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.)
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.