The Meanings of Symbols Showcased in Shiva Paintings

One of the main deities of Hinduism, Shiva is considered to be the destroyer and transformer by his devotees. He, along with Lord Vishnu and Brahma, forms the ‘Great Trinity’ in the Hindu religion. He is considered formless and limitless. He’s that unfathomable force from which everything has emerged and in which everything ends. Due to his infinite form of Lord Shiva, he has always been a popular topic among the artists. Various artists have tried to showcase the magnificence of Shiva’s limitless energy and have attempted to create his paintings based on their thoughts and perceptions. Some display him in a quiet and meditative state while some choose to demonstrate his fierce side, in either case, Shiva paintings are a treat to the eye.

However, there are certain symbolisms which are always present in Shiva paintings. Whether you see Shiva’s presence in eye-catching Ganesha art or his whimsical existence on its own, some elements are inseparable from him. This blog will throw some light on the significance and meaning of these components.

  • Crescent Moon on Shiva’s Head:
    There are numerous stories which narrate the reasons due to which Lord Shiva adorns a crescent moon on his head. However, one of the most popular beliefs behind this is that Lord Shiva is called Mahakaal, which literally means that he is beyond the limit of time. As he has the ability to control time, he manages the waxing and waning of the moon. Another theory states that as Lord Shiva has controlled his mind perfectly, the crescent moon indicates this tough-to-achieve balance of one’s conscious.
  • River Ganga Flowing from Lord Shiva’s Head:
    Ganga is the ultimate symbol of knowledge which holds the ability to purify one’s soul. As the head is where all knowledge rests and the source of information, so Ganga is shown flowing from his head. Knowledge holds the utmost level of purity and it is supposed to bring freedom to the person withholding it. Because knowledge is a movement which is in motion, river Ganga is used as an example of knowledge which is flowing through the divine head of Lord Shiva. However, there are some other mystical stories which hint towards the reasons due to which Lord Shiva has river Ganga flowing from his head.

  • Shiva’s Third Eye:
    It is almost impossible to find Shiva paintings online which don’t include the third eye. Known for alertness, the third eye of the Lord is symbolic of awareness. It is widely believed that Lord Shiva opens his third eye when he’s extremely furious and this eye has the ability to turn anything into ashes and burning down the entire universe. As a wide group of people assume his third eye to be destructive, so this is one of the most vital factors behind the Lord being termed as a ‘destroyer’. However, some other theories suggest that this eye represents wisdom. The third eye is symbolic of the spiritual wisdom which can’t be seen with these two eyes as it doesn’t has any physical manifestation in the materialistic world.
  • Shiva’s Blue Body:
    Blue, which is the colour of the sky, signifies infinity which is beyond all limits. As the Lord himself is limitless, blue is the only colour which can appropriately symbolise the immeasurable divinity. In addition to this, Lord Shiva is also called ‘Neelkanth’ which means the one with a blue throat. The story behind this states that in an attempt to favour the gods during a battle between the demons and gods, Lord Shiva swallowed poison. As it would have harmed the entire mankind if it was kept in the open and would affect the health of the god if swallowed, so the Lord chose to keep it in his throat. As a result of that, his throat turned blue. It is common to find the skin of Hindu deities in blue colour due to the very fact that the colour represents infinite and limitlessness, something which resembles the gods perfectly.

Aforementioned are four of the most commonly displayed elements which one can witness in Shiva paintings. However, it is vital to note here that there are numerous fables which narrate different contexts of each of these symbols. Considered inseparable to the deity, there are some other symbols also which showcase the various facets of the Lord such as his damru, his famous dance: the Tandav, Kailash: His abode and Shiva’s Trishul (Trident). Each and every element exists for a reason.

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