From wearing tiger skin to smearing his body with ash to smoking a chillum, he has a personality unlike other gods – the one who makes mistakes and learns from them, the one who dances with a free mind, the one who leads a simple life. And it is always interesting to read stories and facts about him. No wonder Shiva is everyone’s favourite.
There are so many legends that it is practically impossible to list all of them, so we have compiled the most famous and interesting ones for you. Read on:
1. The story behind Shiva’s blue throat
Also known by the name of Neelkantha, Shiva got the blue neck after drinking the poison, Halahala, during the Churning of Ocean (Samudra Manthan) to get the elixir of life (Amrit).
The legend says that during Samudra Manthan, the ocean of the milk was being churned by the devas and asuras, the first thing to appear was a dark sticky foam, the poison Halahala that had the power to destroy the universe. Soon, its fumes started to spread in the air and water. Shiva drank it to save the world. Goddess Parvati caught hold of his neck to avoid the poison from entering his body and so it remained in his throat making it blue coloured.
2. The story why Shiva covers his body with ash
Shiva’s body is always covered with ash and his devotees wear an ash tilak. It is said that he wears ash to remind his devotees about reality, and foolishness of getting enamored by physical beauty.
The story goes like this. One day the powerful sage Parnada was cutting some grass when he cut his finger and instead of blood his finger oozed the sap of a tree, and he was filled with pride. Shiva who witnessed this event took the guise of an old man and asked him the reason for his delight, and Parnada said that he had become the most pious man in the world. But the old man questioned the sage’s joy saying that it was just sap; when trees and plants are burned they turn into ash. The old man demonstrated it by slicing his finger and spilled ash. Sage Parnada realized that it was Shiva before him and asked him to forgive his ignorance.
3. The story why Shiva fell at Goddess Kali’s feet
Goddess Kali is regarded as the most fierce and destructive form of Shakti.
Once upon a time, Rakta Beej, a powerful demon could duplicate himself as soon as a drop of his blood touched the Earth. He was soon uncontrollable. Hence, Shakti in the form of Goddess Durga was summoned to kill the demon. As soon as she wounded him, his blood fell on Earth and the demon kept on multiplying. Enraged by this, the Devi took the fierce form of Kali and slayed each demon and drank his blood immediately. After she consumed the army the Goddess became mad with blood lust and slayed the innocent. The Gods approached Shiva for help who lay down among the corpses. Accidentally, she stepped on Shiva and soon realised her mistake and calmed down which made her tongue stick out.
4. The story of Ganga flowing from Shiva’s head
Among the number of legends associated with Ganga and Shiva, the most famous one goes like this:
Once, Bhagiratha asked Brahma to bring the river Ganges down to earth to purify the souls of his ancestors and help them to attain nirvana. Brahma asked Bhagiratha to propitiate Shiva, for only he could break Ganga’s landfall. Ganga arrogantly flew down to earth but Shiva calmly trapped her back in his matted locks and let her out in seven streams; Bhagirathi, Janhvi, Bhilangana, Mandakini, Rishiganga, Saraswati, and Alaknanda. She then followed Bhagiratha, who lead her to his ancestors and with her purity, released their souls.
5. The story of Shiva and his association with cannabis
Shiva is frequently associated with cannabis, which is commonly known as bhang in India. There are numerous legends behind this as well.
According to one, Shiva wandered off into the fields after an angry discourse with his family. Drained from the family conflict and the hot sun, he fell asleep under a leafy plant (cannabis). When he woke up, his curiosity led him to sample the leaves of the plant. Instantly rejuvenated, Shiva made the plant his favorite food.
Another legend goes like this: When the ocean of milk was churned by the Gods and the demons for acquiring the elixir of life, a drop fell on Mount Madra and a plant sprouted out from the drop. The drink made from the leaves of the plant (cannabis) became a favourite of Shiva.
6. The story behind Shiva’s tandava
Shiva takes the form of Nataraja to suppress Apasmara – the symbol of ignorance.
One of the interesting legends related to Shiva’s tandava goes like this: Once, the dwarf demon Apasmara challenged Shiva. Shiva took the form of Nataraja and performed the famous Tandava, eventually crushing the arrogant Apasmara under his right foot. Since Apasmara should not die to preserve the balance between knowledge and ignorance, it is believed that Lord Shiva forever remains in his Nataraja form suppressing Apasmara for eternity. His Nataraja avatar is a message that ignorance can only be overcome by knowledge, music, and dance.
7. The story of Shiva and the snake around his neck
It is said that the three rounds of the snake around his neck depicts future, present and past.
Well, there are numerous tales associating snakes and Shiva. According to one, during Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean, Shiva drank a deadly poison. It is believed that there were also some snakes in water who did the same. Impressed by this act of snakes, Shiva accepted Vasuki (king of snakes) around his neck. However, in another version of this story, the snakes helped Shiva keep the poison in his throat.
There is another legend which says that the snakes found on his body became ornaments during his marriage with Parvati. Also, it is said that Shiva made ornaments out poisonous snakes and submitted it to Parvati as gift. Snakes, especially cobras, are said to carry ‘mani’ (rubies) in their head that served as lamps during night to Parvati and Shiva.
8. The story of Shiva and the moon on his head
There is a reason why this mighty lord is called Chandrashekhara. The word ‘chandra’ means moon and ‘shekhara’ means crest or peak. The moon adorns the head of Shiva, which is explained as the peak – point of any human being. During, the Churning of Ocean, when Lord Shiva consumed Halahala, his body temperature started rising. As it is believed that the moon is cool in its demeanor, he placed the moon on his head to lower his body temperature.
Here’s another story. Daksha Prajapati, one of the sons of Lord Brahma, had 27 stars as his daughters who were married to the moon. However, the moon had a special attraction towards one of his many wives – she was Rohini and this caused trouble for the other wives. Daksha then warned the moon to treat all his wives equally but it didn’t listen. Due to this, he cursed the moon that it would lose its shine day by day. Soon it started losing light and took refuge in the ocean. Without the moon, the balance of nature got disturbed as the lives dependent on the light of the moon started suffering. To end this, all deities requested Shiva to do something. The moon then took refuge in Shiva’s matted hair. He succeeded in making the moon grow in size for 15 days and then wane for another 15 days, (which is why we see a full moon and a new moon!).
9. The story of Shiva and his association with the bull Nandi
The story goes like this: Surabhi, the original mother of all the cows, began to give birth to a lot of cows. The milk from all these cows flooded the home of Shiva. Angry at this disturbance to his meditation, the god struck the cows with fire from his third eye. Seeing this, the other gods sought to calm Shiva down by offering him a magnificent bull – Nandi, the son of Surabhi and Kasyapa, which he accepted and rode. Nandi also became the protector of all animals.