Ardhanariswara - An analysis!

We had a heavy dose of Metaphysics and Philosophy in our last post. Yes! I also had a bit of a tough time how to put my thoughts into words in such a way that my awesome blog readers could understand. Many times it is not enough to know the knowledge, but it is also very much needed to be able to explain concepts in a simple way so that another person is able to grasp what one is trying to say. Anyway, today let us concentrate on another God. But as all of us know by now, the Gods are made for us to live fruitful and productive lives and we are not made for the Gods as many people tend to think. Another fact is Gods have everything with them, they don't need us to give them anything as they are already enlightened and Self- realized. But they have been made for us to know truly ourselves by way of imbibing the energies they represent and putting it to work for us in our lives.

Okay, that said let us come to the God we are discussing today. He/She is called 'Ardhanariswara'. What does this imply? In Sanskrit 'Ardha'(अर्ध ) means half, 'Nari'(नारी ) means woman and 'Iswara'(ईश्वर ) means God. So putting it in proper English it means 'The God who is the half woman'. Ardhanariswara is always depicted as half man and half woman with the woman depicted on the left side and the man on the right side. How can a God be depicted as both man and a woman? Is there any underlying metaphorical significance? What should we infer? From all the blog posts we have discussed till to date, we should be able to say without a doubt that in Mythology nothing is literal but always metaphorical.

Ardhanariswara from Lingaraj temple, Bhubhaneswar
By Juggadery (Bhubaneshwar 20 - Lingaraj temple) [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Purusha and Prakruti: Before discussing our Ardhanariswara we need to discuss another concept that comes in the Philosophy of Sanatana Dharma (a.k.a. Hinduism). Remember the concept of Brahman we discussed last week? Brahman is the inert, formless and eternal nature of the Universal principle which makes the fabric of our Universe. Now if the Brahman stays in that form, nothing is happening as the Universal principle is inert and will stay like that for eternity. If it stays like that, how can the Universe, galaxies, solar systems, our Earth and ultimately we, be formed? Therefore Brahman cannot stay like that. So in the next concept, Brahman by itself (Please don't ask me what caused it? I have absolutely no idea. Many things cannot be proven, but only be experienced or felt through an intuition) divided into two principles, 'Purusha' and 'Prakruti'. Purusha can be considered as the archetype of the 'divine masculine' and Prakruti as the divine feminine.

Let us clarify this with an example. Think of a potter. He is making a pot and for that, he needs the clay, which we can associate with the Purusha or the divine masculine. This is the principle in the form of matter, that can be thought of as the unused potential or clay using which we can make a pot, a clay sculpture or a vessel. But it is not enough to have the clay, but along with that, we need a potter's wheel, the potter's hands and the energy to rotate the potter's wheel (Come on, we are thinking of the olden days. Not today where a robot may be making the pot :-) ). This set of things can be thought of as the Prakruti or the creative principle or the divine feminine that makes things happen, which can also be considered as the energy. So to make a new thing like the pot, two things have to come together, the Purusha, the matter or the potential or the clay and the Prakruti, the energy or the creative principle or the potter's wheel and his hands along with the force to rotate the wheel.

Shiva and Shakthi: The same concept of Purusha and Prakruti in Vedic Philosophy takes another form in Indian mythology called Shiva and Shakthi. Shiva is the form of matter that is inert and inactive that depicts the potential the matter holds and Shakthi is the energy principle that is active, creative and molds the clay into a sculpture. In Mythology the same Shiva is depicted as the God who swallowed the 'Halahala' poison in Samudra Mathanam and the Yogi (the enlightened being) who ran behind the Maya of Mohini. Shakthi is another name for Parvathi, the wife of Shiva who held his neck without the poison going to his stomach and who hung her head in shame when her husband was chasing another woman (Mohini).

The form of Shiva and Shakthi is for us humans to easily digest the fact that for a new thing to come into existence we need the potential as well as the energy. This fact is depicted as various stories all over mythology where Shiva goes in search of Shakthi or Parvathi to fulfill the creation of a new principle by the joining of matter and energy. But many times even stories don't get through our thick heads, so the Gods thought it may be better to depict this concept in a single picture. Thus the God Ardhanariswara came into existence with the left side showing the Shakthi principle or the divine feminine and the right side showing the Shiva principle or the divine masculine.

Shiva-Shakthi Union - 1: There is a story that Shiva was so much in love with Shakthi and when she asked him to bless her, he blessed her with half of his body itself. Here he has to give away half of his body to accommodate her and that shows the love he was feeling towards her. So as here Shiva has given half of his body to Shakthi, Ardhanariswara is considered a male God, with half of his body having female principle. 

Many times this is shown as an example in marriages to show that a husband and a wife should know each other so much that they exist as one unit in the marriage with one body and one mind. Such a marriage is the fertile ground for creativity in the form of a holistic union from which flowers and fruits as kids can be produced. If the male principle works against the female principle or the other way around, then the marriage as a unit is not going anywhere, so that has to be of one mind and attitude so that they can work together towards the progress of the marriage. This is the concept when there are two people male and female involved in the union. How about if we take it a step further?

Ardhanariswara with Shiva on the right and Shakthi on the left
Author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Shiva-Shakthi Union - 2:  Remember how we discussed in the 'Tat Twam Asi' post that in a person the divine feminine and divine masculine needs to exist as a balanced state. Here again, Ardhanariswara asks us to exist as a balanced person with an equal amount of the masculine and the feminine side. Once the person reaches this balance then it can be said that the inherent potential or talent he/she brings to this life can be considered the Shiva and the creative aspiration he/she has to take his/ her talent and mold it using their creative power or energy or Shakthi to transform the talent and the creativity into another form that takes its own life and comes into existence as a separate entity. Here also if one principle works against the other (many of us lead a life like that), the person cannot progress in his material or spiritual pursuits.

Facebook: It is always better to analyze everything with an example. Take a person, let's say, Mark Zuckerberg. He had the inherent talent or potential which struck him as an idea of social networking. If he had just sat on that idea it would have stayed inert or inactive like the Shiva principle. Remember Shiva is inert and without Shakthi, he cannot proceed further with the process of creation. Now, what did Mr.Zuckerberg do? Instead of just being hesitant about acting on the idea (many times, many of us just sit on an idea) he fully immersed himself in making that idea come into existence. For this, he used all his creative power or energy in the form of Shakthi to go behind the idea, take the necessary steps to put it into practice and slowly the new entity in the form of Facebook came into existence.

If Mr. Zuckerberg had not acted on his idea, the Shakthi part never would have manifested and Facebook would not have come into existence. If the idea had not have struck him, the inherent potential or the Shiva part would have not come into being. Then again Facebook would not have been created. So both Shiva and Shakthi are needed. One cannot exist without the other and both are equally important and one is not dominant over the other. So Mr.Zuckerberg's inherent talent in the form of idea and the creative juice in the form of effort brought into existence an entirely new creation called Facebook.

So if Mr. Zuckerberg has the principle of Shiva and Shakthi in him, don't you think we all the other people also have our own creative potential and energy? Yes! we also have the essence of Shiva and Shakthi embedded hidden in each and every one of us. But to access it, we may need to quiet our mind and keep a balanced outlook so that the Shiva and Shakthi can emerge out from us. Let the Ardhanariswara become alive in each of us so that we can capture our inherent creative potential and active power and let a version of our own creative entity come into existence! May the Lord Ardhanariswara help us towards that!

I wish you a good weekend and I'll see you next Friday! 😉

Next week: Mahalakshmi - An interpretation!

Note: Images taken from Wikimedia Commons.


Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance ; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried".  

 
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