With over 100 different names attributed to him, Shiva is known to have the most complicated symbolism, qualities and representation of all the Hindu deities. Overall, Shiva is revered for three primary roles: the ideal yogi, the destroyer, and the doer of good.
The Ideal Yogi
Shiva is known as an insistent mediator, depicted in countless pictures and stories as sitting in prolonged states of deep undisturbed meditation. Shiva is known as Mahayogi, the ideal yogi, and he is known for his devote spiritual practices and for his amazing spiritual powers. These roles of mediator and ideal yogi are symbolized and enhanced by his third eye. One of Shiva’s many names is Tryambakam, the three-eyed one and he is the only deity to have a physical third eye. This name signifies the deep and pure consciousness of the universe that pervades and transcends all time: present, past and future that Shiva manifests in his third eye. The third eye or sixth Chakra, located between the eyebrows, is known as the center of psychic powers, inner wisdom and higher intuition. When this eye is becomes activated and opened, a rich and magical inner world is revealed to the practitioner of yoga.
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Destroyer of Demons
In the form of Rudra, Shiva is the destroyer, one of the three main energetic principles (trimurti) of the universe. As Nataraja, Shiva is the divine cosmic dancer, symbolizing the dynamic forces of creation and destruction, as well as the harmonious balance of opposites. The trident Shiva holds symbolizes his power to destroy evil and ignorance. He uses these powers of destruction to protect his devotees from the harmful forces of lust, greed and anger. The light from Shiva’s third eye is said to be so powerful that when Shiva opens it fire spews out, which he uses only to annihilate demons. These “demons” represent the many obstacles one encounters in meditation, usually one’s own negative thoughts. Thus, Shiva’s powers of destruction are always viewed as a positive and often necessary aspect of inner and outer transformation.
Doer of Good
Shiva is also known for his mercy and compassion. He grants boons, bestows grace and awakens wisdom in his devotees. In the form of Shankara, Shiva is known as the doer of good. Shiva is often shown holding the abhaya mudra, a boon- bestowing and blessing gesture. The cobra on Shiva’s head represents the purifying and enlightening spiritual power (kundalini) that resides within everyone at the base of their spine. The holiest of the holy rivers, the Ganga, seen flowing from the crown of Shiva’s head represents spiritual purification. The crescent moon on his head signifies Shiva’s grace.