman, Mohini-Murti, Lord Shiva admits his weakness in being unable to fully understand the illusory nature of this material creation. “O My Lord, I, who am considered to be the best of the demigods, and Lord Brahma and the great rishis, headed by Marichi, are born of the mode of goodness. Nonetheless, we are bewildered by Your illusory energy and cannot understand what this creation is. Aside from us, what is to be said of others, like the demons and human beings, who are in the base modes of material nature [rajo-guna and tamo-guna]? How will they know You?”
Later, Lord Shiva, who is often pictured in meditation, explains to his wife who it is that he meditates on while in trance. He says, “O Goddess, You have now seen the illusory energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the unborn master of everyone. Although I am one of the principal expansions of His Lordship, even I was illusioned by His energy. What then is to be said of others, who are fully dependent on maya? When I finished performing mystic yoga for one thousand years, you asked me upon whom was I meditating. Now, here is the Supreme Person to whom time has no entrance and who the Vedas cannot understand.”5
Another time when Lord Shiva described his subservient position was when Lord Krishna was battling with Banasura, who was a devotee of Lord Shiva, and was cutting off his hundreds of arms. When it looked like Banasura was about to lose his life, Lord Shiva, who had also been a part of the battle scene, approached Lord Krishna to pacify Him and spare Banasura’s life. Therein (Bhagavatam 10.63.34-45) it is related, “Sri Rudra said: You alone are the absolute Truth, the supreme light, the mystery hidden within the verbal manifestation of the Absolute. Those whose hearts are spotless can see You, for You are uncontaminated, like the sky.” In the ten verses that follow, Lord Shiva also addresses Lord Krishna in other ways: “Your current descent into the material realm, O Lord of unrestricted power, is meant for upholding the principles of justice and benefitting the entire universe. We demigods, each depending on Your grace and authority, develop the seven planetary systems. You are the original person, one without a second, transcendental and self-manifesting. Uncaused, you are the cause of all, and You are the ultimate controller.”
When Uddhava was praying to Lord Krishna, he said, “Even Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva act only as Your instruments in cosmic creation and annihilation, which are ultimately done by You, The Supreme Lord, in Your invisible aspect of time.”6
One of the major differences between Shiva and Krishna is described as follows: “Sri Shukadeva Gosvami said: Lord Shiva is always united with his personal energy, the material nature. Manifesting himself in three features in response to the entreaties of nature’s three modes, he thus embodies the threefold principle of material ego in goodness, passion and ignorance. The sixteen elements have evolved as transformations of that false ego. When a devotee of Lord Shiva worships his manifestation in any one of these elements, the devotee obtains all sorts of corresponding enjoyable opulences. Lord Hari, however, has no connection with the material modes. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the all-seeing eternal witness, who is transcendental to material nature. One who worships Him becomes similarly free from the material modes.”7 Thus a worshiper of Lord Shiva gets the results that are conditional to the affects of material nature, while a worshiper of Lord Krishna gets released from the material nature rather than receiving material opulences.
So in this regard, Sri Shukadeva Gosvami said, “Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and others are able to curse or bless one. Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma are very quick to curse or bestow benedictions, my dear King, but the infallible Supreme Lord is not.”8
Another aspect of understanding Shiva’s position has to do with his purpose, which is connected with how he appeared. This is clearly explained in the ancient text of the Brahma-samhita (verse 15). Therein we find it said “The same Maha-Vishnu created [His next expansion of] Vishnu [Garbhodakashayi Vishnu] from His left limb, Brahma, the first progenitor of beings, from His right limb and, from the space between His two eyebrows, Shambhu, the divine masculine manifested halo.”
In an explanation of this, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta elaborates that when the mundane creation of the universe is manifested, then the principle of Shambhu in the form of Rudra is born from the space between the two eyebrows of Vishnu. Shambhu enshrines the principle of materialistic ego. This principle makes the living being identify with the material body, subject to the desires for material and bodily happiness. (Brahma-samhita, verse 16, purport)
So the power of Lord Shiva comes from the potency of Lord Vishnu. This is described as follows in verse 10 of the Brahma-samhita: “The person embodying the material causal principle, viz., the great lord of this mundane world [Maheshvara] Shambhu, in the form of the male generating organ, is joined to his female consort, the limited energy [Maya] as the efficient causal principle. The Lord of the world Maha-Vishnu is manifest in him by His subjective portion in the form of His glance.”
In this way, during the process of the material creation, and when Maha-Vishnu casts His glance onto the shadowy potency of Maya, Shambhu, lord of the pradhana (the unmanifest material ingredients), who is the same as Rudra, consummates his intercourse with Maya, the efficient principle of the cause of mundane energy. But Shambhu can do nothing independent of the energy of Maha-Vishnu, who represents the direct spiritual power of Krishna. In this way, the principle of the material creation is produced only when Maha-Vishnu, the plenary portion of Lord Krishna, is propitious towards the active endeavors of Maya, Shiva’s consort, and the principle of mundane causality. (Brahma-samhita, verse 10, purport)
So the difference between Maha-Vishnu and Shiva as Shambhu is more clearly described in the Brahma-samhita (verse 45) as follows: “Just as milk is transformed into curd by the action of acids, but yet the effect curd is neither the same as, nor different from, its cause, viz., milk, so I adore the primeval Lord Govinda of whom the state of Shambhu is a transformation for the performance of the work of destruction.”
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta goes on to explain in the purport to this verse that Shiva is not a second Godhead other than Krishna. In fact, those who entertain such a discriminating sentiment commit a great offense to the Supreme Lord. The position of Shambhu is subservient to that of Govinda, Krishna. Hence they are not really different from each other, as the above verse indicates. But as yogurt comes from its initial cause, so Shiva is manifest according to his initial cause, which is from Krishna through Maha-Vishnu. So God takes a subservient position to His direct forms when He attains a distinct personality by the addition of a particular element of adulteration, which is the form of Lord Shiva or Shambhu, through which the Lord comes in contact with the material energy, since Maha-Vishnu never does touch the mundane energy. However, Shiva has no independent initiative or ability.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta further describes that in this way, Govinda manifests Himself as a plenary portion which, in this case, is a guna-avatara in the form of Shambhu, lord of tamo-guna or the mode of darkness... Thus, Shambhu, in pursuance of the will of Govinda, works in union with his consort, Durga-devi, by his own time energy.
Therefore, the real difference between Govinda and Shiva or Brahma is that all the majestic attributes of God are fully present in the form of Govinda, Krishna. Shiva and Brahma are entities adulterated with mundane qualities, however slight they may be. Though Vishnu is also a divine appearance in the mode of goodness, still He is not adulterated. The appearance of Narayana as Maha-Vishnu, or as Garbhodakashayi Vishnu (Vishnu’s expansion in each universe) and Kshirodakashayi Vishnu (Vishnu’s expansion as the Supersoul), are examples of the ubiquitous function of the Supreme Divinity. Lord Vishnu is Godhead Himself, and the two other guna-avataras and all the other gods are entities possessing authority in subordination to Him. The different incarnations of the Supreme Being, Govinda, are the same as the same light appearing in different candles, all shining by the spiritual potency of Govinda, Krishna. (Brahma-samhita, verse forty-six, purport)
This makes it clear that the forms and positions of Shiva and Brahma are eternal, but only in the context of the endurance of the material creation. Lord Shiva is the lord of tamo-guna and material nature, but not of the spiritual world. It is Lord Krishna who is described as the Supreme Being and controller of both the spiritual and material energies.
It is explained further by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta that Lord Krishna has sixty divine qualities in their fullest measure. While 50 of the divine qualities of the jiva souls are present along with five additional qualities in Lord Brahma, yet in Shiva these fifty-five qualities are also present but in greater degrees than in Lord Brahma. (Brahma-samhita, verse 49, purport)
the position of Lord Shiva has been described relative to his purpose and
function within the material creation, and his form as an expansion of Lord
Shaivism is one of the major traditions of the Vedic system, and centers around the worship of Lord Shiva. Those who accept Shiva as the supreme deity are called Shaivites. Its origin predates recorded history, but references to the worship of Shiva can be found in the Vedas and Puranas.
You will notice that a devotee of Shiva in India usually wears Vibhuti or bhasma, the sacred ash, on his forehead, and Radrakshamala around his neck and elsewhere. The Rudra bead represents the third eye on Lord Shiva’s forehead. He should worship the Shiva lingam with the leaves of the Bilva trees, and his meditation should consist of chanting the Panchakshara, “Om Namaha Shivaya”.
The philosophy of Shaivism covers a wide range of Hindu thought, from idealistic monism to pluralistic realism, depending on the locality. As it changed through the years, a number of Shaivite sects were established, and the Pasupatas are considered the earliest. The Shaiva cults have had great popularity with village people throughout India, and use a form of asceticism for their means of spiritual advancement. This includes rising above anger and greed, engaging in deep meditation, and concentrating on the repetition of the sacred syllable om. Many Shaiva ascetics can be recognized by their long matted hair, which may also be wrapped and piled up on the head. They often wear a horizontal, three-lined tilok mark on their forehead. Many initiates smear their bodies with ashes which come from the sacred fire or crematoriums. They chant mantras to become free from the bondage of material existence, and sometimes dance and sing to induce trance-like states. Some of their practices are rather unorthodox, depending on the school of thought, and, thus, some have met opposition at various times. Much information about the practices of Shaivism is given in the Shiva Purana.
The Pasupatas were the earliest sect of Shaivism. They based their ideas on two works, both said to be by Kaundinya: the Pasupatasutra (written around 100-200 A.D.) and the Pancarthabhasya (400-600 A.D.). They expanded primarily into Gujarat. The Pasupatas accept the idea of a Supreme controller, but do not use the Vedas. They establish the existence of the Supreme through inference and say that the Supreme, who they accept as Lord Shiva, is not the original cause of the material world, but is the operative cause in that he simply used the material ingredients which already existed to form the cosmic manifestation. Therefore, through a combination of the potency of Lord Shiva and the material energy, generally regarded as Shakti or Mother Durga, the universe is created.
The conclusive Vedic literature, however, maintains that demigods such as Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva are created by and subordinate to Lord Narayana, Vishnu, who is the creator of the material worlds and all ingredients thereof. The Varaha Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana and many others specifically state that Narayana is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and from Him Brahma was born, from whom Shiva was born. Therefore, the demigods are not the Supreme but only dependent agents of the Supreme who work under His direction. This is confirmed in many verses throughout the Vedic literature. Although in some places we may find that demigods like Shiva, Ganesh, Surya, Indra, etc., are described as the ruler and creator of all, we should understand that almost all prayers to the demigods use such terms. But the words should be taken in their etymological sense referring to Narayana, or Vishnu, who is the source of the power that the demigods have. Shiva’s name as Pasupati means “Lord of all souls,” Ganesh means “Lord of all beings,” Surya means “the goal of the wise,” Indra means “the supreme ruler,” all of which ultimately refer to the Supreme Lord and that these demigods are His agents and represent the power of the Supreme.
The Vedanta-sutras point out many contradictions in the philosophy of the Pasupatas or Shaivites (Vedanta-sutras or Sri Bhasya 2.2.35-41). It concludes that if one is serious about attaining spiritual enlightenment and liberation, he must avoid this questionable philosophy, for in spite of the uncommon austerities and lifestyle of the Shaivites, their destination after death is not certain. The reason is that, though they may worship Shiva as the Supreme Being, they generally believe that God is an unembodied void into which they try to merge. Many of them accept Shiva or any other deity as simply being a material manifestation of that void or Brahman. Thus, their understanding of the Absolute Truth is faulty, and the process they use for spiritual realization is misdirected.
We should point out, however, that the Vedic literature establishes Lord Shiva as one of the topmost devotees of Lord Vishnu or Krishna. Shiva is often pictured in meditation, and many verses from the Puranas explain that he is always meditating on the Supreme, Sri Krishna. This means that Shiva is a Vaishnava of the greatest caliber. Furthermore, he is also one of the most important demigods in the universe. Therefore, as long as one understands Lord Shiva’s real position and avoids the impersonalistic philosophy that most Shaivites follow, there certainly is no harm in worshiping or offering respects to Lord Shiva or visiting the temples dedicated to him. In this case, worshiping Lord Shiva is simply offering respects to a superior devotee of God who can help one along the way. In fact, as we have explained earlier, respect for Shiva is beneficial for such advancement.
There are many other sects of the Shaivites besides the Pasupatas. The Pratyabhijna Shaiva sect is from Kashmir. They were systematized by Vasugupta (800 AD) based on the Shivasutra and Spandakarika. The latter was expanded by the commentaries of Somananda, Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta, and Kshemaraja, who wrote the summary teachings in his Pratyabhijnabridaya.
The Virasaiva or Lingayatas was another sect. There was little notice of this sect until Basava, a brahmana from Kannada developed it. They may have developed from the Kalamukhas and worshiped the linga.
The Shaiva Siddhantas was another sect in South India, having originated in the 11th and 13th centuries. They used Sanskrit texts, but these were later overshadowed by the Tamil texts of the Nayanmar poets, which lent to its bhakti or devotionally oriented system.
Additionally, there was also the Lakulisha Pasupatas who were also ascetics. The Kapalikas dwelled in the cremation grounds. Kalamukhas were ascetics similar to the Pasupatas. The Kashmir or Trika Shaivites had a three-fold concept of God: namely Shiva, the shakti energy, and the anu or individual. The smarta or orthodox of Shaivism practiced the varnashrama system as enunciated in the smriti literature and the Manu-samhita and Kalpa Sutra. The Natha or Kanphata yogis were a Shaiva sect said to be founded by Goraknatha. This blended the Pasupata system with Tantric practices and hatha-yoga.
Shaivism essentially consists of believing and accepting that Shiva is the Absolute, that he is transcendental to time and space, and pervades all energy and existence. Shaivites believe that once the influence of maya and karma are removed, they will be free from the bondage that prevents them from perceiving that their spiritual identity is equal to Shiva. They chant obeisances to Shiva on a regular basis, such as “Om Namaha Shivaya,” or simply “Namashivaya”. Shiva is known to bless his devotees with material opulence if he is pleased. And he can be easily pleased, or quickly angered. Yet many people offer worship of some kind to Shiva and Durga in hopes of acquiring blessings for material facility.
The basic process of Shaivism, summarized as follows, particularly of the Saiva Siddhanta school, consists of 1) maintaining virtue, 2) doing service and worship, 3) yoga, meditation, 4) acquiring knowledge, and then enlightenment and Self-realization.
To elaborate a little, the first step includes maintaining virtue and purity, which means to cause no injury to any creature, do no stealing, and maintain honesty, truthfulness, proper conduct, patience and dedication, compassion, and control of the appetite. These are the basics of karma-yoga as well as the building blocks of any spiritual process.
The second step includes maintaining discipline in sadhana, or one’s spiritual practice and habits. This is when we control the mind and absorb our consciousness in the higher purpose of life and activities. This is also called kriya, regulated exercises or methods. There is also worship of the image of the divine or the deity to invoke the dormant spiritual love within us. Going to the temple or ashrama to participate in the puja, worship, and to joyfully absorb oneself in hearing the Vedic wisdom and chanting or singing is also included.
The third step includes the performance of yoga in which a person practices pranayama and pratyahara, breath control to steady the mind and senses, and withdraw them from external distractions. Then through concentration and meditation the practitioner becomes aware of God within. Through this practice, the kundalini may also become active, rising through the chakras. One’s doubts, faults, mental weaknesses and ignorance, even past karma, becomes reduced. Then ecstasy and the divine energy is aroused. Ultimately, this is meant to give way, with practice, to nirvikalpa samadhi, or the experience of the timeless and formless Parashiva.
The fourth step is when a person becomes enlightened and Self-realized. In this state, divine wisdom is a part of one’s every move. Though still living in this mortal world, the person knows and also perceives that he is not of it. He is of a different, transcendental nature. This is a result of all his practice, austerity, sadhana, and devotional love. No more does such a yogi experience the limitations of the mind or ordinary intellect. He is free of it, or liberated, a jivanmukta, a liberated soul.
This process, as described in the above paragraphs, includes the basic steps that you will find in most forms of yoga, no matter whether it is applied directly to Shaivism or not. However, in this day and age, being able to take this system to its full perfection is not easy, and to attempt it thinking one can do so may be misleading. Nonetheless, as anyone can see, the basic steps of this process includes qualities and practices that can enhance anyone’s life and assist in whatever spiritual path is being pursued.
THE SHIVARATRI FESTIVAL
One festival that all worshipers of Shiva take part in is Shivaratri. The night of Shiva is a festival that is held in the typical pattern of preparation, purification, realization, and then celebration. On the day of the festival, people will fast and spend the day focused on Shiva, meditating and chanting “Om Namaha Shivaya.” Thus, offering their obeisances to Lord Shiva, the mind is held in such single-pointed concentration throughout the day. Then at the stroke of midnight Shiva is said to manifest as the inner light of purified consciousness. This climax at night represents our overcoming the dark ignorance and reaching the state of purified spiritual knowledge. Therein we conquer the influence of the mind and senses, exhibited by staying awake all night, and enter the state of steady awareness wherein there is spiritual awakening. If one can follow this process, then he or she can experience the real meaning of Shivaratri.
One thing you may be questioning is why Lord Shiva is so often represented as a lingam. Linga basically means a sign or symbol. So the lingam is essentially a symbol of the shapeless universal consciousness of Lord Shiva. “Shiva” also means that in which the creation lies dormant after the annihilation. So, one explanation is that the lingam is a representative of the dormant universal consciousness in which all created things rest after the cosmic annihilation. It also represents the pradhana, the potential but unmanifest ingredients of the material world. Another explanation is that Shiva means auspicious. So the linga is the shapeless symbol for the great god of auspiciousness. It is intended to bring the shapeless unknown into our attention.
The yoni upon which the lingam often sits represents the manifest universal energy. From the unmanifest comes the manifest energy, through which all other things are created. The yoni, which is a symbol of Shakti, combined with the lingam, is a symbol of the eternal union of the paternal and maternal principles, or the positive and negative, or the static and dynamic energies of the Absolute Reality. It is the communion of the eternal consciousness and dynamic power of the Shakti, the source of all actions and changes. It is also the symbol for the creation of the universe through the combination of the active energy of Lord Shiva and his Shakti. This is how Lord Shiva and Durga are considered the parents of the universe. The symbolism of the lingam and yoni also represents the base of the spine, meaning the Muladhara chakra, upon which the kundalini is resting, waiting for awakening.
There are a few versions according to the Puranas of why Shiva is worshiped as a lingam and how this happened, of which I will relate one. There was a great sacrificial ceremony that was going to take place many hundreds of years ago. The great sage Narada Muni was invited to it and asked who would receive the effects of the sacrifice. No one could answer, so the sages who were present asked him who should receive it. Narada said that Sri Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva were all eligible, but they would have to find out which one had the most patience and purity to be the receiver of the sacrifice. So he chose the great sage Brighu to learn the answer.
Brighu had many mystic powers and was able to travel to the domain of the demigods. So first he went to see Lord Brahma, but Brahma was preoccupied and did not notice Brighu’s presence. Feeling insulted, Brighu cursed Brahma, “You are so proud of your power of creation, you did not notice my arrival. For this you shall have no temples on earth.” Thus, there are very few temples of Brahma on earth. Next, Brighu went to see Shiva in Kailash, but Shiva also did not notice Brighu’s arrival. Brighu, again feeling offended, cursed Shiva to be worshiped only as a lingam on earth. This is the reason why Lord Shiva is primarily represented and worshiped as a lingam on this planet.
Then, to continue the story, Brighu went to see Lord Vishnu, who also did not recognize Brighu’s presence. Brighu was so angered that he went forward and kicked Vishnu’s chest. Lord Vishnu apologized if He had hurt Brighu’s foot and began praising Brighu. Brighu immediately felt pleased and could understand that Vishnu was actually the most qualified to receive the offerings from the sacrifice. However, Lakshmidevi, the goddess of fortune and Lord Vishnu’s wife, was very displeased by Brighu’s action and, therefore, does not bestow much mercy on the brahmanas who, as a result, are often without much money.
To explain the shape of the lingam, a Baana linga is egg-shaped and is meant to show that Ishvara has neither beginning nor end. The Lingobhavamurti is said to be the prime manifestation of the form of the formless, which Shiva is said to have manifested exactly at midnight on Shivaratri. This is why everyone stays up until midnight and then worships that form during the Shivaratri festival. A representation of the Lingobhavamurti can often be found in a niche on the outside wall of the sanctum in any important Shiva temple.
The lingas in the temples are often formed in three parts. The lowest part is the base square called the Brahmabhaga or Brahma-pitha, which represents the creator Brahma. The next part in the middle is the octagonal Vishnubhaga or Vishnu-pitha, which signifies Lord Vishnu the sustainer. Both of these parts form the pedestal. The top cylindrical portion is the Rudrabhaga or Shiva-pitha, which is also called the Pujabhaga since this is the worshipable part. The top portion is also meant to symbolize the projecting flame of fire. This flame also represents the destructive aspects as well as the preserving power of God.
There are twelve important Jyotirlinga temples scattered across India. They are found in Kedarnatha, Kashi Visvanatha, Somnatha, Baijnath, Ramesvare, Ghrisnesvar, Bhimasankar, Mahakala, Mallikarjuna, Amalesvar, Nagesvar, and Tryambakesvar. The five Pancha Bhuta Lingas in India are located at Kalahastisvar, Jambukesvar, Arunachalesvar, Ekambesvara at Kanchipuram, and Nataraja at Chidambaram. The temple of Lord Mahalinga at Tiruvidaimarudur (Madhyarjuna) is also a great temple in South India.
The reason Lord Shiva is often worshiped by pouring Ganges water over the lingam is that it represents the Ganges descending from heaven on to Shiva’s head. The legend is that when the Ganges first began to flow to the earthly planet from the heavenly region, the force of it would have destroyed the earth. To prevent this, Lord Shiva agreed to let the river first fall on his head before forming into a river. It is also explained that when worshipers pour milk or Ganga water on the linga, it represents the pouring of ghee on the sacred fire in the fire ceremony, or yajna. It is the symbolic offering of ourselves to God.
One story in connection with the Shiva linga is found in the Linga Purana. It describes that once Lord Brahma, the god of creation, and Lord Vishnu, the God of protection, engaged in an argument on who was greater. When those two great gods were fighting between themselves, Lord Shiva appeared as a huge pillar of fire that spread across the universe. He told Brahma and Vishnu that whoever finds the head or foot of his form of flame would be considered greater. Then Brahma took the form of a swan and set out to reach the top of the flame. Vishnu took the form of a boar to seek out the foot of the fire. But in spite of their efforts, they could not succeed in finding the limits. They realized their mistake and the peerless greatness of Lord Shiva. This shows how Shiva cannot be approached through ego, but responds with love to those who surrender to him. In this pastime, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of the fiery lingam for their benefit. So they were considered blessed with additional insight for worshiping that oldest form of him. This form of Shiva who appeared from the flame is called Lingodbhava. This story is found in the Shiva Purana and other texts.
This further helps to show how the lingam is not formless nor really a form, but a symbol for the divinity of Lord Shiva. In Sanskrit, linga means “mark”. It is a symbol of Lord Shiva in the same way that large puddles of water are an indication of heavy rains. It is an inference for something else, like the form of that which is formless and omnipotent.
THE GODDESS DURGA
Worship of the Goddess goes back at least 4000 years in India, and further back to the Vedic times. Durga is the Goddess of the universe, and Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, is a form of Durga. She has up to 64 different forms, with different names for each form. Each form represents a different pastime, power, or aspect of the Goddess. Some of the names of these forms of Durga are Ambika, Bhadra, Bhadrakali, Aryadurga, Vedagarbha, Kshemakshemakari, Naikabahu, Bhagavati, Katyayani, and others, such as Sati, which means chastity. In her gentle aspects she is worshiped as Kanya, Kamakshi, or Mukamba. Uma (Parvati) is the maiden name for the consort of Lord Shiva. She represents matter (prakriti). Shiva is the god of destruction, which has no meaning without objects to destroy. Thus, he is paired with Uma.
Durga is often pictured as a beautiful woman in red cloth. She has either four, eight, ten, eighteen or twenty hands and three eyes. Items in her hands can include a conch, disc, trident, bow, arrow, sword, dagger, shield, rosary, wine cup, and bell, all of which represent her various powers. She may also be standing on a lotus or riding a lion. The lion represents power, but also the animal tendency of greed for food and other sensual objects. Her riding on the lion represents that she keeps all such tendencies under complete control.
The full details of Durga can be found in the Devibhagavat, or another text called the Durgasaptashati, which can be found as part of the Markandeya Purana. The name “Durga” means one who is difficult to know. Yet, being the mother of the universe, she can be approached through love. Love is also natural for her to give to her children.
Durga is the personification of the material energy, in which all materially conditioned living beings are absorbed in thoughts, actions and identity. She is also considered the power of sleep, or the Yoganidra in which Lord Vishnu rests between creative cycles. She is also the personification of wisdom and knowledge. Her energy permeates the universe. She also embodies sacrifice or penance and the highest knowledge. She is most beautiful, but at the same time fierce and terrible. She can dispel difficulties as well as kill the demons.
Another of her popular forms is Mahishasuramardini. In this form she is often pictured with eight arms, each with a weapon, and in the process of killing the demon Mahishasura in his form as a bull. She was generated out of the anger and powers of the gods, namely Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, and others. And their weapons became her weapons. Thus, riding on her fierce lion, she fought and killed Mahishasura and his army. This demon represents the egotistical propensity that brute strength is all that is needed to acquire selfish desires. While fighting amongst the gods, he was succeeding, until their combined powers and will to fight was manifest in the Devi as Mahishasuramardini, who then killed the demon.
Symbolically, Durga destroys the buffalo demon which represents tamo-guna, the dark quality of laziness, ignorance and inertia. So she destroys the tamo-guna within each of us, which can be very difficult to overcome. Another one of her qualities is her wrath, which sometimes manifests as war. Such war cleanses the world of the many negative elements which accumulate from a sinful society.
Later, when the gods were challenged by the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, they went to petition the Goddess again. This time, from the side of Parvati, she manifested herself as Kaushika Durga, also called Ambika. Ambika’s beauty attracted the demons who then wanted to marry her. She vowed to marry the one who could defeat her in battle, but all such attempts were disastrous. Even with the assistance of giants like Dhumralochana, Chanda, Munda, and Raktabija, they were unsuccessful.
From the forehead of Durga manifested the fierce, dark goddess Kali, who became known as Chamunda for beheading the demons Chanda and Munda. When she fought with Raktabija, it took a special endeavor because of his powers that caused each drop of his spilled blood to become another demon. It was Kali who managed to drink all of his flowing blood and prevent any additional demons from manifesting. Thus, Durga was able to kill him. She then easily killed Nishumbha, but Shumbha accused her of accepting help. The Devi then withdrew all her emanations into her one form, and then proceeded to battle and kill Shumbha.
Durga is also called Vaishnavishakti, the creative power from Lord Vishnu, the original cause. She is also called Vindhyavasini (the one who lives in the Vindhya mountains), Raktadanta (the one with the red teeth), Shatakshi (who is liked to having one hundred eyes), Shakambhari (who gives the life-force of vegetables), Durgaa (the slayer of the demon Durga), Bhima (the ferocious), and Bhramaramba (one who is liked to having a form of bees).
Devi is also manifested as Maheshvari, which, according to the three modes of material nature, also manifests as Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasarasvati. These are different than the Goddesses Lakshmi and Sarasvati, which will be discussed later. In the aspect of Mahakali she is considered the personification of the tamo-guna, or mode of darkness and sleep or inertia. She is also maya, the illusory energy of Lord Vishnu. Thus, this maya must be removed for us to awaken to our real spiritual identity. It is within this maya in which the seeming powers of evil and divisiveness exist. She is often pictured as blue in color with ten hands, each holding a different weapon, including a sword, disc, mace, arrow, bow, iron club, lance, sling, a human head, and a conch.
Mahalakshmi is the aspect of raja-guna, the passionate nature. In this aspect she is seen as red in color, signifying the will to fight evil forces. She has eighteen hands, holding a rosary, pot, club, lance, sword, shield, conch, bell, wine cup, trident, noose, and disc. She is the one who killed Mahishasura.
Mahasarasvati represents the sattvic aspect, or that of goodness and purity. She is light in color and has eight hands that hold a bell, trident, plough, conch, pestle, disc, bow, and arrow. She is the manifestation of beauty, work, and organization. It is she, as Kaushika Durga, who manifested from Parvati. She is the one who destroyed the demons known as Dhumralochana, Chanda, Munda, Raktabija, Nishumbha, and Shumbha, all of which are certain aspects of the principle of ego.
Kali is another form of the Goddess which is often seen in temples and pictures. She is usually pictured as nude except for being covered by her scattered hair. She has a dark complexion. She wears an apron of human hands and a garland of human skulls, and sometimes carries a human head in one hand, freshly severed and dripping with blood, and a long chopper in another hand. The other two hands are giving blessings and offering protection. Her tongue is protruding, dripping with blood. She is also often seen in a cremation ground or in a battlefield amidst dead and mutilated bodies. Sometimes she is standing on the white body or bluish body of her spouse, Shiva. He supplicates her in this way to keep her from destroying everything.
The meaning of all this is that, first of all, Kali represents time, Kala, which devours everything in its terrifying ways. She is naked because she is free from the veil of ignorance that the universe represents, which hides our real spiritual identity. She is black because she represents tama-guna or the void which has swallowed everything, including space, time, and the ingredients of material nature. Her apron of hands indicates that she is pleased with the offerings of our work, so she wears them. It also represents the inward potential for outward manifestation waiting to take place. Her disheveled hair simply represents her freedom to do and go as she likes. The garland of 50 skulls represent the 50 letters of the alphabet, or sound from which the whole material manifestation has sprung, which is now in a state of destruction, indicated by her wearing them. Though she is an awesome form, she is also offering freedom from fear by her hand gestures.
A further explanation of why Goddess Kali stands on Shiva is that once Kali engaged in a battle in which she destroyed all the demons. She danced in victory to such an extent that the worlds started to shake in destruction. Everyone became concerned and Shiva came to appease her from further dancing. Yet she was so worked up that she could not notice or listen to him. So Shiva lay like a corpse at her feet to absorb the shock of her movements, and when she finally noticed that she had stepped on her husband, she put her tongue out in shame.
THE IDENTITY OF DURGA AND DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MAHAMAYA AND YOGAMAYA
Being the personification of the material energy, Durga is also the maidservant of Lord Krishna, and conducts herself in accordance to the will of the Supreme. Her shadow is the material energy, maya. In this form of Durga, she is pictured as a beautiful demigoddess with ten arms, representing the ten types of material activities. She rides on her lion, indicating her heroic activities. She is the subduer of vices, represented by the image of her trampling the demon Mahishasura. She is the mother of her sons Kartikeya and Ganesha, representing beauty and success. She is armed with twenty weapons, denoting the various pious activities enjoined by the Vedas for the suppression of vices. She also holds a snake, which signifies destructive time. The word durga also means a prison house or a fort. So the material world is like a prison from which it is hard to escape. “Dur” means difficulty and “Ga” means going. So it is very difficult to escape from this material world without undergoing many hardships. But one who takes shelter of the spiritual potency can get free from the illusory nature of the material world. So when the living beings forget their spiritual nature and the service of the Supreme Being, Krishna, they are confined in the material prison of the universe. This is the aspect of the cosmic creation which is presided over by Durga. However, those who are devotees of the Lord and who are on the spiritual path to regain their real nature are free from this prison-like environment of the universe. Durga does not affect them.
The spiritual form of Durga is Yogamaya. The external form of Durga is Mahamaya, the illusory energy. The spiritual form of Durga who functions on the platform of shuddha-sattva, pure transcendental existence, is understood to be Krishna’s sister, known as Ekanamsha or Subhadra.9 The name Subhadra means auspicious. So Subhadra also paves the way for the devotee’s spiritual progress by supplying that which is auspicious and taking away all that is inauspicious. So this is the spiritual form of Durga, the shadow of whom is the external material energy. We should note, however, that Durga works in the material world. Subhadra plays the part of Lord Krishna’s sister and is the internal or spiritual energy, and does not work as Durga in the material world. So, originally their energy is one and the same, but through her expansion as Durga she works in a different capacity within the material realm.
Furthermore, higher than Subhadra is Radharani, Lord Krishna’s consort and the quintessence of spiritual energy. She is the personification, essence, and origin of Lord Krishna’s pleasure potency, hladini-shakti. This pleasure potency of Lord Krishna expands to become Radharani for the sake of the most intimate spiritual pastimes in Goloka Vrinadavana, the topmost spiritual planet. This potency expands further into the forms of Krishna’s queens in the other Vaikuntha planets, and also as His sister, Subhadra, for other purposes and pastimes. And Durga is an expansion of this internal or spiritual energy. In this way, Durga also can be considered an expansion of Radharani. Therefore, Radharani is the source of the pleasure essence in the spiritual dimension, while Durga provides the means for all pleasure in the material realm.
So herein we can understand that mahamaya in the material world is an expansion of yogamaya in the spiritual world. The difference in function is that yogamaya manages the spiritual sky, and in her partial expansion as mahamaya she manages the material world. Yogamaya covers the devotees in the spiritual world so that they can forget the Lord’s greatness and engage in loving pastimes with Him as His friends, parents, servants, and so on without being overwhelmed by His omnipotence. Mahamaya in the material world, on the other hand, keeps the living entities forgetful of their true eternal nature as long as they have no spiritual inclination. So yogamaya helps bring the devotees together with the Supreme Being in various relationships while mahamaya keeps them separate, or at least makes it seem they are separate through the principle of forgetfulness.
Another way to understand this is that there are two divisions of energy, the material and spiritual. The original energy is the spiritual, in which is the hladini-shakti potency of Krishna, which is His pleasure potency. It is this pleasure potency from God through which all spiritual joy and happiness are felt. This is also the original form of Durga who is nondifferent from this spiritual energy, but Durga is her form in the material world. The partial expansion of the hladini-shakti potency is mahamaya, which also acts like a covering for the hladini-shakti potency, the pleasure of our spiritual nature. In the material world she bewilders the conditioned souls so they can think they are happy in material pursuits. In this way, the materialists remain covered over by their attraction to their desires for sense pleasure due to mahamaya, and the devotees and transcendentalists become absorbed in spiritual pleasure through yogamaya, or the hladini-shakti. It is through yogamaya that the religious become happy or joyous in their spiritual pursuits and liberated from the material realm. This is the work of Subhadra who provides what is auspicious and takes away what is inauspicious for the sincere seekers on the spiritual path. Thus, the material energy is like a testing ground that must be passed before one can gain entrance into the spiritual world. It also protects the spiritual atmosphere from those who are not sincere. This is one function of Durga.
The Narada Purana (1.3.13-15) lists many names of Durga. Since she is considered one of the energies of the Lord, she is regarded as His shakti, and is called Uma, Bharati, Girija, and Ambika. The great sages designate her as Durga, Bhadrakali, Chandi, Mahesvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi (supreme potency of Lord Vishnu), Varahi (potency of Lord Varaha, an incarnation of Krishna), Aindra, Shambhavi, Brahmi (connected with Lord Brahma), Vidya (spiritual knowledge), Avidya (nescience), Maya (the illusory energy of the Lord), and Para Prakriti (the Supreme Primordial Nature).
Other aspects of Durga are accompanied by a different name and often a story for each name. We will not relate each story, but some of the additional names can be summarized. These include Lalita, who is a beautiful Goddess, living eternally in the city of Shripura on Mount Meru with her spouse, Shiva Kameshvara. Annapurna is the form of Parvati who blesses the household with food. Aparajita means Durga as the invincible. Bala means the child. Bhadrakali is one of the aspects of Mahakali and the form that sprang from her wrath when her husband, Shiva, was insulted by Daksha, and who fought along with Virabhadra, the embodiment of Shiva’s wrath, to destroy Daksha’s sacrifice. Bhairavi is the Devi as the power to cause terror, one of the ten aspects of Shiva’s energy. Bhavani is another name. Bhutatma is the Mother of the Bhutas or ghosts. Dakshayani is Durga as the daughter of Daksha. Gauri, means yellow or golden wife of Shiva. Indrakshi has eyes similar to Lord Indra’s, and is often worshiped by Indra. She can also alleviate the incurable diseases when pleased by nice hymns. Jagadhatri is the one who sustains the world. Katyayani is the Devi who was once born as the daughter of Kata. Parvati is the daughter of Parvata, the personification of the Himalaya. Rudrani is wife of Rudra. Tripura Bhairavi is the shakti of Shiva when he is the ruler of death.
In the Brahma Vaivarta Purana (Krishna-Janma-Khanda, 118.35) Durga talks with Shiva about how she is an expansion from the highest realms and explains herself in this way: “I am Mahalakshmi in Vaikuntha, Srimati Radha in Goloka, Shivaa [connected with Shiva] in the region of Shiva, and Sarasvati in the abode of god Brahma.” Thus, from the highest levels of the spiritual domain she expands herself to include all other shaktis, or potencies.
The Narada Purana (1.3.27) also explains that in regard to Lord Vishnu, “His Shakti is the great Maya, the trustworthy upholder of the universe. In view of its being the material cause of the universe, it is [also] called prakriti by scholars.”
This illusory energy, maya, plays an important part in the creative process of the cosmic manifestation. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.5.25), Maitreya explains to Vidura that the external energy works as both cause and effect in the cosmic manifestation. This external energy is known as maya or illusion, and through her agency only is the entire material manifestation made possible.
Maya is the external energy of the Lord and is divided into two parts. Maya is the efficient cause, and the other part are the ingredients that create the cosmic manifestation, known as the pradhana or prakriti.10 The Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.63.26) relates that in the pradhana aspect, maya is composed of time, activity, providence (the destiny of the conditioned souls) and nature. These along with the vital force or energy, the subtle material ingredients, and the material nature, known as the field of activity for the conditioned souls, and the eleven senses (the senses of perception and organs of action) and five elements (earth, air, fire, water, and ether), are the ingredients of maya. Thus, Lord Krishna is the creator and maya only helps Him as an instrument. It is this maya, or material nature, which the Lord glances over which becomes agitated, and into which the Lord injects the seed of life as the original living entities. Thereafter, due to the reactions of the Lord’s glance and His energy which mixes with maya, the material energy gives birth to the myriad universes.11
So maya, or material nature, is merely the secondary cause of the creation. Nonetheless, it serves two purposes: It contains the subtle material elements, and then through the changes that take place causes the material manifestation. The Brahma-samhita (5.19) also explains that the primary material elements were originally separated. Then through the spiritual power of the Supreme, in His knowledge potency, maya was moved. It is through this combination of the efficient or spiritual potency in conjunction with the inactive material causal principles of maya that the elements and the different entities develop into a state of cooperation. Thus, it is by this combination of energies that the material creation can manifest, and the spiritual living beings appear as the materially conditioned souls within the material elements of the creation. In a graphic description, it is explained that maya appears like a huge pot filled with the innumerable universes that are like mustard seeds within it.12
Another function of maya is to cover the living beings with the material energy, and, thus, keep them in illusion as to what is their true identity. This sort of forgetfulness is one of the main principles of the material world, without which the living beings could not engage in material life. After all, if it was too obvious to the living beings that they are spiritual entities, they would not be satisfied with material pursuits or the engagement of bodily sense pleasures. So to help provide a playground for the materially conditioned souls who are rebellious and want to live outside of God’s kingdom, this forgetfulness must be there. This is the third function of maya, which covers the living entity in this way. As explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (8.14.10), “People in general are bewildered by the illusory energy [maya], and therefore they try to find the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, through various types of research and philosophical speculation. Nonetheless, they are unable to see the Supreme Lord.”
This is further explained as follows: The internal potency of the Supreme Lord is spiritual. The marginal potency consists of the living beings who can lean toward the spiritual or material energy. The third potency of the Lord is the material energy, maya, also called nescience or darkness. It is this maya which makes the living entity godless and fills him with the desires for fruitive activity and sense pleasure. Thus, because of being influenced by the nescient potency, which covers his spiritual position, he suffers the threefold miseries of material existence.13 These three kinds of miseries of material existence include those that come from the body itself, those caused by other living beings, and those problems caused by natural occurrences.
Because of being illusioned like this the living entities cannot understand the truth of the creation and, thus, they wander throughout the material world for many lifetimes. However, the living beings are independent in determining whether they want to engage in material or spiritual activities. Misusing this independence to turn toward the dark side separates the living beings in varying degrees from the spiritual light. Yet, when the living beings turn toward God and work to regain their spiritual nature, they can return to their normal spiritual state of being and be relieved of material existence.
Actually, the spiritual living beings are merely covered by this cloud of maya, which affects their consciousness. Therefore, the goal of any genuine spiritual path is simply to remove this cloud and the influence of the illusory energy. If a religious system cannot do that, then it is incomplete.
The Brahma-samhita (5.44) also explains that maya is like the shadow of the Lord’s chit or knowledge potency, and is also worshiped in the form of Durga, the creating, preserving, and destroying agency of this material world.
THE SHAKTAS AND TANTRISM
The Shakta tradition is another of the three major traditions of the Vedic culture. The power or energy of Shiva is Shakti, the embodiment of power. She is the power and support of the entire universe. Thus, she is the Universal Mother. He who worships Shakti or the divine feminine energy is a Shakta. Shiva represents the eternal consciousness, while Shakti represents mind and mater. The Shaktas are those who believe that the original active and creative principle of existence is the divine energy called shakti. Shakti is the feminine energy inherent in everything throughout the universe and is considered the companion of Lord Shiva in her personified form.
The original ideas of the Shakta belief can be traced back to the Rig-veda and other later works. However, the Vedanta-sutras (2.2.42-45) point out some essential faults with the Shakta philosophy. For example, to consider that Shakti or energy alone can be the independent cause of the world is not a complete understanding. The reason is that energy alone cannot create without the cooperation, direction, and facility from the energetic, which, in this case, is the Creator or Supreme Being. Energy must have a source, meaning the energetic. Thus, as we have explained in the previous section, this Shakti is ultimately the energy of the Supreme Lord. She is not nor can be the sole cause of the world. She works most closely with the energy of the Lord in the form of Lord Shiva.
The Supreme is the energetic or source and controller of the energy, just as the powerhouse is the source of the electrical energy that is controlled to illuminate so many light bulbs. Thus, energy cannot exist without the energetic. Therefore, the followers of the Shakti cult who have imagined that energy is the cause of the world are not supported by conclusive Vedic authority. It is not possible that merely by energy alone all the elements of the universe can be produced. In the same manner, we do not see a woman produce children without the contact of a man. Only through the energy given by the seed of a man can there be conception in a woman. Similarly, only if Shakti or nature is controlled and directed by the contact of the purusha, God, can there be the organized formation of the material elements. In this way, everything proceeds from the Supreme Being, as explained elsewhere in Vedic literature, and Shakti is not independent.
The Shaktas are divided into two groups, one called the Right-hand, the other called the Left-hand group. The Right-hand or dakshinachara are the ascetic group, while the Left-hand or vamachara are those who combine their yogic exercises with practices that are often considered more unorthodox, called the panchamakara, or the five Ms. These are madya (wine drinking), mamsa (meat-eating), matsya (fish), mudra (parched grain), maithuna (ritual sex), and also ceremonial songs. In most cases, the drinking of wine, eating meat, and sexual activities are meant to be used as part of a sacrificial rite used in the worship of goddess Kali or Durga.
Tantraism is linked with yoga and the magical formulas of the Atharva-veda. The ascetic process of the Tantric path is very similar to the raja-yoga and kundalini-yoga systems. But before going on to the advanced stages, one must perfect the basics, such as simplicity, kindness, devotion, prayer, and self-analysis, along with the yama and niyama principles as described in raja-yoga.
Tantra is a path meant to utilize all the sciences to develop psychic power, understand reality, and expand one’s awareness in all states of consciousness. In this way, all levels of consciousness are to be explored by performing various kinds of exercises and techniques. However, the training and procedures that some Tantric yogis may have to do as a sign of advancement can be a dreadful experience for one who is psychologically unprepared. Detachment from the body and advancement on the path is attained by the performance of what most people would consider unusual if not bizarre practices. In Tantrism, particularly the Left-hand path, progress and liberation are achieved primarily through direct experience rather than through meditation. The ingredients and experiences in the rituals are to induce different levels of consciousness.
Once the Tantric yogi has mastered all the basic requisites of yoga, such as the sitting postures, controlling the external and internal organs, and keeping the mind from all material attractions and repulsions, then he can continue with more arduous austerities. He may be instructed to go to the cremation grounds and search through the ashes to find and eat particular parts of a corpse which do not burn. He must do this without the slightest disgust. These more extreme practices were mostly for the adepts who were experienced in the Left Hand path. These would induce a deep level of detachment from praise, pride, or even shame or disgust, and all that might keep one from entering the Supreme bliss. These practices are metaphorically called “removing a thorn with a thorn”. It is to break social norms in order to transcend limitations of body consciousness and attain Shiva. The path of the Right Hand Tantric is not as extreme and uses tamer or more harmless symbolism in rituals, or ignores the severe rituals altogether.
Some of the Tantric followers also practice magic and alchemy in their techniques. It is well known that Tantrics who know the art of magic can possess amazing but dark powers. The apparel of such sorcerers usually include items like flayed animal or human skin as coverings, necklaces of teeth or bone, a girdle of snake skin, and they sometimes cover themselves with the ashes of cremated bodies or the dirt from an exhumed corpse. Elements used in their rituals may consist of charred bones, eyeballs, fat, marrow, and even excrement from corpses, along with mantras used to call or address the dead or even demons and ghouls. The Tantric may also make a human skull into his eating bowl, or the top of a monkey skull as a drinking cup. The human thigh bone is also used among some as a horn for calling spirits. With these kinds of items they perform ceremonies such as the black ritual that is a secret and dangerous short path to attaining occult power. One ritual in Tibetan is called the chod, in which the Tantric practitioner goes to the crematorium and invites spirits to feast on his body, which symbolizes destruction of ego, pride, selfishness, fear, etc. The Tantric should be so focused on this that he can actually hear the ghouls masticating as they devour his flesh. After the spirits have dined and departed, the Tantric, recovering from the ordeal, mentally reassembles his bones and organs until he is whole again. Another aspect of this black ritual is known in Tibet as rolangs, in which the Tantric, through occult powers, animates a dead corpse by calling spirits to possess it and then asks it questions or uses it for magical purposes.
If the yogi remains sane and continues on the Left-hand Shakta or Tantric path, he may also try to perform the sex ritual. In this case, the Tantric yogi worships the woman as a representation of Shakti and accepts the role as Shiva and has intercourse with her, but does not ejaculate any semen. The Tantric controls his mind and senses, and during intercourse constricts his stomach muscles in particular ways so that he takes in the fluid and energy released by the woman. Thus, he keeps the combination of his male energy and the female energy at the base of his spine. By combining the male and female energy in such a way, the practitioner is said to get special power and enlightenment. This is also supposed to help awaken the kundalini at the base of the spine when it is time for the yogi to begin meditation. However, some descriptions of these sex practices are very strange, and the texts that describe them are quite graphic. It has also been said that even Marco Polo, while witnessing these Tantric practices and acts of sorcery during his explorations of the world, did not consider it fit to give a full account of what he saw. This, however, is only one aspect of the Tantric cult. Other more prominent techniques include mantra, pranayama, meditation, etc, as has already been described.
These days in the West people use certain Tantric practices as an excuse to simply engage in sex in the name of so-called spiritual exercises, religion, or yoga. Although they hardly know anything about the real Tantric practices or bother to reach any of the initial yogic qualifications one must attain, they are very eager to engage in so-called Tantric sex with the hopes of increasing the duration of their orgasm. This, however, was the exact opposite of the real purpose of the ritual. Extended orgasm is considered to deplete the yogi of his mystic powers and mental and psychic capacity. Even Buddhist texts mention that keeping the seed (semen) is life, while the falling of the seed is death. In this way, by retaining one’s semen, a man can become very powerful.
When explaining the Tantras, the root tan means to expand. Thus, tantra means to expand the meaning of the Vedic knowledge. The Tantras are the texts studied by those, especially amongst the Shaiva and Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana cults, who worship Shakti, the Goddess personification of the universal feminine energy. These Tantras can be dialogues between the Goddess Durga and Shiva. When the Goddess asks Shiva questions, they are called Agamas, and when Shiva asks the Goddess questions, they are Nigamas. The Agamas contain descriptions of a variety of topics such as deity making, temple and altar construction, etc. They may also elaborate on the five main topics which include the creation, universal annihilation, worship of the gods, the attainment of the six superhuman faculties, and the main methods of meditation that bring union with the Supreme. Certain Tantras also contain magical or mystical formulas that some practitioners use for their own purposes.
The Tantras generally accept Shakti as the creative force, worshipable as an aspect of the Divine but inseparable from the masculine principle, which is called Brahman by some and Shiva by others. However, the Tantras are often composed of irregular Sanskrit to obscure their secrets in the language. Also, in order to allow only the initiates to understand its meaning, some of them used much erotic symbolism and esoteric terminology. This has led to a misunderstanding of its ideology as well as its practices, especially among westerners who perceive an overabundance of sexual connotation in it, which is not really there.
It is not easy to date the formation or appearance of the Tantras. It is suggested that they were predominately developed in North India and Assam. Some scholars have not been able to determine whether Tantrism originated in Buddhism or Hinduism, but evidence suggests that Tantrism was first systematized by particular Buddhist schools. This systematization seemed to have resulted in dividing Buddhism into several major and minor groups because of philosophical differences. All such groups assisted in laying the groundwork for various radical ideas, among which was Tantrism. Tantrism greatly influenced the Vajrayana and Mahayana sects. Some scholars date the Buddhist Tantras, like the Hevajra, to sometime earlier than 400-700 AD. Other Tantras include the Nityashoda-shikarnava, Yoginihridaya, Tantraraja, and Kularnava, all dated between 1000-1400 AD., and the later Mahanirvana Tantra. However, those Tantras that are related to the older Vedic texts had to have been of an earlier date. For example, the Narada-Pancharatra is said to have been spoken by Lord Shiva to Narada Muni, and later compiled by Srila Vyasadeva 5,000 years ago.
There are, however, different Tantras for different people. There are specific Tantras for those who are in the mode of darkness or tamo-guna, others for those in the mode of passion or rajo-guna, and still more for those in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. There are the Shaiva Agamas, the Shakta Agamas, and the later Tibetan Buddhist Agamas, as well as the Linga, Kalika, and Devi Puranas. The Agamas are divided in four parts: metaphysical knowledge, yoga, ritual practices, and conduct. There are 28 Shaiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas, and 108 Pancharatra or Vaishnava Agamas. The Vaishnava Tantras include the Narada-pancharatra, Pancharatra, Vaikhanasa, the Gautamiya Tantra, Brihad-Gautamiya Tantra, and others like the Lakshmi Tantra. These contain rules and regulations for engaging in the process for purifying the mind of the stumbling blocks of material attachments and for fixing the consciousness on the qualities and spiritual pastimes of the Supreme. The Narada-Pancharatra deals with Lord Krishna and some about Radha. Ramanuja wrote his Agama-pramanya to show the Vedic connection of the Vaishnava Pancharatra texts.
The difference in the Vaishnava Tantras from the Tantras of the Left-hand Shaktas is that they remove the illusion that the physical body is the self, along with the need for performing unorthodox bodily activities for spiritual advancement, while the Left-hand Shaktas are attached to the means of using the body to attain magical powers, rapid illumination, wealth, high position, or quick liberation. To be successful on the Left-hand path is very difficult and the aspirant can rarely persevere to the end. As we can easily see from our partial description of the Tantric Left-hand path, such philosophy and activities are deeply imbedded in the mode of darkness, tamo-guna. This may be the level of experience that some people need in this life, but by tampering with this path, one usually increases his illusion, selfishness, and pride, or it can bring disease, evil-mindedness, even insanity, and sometimes sudden death. This is not surprising since what is associated with the dark modes produces intense, dark, or questionable results.
The Vaishnava Tantras, on the other hand, are aimed at bringing one to a higher state of consciousness, a loftier awareness of our real identity as spiritual beings and our relationship with God, without the unorthodox activities. It enables one to feel an inner joy and happiness by reawakening one’s awareness of his or her spiritual identity. Soon the obstacles or material attachments and desires that seemed insurmountable have no effect. A serious follower can feel himself progressing very rapidly. As a person attains a higher spiritual taste, he becomes less concerned for bodily attractions and is content in any situation, whether it be in gain or in loss. His unity with God increases and he becomes perfectly satisfied. In this way, he soon leaves material consciousness behind and through his spiritual realizations reaches the perfectional stage of life.
HOW SHIVA AND DURGA ARE CONSIDERED
THE MOTHER AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSE
Since it is the glance of the Supreme Being over the energy of Durga, maya, which sets in motion the creation of the universes, Durga is therefore known as the universal mother.14 This is why when people speak of the material nature, it is always referred to as a female, as “she,” Mother Nature, and as the goddess. And the essence of Mother Nature is represented as Durga. She is united with her husband, known as Lord Shiva, who is then considered the father of the universe.
It is explained in the Vayu Purana that Shiva is an expansion of Sadashiva, who is a direct expansion of Lord Krishna. Sadashiva appears in order to perform various pastimes. Sadashiva is a resident of one of the Vaikuntha planets of the spiritual world. His consort there is Ramadevi, a form of Lakshmi. She expands into mahamaya in the material worlds, where she is then known as Durga. Thus, the spiritual Sadashiva and Ramadevi again become related as Shiva and Durga, who are the origin of material nature.
The part that is played by Lord Shiva during the creation is more fully explained in the Brahma-samhita (5.6-8). Therein it states that Lord Krishna, the Lord of Gokula, the topmost planet in the spiritual sky, is the Supreme Godhead, the very Self of eternal ecstasies. He is busily engaged in the enjoyments of the transcendental realm and has no association with the mundane, illusory material energy. He does not stop His spiritual engagements. When He intends to create the material manifestation, He merely sends His glance over the deluding energy in the form of His time potency. Krishna’s expansion in the form of Maha-Vishnu in the Causal Ocean carries this glance to the material energy. This glance from Maha-Vishnu is the efficient cause of the creation. The dim halo of this glance, the reflected effulgence, is Shiva in his form as Shambhu, who is the symbol of masculine mundane procreation. It is through this form of Shiva that the Supreme Lord associates with the material energy. In his role as Shambhu, he is the principle by which Maha-Vishnu impregnates the material nature with the seeds of the innumerable living entities. Otherwise, the Supreme Being has no association with the material energy.
The Brahma-samhita (5.10) goes on to explain that it is Shambhu, Maheshvara, who is the dim reflection of the Lord’s glance, and lord of the pradhana who embodies the seed of all living beings. The pradhana is the unmanifest material ingredients that later form the cosmic manifestation. It is Shambhu who comes forth from the glance of the Lord. Shambhu is created from the space in between the two eyebrows of Maha-Vishnu. Furthermore, Shambhu then joins with maya in the form of the male organ or power of regeneration. But he can do nothing independent of the power of Maha-Vishnu, who represents the direct spiritual power of Krishna. Therefore, the necessary changes in the material energy cannot happen unless facilitated by the will of the Supreme Lord, Krishna. (Bs.5.15)
As further described (Brahma-samhita 5.16), the function of Shambhu in relation to the conditioned souls is that the mundane egoistic principle has originated from Shambhu. What this means, without trying to get complicated about it, is that the tendency for the individual living being to forget his spiritual identity comes from Shambhu. This forgetfulness makes the individual in this material world want to be an enjoyer of the material experience. This is because he thinks he is the material body. This false identity makes all conditioned souls want to continue with their existence in the temporary, mundane world. This is the function of Shambhu, Shiva, in relation with the Supreme Lord Krishna’s creative process. This forgetfulness is then carried further by mahamaya, Durga, as previously explained.
However, to make it more clearly understood, Shiva is an expansion of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, as described above. He is not a second god that acts in place of Krishna. Those who think he is make an offense against the Supreme Being. Neither is he a jiva, a marginal spirit soul. As clearly explained in the Brahma-samhita (5.45), just as milk is transformed into curd by the action of acids, it is nonetheless neither the same as nor completely different from its cause, namely milk. So I adore the primeval Lord Govinda of whom the state of Shambhu is a transformation for the work of destruction.
In other words, Lord Krishna manifests His energy through Maha-Vishnu into the form of Shambhu, Shiva, in order to perform various tasks without having to give up His completely spiritual activities. It is through Shiva that the Supreme Being associates with His material energy in the form of maya. He does not do so directly. Thus, Shiva is not really different from Krishna, yet remains subservient to Him. The difference is like that of yogurt and milk. Yogurt is simply a changed form of milk, different in function simply by adding a certain acid. Similarly, the Supreme Being expands and changes into the distinct personality of Shambhu by the addition of a certain adulterated element to perform a particular function. It is also this form of Shambhu from whom Rudra, another form of Shiva, is created from Lord Brahma later on in the creative process. [This is more thoroughly discussed in my book How the Universe was Created and Our Purpose In It.]
So here we have learned another aspect of how the spiritual energy expands to create the material energy. Thus, ultimately everything comes from Lord Krishna. It is He who expands into the forms of Maha-Vishnu and then Shiva and Durga, who are considered the indirect mother and father of the universe, and are themselves expansions of Sadashiva and Ramadevi from the Vaikuntha realm.
HOW LORD SHIVA APPEARED IN THIS WORLD
The previous paragraphs point out how Lord Shiva participated in the creation process as Shambhu, and it is also related how Lord Shiva appeared in this world in a personal form from Lord Brahma. It is explained in the Bhagavatam (3.12.4), that in the beginning of the creation process, Lord Brahma manifested four great sages named Sanaka, Sananda, Sanatana and Sanat-kumara. Brahma expected them to assist in filling the universe with varieties of living beings. However, they were unwilling to adopt materialistic activities because they were highly elevated beings. Brahma requested that they begin to produce progeny, but they refused because they were already attached to Lord Vasudeva, the Supreme Lord, and were focused on achieving liberation. So they expressed their unwillingness, which made Lord Brahma extremely angry.
The anger generated in the mind of Lord Brahma, though he tried to control it, came out from between his eyebrows. Immediately there was produced a child of mixed red and blue color. This child immediately began to cry and requested to Lord Brahma, “O destiny maker, teacher of the universe, kindly designate my name and place.” Lord Brahma then pacified the boy and said, “O chief of the demigods, you shall be called Rudra because you have cried so anxiously.” Then Brahma gave Rudra the following places for his residence: the heart, the senses, the life-air of the body, the sky, the air, the fire, water, earth, sun, the moon and austerity. He then told Rudra that he would be known by eleven other names: Manyu, Manu, Mahan, Shiva, Ritadhvaja, Ugrareta, Bhava, Kala, Vamadeva and Dhritavrata. These names represent the other aspects of Lord Shiva, each having different appearances and activities. Rudra is often shown as tall, well built, with long hair, wielding the thunderbolt, bow and arrow. He is viewed as the protector of humanity against its enemies. He is also known as an excellent physician and has numerous medicines which can cure diseases. Brahma also told Rudra that he would have eleven wives, namely Dhi, Dhriti, Rasala, Uma, Niyut, Sarpi, Ila, Ambika, Iravati, Svadha and Diksha.
Brahma then told Rudra to accept these names and wives, and that since he was one of the masters of the living beings, he should now increase the population on a large scale. Rudra then created many offspring that resembled him in color, strength, and furious nature. They were unlimited in number, and when they gathered together, they attempted to devour the universe. Brahma, becoming alarmed at the situation, then requested Rudra not to generate living beings of this nature. It would be better if Rudra engaged himself in penance, or meditation, which is auspicious for all. Through penance he could create the universe as it was before. By penance only can one approach the Supreme Lord, who is within the heart of every living being and at the same time beyond the reach of the senses. Thus Rudra accepted the advice of his father, Brahma, and went to the forest to perform austere penances. This is why we so often see Shiva pictured in the mountain forests engaged in meditation.
Some of Shiva’s other names include Dakshinamurti, meaning a universal teacher. Then there is Trilochana (Three-eyed), Nila-kantha (Blue-throated), Pancha-anana (Five-faced), Chandrashekhara (Moon-crested), Gangadhara (Bearer of the Ganga), Girisha (Mountain Lord), Jatadhara (Wearer of matted hair), Sthanu (Immutable), Visvanatha (Lord of the Universe), Bhairava (the Terrible, destructive aspect of Shiva), Bhutesha or Bhuteshvara (Lord of ghosts or elements), Hara (remover of death), Shambhu (abode of joy), Shankara (giver of joy), Bhava (existence), Mahadeva (great God), Ashani (thunderbolt), Isha or Ishana (the ruler), Pashupati (the herdsman or friend of animals), Mritunjaya (conqueror of death), Aghora (non-fearful), Ugra (the fearful), Bhima (the tremendous), Rudra (Lord of tears), Shuli, Maheshvara, Ishvara, Sharva, Khandaparashu, Mrida, Krittivasas, Pinaki, Pramathadhipa, Kapardi, Shrikantha, Shitikantha, Kapalabhrit, Vamadeva, Mahadeva, Virupaksha, Krishanuretas, Sarvajna, Dhurjati, Nilalohita, Smarahara, Bharga, Tryambaka, Tripurantaka, Antakaripu, Kratudhvamsi, Vrishadhvaja, Vyomakesha, Umapati, Ahirbudhnya, Ashtamurti, Gajari, Mahanata, and others. The 1000 names of Shiva can be found in Chapter 17 of the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata, as well as the Linga Purana (1.65-98).
HOW LORD SHIVA ASSISTS IN THE UNIVERSAL DESTRUCTION
Another point, as previously mentioned, is that within the glance of Maha-Vishnu over maya is the element of time, which starts the agitation within the energy of maya, or the pradhana. This is what starts the process of creating and separating the various material elements. This element of time has been identified as Shambhu, the personality of the destructive principle. It is also this Shambu in the form of Rudra who later appears at the end of time to bring about the destruction of the universe.
So, Shiva is considered to be an expansion of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, Krishna, and is called Hara as such, and is transcendental to the material qualities. However, in his activities of destroying the world at the end of time, he is in touch with the mode of ignorance, or tamo-guna, and then he is considered as one of the living entities, called Rudra.
It is further explained that Lord Krishna expands a portion of His plenary portion, Lord Vishnu, who assumes the form of Rudra when it is time to dissolve the cosmic manifestation. Lord Vishnu does this for accepting the association of the material mode of ignorance. Thus, Rudra is but another expansion of the energy of Lord Krishna, although not a personal expansion. Rudra, Lord Shiva, has various forms, which are transformations brought about by the different degrees of association with maya. Although Rudra is on a higher level than the jiva-tattvas, the individual living beings, he still cannot be considered a personal expansion of Krishna. Thus he is considered like a jiva.15
Although many people worship Lord Shiva, Shiva worships Lord Krishna. The Shiva Purana states that Shiva is the Supreme, however, this is in regard to his power over the material world. After all, it is he who assists in the annihilation of the material creation, so he has power over the universe. But no scripture ever says that Shiva is the Supreme Lord of any of the Vaikuntha planets or of Goloka Vrinadavana, or any part of the spiritual domain. Such precincts belong only to Lord Krishna and His personal expansions. That is why Lord Shiva is always pictured absorbed in meditation. He is meditating on Lord Sankarshana, who is represented by the snakes on Shiva’s body. Since Shiva is the origin of the mundane egoistic principle, one who is a worshiper of Lord Shiva as a devotee of Sankarshana can be freed from the false, material ego.16
Shiva is often pictured doing his Tandava dance of destruction. He is seen with four hands and one leg up, as an expert dancer, and one leg dancing on a small person called the Apasmara-purusha. In two of his hands he holds the damaru drum and fire. The drum represents sound which is supported by ether. This is a sign of further creation after the annihilation or destruction. Fire represents the Pralayagni, or the fire of universal destruction. Thus, Shiva holds the symbols of cyclical universal creation and annihilation. The other two hands represent protection and blessing for those who take refuge of him or of his spiritual knowledge. The Apasamara upon whom Shiva stands symbolizes the ignorance which make us lose our clarity and consciousness of our real identity. This also signifies our succumbing to the process of death without spiritual preparation. Shiva is shown dancing on this ignorance for the good of the devotees who take refuge.
How Shiva assists in the cosmic annihilation is described in the Puranas. This process of cyclical destruction at the end of each day of Brahma is explained in the Vishnu Purana (Book Six, Chapters Three & Four). It states that at the end of 1,000 cycles of the four yugas the earth is almost exhausted. A great scarcity of food ensues, which lasts 100 years. Because of the lack of food, all beings become weak and slow, and finally perish entirely. Lord Vishnu then assumes the character of Rudra (a form of Lord Shiva), the destroyer, and descends to reunite all of His creatures within Himself. He enters into the seven rays of the sun, causing all moisture in the oceans, rivers, soil, and living bodies to evaporate. The whole earth is dried up. Thus fed with abundant moisture, the seven rays dilate into seven suns, whose radiance glows everywhere and sets the three planetary systems and the lower system of Patala on fire. The three planetary systems become rugged and deformed throughout their mountains, rivers, and seas as they are consumed by these suns. The earth alone remains, destitute of moisture, resembling the back of a turtle.
Then Lord Hari, in the form of Rudra, who is the fire of time, destroyer of all things, becomes the scorching breath of Ananta Sesha, Sankarshana, and reduces the lower planetary system of Patala to ashes. The great roaring fire makes its way up through the universe to earth and destroys it. A vast whirlpool of flame then spreads to the higher region of the demigods and puts them all to ruin. The three planetary systems appear like a frying pan surrounded by flames that consume all things. The inhabitants of the upper planetary systems then move higher to Maharloka, and when that becomes too hot, those who desire final liberation depart for the higher regions of Janaloka.
Elsewhere in the Bhagavatam (5.25.3), it states that Lord Shiva plays a significant role in the final and ultimate annihilation of the universe, which takes place at the end of Brahma’s life. “At the time of devastation, when Lord Anantadeva [Ananta Sesha, Sankarshana] desires to destroy the entire creation, He becomes slightly angry. Then from between His two eyebrows appears three-eyed Rudra, carrying a trident. This Rudra, who is known as Sankarshana, is the embodiment of the eleven Rudras, or incarnations of Lord Shiva. He appears in order to devastate the entire creation.”
The Brahma Purana (124.16) explains that it is the imperishable Lord Krishna who assumes the form of Rudra to bring all the elements and living beings back into Himself in the process of annihilation.
After Shiva appears in this way, he begins to do his dance of dissolution, dancing wildly to the beat of his drum. “At the time of dissolution, Lord Shiva’s hair is scattered, and he pierces the rulers of the different directions with his trident. He laughs and dances proudly, scattering their hands like flags, as thunder scattered the clouds all over the world.”17 Lord Shiva’s dancing causes such a commotion that it brings in the clouds that cause the universe to become inundated with water, which is what happens next as the process of annihilation continues (which I have fully described in my book The Vedic Prophecies).
LORD SHIVA’S ULTIMATE SPIRITUAL ADVICE
In the Sri Sanatkumara-samhita, from the ancient Skanda Purana, we find a conversation between the great sage Sri Narada and Lord Sadashiva, the master of the demigods. Starting at text number 26 to text 30, Narada Muni asks Lord Sadashiva, “O master please tell what method the people of Kali-yuga may adopt to easily attain the transcendental abode of Lord Hari [Krishna]. O Lord, what mantra will carry the people from this world of birth and death? So everyone may benefit, please tell it to me. O Lord, of all mantras what mantra needs no purashcharana, no nyasa, no yoga, no samskara, and no other thing? A single utterance of the Lord’s holy name gives the highest result. O master of the demigods, if I am competent to hear it, please kindly tell me the Lord’s holy name.”
In texts 31-35 , Lord Sadashiva gives his answer: Lord Sadashiva said: “O fortunate one, your question is excellent. O you who wish for the welfare of all, I will tell you the secret chintamani [wish-fulfilling] jewel of all mantras. I will tell you the secret of secrets, the most confidential of all confidential things. I will tell you what I have not told either the goddess or your elder brothers. I will tell you two peerless Krishna mantras that are the crest-jewels of all mantras. One is:
“‘Gopijana-vallabha-charanau sharanam prapadye.’ (I take shelter of the feet of He who is the gopi’s beloved.) This mantra has three compound words, five individual words and sixteen syllables.
“The second mantra is: ‘Namo gopijana-vallabhabhyam.’ (Obeisances to the divine couple, who are dear to the gopis) This mantra has two words and ten syllables.
In texts 36-41, Lord Sadashiva continues: “One who either with faith or without faith once chants this five-word mantra resides among Lord Krishna’s gopi-beloveds. Of this there is no doubt. In chanting these mantras there is no need of purshcharana, nyasa, ari-shuddhi, mitra-shuddhi, or other kinds of purification. In chanting these mantras there is no restriction of time or place. All, from the lowest outcaste to the greatest sage, are eligible to chant this mantra. Women, shudras, and all others are eligible. The paralyzed, mute, blind, and lame are eligible. The Andhras, Hunas, Kiratas, Pulindas, Pukkashas, Abhiras, Yavanas, Kankas, Khashas, and all others even if born from sinful wombs are also eligible. They who are overcome with pride and ego, who are intent on committing sins, who are killers of cows and brahmanas, and who are the greatest of sinners, are also eligible. They who have neither knowledge nor renunciation, they who have never studied the shruti-shastra and other scriptures, and all others, whoever they may be, are also eligible to chant these mantras.”
Then in texts 42-48 Lord Sadashiva explains who is not eligible and who should not be told these sacred mantras or the purpose of them: “Anyone who has devotion to Lord Krishna, the master of all masters, is eligible to chant these mantras, but they who have no devotion, even they may be the greatest of sages, are not eligible. They who have performed many yajnas (rituals), given charity, visited all holy places, been devoted to speaking the truth, accepted the renounced order, traveled to the farther shore of the Vedas and Vedangas, devotedly served the brahmanas, taken birth in good families, and performed austerities and vows, but are not devoted to Lord Krishna, are not eligible to chant these mantras. Therefore these mantras should not be spoken to one who is not devoted to Lord Hari, nor to one who is ungrateful, proud, or faithless, nor to an atheist or a blasphemer. One should not speak these mantras to one who does not wish to hear them, nor to one who has not stayed for one year in the speaker’s ashrama. One should carefully give these mantras to one who is free from hypocrisy, greed, lust, anger, and other vices, and who is sincerely devoted to Lord Krishna. The sage of this mantra is Lord Sadashiva. The meter is Gayatri. The Deity is Lord Krishna, the beloved of the gopis. The purpose is to attain service to dear Lord Hari.”
In text 53 Lord Sadashiva says: “By once chanting this mantra one attains success. Of this there is no doubt. Still, for the purpose of chanting japa one should chant this mantra ten times daily.”
In texts 54-77 of the Sri Sanatkumara-samhita, Lord Sadashiva describes the most nectarean meditation of the mantras, after which he continues with many additional topics in regard to the pastimes of Radha and Krishna and the importance of the land of Vrindavana:
“O best of brahmanas, now I will tell you the meditation of this mantra. I meditate on two-armed Lord Krishna, who is dark like a monsoon cloud, dressed in yellow garments, garlanded with forest flowers... crowned with a peacock feather, and garlanded with lotus whorls, whose face is splendid like ten million moons, whose eyes move restlessly... whose forehead is marked with the tilaka of sandal paste and musk... who is splendid with earrings like two rising suns, whose perspiration-anointed cheeks are like two glistening mirrors... who with raised eyebrows playfully glances at His beloved’s face, the tip of whose graceful raised nose is decorated with a glistening pearl... whose bimba-fruit lips are splendid in the moonlight of His teeth, whose hands are splendid with bracelets, armlets, and jewel rings... who holds a flute in His left lotus hand, whose waist is splendid with a graceful belt, whose feet are splendid with graceful anklets... whose eyes are restless with the nectar of amorous pastimes, who jokes with His beloved, making Her laugh again and again... and who stays with Her on a jewel throne under a kalpa-vriksha [wish-fulfilling] tree in Vrindavana forest. In this way one should meditate on Lord Krishna and His beloved.”
“On the Lord’s left side one should meditate on Sri Radha, who is dressed in blue garments, who is splendid like molten gold... who with the edge of Her garment covers Her graceful lotus smile, whose restless chakori-bird eyes dance on Her beloved’s face... who with Her forefinger and thumb places betel nuts and crushed betel leaves in Her beloved’s lotus mouth... whose full, raised breasts are decorated with a glistening pearl-necklace, whose waist is slender, whose broad hips are decorated with tinkling ornaments... who is decorated with jewel earrings, finger rings, toe rings, bracelets, armlets, and tinkling golden anklets... whose limbs are graceful with the best of beauty, who is always in the prime of youth, and who is always plunged in the nectar of bliss. O king of brahmanas, Her friends, whose age and qualities are like Hers, devotedly serve Her with chamaras, fans, and other articles.”
“Please hear, O Narada, and I will tell you the meaning of these mantras. The material world is manifested by the Lord’s maya potency and other external potencies. The spiritual world is manifested by the Lord’s chit potency and other internal and everlasting spiritual potencies. The protector of these potencies is said to be the gopi Sri Radha, who is Lord Krishna’s beloved. The transcendental goddess Sri Radha is the direct counterpart of Lord Sri Krishna. She is the central figure for all the goddesses of fortune. She is the pleasure potency of Lord Krishna. The wise say that She is the pleasure potency of Lord Krishna. Durga and the other goddesses in the world of the three modes are a million-millionth part of one of Her expansions. She is directly Goddess Maha-Lakshmi and Lord Krishna is Lord Narayana. O best of sages, there is not the slightest difference between Them. O best of sages, what more can I say? Nothing can exist without them. This universe made of spirit and matter together is Their potency. She is Durga and Lord Hari is Shiva. Lord Krishna is Indra and She is Shachi. She is Savitri and Lord Hari is Brahma. She is Dhumorna and Lord Hari is Yama. O Narada, please know that everything is Their potency. Even if I had many hundreds of years, I could not describe all Their glories.”
1. Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.24.22-28
2. Ibid., 4.24.29-30
3. Ibid., 4.30.10
4. Ibid., 4.7.50-54
5. Ibid., 8.12.43-44
6. Ibid., 10.71.8
7. Ibid., 10.88.3-5
8. Ibid., 10.88.12
9. Ibid., 10.22.4, pur.
10. Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila, 5.58 & Madhya-lila, 20.271
11. Ibid., Cc.Adi-lila, 5.64-66
12. Ibid., Madhya-lila, 15.176
13. Ibid., Madhya-lila, 6.154-156
14. Ibid., Madhya-lila, 21.53
15. Ibid., Madhya-lila, 20.307-8
16. Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.2.21,pur.
17. Ibid., 4.5.10