Lord Shiva in Indian Mythology

Dr Arundhati Hoskeri

Educationalist, Mythologist and Motivational Speaker

Let’s understand the etymological meaning of word Shiva. Sham karoti iti shiva, in Sanskrit  sham means auspiciousness, Karoti means to ceate, meaning the one who creates auspiciousness is Shiva. If this is true then why is Shiva called a destroyer or ‘Pralay karak’? Shiva destroyes the world  but it is not the physical world that has manifested rather he destroys the internal world to release the soul trapped inside the body.

  • Shiva is a greatest of all the ascetics ( he is called Bairagi), he is totally withdrawn from this mundane world, absolutely focussed inwards. This is why we always see Shiva in a meditative pose with his eyes closed and always in eternal bliss.
  • His body is naked smeared with ashes. Ash symbolises that once soul leaves the body, the body has to get back to elemental form either in the form of ash when it is burnt or it decomposes and becomes one with the soil if it is buried. Ash on his body may give us a message that Shiva’s connection with us is in elemental form, he looks forward for our Atma (soul) to merge unto him.
  • Why is he naked in appearance? Lord Shiva is absolutely away from Samsara –the world and worldly things, he is an absolutely pure and childlike energy and he has shut his eyes and all the senses to perceive the world.
  • He wears a snake (Cobra) around his neck that coils his neck thrice. Cobra is deadly poisonous and reminds us of death. Shiva puts it around his neck like an ornament indicating that he is beyond the fear of death. The three coils may represent ‘Trikal’ – past, present and future to show that Shiva has conquered the dimension of time. (There are different stories about snake around Shiva’s neck which will be featured in my next blog)
  • He has hosted river Ganga on his head. King Bhagiratha wanted to seek salvation for all his ancestors and the only way he could have done so was by invoking celestial river Ganga to flow from heaven down to earth. He did penances for many years to invoke Ganga.  Force and velocity of Ganga  was so great and it would have devastated the entire earth. All the gods went to Shiva and requested him to stop such a destruction to humanity. Lord Shiva, personification of compassion, stood up spreading his matted hair and made Ganga halt there and she calmed down. So when she moved towards the earth she was motherly, fertile and benevolent. ( Ganga Mahatmya Puran)

I used to think Shiva’s skin colour is blue or reddish pink as depicted in the pictures until I understood the meaning of a shloka ( verse) that describes Shiva.

कर्पूरगौरं करुणावतारम्

संसारसारं भुजगेन्द्रहारम् |

सदा वसन्तं हृदयारविन्दे

भवं भवानीसहितं नमामि ||

Karpoor Gauram, Karunavataram.

Samsar saaram, Bhujagendrahaaram.

Sada Vasantam, Hrudayarvinde.

Bhavam Bhavanim sahitam namami.

Purport :

Line 1: He is as white and as pure as camphor, he is a personification of compassion.

Line 2: He himself is the essence of the entire universe and who wears a snake like a garland.

Line 3:  One who resides forever in the hearts of those whose heart is as pure as Lotus. Lotus is born in the sticky mud and dirt but remains unaffected and maintains its purity, similarly all those who remain unaffected from the mundane matters of the world remain connected to Lord Shiva.

Line 4: I bow to such a lord who is visualised along with Shakti .

But Shiva is also described as Nirakar ( formless), Nirvikar ( without any desires), Nirmohi ( without any attachments), Nirahakari ( without any ego) and he is Anadi-Anant ( without beginning and end)

Lord Shiva is depicted with three eyes ( Trinetra) the two eyes are always closed and he is in constant meditation and his third eye is placed between his brows vertically and when he opens it he looks into space because this eye of his emits fire of his Tapas-his great meditation lights up the fire.


For understanding Shiva in totality, one life is not enough, I’m just trying to sip few drops from the large ocean of knowledge and I always believe in sharing what I understand with others.


Right from my childhood I am drawn towards Sanskrit, Hindu culture, Mythology, Vedas and Scriptures. My knowledge in this field is a collection of stories told by elders at home ( my father was a great Sanskrit scholar although lawyer by profession), listening to Pravachanas and Puranas by learned Brahmins and my own reading cum understanding from various books.

I strongly believe that “Knowledge is for sharing and it is nobody’s protected property. Knowledge is free and is always in circulation” I don’t claim any mastery of what I write nor copyright of what I write in my blogs. These are my understanding of our scriptures and culture. Please share my blogs freely with others and if you can enrich my writing by adding more information, please do so –add it in comment section, I will be happy to learn something more.