ARDHANARISHVARA|AWE-INSPIRING SHIVA AND SHAKTI UNIFICATION
By Pallavi Moitra, Art Critique and owner and editor of Spiritual Pentacle
Ardhanarishvara (Ardhanārīśvara), a deity avatar of Lord Shiva, is an amalgamated form of Lord Shiva and Shakti coming together as a powerful depiction of man and woman in one. It is also the reflection of extreme energies of Lord Shiva and Shakti forming the womb. Why a womb? Womb is the inception, womb is power, womb is comfort, womb is creation, womb is protection, womb is new life, womb is imagination, womb is sexual feelings and womb is love. The idea of this sort of an amalgamation was to bring out the desires of coming together as one.
The power of lovemaking where the man and woman become one, inseparable, uninhibited about their existences, untouched by the world. It also means the power of equality of both the sexes. Ardhanarishvara is the best reflection of a balanced equality and balanced senses in a human.
Ardhanarishvara is known by many names in India like Ardhanaranari, Ardhanrisha, Ardhanarinateshvara etc. This form is also known as the Hermaphrodite. They are persons or animals or even plants that are having both the male and female sex organs. Various cultures in this world associate this hermaphroditic formation as the symbol of fertility and growth.
The love and eternal embrace of Lord Shiva with Shakti also known as Prakriti, depicts the eternal reproduction of nature. The man generates and regenerates after the woman loses her fertility. In India the man is always kept in the right and woman on the left as it represents the formation of the human body where the brain is on the right and heart in the left. Both the emotions of man and woman are divided with proportion.
In Ardhanarishvara this formation is equally divided into two and yet they form one That is why the man and woman in one, where the emotions are balanced, where the woman’s femineity creativity generosity softness care fertility affection and motherly feeling is equally balanced by a man’s logical valour masculinity and being organised. Ardhanarishvara is true depiction of this balance. Ardhanarishvara brings forth the two completely opposite ways of life: the spiritual way represented by Shiva, and the materialistic way portrayed by Parvati, who invites the abstinent Shiva into marriage and other worldly affairs.
The images of Ardhanarishvara were depicted in the Kushana as well as the Greek mythology simultaneously. In the Puranas the mention of Ardhanarishvara is found as a popular iconograph thought there are very few temples dedicated to this deity. There are various writings on the formation of this male and female in one deity. The most popular being the writing in Shiva Purana where it says that Brahma created the world and then then he created humans, men, who looked like him. After the formation Brahma asked his creations to regenerate.
To Brahma’s amazement it was discovered that they could not regrate. This frustrated Brahma and he asked Shiva to help him out of this devastation of no regeneration. That was when Shiva appeared in front of him as thes Ardhanarishvara. Brahma prayed to Shakti to create women and the rest is history.
Another popular writing is when Parvati (Shakti) was stoked by an Asura (Demon) she asked Shiva to pull her in him and be one. When the Asura came too close to Parvati she showed him her hermaphroditic formation and the Asura lost interest in her. There is only one form but many stories and scriptures around it that depicts various but nearly similar representations of Ardhanarishvara.
Worshipping the Ardhanarishvara
In Linga Purana Ardhanarishvara is worshipped by its devotees to attain salvation through union with Shiva after the dissolution of the world. The Ardhanarishvara stotram is popular chant dedicated to this hermaphroditic deity. The famous Sanskrit writer Kalidasa mentioned that Ardhanarishvara in his Raghuvamsa and Malavikagnimitram and said that Shiva and Shakti are inseparable from each other. Even in the 9th century Nayanar saint Manikkavacakar depicted Parvati as a supreme devotee and follower of Shiva. He implied Ardhanarishvara as the ultimate goal of devotee, the complete amalgamation of Parvati in Shiva and form the ultimate unity.
Ardhanarishvara is a popular form of Shiva iconograph and is prayed in most of the dedicated Shiva shrines and temples in India and in South East Asia. Lots of evidences are found in texts and many sculptures that were once carved out on stones depict a cult may have existed around this deity of fertility. This cult had followers who were not very often found and they believed in the conjoined worship of Shiva and Shakti. This cult may have had a prime position in Hinduism but slowly this cult faded away. The followers dwindled and this popular iconographic form and temples too phased out slowly except for few very popular ones located in Thiruchengode, Kallakkurichi taluk in Tamil Nadu.
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