‘His name is not uttered. It must not be mentioned ; only indirectly is He to be referred to.’ [Aitareya Brahmana, 3:34].
Shivam is the abstraction; Shiva, the personification in ecstatic bhakthi, in solemn ritual, in myth, metaphor and poetic spree.
A minor god, as is Vishnu, in the the Rig Veda, He grows, transforms as the guardian-deity of the truth of Rta [‘An inexpressible, uncodefied order’] to dominate the later Hindu pantheon.
Shiva the ‘Pacific, Waveless’, is also as Raudra, the ‘Howler’, the darkly fierce god of storms. He bestrides the contradiction, rides the conflict, raids the verses of the Rig Veda in unpeakable acts.
Sundaramurthy Nayanar [8th Century] in his poems routinely addresses Him as Pitha, literally ‘[You] Delirious Madman’. The Sthapathis [Sculptors] of Swamimalai ever struggle to make respectable this untamed ‘Wild God’, temper him for his devotees.
Shiva is both the ascetic and the erotic and representation radiates outwards. Absent to aniconic to iconic to the unabashedly anthropomorphic. The familiar Mandala sequence, cryptic to coherent, from center to perimeter. And back again.
At the great temple of Arunachala, Shiva is Lingabhava, a shaft of light without beginning or end. As Nataraja at Thillai, he strides the shrine at Chidambaram as the deity of the Dance. He bears on his right, the ear-ring of a man; on his left, that of a woman. His foot is a-step on the body of a dwarf [Apasmayapurusha: a ‘Heedlessness’].
The Third Eye of Shiva [Triyambaka] is set mid-point on the forehead, equidistant from the two corporal eyes. It stands unprotected, does not blink, is never closed. In its proper mythic interpretation, the Eye carries no eyelid [an irregularity quickly corrected by Bollywood poster-artists].
If you can get a fix on Shivam, if you can place Him, grasp Her, corral It, what you have placed, grasped, corralled, by that very fact, is not Shivam. [See: ‘That’]
As the Gudimallam Linga, the earliest excavated version [300 BCE; South Eastern India], Shiva stands astride a Linga, the two united in one mingled rendering. The grounded expression in stone of the altitudinous abstraction, the modeling artifact of the ‘Subject-Object’ divide, the primal cleaving.
The Shiva–Linga-Yoni [the minimalist rendering, encircled, below] is the original symbol of division and union. It is the principal representation in the temple-shrines of both the Vishwanatha in Kashi and the Brihadeashwara in Thanjavur.
The Phallus, primal, primeval and universal in its symbolism and the receptive Feminine, the fount of all that is Create.
[The pious wince, preferring instead the Spatika Linga, a mild-mannered quartz-crystal which reflects but is itself untouched, in analogue to the later ‘Immaculate Pure Self’ of Vedantha.]
The sacral act of the Yajna was dismembering and reunification in the consuming flames of the altar, itself placed atop an earthen base, the original Mother rendered fecund by the Mantras. The symbolism is transparent and meant to be so.
And the sacred-ash, originally a mark of the imperative of self-naughting, now smeared over one’s forehead in cosmetic precision, an ostensible piety, a parallel of three lines [see the image].
The Shiva–Linga-Yoni as the original symbol of creation is now long forgotten replaced instead by imputed magical powers, divine flutter and superstitious cant.
I walk into a Śaṅkara Ashram, a Shaivite School, 1,500 years after its founding and watch the travesty of bright, earnest Brahmin boys whose calling it is to articulate Brahman, perfecting instead the rounding of the rolled rice-ball.