Ardhanarishvara, Symbolism and Interpretations

Ardhanarishvara, the Lord whose half is woman!

I always found this form of God intriguing. Even as a young girl I used to be puzzled by this form of God. Half man and half woman! What could it signify! Grand moms and parents did answer but much of the meaning became clear after I was many years in to adulthood.

Hindus consider this form of God as the harmonious male-female essence divinity, the ineffable genderless nature of of God beyond human distinctions. The Rigvedic assertion is explicitly defined: the male is only so much male as much he is female and vice versa the female is only as much female as much she is male. The maleness and femaleness are the attributes contained in one frame. God is conceptually beyond sex, but often referred to as He/She. The more appropriate reference would be ‘It’.

During my recent Temple tour of Tamil Nadu I came across sculpted images depicting various forms of this unique form of Ardhanarishwara. Some had just two arms, some with three and some with even eight. The left side depicts Shakti, consort of Lord Shiva. The form is more curvaceous, with all parts rounded, the hand holding a blue lotus. The right side depicts Lord Shiva in all his accessories. The form is more masculine, the hand in abhaya mudra, imparting fearlessness.

(Shot taken at Gangaikondacholapuram, near Kumbakonam.)

Ardhanarishvara Breehadeeswara Temple

(Shot taken at Breehadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur.)

Story of Ardhanarishvara

How soon the roles of life change! My daughters were now asking me the significance of this form of God. I shared with them a story of origin of Ardhanarishwara.

Sage bR^ingi is one of the ardent devotees of Lord Shiva. He used to worship only Lord Shiva and not Shakti. Goddess Shakti, being the power as the name indicates pulled out the energy from bR^ingi mahaR^ishi’s body. Now he was even unable to stand. He pleaded to God. God Shiva provided him with a stick. On its support he stood and still worshiped Lord Shiva alone. Goddess Shakti wanted to become an inseparable part of Lord Shiva’s form. She observed the kedhara maha vrata austerity, which is now known as deepavali. Pleased with her austerity, Lord Shiva granted her the boon of being part of His form. So the Lord now appeared male on the right side and female on the left side and hence became Ardhanarishvara.

Descent of Ganga and Arjuna's Penance, Mahabalipuram
Chola Frescoes at Tanjore Big Temple

40 Responses to “Ardhanarishvara, Symbolism and Interpretations

  • LOL
    Looks really GREAT 50/50
    different but unique 😉

    Interesting to read Indrani
    and nice photo's !!!

  • That is an interesting post, thank you.
    Indrani, here's wishing you and your folks a very happy Holi.

  • Another fascinating and informative post, Indrani! I loved reading this and your photos are terrific! Always feel I've learned so much from your posts! Thanks for contributing! Have a wonderful week1


  • I have never seen this god before this post. Thanks for sharing a very interesting topic.

  • so interesting!

  • What a wonderful story. I am thinking how relevant the story is now–very. Oh to be like this god!

  • Fascinating and beautiful sculptures. Enjoyed learning about this Deity that is beyond gender.

  • Wonderful sculptures. Whatever be the form they are carved very beautifully.

  • well written as usual….saw my first sculpture of Ardhnarishvara in mahabalipuram…rest u hv shown..thank you

  • the pics are beautiful!!! looks like u had a really great tanjore trip… i havent yet been to gangaikondacholapuram…..
    and speaking of ardhanareeshwara, you should go to the temple at Thiruchengodu near Karur where the main deity is ardhanareeshwara….

  • very interesting

  • Very cool pictures, I love looking at statues like these for the details.

  • Oh, I love that! It makes perfect sense that a divine being is both male and female.

  • very interesting story, this is definitely a priceless treasure for the next generation.

  • Very beautiful art forms, indeed. Even Nataraja is one of the amazing forms of Shiva, aint it? Beautiful is an artists creativity.

  • Thanks for your explanation of this interesting God. I especially like the first figurine.

  • The first statue is so graceful and elegant. I love the two metals.

    RnPB: Ch 013 – Clean Up

  • That's really interesting I had already read about the two sex god. I think it's a good thing at least he/she has equal rights !

  • What a fascinating post and great shots of the wonderful sculpture. I like the idea of god as man and woman (if god is given human representational form).

  • yes, it is intriguing especially the first image.

  • God is great – and the greatness can be shared!

  • Thanks for the photos and the info… this subject has fascinated me much… the genderless God or the concept of gender equality which was the core of Indian culture.. it was lost somewhere or maybe among a few and needs to be restored…

  • I have seen this god and always wondered what it meant.

  • This is fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing this and the photos.

  • I like this story.

    We are all one 🙂

  • Great. The various forms of ardhanarishwara are very interesting.

  • See the difference between the two temples though built by the same kingdom. One is so stiff and the other so in Tribanga curve.. Wow… Our ancestors were so great indeed…

  • great capture…it seems that u have done a good research also..

  • Very interesting post Ardhanarishwara, half male and half female. Thank you for explaining the god's origin.

  • very interesting and for me at a right time,..just the other day i saw gulal and in this movie, one person was painted like ardhnaareeshwar.and I was wondering about it.

  • Interesting post!!! Loved the idol!!

  • A very beautiful post! Ardhanarishwar has indeed been an enigma. We Hindus have always understood and worshipped the Divine Female as the originator of life. Even biologically a foetus is female till the 5th month after being conceived. After the 5th month it’s sexually demarcated. We all have both male and female features in us the testeterone or the male hormone is present in females and estrogen in males, making everyone an Ardhanarishwar!

    It was a very introspective post!

  • @Rakesh..beautiful reply..
    @Indrani..this is a beautiful post..

  • Jyothi D'mello
    2 years ago

    An Interesting piece of information. Great post Indrani x

  • Very fascinating…!

  • Very interesting post with great pictures 🙂

  • Thanks for the beautiful pics, the story and the idea. Sometime I’ll do a post on the concept of Ardhanarishwara 🙂

  • Loved the post and Rakesh’s comment too 🙂 I too found the real meaning behind it when I saw an episode of Devo Ke Dev Mahadev 🙂

  • Very interesting post. Ardhanarishvar is a very deep concept as you have rightly said. At a philosophical level it represents purusha and prakriti together – that is, pure consciousness as well as the Active Principle.

    Purusha is the knower and Prakriti is the object to be known – since one cannot exist without the other, Ardhanarishvara represents all aspects of knowledge spanning the knower to the known and all in between.

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