Glory of the name – “Shiva”

The Glory of the name – “Shiva”

Srinivas Mallapragada

In this article, we will revel in the glories of the Lord’s manifestation as “Shiva”. We will try to delve deeper into what the principle called “Shiva” represents, from various view points of the scriptures. Understanding this name from many perspectives helps us in

i.            Saying this holy name as many times as possible, which is very meritorious per our scriptures

ii.            Appreciating the many vibhutis ( glories ) of the Lord encapsulated in one single name

iii.            Developing devotion towards the Lord as we see multiple facets of His magnificence

iv.            Developing greater appreciation for our shastras by seeing some examples of their deep and wide analyses


A well-known verse from Rig Veda reads as follows:


एकं॒सद्विप्रा॑बहु॒धाव॑दन्त्य॒ग्निंय॒मंमा॑त॒रिश्वा॑नमाहुः॥ Rg Veda 1.164.46

indraṁ̍ mi̱traṁ varu̍ṇamagnimā̍hu̱ratho̍ di̱vyaḥ sa su̍parṇo garutmā̍n

ekaṁ̱ sadviprā̍ bahudhā vadntyagniṁ yamaṁ mā̍tariśvā̍namāhuḥ

“They call Him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni; and He is the heavenly Garuda, who has beautiful wings. The truth is One, but the sages call It by many names; they call It Agni, Yama and Matarishva.”

This is the essence of the concept of polytheism in Sanatana Dharma. The “many Gods” are nothing but the various names/forms of the One eternal Lord. Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Rama, Krishna etc. are some more of the endless names and forms of the same One Truth – Ekam Sat. Eachname and form has its glory and in this article, we will relish the glory of the name – “Shiva”.

 Shiva : Creator-Sustainer-Dissolver-Witness

To start with, let us examine what the Sanskrit dictionaries ( Nighantus ) give as the definition for the word Shiva :  सर्वंयस्मिन्शेते सर्वस्मिन्य: शेते वा इति शिवः | ( sarvaṁ yasmin śētē sarvasmin yaḥ śētē vā iti śivaḥ ).  One in whom all creation rests is Shiva. Or, One who permeates through entire creation is Shiva.

वामदेवाय नमो(vāmadēvāya namō ) says Sri Rudram, when extolling The Lord’s glories. Vamadeva means one who throws up. So, He is the one who “throws” the creation out of Himself. Just like how a spider creates the web from its own body, Bhagavan also “creates” the universe out of Himself. When creation comes out of Him, it logically can be concluded that He is also in and through every atom of the creation. Hence, he is also called वासुदेव: (vāsudēvaḥ) . One who is sarvantaryami (omnipresent) not just in this world but in the innumerable Universes He creates ( अनेककोटिब्रह्माण्डजननी – Creatrix of millions of universes – Lalitha Sahasra Nama Stotra ).

The famous Shiva Mahimna Stotra extols the Lord’s role in creating, maintaining and dissolving the universe as follows :

बहुल-रजसे विश्वोत्पत्तौ भवाय नमोनमः
प्रबल-तमसे तत्‌संहारे हराय नमोनमः।
जन-सुखकृते सत्त्वोद्रिक्तौ मृडाय नमोनमः
प्रमहसिपदे निस्त्रैगुण्ये शिवायनमोनमः॥३०॥

bahula-rajase viśvotpattau bhavāya namo namaḥ
prabala-tamase tat saṁhāre harāya namo namaḥ |
jana-sukhakṛte sattvodriktau mṛḍāya namo namaḥ
pramahasi pade nistraiguṇye śivāya namo namaḥ || 30 ||

Salutations to You as Bhava who assumes the rajo guna for the creation of the universe. Salutations to You as Hara who assumes the tamo guna for its dissolution. Salutations to You as Mrida who assumes the sattva guna for giving happiness to the people and maintaining the world. Salutations to You, O Shiva, who is, in truth, exalted and beyond the three attributes. (30)

So, another meaning of Shiva from the above is that although He “appears” to create , sustain and dissolve the creation, in truth, he is a silent witness without attributes and is above all the action, as is proclaimed by our Vedanta Shastras.

Shiva : The controller of everything

Shabda shastras, the scriptures that deal with the science of sounds , letters , syllables and words have given a unique meaning to the word Shiva. They say The Lord is called Shiva because he is Vashi – the one who controls everything. If we reverse the word Vashi, we get Shiva. We have examples of such words elsewhere in our shastras. The veda says “kashyapah pashyako bhavati”. The Lord is called Kashyapa because he is the first “seer”. Also the word “simha” for Lion comes from the root “hims” – to injure.

When we understand the previous definitions of Shiva, it is not very difficult to understand that logically if the Lord is in and through everything in the creation, lending the very existence to the objects of creation, then He is also the controller of everything. As the Lord Himself says in the Bhagavadgita,



īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāṁ hr̥ddēśē’rjuna tiṣṭhati

bhrāmayansarvabhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā 18̱-61

The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the Lord’s Maya Shakti ( power of illusion )

So, far we have seen, from the above definitions that Shiva is not only the creator, sustainer, dissolver of creation, but He is also the witness ( sakshi ) and the in-dweller ( antaryami ) of all beings. Now let us go to a few more meanings of the word from other parts of the scriptures.

 Shiva : Abode of auspiciousness

The most well-known meaning we have for the name Shiva, comes from Amarakosha, a popular Sanskrit thesaurus. Amarakosha defines Shiva as embodiment of auspiciousness.

शिवंमंगलमस्यास्तीतिशिव: ( śivaṁ maṁgalamasyāstīti śivaḥ)

Only the one who is auspiciousness personified, is worthy of respect and worship. Even in our daily life, we see that we value and treasure those things that are good and auspicious. The scriptures say that the Lord is the most auspicious of all. We can see an example from the Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram

पवित्राणांपवित्रंयोमङ्गलानांमङ्गलम्( pavitrāṇāṁ pavitraṁ yo maṅgalānāṁ ca maṅgalam )

The Lord is described as the purest of the pure and the most auspicious of all, therefore the most worthy of worship. So, Shiva in this context means the one who is most worthy of worship.

Shiva : Giver of auspiciousness

What is the real use to us if someone is an abode of auspiciousness, unless that auspiciousness is shared with us? Fortunately for us, the Puranas say the following about Shiva :

शिवम्यच्छेत्मनुष्याणांतस्मात्शिवइतिस्मृतःśivam yacchet manuṣyāṇāṁ tasmāt śiva iti smr̥taḥ


शिवयतीतिशिव: ( śivayatīti śivaḥ )

Meaning, Shiva is not only an abode of auspiciousness, but He is also the one who easily grants it to all of us.

The best illustration we have in the Puranas for this attribute of the Lord is the Ksheerasagara mathanam ( churning of the milky ocean). The devatas and asuras churned the ocean to obtain many desirable objects. When the divine horse Uchchairshrava, the divine elephant Iravata, the wish yielding tree Kalpaka vriksha and finally the goddess of fortune Mahalakshmi herself emerged from the ocean, everyone was in a rush to own them. But when the most destructive poison Halahala came out, who was there to take it? Nobody! It was the most compassionate Lord in the form of “Shiva” who took the poison and granted safety and happiness to the world!

Appayya Deekshitar, a great vedantin and scholar of the 16th century, beautifully praised this great deed of the Lord in his ArtatrAna ParAyaNa stotram thus :

क्षीराम्भोनिधि मन्थनोद्भव विशात् सन्दह्यमानान्सुरान्
ब्रह्मादीन् अवलोक्य यः करुणया हालाहलाख्यं विषम्
निष्शंकं निजलीलया कबलयन् लोकान् ररक्षादरात्
आर्तत्राण परायणः स भगवान् गंगाधरो मे गतिः

kṣīrāmbhonidhi manthanodbhava viśāt sandahyamānānsurān
brahmādīn avalokya yaḥ karuṇayā hālāhalākhyaṁ viṣam
niṣśaṁkaṁ nijalīlayā kabalayan lokān rarakṣādarāt
ārtatrāṇa parāyaṇaḥ sa bhagavān gaṁgādharo me gatiḥ

My only refuge is that great, compassionate Lord, who, simply looked at the helpless faces of devatas like BrahmaJi who were in crisis and without hesitation, swallowed the Halahala poison, to save the worlds from destruction.

Here, the glory of Shiva Nama highlights the Lord’s compassionate nature and His willingness to reach down and help us – only if we are ready to pray to Him with devotion!

Shiva : The one who grants material happiness, transcendental knowledge and eternal bliss

Now that we are ready to pray to Him with devotion, let us see all that He can grant us in return. For this, let us turn our attention to mantra shastra, that aspect of our scriptures which deals in-depth with the subject of mantras – divine energy in the form of intonations.

According to mantra shastra, every syllable of every mantra symbolizes as aspect of Ishvara. Meditating upon a given mantra with proper initiation from one’s Guru, opens the aspirant up to receive the grace of that aspect of Ishvara. While many mantras can give the aspirant the intended yet limited result, there are certain mantras which are limitless in their glory and are capable of granting the aspirant everything right from every conceivable form of material prosperity all the way to the greatest state of eternal happiness, the Moksha. These mantras are called “Taraka mantras”.

According to mantra shastra, the Shiva Nama is a Taraka mantra, the successful upasana ( meditation ) upon which, confers the aspirant anything that one desires. The 2 syllables in this mantra – “shi” and “va” indicate material happiness and eternal bliss respectively.

Lord Shiva is also the one, in the form of Dakshinamurthy, who grants us transcendental knowledge that is required to take the leap from material happiness to eternal bliss. This is attested to by the well-known statement from the scriptures : ज्ञानमिछ्छेत्महेश्वरात्( jñānamichchet maheśvarāt ) – knowledge is to be sought from Maheshvara.

Shiva : The self-effulgent one

Now we will go to the smritis and see how they describe the Shiva Nama. Smritis are codified instructions about various aspects of Dharma, written by our maharshis based on the knowledge they have received through the Vedas. Some of the well-known smritis are Manusmriti, Parashara smriti and Yajnavalkya smriti. The smiritis define Shiva as स्वयंप्रकाशयतीतिशिव: ( svayaṁ prakāśayatīti śivaḥ ) – He is self effulgent, so He is called Shiva. There is a well-known account in our shastras about how Shiva manifested as a self-effulgent pillar of fire to bless this world on Maha Shivaratri.

Our acharyas interpreted this effulgence as the glow of divine knowledge which the Lord personifies. To bless this world with this divine knowledge and to save us from the darkness of ignorance, the Lord took the form of “Jyotirlingas”, the 12 sacred manifestations where His presence is immanent and permanent effulgence. The most sacred of the Jyotirlingas is said to be at Kashi, which incidentally also means effulgence.

We have a well known sloka


darśanādabhrasadasi jananātkamalālaye
kaśyāṁtu maraṇānmuktiḥ smaraṇadaruṇācale

The Lord says in the in Bhagavadgeeta –which means , if one has darshan of the Lord in Chidambaram (Abhrasadas), moksha is guaranteed. So is being born in Tiruvarur ( Kamalalayam ) , leaving the mortal coil in Kashi and just thinking of the Lord in Arunachalam ( Tiruvannamalai ). The glory of these sacred kshetras could be such. But philosophically speaking, Abhrasadas, Kamalalayam and Arunachalam , all mean the same – the cave of one’s heart. So if one is able to develop devotion towards the Lord within oneself, constantly meditate upon the Lord in one’s heart, and dissolve the darkness of one’s ego and its actions in the great effulgence of the Lord, then eternal happiness is guaranteed! This is how we can also understand the above sloka. The Shiva Purana proclaims – “Beyond the limits of darkness and ignorance is the great throne of Shiva. The brilliance emanating from His person is akin to the radiance of the Sun.”

ज्ञानाग्निदग्धकर्माणंतमाहुःपण्डितंबुधाः१९ ( jñānāgnidagdhakarmāṇaṁ tamāhuḥ paṇḍitaṁ budhāḥ 4̱-19 )

 Meaning – He is said by sages to be a learned man, whose actions are burned by the fire of supreme knowledge. So, Shiva as the self-effulgent One, is the grantor of the supreme knowledge, also called Atma Jnana or Moksha Vidya, which burns our karmas and gives us peace.

 Shiva : The individual and the Universal Soul

Let us now go to the root – the Vedas themselves and see how the name “Shiva” is defined there. Our reference is the well-known Sri Rudram, the great mantra occurring in all 4 Vedas. In Sri Rudram, the word Shiva mainly occurs in the 8th canto as part of the sentence नम॑: शि॒वाय॑चशि॒वत॑रायच॒ (nama: śivāya ca śivatarāya ca). Here, the Lord is described as Shiva and Shivatara. In Sanskrit, tara is used for comparative degree.

Acharya Vishnu Suri, in his commentary for this canto, explains that, in this context, Shiva means vyashti rupa – the individual soul or jeevatma and Shivatara means samashti rupa – the collective soul or Paramatma. It is the same lord who is in both forms. So, Rudram says “Salutations to that Lord who is both in the form of Jeevatma and Paramatma”. In shastras, this kind of a sentence that declares the non-difference between Jeeva and Ishvara is called as a “Maha Vakya”. So, the “nama: śivāya ca śivatarāya ca” mantra, which contains the holy panchakshari maha mantra within it, can also be thought of as a vedanta mahavakya, declaring the one-ness of Jeeva and Ishvara!

In the Rudra Ashtadhyayi, the eight chapters describing the glory of Lord Shiva in the Shukla Yajurveda, the Lord is portrayed as नम॑: शम्भ॒वायचमयोभ॒वाय॑च॒ (namah śambhavāya ca mayōbhavāya ca), One who is both in the form of this samsara (transmigration) and in the form of liberation from the samsara. So, the gist here is that it is the same Shiva that appears as this world to the ignorant and as the truth beyond this world, to the wise.

Shiva : The fourth state

We have seen many definitions of Shiva so far from various angles, highlighting different attributes of the Lord, each of which may appeal to a section of aspirants and helps them strengthen their sadhana in that way. All meanings we have seen so far, in the parlance of the shastras are called with various names as लौकिकार्थ, रूढ्यर्थ, स्थूलार्थ, गौणार्थ, लक्ष्यार्थ (laukikārtha, rūḍhyartha , sthūlārtha, gauṇārtha, lakṣyārtha) etc. They can be grouped as “auxiliary meanings”. However, if we were to ask the question, what is the one true, ultimate meaning – परमार्थ  (paramārtha) of the term Shiva, our quest should also turn to the ultimate repository of divine knowledge – the Upanishads.

Taking Mandukyopanishad as our first example, we find this verse : प्रपञ्चोपशमंशान्तंशिवमद्वैतंचतुर्थंमन्यन्तेआत्माविज्ञेयः (prapañcōpaśamaṁ śāntaṁ śivamadvaitaṁ caturthaṁ manyantē sa ātmā sa vijñēyaḥ )

The Upanishad calls Atma as Shantam (the changeless One), Shivam (the most auspicious One) and Advaitam (One without a second) which is considered ( manyante ) as Chaturtham ( the fourth state ). What is the fourth state? All beings exist in the 3 states of the consciousness – the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states. However, the Upanished says that there is a fourth state of existence, that is called Advaita avastha or Shiva Padam. That Shiva in the form of Atma alone is worth knowing/experiencing (sa vijñēyaḥ ).

But the peculiarity here is that, while the first 3 states and the experiences within them, can be described, understood and easily experienced by all, the fourth state cannot be described, cannot be understood, but that can only be experienced as one’s own being by the Grace of the Lord and the Grace of the Guru.

Hence, once we pass all the external definitions and descriptions, we arrive at and experience the final paramārtha of the term Shiva, with Guru’s anugraha as, शिवोऽहम्( śivō’ham ) – I am that Shiva. It all ends there. Hence it is called प्रपञ्चोपशमं (prapañcōpaśamaṁ) – the end of the world as I have been experiencing it before. I and everything around me is Shiva, the Atmaswarupi.

AdiShankara Bhagavatpada in his Eka Sloki, unveils this concept in the most beautiful manner as a dialogue between the Guru and Shishya as follows :


kiṁ jyōtistava bhānumānahani mē rātrau pradīpadikam
syādēvaṁ ravidīpadarśanavidhau kiṁ jyōtirākhyahi mē
cakṣustasya nimīlanādisamayē kiṁ dhīrdhiyō darśanē
kiṁ tatrāhamatō bhavānparamakaṁ jyōtistadasmi prabhō

Guru: What is that light that helps you see?
Sishya: I see with the help of sunlight
Guru: How do you see in the night?
Sishya: I see with the help of a lamp
Guru: Let that be so. How do you see the light itself ?
Sishya: With my eyes
Guru : How do you see even when your eyes are closed?
Sishya: It is with my intellect
Guru: What helps you see that intellect?
Sishya: That light is me, the consciousness
Guru: Yes, indeed You are that supreme light
Sishya: Yes, master! I realize that I am that supreme light that illumines everything !

Conclusion : No matter where we are in our path of spiritual evolution, there is an aspect of the Lord’s name and form that are relatable to us at every stage. With the Grace of Guru and God, let us all perform our sadhana accordingly and eventually realize that Shiva within ourselves in this very lifetime.

With Profound namaskarams at the feet of my Guru “Dharmatma” Dr. Yegnasubramanian and the Guru Prampara.

Om Shantih Shantih Shantih

References :

  • Lectures of “Dharmatma” Dr. Yegnasubramanian
  • The works of Sri Sankaracharya , Sri Vani Vilas Press
  • Yajurvediya Rudra Ashtadhyayi , Pt. Jvala Prasad Mishra
  • Sri Rudram and Purusha Suktam – Swami Amritananda
  • Hindu Dharma – Kanchi Paramacharya
  • Lectures of Swami Paramarthananda
  • Amarakosha

Article by : Srinivas Mallapragada
Transcribed by : Viswanadh Kasinadhuni

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