From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Pañcānana form of Lord Śiva

The Vyuhas or emanations of Lord Viṣṇu can be compared to the Pañcānana form of Lord Śiva. Pañcānana or the five-faced one, represents the five aspects of Śiva vis-a-vis the created universe. The five faces are respectively:

  1. Īśāna - The face īśāna, turned towards the zenith, represents the highest aspect. This aspect is called as Sadāśiva. On the physical plane, it represents the power that rules over ether or sky and on the spiritual plane, it is the deity that grants Mokṣa or liberation.
  2. Tatpuruṣa - This face is east facing. It stands for the power that rules over air and represents the forces of darkness and obscuration on the spiritual plane.
  3. Aghora - This face is south facing. It rules over the element fire, stands for the power that absorbs and renovates the universe.
  4. Vāmadeva - This face is north facing. It rules over the element water. It is responsible for preservation.
  5. Sadyojāta - This face is west facing. It represents the power that creates.

Iconographic Representation of Five Aspects

Iconographically, these five aspects are shown in different ways. There are several other aspects in which Lord Śiva is depicted or worshiped. They can be broadly divided into the following categories:

  1. Saumya or Anugrahamurti
  2. Ugra, Raudra or Saiṅhāramurtis
  3. Nṛtta or Tāṇḍava murti
  4. Dakṣiṇāmurti
  5. Liṅgodbhavamurti
  6. Bhikṣāṭanamurti
  7. Haryardhamurti
  8. Ardhanārīśvaramurti

Various Forms of Lord Śiva

Saumya or Anugrahamurti

The peaceful form of Śiva and the form showing mercy and grace belong to the first group.

Ugra, Raudra or Saiṅhāramurtis

The forms showing grace or granting boons to Caṇḍeśa, Nandīśvara, Vighneśvara or Rāvaṇa belong to the second category. All terrific aspects can be classed under the second group. They can be delineated as:

  • Kaṅkāla Bhairava represents Śiva who cut off the fifth head of Brahmā for having reviled him and who had to wander as a beggar for twelve years to get rid of that sin.
  • Gajāsura- vadhamurti represents him as killing the demon Nīla[1] who had assumed the form of an elephant.
  • Tripurāntakamurti depicts him as destroying by his arrow, the three cities of iron, silver and gold built on the earth, in air and in heaven by the three sons of Andhakāsura who had become almost invincible because of these three impregnable shelters.
  • Śarabheśamurti pictures Śiva as a Śarabha[2] destroying the Narasimha form of Viṣṇu, a story conceived by the Śaivites to assert the superiority of their Lord over Viṣṇu.
  • Kālārimurti portrays him as vanquishing Yama, the god of death, who wanted to take away the life of Mārkaṇḍeya, a great devotee of Śiva.
  • Kāmāntakamurti illustrates him as destroying Kāma, the god of lust, by the fire emitted through his third eye.
  • Andhakāsuravadhamurti shows him as vanquishing Andhakāsura and later on, on supplication, conferring on him the commandership of the gaṇas.[3] Andhaka became Bhṛṅgīśa.

Nṛtta or Tāṇḍava murti

Lord Śiva is a great master of dance. All the 108 modes of dancing known to the treatises on dancing have come from him. It is said that he dances every evening in order to relieve the sufferings of creatures and entertain the gods who gather in Kailāsa in full strength. Hence he is called Sabhāpati, the lord of the congregation. Only nine modes of dancing are described of which the Naṭarāja aspect is the most well-known. The Naṭarāja icon shows him with four hands and two legs, in the posture of dancing. There is the ḍamaru[4] in the upper right hand and fire in the left. The lower right hand is in abhayamudrā[5] and the left is pointing towards the uplifted left foot. The left foot is resting on the demon Apasmārapuruṣa. The whole image may or may not be surrounded by a circle of blazing fire.

Śiva’s dance indicates a continuous process of creation, preservation and destruction. The ḍamaru represents the principle of śabda[6] and hence ākāśa,[7] which proceeds immediately from the ātman and is responsible for further creation or evolution. Fire represents pralayāgni, the fire that destroys the world at the time of dissolution of the world, and hence symbolizes the process of destruction. Thus ḍamaru and fire represent the continuous cycle of creation, preservation and destruction. The other two hands indicate that he who takes refuge at the feet of the Lord will have nothing to fear. The Apasmārapuruṣa[8] symbolizes ignorance which makes us lose our balance and consciousness. He is trampled upon by the Lord for the good of the devotees who take refuge. Several other dancing postures of Siva like Ānanda-tāṇḍavamurti, Umā- tāṇḍavamṅrti, Tripura-tāṇḍavamṅrti, and Urdhva-tāṇḍavamurti are also mentioned in the āgamas.


Śiva is as great a master of yoga and spiritual sciences as he is of music, dancing and other arts. As a universal teacher he is called Dakṣiṇāmurti. Since Śiva was seated facing south[9] when he taught the sages in a secluded spot on the Himalayas, he is called Dakṣiṇāmurti. He has three eyes and four arms and one of the legs is trampling upon the Apasmārapuruṣa. Two of the arms, the front right and the front left, are in jñānamudra and varadamudra poses.[10] The back hands hold the akṣamāla[11] and either fire or serpent. He is the very model of the perfect Guru. He is surrounded by several ṛṣis eager to learn ātmavidyā[12] from him.


Śiva is said to have appeared as a blazing pillar of fire of immeasurable size to destroy the pride of Brahmā and Viṣṇu. Liṅgodhbavamurti depicts him as manifesting in the heart of the liṅga. The image has four arms. Brahmā and Viṣṇu stand on either side adoring him.


The Bhikṣāṭanamurti shows Śiva as a naked Bhairava begging his food in the skull cup. It is almost the same as the Kaṅkālamurti.


The Haryardhamurti, also called as Harihara and Saṅkaranārāyaṇa, has Śiva on the right half and Viṣṇu on the left. A fusion of these two aspects into one god is an obvious attempt at a happy reconciliation of the warring cults of Śiva and Viṣṇu.


The Ardhanārīśvara form means half man and half woman form. In this form Pārvatī as the left half represents the bipolar nature of the created world and hence it is required to look upon woman as equal and complementary to man.

Minor Deities Associated with Śiva


There can be no Śiva temple without Nandi, the recumbent bull placed in front of the shrine. Nandi or Nandikeśvara may be depicted exactly like Śiva with three eyes and two hands holding the pa[13] and mṛga.[14] But the other two hands are joined together in the añjali pose.[15] More commonly he is shown as a bull-faced human being or just as a bull.

The purāṇas describe him as born out of the right side of Viṣṇu resembling Śiva exactly and given as a son to the sage Sālaṅkāyana who had practiced severe austerities. Other versions describe him as the son of the sage Śilāda who got him by the grace of Śiva. Nandikeśvara, also known as Adhikāranandi, is the head of the gaṇas of Śiva and also his vāhana.[16] Symbolically, the bull represents the animal instincts, especially the sex, and Śiva’s riding on it reflects his absolute mastery over it.


Bhṛṅgi, the sage, was singularly devoted to Lord Śiva and was elevated to the retinue of Śiva’s abode. The sage was so fanatical in his devotion to Śiva that he did not care even for Pārvatī, his consort. When Pārvatī merged herself into the body of Śiva and Śiva thus became Ardhanārīśvara, Bhṛṅgi was still so bigoted that he became a Bhṛṅga (= bee) and bored through the center of the Ardhanārīśvara form to complete his circumambulation. Hence he was named Bhṛṅgi. Śiva, of course, made him realize his mistake.


Vīrabhadra is another deity associated with Śiva. He is the personification of Śiva’s anger manifested during Dakṣa’s sacrifice because of the contemptuous treatment meted out to him. Śiva is said to have created him out of a hair plucked out from his head. Vīrabhadra successfully destroyed Dakṣa’s sacrifice and humiliated all the gods who had assembled there. He is usually shown with three eyes and four arms holding bow, arrow, sword and mace. He wears a garland of skulls. The face is terrific. Bhadrakālī, his counterpart created by Pārvatī, is sometimes shown by his side. Śiva temples may have a small shrine dedicated to him, located usually in the south-east.


Caṇḍeśvara was a human devotee raised to the status of a deity by Lord Śiva because of his intense devotion. He is a fierce deity holding weapons of war and destruction like the bow, arrow, trident, chisel, noose and so on. Though independent shrines dedicated to him are not uncommon, he is usually installed in every Śiva temple in the north-eastern corner, facing south. Devotees believe that he can act as a messenger and mediator interceding with the Lord on behalf of the devotees. Hence supplication before him is a duty of every devotee visiting the Śiva temples.

Pramathagaṇas or Bhutagaṇas

Other attendants of Śiva are his gaṇas. They are also known as pramathagaṇas or bhutagaṇas.[17] If they are not propitiated, they can do harm.


  1. Nīla is an associate of Andhakāsura.
  2. Śarabha is an imaginary animal more ferocious than the lion.
  3. Gaṇas means dwarf attendants.
  4. Damaru means drum.
  5. Abhayamudrā is the pose of protection.
  6. Śabda means sound.
  7. Ākāśa means ether.
  8. Apasmāra means epilepsy.
  9. Dakṣiṇa means south.
  10. These poses show the imparting of knowledge and bestowing of gifts.
  11. Akṣamāla means rosary.
  12. Ātmavidyā means Self-knowledge.
  13. Pa means battle axe.
  14. Mṛga means the antelope.
  15. Añjali pose means obeisance.
  16. Vāhana means carrier vehicle.
  17. Pramathagaṇas or Bhutagaṇas are demigods or malignant spirits.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore