As we look forward to the celebration of Maha Sivaratri on February 24th, we can gain a lot of inspiration from the study of Lord Siva’s stories and symbolism, through which He teaches us the philosophy and practices to find equanimity in turbulent times and to hold the space for peace in our daily lives.

As the World Teacher, Siva is Lord of Yogis and the Primeval Guru of Hatha Yoga, giving us the practices for balance and contentment. As the Transformational Power, He frees us from egoism, lust, anger, limitation, and sorrow. As the embodiment of Pure Conscious, He is the storehouse of knowledge and the bestower of bliss, knowledge, and immortality. Here is some of the symbolism of Lord Siva’s iconography, compiled from Swami Sivananda’s book, Lord Siva and His Worship:

Balipitha, the altar that stands in front of the sanctorum of Lord Siva’s temple, reminds us that we should destroy our egoism and “mine-ness” (Ahamta and Mamata) before we can attain the Lord.

Crescent moon on His forehead indicates that He has controlled the mind perfectly.
Damaru, the drum in His left hand, represents the Sabda Brahman (the transcendental sound); it represents OM, from which all languages are formed. It is He who formed the Sanskrit language out of the Damaru sound. Creation arises from Damaru.

Deer, held in one hand, indicates that He has removed the chanchalata (tossing) of the mind. A deer jumps from one place to another swiftly. The mind also jumps from one object to another. The deer also represents the Vedas, with each of the four legs as one of the four Vedas. Lord Siva is holding the deer in His hand, which indicates that He is the Lord of the Vedas.

Elephant represents symbolically the vritti (thought wave) of pride. Wearing the skin of the elephant denotes that He has controlled pride.

Fire in one of His hands shows that He protects the Jivas by burning all fetters.

Ganga, the river flowing from His head, represents the nectar of immortality.

Kailas, the mountain peak where he sits, symbolizes that He is an embodiment of serenity, renunciation, and indifference to the objects of the world.

Linga, the abstract representation of Lord Siva, symbolizes Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of nondualism. It points out “I am one without a second—Ekameva Advitiyam.” Like an egg, it represents the Brahmanda (cosmic egg). The whole world is the form of Lord Siva. The world is a Linga. Linga also is the form of Lord Siva. Linga means “mark” in Sanskrit. This vast world of countless forms is a Linga of the Omnipotent Lord. When you look at the Linga, your mind is at once elevated and you begin to think of the Lord. Lord Siva is really formless. He has no form of his own and yet all forms are His forms. All forms are pervaded by Lord Siva. Linga signifies that the creation is effected by the union of Prakriti and Purusha. It means means the place of dissolution for the world and all beings. It signifies also Satya, Jnana and Ananta—Truth, knowledge and Infinity. It indicates that Lord Siva is endowed with all-pervading and self-luminous nature.

Nandi, the bull that sits in front of Sivalinga, represents pranava (Omkara, the sound OM). Vrishabha (the bull) represents Dharma Devata, the Lord of Virtue. Lord Siva is the protector of Dharma, an embodiment of Dharma or righteousness. Nandi is the doorkeeper seen hushing all of nature so that the Lord may not be disturbed in His Samadhi. As the attendant or doorkeeper of Lord Siva, Nandi represents satsanga. If you make association with the sages, they will show you the way to reach Him; remove pitfalls or snares that lie on your path; clear your doubts; and instil in your heart dispassion, discrimination, and knowledge.


Serpents around His neck denotes wisdom and eternity. Serpents live for a large number of years. It also indicates that Lord Siva is absolutely fearless and immortal.

Sword in one of His hands signifies that He is the destroyer of births and deaths.
Tiger represents lust. His sitting on the tiger’s skin indicates that He has conquered lust.

Trilochana: as the three-eyed One, Lord Siva has the third eye, the eye of wisdom, in the center of His forehead. This represents His destructive energy, which when let loose, destroys the world.

Trisul, the trident in His right hand, represents the three Gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. That is the emblem of sovereignty. He rules the world through these three Gunas.

Vibhuti, holy ash on His forehead, reminds us that we should destroy the three impurities: Anava (egoism), Karma (action with expectation of fruits), and Maya (illusion); the three desires or eshanas: desire for property, desire for consort, and desire for gold; and the three vasanas (subtle desires): Loka-vasana (desire for name and fame), Deha-vasana (thoughts of the body), and eventually Sastra-vasana (the attachment to studying scriptures); and then attain Him with a pure heart.

White complexion of Lord Siva teaches silently that people should have pure heart and entertain pure thoughts and should be free from crookedness, diplomacy, cunningness, jealousy, and hatred.

“The most auspicious and useful work beneficial to mankind ever carried out by Lord Siva, is to impart the knowledge of Yoga, Bhakti, Jnana, etc., to the world. He blesses those. . . who cannot get out of Samsara without His grace. He is not only the World-Teacher but also an ideal example to the Jivanmukta or sage. He teaches by His very actions in His daily life.” –Swami Sivananda

Read more about Lord Siva and His Worship here.
Read Swami Sivananda’s view on the significance of Sivaratri: here.

You may also like

Leave a comment