I

n Asian art Shiva may be represented in slightly different ways depending on the particular culture: Indian, Cambodian, Javanese etc. but he is most commonly depicted naked, with multiple arms and with his hair tied up in a topknot. He often has three horizontal stripes and a third vertical eye on his forehead. He wears a headdress with a crescent moon and a skull (representing the fifth head of Brahma, which he decapitated as punishment for the god lusting after his own daughter Sandhya), a necklace of heads, and snakes as bracelets. In this guise, he usually represents Nataraja and dances the Tandava within a circle of fire which represents the never-ending cycle of time. He holds the divine fire (agni) which destroys the universe and the drum (damaru) which makes the first sounds of the creation. One hand makes the calming abhayamudra gesture and another points to his left foot, symbol of salvation. He also stamps one foot on the dwarf figure Apasmara Purusha who represents illusion and who leads men away from the truth.

Shiva may also be depicted standing on one leg with the right leg folded in front of the left knee and holding a rosary in his right hand, the typical posture of ascetic meditation. Sometimes he also rides his white bull, carries a silver bow (Pinaka), holds an antelope, and wears a tiger or elephant skin, all symbolic of his famed prowess as a hunter.

Cartwright, M. (2018, May 10). ShivaAncient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/shiva/

This is the gist of all worship — to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste, or creed, or race, or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.

  • Swami Vivekananda, in “Address at the Rameswaram Temple on Real Worship”, in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 3