Category Archives: HINDU MYTHOLOGY

Shiva, A Concept of Primordial Genders

Shiva is a philosophical concept in Hinduism encompassing the universe and its contents. His abode in Mount Kailash in the Himalayas, one of the highest natural positions on earth, close to the source of some of the longest Asian rivers: the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali also known as Ghaghara (a tributary of the Ganges) signifies the essence of nature. His depiction as Linga portrays the male procreational power of the mankind which took its origin during Vedic times around 1400 BC. In the bible during creation god produced Eve out of Adam’s bone so that he is not alone. According to Hindu faith, Shakti (Parvati) was created as consort of Shiva symbolic representation of Linga and Yoni.

Ardhanarishvara, 100 – 300 AD, Kushan Period

Of the Trimurti or  triumvirate, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu the preserver of the universe while Shiva is endowed with the power of destruction. Shiva’s role in Hindu philosophy takes multiple forms. The androgynous image of Shiva as Ardhanarishvara (Ardhanaranari) is a philosophical model conceived in 100 to 300 AD during the Kushan period, or possibly even earlier. In this iconic representation of Shiva, one half of the image portrays his male attributes with a short dhoti and without developed breast, while Parvati wears a long dhoti and female breast. The 3rd eye is common to both as they share the wisdom and power together as supreme god and goddess.

Oesho, Gold Coin. King Kanishka ca 100 AD

The choice of Nandi (cow) as Shiva’s vehicle reflects the pastoral origin of human civilisation and possibly the mother nature of Dravidian goddesses. Nandi and Shiva together, perhaps the first depiction, appears in the oesho gold coins of Kushan of the early Christian era. The presence of the statue of Nandi at the gates of most temples dedicated to  Shiva underpins the spiritual role of the sacred animal in Hinduism.  The most iconic image of Shiva as Nataraja (natyam; dance, raja; king) comes from the Chola and Pallava period (400-1200 AD) when metallurgic Hindu art reached its zenith.

According to Shaivism sect whose main deity is Shiva, he is formless, limitless, transcendent and unchanging absolute Brahman. There are many interpretations to  Tandav (Tamil, tandavam; dance) image of Shiva. As the cosmic dancer he performs his divine dance to destroy a weary and ignorant universe in order to make preparation for the god Brahma to commence the process of creation. Nataraja is the most revered as well as most feared god in Hinduism embracing the extraordinarily rich and complex cultural heritage of India.  As he performs his cosmic dance with holy river Ganga flowing from his matted hair, he holds in his upper right hand the damaru, the hand drum from which issues the primordial vibrating sound of creation. His right hand he makes the gesture of abhaya, imparting assurance and divine protection. His upper left hand holds the agni, the consuming fire of dynamic destruction. His right foot tramples a dwarf-like figure (apasmara purusha), the ignoble personification of illusion who leads humankind astray. In his dance of ecstasy Shiva raises his left leg in a gesture known as the gaja hasta, providing refuge for the troubled soul. Encircling Shiva is a flaming halo (prabhamandala) which symbolizes the boundaries of the cosmos. Most exquisite feature of all is the divine and calm facial features of Shiva as he dances to destroy ignorance and save the universe.

Khandoba (Martanda Bhairava or Malhari), 18th Century

Shiva is also tribal god depicted as a warrior riding a horse. As Khandoba (Martanda Bhairava or Malhari) he is worshiped mainly in the Deccan plateau of India, especially in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. He is the most popular Kuladaivat (family deity) in Maharashtra, the foremost centre of his worship being Jejuri. Khandoba is also the patron deity of warrior, farming, herding and Brahmin (priestly) castes, as well as several of the hunter/gatherer tribes that are native to the hills and forests of this region. The cult of Khandoba has linkages with Hindu and Jain traditions, and also assimilates all communities irrespective of caste, a concept alien to Brahmins. The worship of Khandoba developed during the 9th and 10th centuries from a folk deity into a composite god possessing the attributes of Shiva, Bhairava and Surya.

The Image of Shiva as he is portrayed in various forms, meditating ion Mount Kailash, performing his Tardive dance, riding a horse wielding a sword, or seated on Nandi are a product of Hindu mythology, faith and philosophy expressed through religious art.

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Vishnu, a Deity or Concept of Universal Nature

VISHNU-1-581x1024
Anton Sebastian Private Collection

Vishnu is the “preserver” of the Cosmos or Universe in the Hindu Trinity  (Trimurti) which includes Brahma  (the Creator) and Shiva (the Destroyer).  In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is identical to a formless metaphysical essence called Brahman behind reality of unchanging Universal Principle  in Hindu philosophy. Vishnu is a Vedic or Aryan deity associated with nature or the universe when compared to personified gods of Dravidian origin. However in the Vedas, the sacred books of the Aryans he takes a  less prominent when compared to Indra, Agni and other nature gods. Vishnu is mentioned in only 5 out of 1028 hymns of the Rigveda  and he is also mentioned less in the other hymns. As a preserver of the universe he is described in the Vedic literature as the one who supports heaven and earth. 

In Rigveda, Indra-Vishnu are equivalent and produce the sun, with the verses asserting that this sun is the source of all energy and light for all. In other hymns of the Rigveda, Vishnu is described as a close friend of Indra. In the Athara Veda, the mythology of a boar who raises goddess earth from the depths of cosmic ocean appears, the word Vishnu or his alternate avatar names are not mentioned. In post-Vedic mythology, this legend becomes the basis of many cosmogonic myths called with Varaha as an avatar of Vishnu.

Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection

The “three strides of Vishnu” is the most iconic Hindu art  seen commonly in temples, where his leg is shown symbolizing a huge step.  Several hymns of the Rigveda repeat the mighty deed of Vishnu called the Trivikrama, which has been one of the mythologies in Hinduism since the Vedic times. It is an inspiration for Hindu art and sculpture in numerous Hindu temples such as at the Ellora Caves, which depict the Trivikrama legend through the Vamana, the avatar of Vishnu. Trivikrama refers to the celebrated three steps or “three strides” of Vishnu. Initially taking the form of a small insignificant being, he goes on to undertake the task of establishing his reach to cover the earth, and then the third stride to cover the heaven.

Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection

Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity (both material and spiritual), is the wife and active energy of Vishnu. Harihara is a philosophical and artistic composite of half Vishnu and half Shiva is found from 1st millennium CE in the cave 1 and cave 3 of the 6th-century Badami cave temples. Vishnu’s

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mount (Vahana) is the sacred eagle Garuda which carries his lord on his shoulders. Garuda is as sacred in Vaishnavism just as much as Nandi is to Shiva.

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Hinduism & Science, Compliment or Controversy

Devotion is the origin and motivation for most religious art. In Hinduism this concept is propagated beyond leaps and bounds with hundreds of gods generating thousands of myths, thus captivating not only the devotees but also artisans and artists mainly in the East. The beauty of Hindu Art not only does feast the eye, but also generates a thousand philosophical thoughts beyond what the eye can contend, but only the mind. The metaphysics of what these gods and goddesses mean to Hindu faith and religion is the generative power of Hindu Art. The Hindu Art remains as the philosophical expression of Hindu religion.

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Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

In the concept of Trimurti consisting of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, lies history of the universe (creation, preservation and destruction). When modern physics states that ‘matter cannot be created or destroyed’ how does one compromise with Hinduism, theology and science? In a similar manner one wonders how is theory of evolution is compatible Christian version of the creation of man? Truth is that we do not have to compare or compromise as the logical explanation for this may be beyond our intellect. Albert Einstein believed the problem of God was the “most difficult in the world”—a question that could not be answered “simply with yes or no.” He conceded that, “the problem involved is too vast for our limited minds.

Fear is often behind the generation of faith where as in science we are prompted to question this faith. Perhaps, philosophy may help to bridge between God and Science. Whereas science (Scientia; Latin) is knowledge or knowing, philosophy on the other hand is love  (philos; Greek) for knowing (Sophia; Greek). John Ruskin says (“The Eagle’s Nest,” 1872) that in science you must not talk before you know and in art you must not talk before you do. Likewise, in philosophy you must not talk before you think: knowing is not enough to find a solution for everything. Spinoza claimed that the third kind of knowledge, intuition, is the highest attainable faculty of human mind . More specifically, he defined this as the ability for the human intellect to intuit knowledge based upon its accumulated understanding of the world around them.

Indus Seal: prototype Shiva

Science is the explanation or interpretation of what we observe whereas theology is the study of power behind what we observe: in this instance, the God. Creation by Brahma is a mythology to suit human faith and devotion, just as much as the scientific theory of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. We know all about Wind, Fire and Sun through science but do not know how they were originally created. Hence the Aryans created the nature gods Indra, Agni and Surya to appease these forces that could destroy man. The pre-Aryans or proto-Dravidians were probably ahead in the making of gods. Not only did they visualise the gods to be more of objects of nature than the nature itself as opposed to the later Aryans. The Dravidians also produced the images of the god in forms such as lord of the beast or Pasupathi, prototype of Shiva or his representation of creative power, the Linga. They recognised motherhood as protection and caring, hence their images of her. This was the beginnings of Hindu religious art.

In Hinduism procreation is an important theme exemplified by the Linga and Yoni, the procreative engines of human race. They implicitly represent the major gods Shiva and Shakti. Most primary gods in Hinduism have their consorts underpinning this principle. Again, Shiva is represented in Hindu imagery as Ardhanarishvara, a God who is half woman, reminding the us the equal power of genders in Hindu philosophy. The Hindu Art as we see today is an emanation all the philosophy that this religion has generated through millennia. For science may be only be trasient for what is proved today may be disproved tomorrow.

Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection 

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