Shiva is the god of the yogis, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a lover of his spouse (shakti). Lord Shiva is the destroyer of the world, following Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver, after which Brahma again creates the world and so on. Shiva is responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of destroying the ego, the false identification with the form. This also includes the shedding of old habits and attachments.
All that has a beginning by necessity must have an end. In destruction, truly nothing is destroyed but the illusion of individuality. Thus the power of destruction associated with Lord Shiva has great purifying power, both on a more personal level when problems make us see reality more clearly, as on a more universal level. Destruction opens the path for a new creation of the universe, a new opportunity for the beauty and drama of universal illusion to unfold. As Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram or Truth, Goodness and Beauty, Shiva represents the most essential goodness.
While of course many hindu deities are associated with different paths of yoga and meditation, in Shiva the art of meditation takes its most absolute form. In meditation, not only mind is stopped, everything is dropped. In deep meditation or samadhi, even the object of the meditation (like a mantra) is transformed into its formless essence, which is the essence of everything and everyone. Thus Shiva stands for letting go of everything in the world of forms. The path of Lord Shiva is the path of the ascetic yogi.
Forms of Shiva
Shiva has many forms, which are visible in his Panchavaktra form with 5 heads, a combination of all Shiva energies : Aghora (resides in the creamation grounds), Ishana (most often appears as the shivalingam), Tat Purusha (meditating), Varna Deva (the eternal Shiva) and Saddyojat or Braddha Rudra (the old wrathful form). The last also forms the connection to the Rudraksha mala – a rosary made of the dried fruits of the Rudraksha tree.
Another form is the Nataraj. Shiva Nataraj’s dance represents both the destruction and the creation of the universe and reveals the cycles of death, birth and rebirth. His Dance of Bliss is for the welfare of the world. In the pose of Nataraj, the King of Dance is giving darshan to his beloved devotees within the “Hall of Consciousness”, which is the heart of man. Under his feet, Shiva crushes the demon of ignorance called Apasmara Purusha, caused by forgetfulness. One hand is stretched across his chest and points towards the uplifted foot, indicating the release from earthly bondage of the devotee. The fire represents the final destruction of creation, but the dance of the Nataraj is also an act of creation, which arouses dormant energies and scatters the ashes of the universe in a pattern that will be the design of the ensuing creation.
Yet another manifestation of Lord Shiva is said to be Hanuman, the ultimate karma yogi, in never-ending selfless service to Ram. The fact that this is not really clear can be perfectly explained by the understanding that a true karma yogi will never take the credit for his acts, as they would otherwise not be entirely selfless. The ego would still get the credit. So, in order to respect Shiva as a true karma yogi, let us not pay too much attention to this manifestation.
The Mahamrityunyaya form of Shiva is the great conqueror of death. The Mahamrityunjaya mantra is one of the two main mantras of the Vedas, next to the Gayatri mantra. It is chanted to remove death and disease. This form of Shiva also is the being of pure joy, referring to the unconditioned enjoyment of the perfectly peaceful mind. That is the true nature of the divine elixir that this Shiva offers his devotees in no less than four hands.
Another main form of Shiva is Ardhnarishwara, half Shiva, half Shakti. Also related to Shiva is Indra.
Attributes of Lord Shiva
Shiva’s main attributes are :
The power or energy of Shiva is Shakti, his spouse, of which Parvati is probably the most popular form. Shiva’s first wife was Sati and his second wife was Parvati. They are also known by many other names, such as Uma, Gauri, Durga, Kali, Annapurna and Shakti. His sons are Ganesha and Kartikeya.
Shiva and Parvati are often shown as sitting in happy, intimate embrace. They also like to discuss philosophy. Shiva taught Parvati on Vedanta (transcendent knowledge), while Parvati tought him Sankhya (cosmological knowledge). Both were perfected yogis.
After their marriage, they left for mount Kailash and immersed themselves completely in a sexual intercourse so strong that the deity of desire Kama was reborn when their sweat mingles with his ashes. Their love was so intense that it shook the cosmos and frightened even the gods.
The balance between male and female can also be obtained in marriage, when both partners complement each other to form an ultimate oneness, which is the source of creation. When Shiva does his destructive Tandava dance, Parvati is said to complement him with a slow, creative step of her own, calming him with her soft glances. While Shiva shows a wilder nature that is both ascetic and erotic, Parvati stands for the middle path of the householder. As Shiva exulted in his romantic dalliance with her, the true mother in her longed for a child. Shiva resisted the life of a householder, but Parvati’s desire for it was greater than his resistance. Hence first Ganesha was born, later also Kartikay.
The Shiva Lingam
Lord Shiva is conceived in his unborn, invisible form as the Shiva Lingam. The Lingam represents the male creative energy of Shiva. This main symbol of Shiva is worshipped in virtually every Hindu temple and home. The phallus is not worshipped as such, but through it Shiva is worshipped as the supreme consciousness. Embracing the base of the linga is the yoni, the female organ, as the universal energy, as Shakti, Shiva’s spouse. Through profound understanding of this symbol, the mystery of creation can be understood as an act of love.
When Ganga incarnated on Earth, Lord Shiva captured her in his hair to avoid that she would flood all of Earth (See the Life of Ganga).
Shiva worshippers (Shaivites) are among India’s most ascetic yogis, their body smeared with ashes, dressed in saffron colors and wearing a Rudraksha mala. The path of Shiva can thus be seen as the inward-going path, the great journey to find the self. This path is complementary to the path of Vishnu, which is the outgoing path, bringing out the self from within and letting it manifest in the universe and our lives.
Original source: http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/shiva.htm