Shiva is one of the three main deities worshipped in Hinduism. The other two are Brahma, the deity of creation, and Vishnu, the god of protection. One of the first deities to have originated in India, Shiva is known as both the destroyer and the regenerator. Pictures of Shiva dating back to 2500 BC have been discovered in India. Some of these images are very detailed.
After each Kalpa, creation is obliterated by Shiva, who at the same time transforms into the world’s greatest ascetic and uses his meditation to keep the universe intact. In point of fact, Shiva is frequently referred to as the Destroyer; however, it is more appropriate to consider him the God of Transformation, as his associations are primarily linked to the creation that is spawned from destruction rather than the destruction itself. In other words, Shiva is the God of Transformation.
In most instances, one of these three incarnations of Shiva is shown. There is a Nataraj who is dancing, there is a lingam, and there is also an anthropomorphic shape. Whenever Shiva assumes the form of the Nataraj, he performs the cosmic dance. It is believed that the energy released during the cosmic dance is what keeps the cosmos alive. Additionally, it is believed that after Shiva has completed his dance, this universe will come to an end, and a new one will begin in its place. He is often shown in this later form as sitting with his legs crossed and his eyes just partially open.
The holy mountain Kailash is said to be Shiva’s abode. There are occasions when Shiva leaves his abode in the mountains and goes wandering inside crematoriums. There, he covers his whole body in ash and dances in the light of the funeral pyres as if they were a stage for him to perform on. The purpose of this symbolic gesture is to call everyone’s attention to the fleeting nature of material goods.
The majority of the time, he is seen wearing little more than a loincloth, but other times, he wraps an antelope skin over himself. In several representations, he is seen sitting on the skin of a tiger. Along with a snake coil or a string of skulls around his neck, Shiva wears a moon sickle in his hair as a symbol of his might. He wields a trident in one hand, the three prongs of which stand for the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the cosmos, and an ax in the other, which stands for the severing of links with the material world. Both of these weapons indicate the breaking of ties with the physical world. In several of his depictions, an empty water jug may be seen in the background. Due to the fact that snakes are able to renew their skins by first shedding the ones they currently have, they are often connected with the Hindu god Shiva. In a similar vein, believers in southern India identify deer with Shiva because their antlers regrow after they have been shed. Whenever he is shown, he is almost always shown with his back to the north, which is considered an unlucky orientation.