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Hindu Saivism - 'A brief introduction'



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Hindu Saivism - A brief Introduction [Internet summary]

Depending on which branch of Hinduism one is looking at Shiva is either the supreme God, or is one of the 'Trimurti' – the trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. The Shaivite sect, however, would regard Shiva to be the supreme God. Thus one of the synonyms of God in Hindu is Shiva.

Shiva is the “supreme Reality, independent and pure, omniscient, free from sin, benevolent, omnipotent and blissful”. Siva is both male, female and neuter. Siva's role is one of a Creator, Destroyer and Maintainer – as well as giving grace and 'causing delusion'.

This is an interesting and unusual view of God as capable of bringing destruction as well as creation. The tendency in many religions is to concentrate on the Creator role, whereas this branch of Hinduism recognises and embraces the necessity for destruction, as well as ongoing maintenance of the creation – what we might term evolution.

Saivism is the originator of Yoga and most Yogis are Saivites. The origins of Saivism go back to animistic tribal religions, which were not originally based on the Veda. This branch of Hinduism thus embraces the belief that Siva is also the Lord of all animals. Saivism is found mostly in Southern India because although it at one time had a strong following in Northern India, the Muslim invasion of Northern India affected the religion and many temples were destroyed.

Siva has no avatars only gurus.

The Saivite Hindus have managed to capture well the essential nature of God in the personification of Shiva. Shiva is known as 'the god of ambiguity and paradox'. Some examples follow: 

  • In the Yajurveda , Shiva is both benign and auspicious as well as malignant and terrific 

  • In the Mahabharata, Shiva is depicted as 'the standard of invincibility, might and terror' as well as 'a figure of honour, delight and brilliance'. 

  • In the Shiva sahasranama Shiva is described as 'one who captivates', 'one who consolidates' and 'one who destroys'. Shiva is also said to encompass Time. 

  • Shiva is also depicted as an ascetic yogin and as a householder, roles which in Hindu society are mutually exclusive. As a Yoghin he sits and meditates, as a householder he has a wife – Parvati and two sons Ganesha and Skanda. 

  • As the Lord of Dance [Nataraja] Siva may dance the Tandava a powerful masculine dance associated with destruction, or the Lasya a graceful and delicate feminine dance expressing emotions of a gentle creative kind. The two together thus symbolically represent creation and destruction. 

  • As Dakshinamurthy Shiva is also a teacher, a figure of wisdom 

  • As Ardhanarishvara one half of his body is shown as male, the other is shown as female 

  • As Mruntyunjaya Shiva is shown in control of both life and death

Every myth and legend essentially captures the contrasting aspects of each function, as well as providing descriptions of numerous example functions. The number of stories is large, as such anyone well versed in them all will automatically have a feel for the vast number of functions Shiva encompasses.

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