4. Shiva the destroyer
Lord Shiva has two forms. A benevolent form in which he peacefully lives in the Himalayas with his wife Parvati and two sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. And a Rudra or angry form in which he starts a vigorous dance called Tandava and plays havoc, usually with Asuras and other evil powers. He also brings the ultimate destruction of the universe when its life cycle comes to an end.
Shiva originated from a beginning-less and endless cosmic pillar of fire. That is why he is often worshiped in the form of a linga or a column, a symbol of energy.
Shiva is also known as Pashupati or “lord of the animals”. His carrier is a bull called Nandi. He has a snake around his neck and a three pointed weapon called trishula. Shiva’s body is covered with ashes, a symbol of the impermanence of material existence – a reminder that everything at the end would become ash.
Once Shiva’s wife Parvati playfully closed both his eyes with her palms. Instantly the whole universe became engulfed in darkness. Every creature cried out in despair. At once a third eye appeared on the forehead of Shiva, providing light and energy back to the universe. The third eye of Shiva has immense power. Usually it remains closed. But when it opens up and falls on somebody it can instantly burn him into ashes.
There was a king called Bhagiratha who wanted to release 60,000 of his ancestors from a curse. For that the heavenly river Ganga had to descend on earth and wash their sins. When Bhagiratha came to Ganga with the request, she agreed. But she was concerned that the earth would be flooded if she fell there directly from the heaven. Somebody was needed to stop her. Bhagiratha went to many gods in search of somebody powerful enough to stop the tremendous rush of river Ganga. But nobody dared to do it. Finally Bhagiratha came to Shiva and he agreed.
Ganga began her journey from the heaven to earth. As she neared the earth, lord Shiva caught her in his matted hair. Since then Ganga has been flowing from the hair of Shiva to the ocean. The source of this mighty and life sustaining river is called Gangotri, a Hindu pilgrim town in the Himalayas. A bath in the holy Ganga on particularly auspicious days can wash of sins of many lives.