In Hinduism, the origins of Lord Shiva are depicted through various ancient texts, each offering a unique perspective on the transcendent and supreme deity’s Shiva’s birth. Vaishnavites believe that Lord Shiva was created by Lord Vishnu, whereas Shaivites believe that Lord Shiva is Svayambhu, self-manifested. This article unfolds the narratives presented in the Shiva Purana, Vishnu Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, and the Brahma-Samhita.
Shiva Purana’s Lingodbhava: At the conclusion of a Kalpa, a cosmic epoch spanning 4.32 billion years, the cosmic expanse was enveloped in waters. Upon observing Lord Vishnu in yogic slumber atop the serpent deity Shesha, Lord Brahma roused him by striking him with his hand, and asked him who he was. When Vishnu informed Brahma that he was the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world, the two Lords began to argue as Brahma also believed the same of himself. They got into an argument about who was superio9r and more powerful, and their discord escalated into a ferocious fight, only to be interrupted by the sudden emergence of a Jyotirlinga, an immense pillar of light symbolizing the essence of the universe. It had thousands of flames and no observable beginning, middle or end. They forgot their fight and decided to test the limits of the jyotirlinga. Brahma took the form of a swan and went upwards into the pillar and Vishnu assumed the form of a wild boar and went downwards. This quest lasted for a full a millennium, but they could not find the end of the lingam, and so they returned to where they started. They reverently bowed to the lingam, wondering what it truly was. Then out of the column a loud ‘Om’ sound reverberated and they say the letters “अ” “ऊ,” and “म” (“a,” “u,” and “m”). Above these stood Lord Shiva and long with the goddess Uma. Supreme Lord Shiva informed both Vishnu and Brahma that they had both been borne of him, and had forgotten. This tale, known as Lingodbhava, signifies the Linga’s emergence.
As discussed previously, Rudra is closely associated with Lord Shiva. Initially, Rudra and Shiva were understood as distinct entities. Rudra is one of the earlier Vedic deities mentioned in ancient texts like the Rigveda, where he is often feared as a fierce storm god and healer. Over time, with the evolving religious and philosophical ideas, Shiva emerged as a major deity in Hinduism. He is often considered a more benign and auspicious figure compared to the fierce Rudra of the Vedic period.
Quote from the Vishnu Purana:
‘In the beginning of the Kalpa, as Brahmā purposed to create a son, who should be like himself, a youth of a purple complexion appeared, crying with a low cry, and running about. Brahmā, when he beheld him thus afflicted, said to him, “Why dost thou weep?” “Give me a name,” replied the boy. “Rudra be thy name,” rejoined the great father of all creatures: “be composed; desist from tears.” But, thus addressed, the boy still wept seven times, and Brahmā therefore gave to him seven other denominations; and to these eight persons regions and wives and posterity belong. The eight manifestations, then, are named Rudra, Bhava, Śarva, Iśāna, Paśupati, Bhīma, Ugra, and Mahādeva, which were given to them by their great progenitor. He also assigned to them their respective stations, the sun, water, earth, air, fire, ether, the ministrant Brahman, and the moon; for these are their several forms. The wives of the sun and the other manifestations, termed Rudra and the rest, were respectively, Suvercalā, Uṣā, Vikesī, Sivā, Svāhā, Diśā, Dīkṣā, and Rohinī. Now hear an account of their progeny, by whose successive generations this world has been peopled. Their sons, then, were severally, Sanaiścara (Saturn), Śukra (Venus), the fiery-bodied Mars, Manojava (Hanumān), Skanda, Svarga, Santāna, and Budha (Mercury).’
In a new Kalpa, Lord Brahma endeavored to birth a progeny like himself. This is a classic story reflected in many creation stories around the world: a God who wishes to create a Son. When he manifested his son and named him Rudra, the child’s tears led to the creation of eight distinct forms. These manifestations, assigned with cosmic domains, underline the multifaceted nature of divinity. Their progeny were said to have populated the world and they represent the planets, tying this legend into Vedic astrology as well.
There is one more tale regarding the creation of Lord Shiva.
Brahma Vaivarta Purana & Brahma-Samhita Chronicles: The Brahma Vaivarta Purana and the Brahma-Samhita offer a similar narrative, with Lord Shiva emanating from Lord Brahma’s forehead and the space between Maha-Vishnu’s eyebrows respectively, highlighting the interconnectedness of the cosmic trinity.
“The same Mahā-Viṣṇu created Viṣṇu from His left limb, Brahmā, the first progenitor of beings, from His right limb and, from the space between His two eyebrows, Śambhu, the divine masculine manifested halo” – Shri Brahma-Samhita 5.15.
Conclusion: Among these narratives, the Shiva Purana’s depiction is predominantly revered, portraying Lord Shiva as a self-manifested deity. His emergence from the Hiranyagarbha, a cosmic fiery column, represents the timeless and birthless essence of Lord Shiva.