Siva’s name has been derived from the Dravidian term for “red” and can also be translated as “auspicious” (Rodrigues 296). He is believed to have shared common characteristics with the Vedic god Rudra who was known to have a “shining exterior and a dark interior” (O’Flahertry 1969b:1). Along with sharing some characteristics with Rudra, Siva is also thought to share characteristics with the Vedic gods Indra and Agni because Indra is thought to be the phallic god of fertility and Agni is believed to be the god of heat [Agni is accurately referred to as the god of fire, however, Siva uses heat as energy therefore “heat” is used in this case to characterize Agni instead of fire (O’Flaherty 1969b:3)]. Siva is regarded as the destroyer (Clooney and Long 2). Therefore, by encompassing the features of a destroyer, Siva is identified as part of the trimurti or the Hindu Trinity [on the trimurti see Woodburne 1925. The trimurti is also comprised of Brahma (the Creator) and Visnu (the Preserver)]. As the destroyer, Siva is often depicted in images as being dressed in animal skins with long matted hair from which the goddess Ganga flows (Rodrigues 296).
According to the Puranic myths, Siva is an intense ascetic generating tremendous inner heat to the point where ash is said to be flowing through him (Rodrigues 296) [the Puranas are a composition of many “Sanskrit verses dealing with every subject under the Indian sun” (O’Flaherty 1973: 1)]. Along with having ash flow through him, Siva has been able to create tapas through his extreme yogic practices. Tapas can be defined as a potentially destructive or creative heat that can be derived through severe ascetic practices (O’Flaherty 1969a: 301)]. The Puranic myths of Siva, however, reveal that Siva in fact displays dualistic characteristics (Rodrigues 296). Along with being an ascetic, Siva is also revealed to be an erotic lover (Rodrigues 296 and O’Flaherty 1973: 5). However, since Siva is most commonly depicted as an ascetic, this article will focus on Siva as the erotic lover.
A common value in Hinduism is renouncing from all material and pleasurable things and surrendering to God (Rodrigues 155). On the other hand, begetting offspring as a householder in order to ensure that one’s lineage is carried on is also a crucial element of Hinduism. Clearly attending to both of these requirements is unattainable. Consequently, a compromise between the two has to be made and according to the Puranic myths, Siva does just that (O’Flaherty 1969a: 301).
Siva is referred to as being “ithyphallic “because he is often depicted with an erect phallus (Rodrigues 296). This erection is in fact the result of his “creative power.” Thus Siva is often worshiped by devotees in the form of the phallus (linga) (Rodrigues 296). The erect phallus typically symbolizes chastity and not eroticism because Siva is able to retain his semen. This ensures that there will be future creation. (O’Flaherty, 1969a: 311).
Siva embodies two types of heat according to O’Flaherty (1969b:5). One is tapas and the other is kama – the heat of desire [the Vedic god Agni is often personified as Kama]. Many myths about Siva are a combination of tapas and kama (O’Flaherty 1973: 90). It is said that Siva was the enemy of Kama because Kama was the opposite force of Siva. In one variation of a Puranic myth, it was said that the sage Himalaya attempted to coerce Siva to marry his daughter
Parvati, and Siva responded by saying that an ascetic, or a yogi should never come into contact with a woman because it conflicts with his chastity (O’Flaherty 1973: 141, 1969: 309). Another Purana says that in order for Siva to marry, Kama shot arrows into Siva’s heart that caused him to develop a desire for Parvati and this then lead to the many lustful feelings that Siva began to develop (O’Flaherty 1973: 145).
A very common myth surrounds Siva in the Pine Forest; however there are innumerable variations of this myth. In the Pine Forest, lived seven sages and their wives (O’Flaherty 1973: 172). Siva entered this forest naked with an erect phallus (O’Flaherty 1973: 172). There are many variations as to why Siva had entered the forest with an erect phallus, but in order to accent his eroticism, only one will be examined. It has been said that Siva entered the forest in guise of an ascetic when in fact he was truly aroused by the wives (O’Flaherty 1973: 173). O’Flaherty (1973: 173) wrote that Siva had entered the forest naked because he was not being sexually satisfied by his wife Parvati and therefore he wanted to seduce the wives. A similar version outlines that upon noticing that Siva was arousing the seven wives, the sages announced that Siva’s penis was to fall off (O’Flaherty 1973: 178). After the penis had fallen off, it began to burn everything in sight. The gods then asked Parvati to take the form of a vagina to hold the penis in place so it could be worshiped by all, and this in turn lead to the formation of the linga [for an in-depth look into the curse made upon Siva see O’Flaherty 1980]. These examples demonstrate that Siva is in fact highly erotic, and the use of the phallus is eminently prominent (O’Flaherty 1973, 1980).
Another Purana tells the myth of Siva seducing Mohini. Visnu had taken the form of a beautiful woman named Mohini in order to retrieve the soma (am intoxicating plant (Rodrigues 67)) from the demons (O’Flaherty 1973: 228). After retrieving the nectar, Visnu was approached by Siva and Parvati, and Siva had asked Visnu to show him the disguise of Mohini. Upon showing him the disguise, Siva became aroused and by embracing Mohini, his semen fell to the ground (O’Flaherty 1973: 228). It seems evident that Siva is not ashamed or withdrawn about his sexuality even with the presence of his wife.
Having an erotic god would seem like a problem because brahmacarya (celibacy) plays a large role in the lives of many Hindus [On the role that brahmacarya plays, see Rodrigues 132). It has been theorized that Siva is worshiped by Hindus all around the world because he is able to occupy contradictory roles (O’Flaherty 1973: 3). Siva is able to remain chaste in order for world creation to carry on and he is also able to play the role of the erotic lover to demonstrate that everyone has sexual urges and finding the right balance in between is the key. Even though Siva’s roles are truly contradictory, he is still seen as “whole” to his devotees (O’Flaherty1969a:301).
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Clooney, Fred W. And J. Bruce Long (1983) “Introduction to the Religious Experience in Saiva
Thought and Literature” in Experiencing Shiva, edited by F. Clooney and J. Bruce Long,
Missouri: South Asia Books.
O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1969a) “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Siva: Part 1.”
History of Religions 8: 300-337.
O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1969b) “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Siva: Part 2.”
History of Religions 9: 1-41.
O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1973) Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.
O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1980) “Dionysus and Siva: Parallel Patterns in Two Pairs of Myths.”
History of Religions 20: 81-111.
Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook. An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist
Ethics Online Books.
Woodburne, A.S. (1925) “The Idea of God in Hinduism” Journal of Religion 5: 52-66.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Pine Forest myths
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by: Ashika Singh (April 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.