40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God

Trista - March 17, 2019

Shiva, one of the supreme gods of the Hindu religion, has come to figure somewhat prominently in pop culture and New Age religions. Keep reading to learn more about this figure and what scholars believe are the origins of his worship.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A depiction of Lord Shiva. Kalyaneshwar.

40. Shiva is One of Three Chief Hindus Gods

Hinduism recognizes thousands, if not millions of gods and goddesses, most of which are localized, either to cities and towns or even to individual families. However, there are three primary gods whose worship is universal across Hinduism. They are Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. Though he is the lesser god of the triumvirate, many groups within Hinduism are dedicated to his worship.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A giant statue of Shiva. Blogspot.

39. Shiva is Known as the Destroyer

Shiva holds the power of destruction, but often, he destroys so that new life can grow. He destroys both the cosmos as well as people’s imperfections so that the world can be reborn and people can become perfect. He also shatters illusions to give people clarity and vision. As such, his acts of destruction are often viewed as ultimately constructive and as something to be embraced.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Shiva emerging from the ocean, looking more like a female. Kalyaneshwar.

38. Shiva is the Source of Both Good and Evil

Because he destroys, Hindus see him as a source of much of the evil that we see in the world today. However, his destruction often comes with the purpose of bringing new life, meaning that he is also the source of good. This concept is one of many paradoxes surrounding the beliefs and worship of Shiva.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Shiva in the lotus position. Blogspot.

37. He Exemplifies Contradiction

Shiva continually shifts back and forth between extremes. Sometimes, he is a hedonist who cannot seem to get enough pleasure for himself. At other times, the god is an ascetic to abstains from all desires. He both avenges people and shepherds their souls. He has wild passions that are untamed, leading him to acts of destruction that often seem to be arbitrary and futile. However, he is often depicted as being tranquil and serene, usually meditating in a lotus position.


40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A depiction of Rudra in a 19th-century textbook. Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

36. In Early Hinduism, Shiva Was Not a Distinct God

The earliest Hindu texts are known as the Vedas, and he is not directly mentioned in them. Instead, he is an aspect of another god known as Rudra. Rudra brought the heavy rains that typify the monsoons of India; the Shiva aspect of him brought new life from the torrential flooding. He brought balance to Rudra by recycling the destructive energy into a constructive force for good. From this narrative, he came to be seen as both the destroyer and creator.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Rudra was a storm god. Nat Geo Videos.

35. Rudra Was a Minor God

Out of 1,028 hymns in the Rigveda, one of the oldest and most important of the Vedic texts, only three are dedicated to Rudra. Though feared, he was considered to be a minor god, one among many atmospheric deities who had control over the weather. That Shiva should become so crucial in Hinduism all across the subcontinent is likely the result of a confluence of factors and possibly mergers with other Hindu gods and goddesses.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Another depiction of Shiva. Hindubhagwan.

34. Rudra Evolved Into Shiva

In the Vedic texts, which date back as far as 1100 BCE, Rudra and Shiva are considered to be aspects of the same personality, discernible from each other but both necessary to fulfill a divine role. Now, Shiva has taken on Rudra’s part of a destroyer, as well as retained his position as creator. To this day, Rudra is still sometimes used as a name for Shiva. By the time Shiva became significant among Hindus, worship of Rudra had been all but forgotten.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A statue representation of Shiva. Pinterest.

33. Traditions Involving Shiva Stretch From India to Indonesia

Depictions and stories about Shiva have been found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and even Bali, an island in Indonesia. Scholars believe that the figure Hindus now recognize as Shiva is an amalgamation of many different local deities. For example, in the state of Maharashtra, Khandoba, the god of farming became assimilated into Shiva worship by coming to be seen as one of Shiva’s incarnations or avatars. By absorbing so many different deities, each of whom represented various aspects of life, he came to embody many extremes and contradictions.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A seal discovered during excavation of the Indus Valley archaeological site in the Indus Valley has drawn attention as a possible representation of a “yogi” or “proto-Shiva” figure. Indus Valley Civilization sealmaker from Mohenjodaro archaeological site/ Columbia/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

32. Depictions of Shiva Date Back to At Least 10,000 BCE

Scholars have found early paintings show figures that seem to have some resemblance to Shiva that dates back more than 12,000 years. The statues may be seen as dancing, holding a trident, or sitting in a lotus position, all of which are characteristic of Shiva. However, there are disputes as to the actual nature of the paintings. They may provide additional evidence regarding the origin of Shiva, such as local deities that he absorbed, as Hindus currently see and worship him.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A Hindu Temple festival for Shiva in Bali, Indonesia. Desi Traveler.

31. The Ramayana and Mahabharata Gave Him His Current Characteristics

The Ramayana and Mahabharata are ancient Hindu epics that began to take shape hundreds of years after the writing of the Vedas. In the Ramayana, Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, must rescue his lover, Sita, from the demon-king, Ravanna. In the Mahabharata, Krishna, an avatar of Shiva, supports the Pandava brothers in their struggle to attain the throne. The Ramayana and Mahabharata helped shape Hinduism as it currently exists today, much as the Iliad and the Odyssey helped develop Greek mythology.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A painting of the Greek god Dionysus. WGA.hu.

30. Some Scholars See Shiva as a Hindu Version of Dionysus

Dionysus was the Greek god of pleasure, the grape harvest, wine, ecstasy, theater, and ritual madness. He was seen as androgynous, similar to Shiva, who is often depicted as half-man, half-woman. The two gods have much in common, leading some scholars to suggest that they developed in tandem with each other via trade routes in which people from Greek civilization encountered those of the Indus Valley.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A painting with Shiva and Parvati. Blogspot.

29. Shiva’s Wife is Parvati

Parvati is the Hindu goddess of marriage, love, fertility, beauty, devotion, children, and divine strength and power. She is a calming influence on Shiva that helps bring balance to him and, by extension, the universe; she is actually considered to be the mother goddess or mother of the universe. Because of their relationship, he can rein in his passions and act more in the role of an ascetic, a lover, and a creator.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
An image of Shiva meditating. Blogspot.

28. Shiva Has a Third Eye

In Eastern mysticism as well as Jewish Kabbalah, the “third eye” figures prominently as a source of divine wisdom, allowing for a greater scope of vision and clarity in discerning matters. Shiva is usually depicted has having a third eye, thought it is often closed, as he is looking inward. When he does open his third eye, fire may gush forth out of it and engulf whatever he is looking at. This fire doesn’t just destroy but also breeds new life from the ashes.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Depictions of Shiva are often replete with symbolism. Blogspot.

27. Shiva Wears a Cobra Necklace

The cobra necklace represents several things. One is his strength and potency as a supreme god; he is invincible and immortal. Another is that the snake periodically sheds its skin so that it can grow a new one, symbolizing the death and rebirth that Shiva gives. A third reason for the cobra necklace is that it shows Shiva’s power over even the most dangerous creatures on the earth.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A Shiva devotee with vibhuti. Blogspot.

26. He Has Lines on His Forehead Known as “Vibhuti”

Covering Shiva’s third eye is three horizontal white lines that are drawn across his forehead in ash. They represent his wealth, power, and pervasiveness. Faithful Hindus often draw the vibhuti lines on their own foreheads to indicate their devotion and identification with Shiva. These lines serve as personal lingams; a lingam is an object that symbolizes Shiva without using anthropomorphic (human) features.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Shiva’s trident is known as a trishula. Vanishing Tattoo.

25. Shiva Carries a Trident

Known as a “trishula” in Hinduism, Shiva’s trident is a significant weapon that he has always possessed. He used it to cut the head off of the elephant-headed god, Ganesha. Each of the points has a unique meaning that is critical to Hindu belief, such as past, present, and future; or creation, maintenance, and destruction. Shiva’s Trishula serves both as a weapon and as an instrument of creation. It remains a powerful symbol among Hindu communities; in Nepal, it is a symbol of the communist party.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Another picture of Shiva meditating with animals. Blogspot.

24. He is Usually Tranquil and in the Lotus Position

Despite Shiva’s intense and sometimes violent personality, he is often depicted as a meditating yogi, serene and with his legs in the lotus position. This image is usually because his wife, Parvati, has such a calming influence on him that he reverts to a calmer, more tranquil state of self-reflection and meditation. Though other gods may be pictured as lavish and hedonistic, Shiva – still the destroyer – is austere and ascetic.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A bronze Nataraja statue. Exotic India.

23. But Sometimes, Shiva is Dancing in a Fiery Ring

One of the best examples of Indian art is that of the Nataraja, in which Shiva is depicted dancing in the middle of a fiery ring while trampling underfoot a demon. In a Nataraja depiction, he typically holds fire in his left hand and a snake in his right, showing his control over even the most violent and sinister forces. He is dancing so energetically that his hair, which is usually matted from an ascetic lifestyle, is whirled around his head like a fan.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Hanuman is an avatar of Shiva. Astrogems.com.

22. Shiva Has Multiple Incarnations

Some Hindus believe that Shiva has come to earth multiple times by being incarnated as a god-like person, known as an avatar. One of those avatars is Hanuman, the monkey-god who helps Rama – Vishnu’s avatar – in the Ramayana. However, not all worshipers of Shiva have adopted the idea of him having avatars. Devotees of Vishnu look to the god for salvation and therefore recognize the need of avatars to show them the way. Devotees of Shiva, however, look for their own salvation within themselves.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Kali Maa Standing on Lord Shiva. Pinterest.

21. Parvati Also Has Multiple Incarnations

Parvati is one of many avatars of Devi, the supreme goddess in Hinduism. One of those avatars is Kali, a demon-like monster with an insatiable appetite for destruction. Kali is an essential aspect of Shiva worship; depictions of her often show her trampling him. She also has cults of followers devoted to her, particularly the Kali Kula sect and groups in West Bengal. In addition to being a goddess in her own right, Kali is often viewed as a concept of free female energy.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Rudra Tandava: A dancer depicting Shiva kicking Yama, the god of Death. Sri Devi Nrithyalaya/ Wikimedia Commons.

20. Shiva’s Dances Destroy and Recreate the Universe

The Tandav is a cosmic dance of death that destroys the universe, which Shiva performs at the end of each age. Originally Rudra performed a tandav, which was violent, but Shiva’s is depicted as rigorous and joyful. Parvati responds with a dance known as the laysa. After the present universe is destroyed, Shiva recreates it. In addition to cosmic destruction, the tandav also represents the cyclical nature of birth, death, and rebirth.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Sati, Shiva’s first wife, died of self-immolation. Blogspot.

19. Parvati is an Incarnation of Shiva’s Lost Wife, Sati

According to Hindu legend, Shiva was married to Sati, also an avatar of Devi, against the wishes of her father. One day her father held a prayer ceremony, to which he invited all of the gods except for Shiva. Out of anger at her father’s rejection of her husband, Sati jumped onto the fire burning at the ceremony. Shiva was overwhelmed with grief until she was reincarnated as Parvati.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
The legend of Sati’s death sparked a practice of widows being forced to commit suicide. Blogspot.

18. The Hindu Practice of Sati Derives From Sati’s Legend

Sati is a practice in which a widowed woman is expected to cast herself onto the funeral pyre of her deceased husband, thereby dying alongside him. She symbolically dies of grief, just like Sati in the legend. The practice probably derives from the story of Sati, Shiva’s previous wife. It is now outlawed, but there are still accounts of sati happening, particularly in more remote villages.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
The Ganges River. Edristi.in.

17. The Ganges River Flowers Through Shiva’s Hair

The Mahabharata and Ramayana tell of a sage whose deep meditation is disturbed by the 60,000 sons of King Sagara. In his anger, he reduces all of them to ash with his fiery gaze and banishes them to the netherworld. One of the descendants of these sons is anxious to bring them back, so he calls on the goddess Ganga to come to earth and restore them. Because the fall from her home on the Milky Way would shatter the planet, she broke her fall in the tangled knots of Shiva’s matted hair.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Shiva with Parvati and their son, Ganesha. shiva.redzambala.com.

16. Worship of Shiva is Known as Shaivism

The majority of Hindus see Brahma as the supreme god, Vishnu as a lesser god, and Shiva as third in the triumvirate. However, some devotees of Shiva, known as Shaivists, see him as the supreme god. Aside from Shaivism being in itself an example of the diversity within Hinduism, there exist Shaivism numerous different sects and beliefs.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Another statue of the Hindu god, Shiva. Agamayoga.

15. Shaivism Has Merged With Buddhism in Some Places

On the Indonesian island of Java, before the arrival of Islam, people viewed Buddhism and Shaivism as distinct but very close religions. By the Medieval era, devotees regarded Buddha and Shiva as the same god, along with Vishnu. Today on Bali, a predominantly Hindu island in Indonesia, the faithful believe that Shiva is the younger brother of Buddha. In pre-Islamic Iran, the Zoroastrian wind god had an appearance that strongly resembled that of Shiva.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
An image of Shiva with the trident, Cobra necklace, and other attributes. Budayabhaaskar.

14. Some Devotees View Him as a Guru

In Hindu thought, a guru is more than a gifted teacher; he or she is someone who is a master of wisdom who dispels darkness and can point people towards the light. Many Indonesian Hindus refer to Shiva as “Batara Guru,” meaning “noble guru.” As another example of how the Shiva figure is an amalgamation of other deities, Batara Guru has special characteristics in addition to those that he has in India.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Daikokuten is a Shiva figure in Shintoism. Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

13. Shiva is Also Found in Shinto Belief

Shintoism, along with Buddhism, is one of the major religions of Japan; in fact, many Japanese people are both Buddhist and Shinto, either simultaneously or at different parts of their lives. One of the Shinto gods is known as Okuninushi, who rules the unseen world of magic and spirits. The Buddhist version of Shiva merged with Okuninushi to create the god Daikokuten, the god of wealth and the household.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Mount Kailasa in modern-day Tibet. dham-yatra.com.

12. He Lives on Mount Kailasa

Mount Kailasa, also known as Mount Kailash, is in the Tibetan region of the Himalayas. Hindus believe that it is the home of the gods, similar to Mount Olympus in Greek mythology. The Karnali River, which flows into the Ganges, originates on Mount Kailasa. On top of the mountain, Shiva and Parvati reside in a state of perpetual meditation.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
The 10th century five headed Shiva in Sadashiva, Cambodia. Mark B. Schlemmer/ Met Museum/ Wikimedia Commons.

11. Shiva’s Sacred Number is Five

Hindus believe that Shiva’s body is composed of five different mantras, the most important of which has five syllables. These mantras each form one of Shiva’s five faces and are associated with the five perceptual organs, the five senses, and the five action organs. Additionally, some Hindu theologians view him as one aspect of the fivefold nature of Brahma.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A large statue of Shiva for celebrating Shivaratri. guyanatimesgy.com.

10. His Festival Occurs Every Month

Every lunar month, from the 13th night into the 14th day, is a festival dedicated to Shiva known as Shivaratri. “Shivaratri” literally means “night of Shiva,” and the festival falls on the darkest night of the lunar calendar to honor the destruction and recreation that Shiva brings. The faithful commemorate the night by chanting mantras, visiting temples, and performing rituals known as pujas.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Shiva pushes back the darkness on Shivaratri. YouTube.

9. His Most Important Festival Occurs in Winter

Maha Shivaratri, which occurs in February or March (depending on the lunar calendar), celebrates the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. “Maha Shivaratri” means “the great night of Shiva.” Rather than engaging in hedonistic celebrations, faithful devotees stay awake the entire night praying, trying to purify themselves, and meditating. The goal is to overcome darkness and find inner light through Shiva.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
The statue of Shiva as Nataraja at CERN in Geneva. Kenneth Lu/ Wikimedia Commons.

8. A Statue of Shiva is at CERN

CERN, located in Geneva, is home to the most expensive science project in history, the Large Hadron Collider. In 2004, the Indian government gifted the institution with a Nataraja statue of Shiva dancing the Tandava dance in a ring of fire. The figure is seen as symbolic of the union between modern physics, ancient mythology, and religious art, all of which converge at CERN.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
An image of Shakti. The Mother House of the Goddess.

7. Shiva is Often Worshiped Alongside Shakti

Shakti is a goddess who represents the cosmic energy that moves through the entire universe. Hindus often view her as the “Great Divine Mother” and see her as the personification of feminine energy. Shakti sects worship her as the supreme being, while others view her as the divine energy that flows through Shiva and as Parvati herself. Some see Parvati as one of Shakti’s avatars.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Another image of Shiva meditating. Hindisoch.com.

6. Shiva is Sometimes Depicted With Many Arms

Shiva is frequently shown with only two arms, but he is sometimes depicted as having four, sometimes even more. The four limbs are believed to represent each of the cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. Further, each of his upper two hands holds something symbolic. The upper right hand holds an hourglass drum to represent the beating rhythm of the cosmos, and the upper left hand hold fire.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Shiva’s appearance often looks feminine. Blogspot.

5. Shiva Has Both Male and Female Features

Images of Shiva usually show him to have an androgynous, if not feminine, appearance, yet he is a male god. Sometimes, he is actually pictured as being split down the middle, one half being the male god Shiva, the other half being his wife, Parvati. While earlier beliefs about Shiva saw him as a rough-and-tumble he-man, Hindus now see him as neither male nor female. In fact, many Hindu gods are androgynous and neither classified as male nor female.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Ganesha is an elephant-headed god. Sathyasaibaba.

4. One of His Sons is Ganesha

The elephant-headed Ganesha is the Hindu god of success and destroyer of evil. As his father, Shiva, is the destroyer and creator, Ganesha is the god of beginnings and is often revered at ceremonies that commemorate something new. Though not generally considered as necessary as Shiva, Ganesha is one of the most widely worshiped gods of the entire Hindu pantheon. He probably emerged around the second century CE, a few hundred years after Shiva came to be viewed as a god.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Kartikeya rides on a peacock. Raja Ravi Varma/ Wikimedia Commons.

3. Another of His Sons is Kartikeya

Like his brother Ganesha, Kartikeya is a destroyer of evil. He is also the god of war and victory. Surprisingly, Kartikeya appears in Hindu thought during the Vedic period, much earlier than Shiva even became a distinct figure. He rides on a peacock or rooster and carries a slew of weapons that he uses to conquer his enemies. He figures prominently throughout South Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and even as far as South Africa and Mauritius.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
A depiction of Ashoka Sundari, Shiva’s daughter. Templepurohit.com.

2. Shiva’s Daughter is Ashoka Sundari

Ashoka Sundari is less significant in Hinduism than Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, or Kartikeya. According to Hindu legend, Parvati asked Shiva to take her to the most beautiful garden in the world. A tree in the garden could fulfill any wish; since both of her sons were grown, and she was now lonely, she asked for a daughter. The tree fulfilled her wish, and she gave birth to Ashoka Sundari. Her story is told in the Padma Purana.

40 Enlightening Facts About Shiva, the Hindu God
Shiva, a Hindu God. Research Hut.

1. People All Around the World Worship Him

Although Shiva is inextricably linked to Hinduism, people worship him far outside of India’s borders. Faithful devotees to Shiva can be found in large communities in Sri Lanka, throughout South Asia and into Indonesia, in Japan, and as far-flung as South Africa – even Guyana in South America. With mass immigration in the modern age, large Shaivistic communities are cropping up in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. The qualities associated with him will probably continue to evolve as people across more considerable distances pay homage to him.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Art of Living – Who is Shiva

Hindu Website – Ten Reasons Why You Should Worship Shiva

India Economic Times – Is Shiva The Corporate Destroyer Or Kalki?

Times Now News – Know why Lord Shiva is worshiped on Mondays

Daily Opinion – Why Śiva is the most mysterious of all Hindu gods

Syracuse University – The Ramayana: A Telling Of the Ancient Indian Epic

Dolls of India – Sita – The Silent Pillar of Strength in Ramayana

Daily Opinion – When Did Events Of Ramayana And Mahabharata Actually Occur?

Dolls of India – Kali the Goddess: Gentle Mother, Fierce Warrior

Times Now News – What Is Tandava And What Is Its Significance?

The Economic Times – Shiva and Sati: The Tale

Japan Wonder Travel Blog – An Overview of Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan – Differences and History

Verdict Feed – 10 Interesting facts about Lord Kartikeya – Lord Murugan

Verdict Feed – Ashok Sundari – Daughter of Shiva and Parvati