Lord Shiva is one of the three gods in the Hindu Trinity. He is believed to be more powerful than the other two gods, Vishnu and Brahma. Shiva is hailed as The Destroyer. Symbolically, it means one who destroys all imperfections and negative human traits. He is represented as the Ultimate Supreme power by the Shaivite Hindu sect.
According to the Shiva Purana, Lord Shiva is said to have taken 19 forms or avatars to get rid of negativity and save his devotees from their enemies. Read on to know more about some of them.
Piplaad was born to the childless couple sage Daddhichi and his wife, Suvarcha. However, the sage left his wife while she was expecting Piplaad. When Piplaad got to know about this, he got upset. He asked the devas why his father did so. They replied that he had to do so because of the evil effect of Saturn or Shani. This angered Piplaad. Out of rage, he cursed Shani who began falling from his abode.
Saturn pleaded for forgiveness. Piplaad agreed to forgive him on the condition that he would not trouble anyone less than 16 years of age. To this day, people pray to lord Shiva to get rid of shani dosha.
Shiva took this avatar as the protector of the herds. He was born to sage Shilada as this avatar when the sage had prayed with intense devotion to Shiva for an immortal child.
Nandi is represented as a bull with four hands. One hand sports an axe while the other holds on to an antelope. The other two hands join together in homage. This avatar epitomises a symbol of vigour and masculinity.
There are several temples dedicated to Nandi. The Nandisvara temple in Karnataka is one such example.
This is an avatar of Shiva that took place when he was enraged at the knowledge that his wife Sati had self-immolated at her father Daksha’s yagna. The avatar is said to have originated from a strand of hair that Shiva plucked from his head and threw on the ground.
Veerbhadra appeared before King Daksha with open hair and ruined the yagna by insulting the priests, breaking the vessels, and creating a lot of damage. Finally, he beheaded the king and returned to Kailash.
This is a fierce avatar of Shiva and he is also represented as Kala Bhairava. The Lord is said to have taken this avatar when there was a duel between Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma over their superiority. They approached Shiva to solve the issue. The Lord took the form of a huge jyotirlinga and asked both the gods to find either end of the linga.
Lord Brahma proceeded upwards while Lord Vishnu proceeded downwards. Shortly afterwards, Brahma lied that he had found the end while Vishnu conceded that he was not able to do so. The lie angered Lord Shiva and he chopped Brahma’s fifth head off the body. However, this act couldn’t go without consequences. Bhairava had to keep the fifth head with him for 12 years.
This avatar punishes people with negative traits such as arrogance, lust and greed that lead to their downfall. Devotees pray to the lord in this form to be blessed with success in life and victory over enemies. He is believed to guard the Shakti Peethas in this form.
He was born as the son of the legendary Guru Dronacharya’s son when the guru engaged in intense penance to be blessed with the lord as his son or a son who had the same valour as Lord Shiva. It is said that Shiva deliberately took this form to cleanse the world and expel all the evil.
He is represented as a Brahmin with the traits of a Kshatriya. Ashwathama was a mighty warrior and had a gem on his forehead that bestowed him to be powerful over any living thing lower in rank than human beings. This gem also had the power to protect him from hunger, fatigue and thirst. He played a key role in the Mahabharata.
Shiva took this avatar to calm Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha incarnation after he killed the Asura king, Hiranyakashipu. Sharabha appears as a half lion-half bird creature in golden colour. He has a frightening appearance in this avatar with two red eyes and four legs like a lion with claws facing upward. The body is similar that of a human being while the face is like that of a lion’s.
Some religious texts mention that this form of the lord has side tusks and 30 arms with a weapon in most arms.
Shiva was born as Grihapati to the Brahmin, Vishwanar, and his wife, Suchismati. She wanted a son just like her Lord Shiva. So, when the sage performed penance in Kashi for a son, Shiva, pleased with his devotion, took birth as their son Grihapati. The son became adept with all the Hindu scriptures at a young age.
Grihapati is worshipped in this form in many temples.
It is said that Lord Shiva was smitten by Lord Vishnu who had taken a woman’s form as Mohini during the churning of the ocean. This caused his semen to fall on the ground, which was picked up by the Saptarishis and implanted in Anjani’s womb with Shiva’s consent. As a result, Hanuman was born.
According to another version, Shiva took the form of Hanuman to serve Lord Rama. He is referred to as Rama’s most loyal devotee. Lord Rama, himself, was a devotee of Shiva.
The lord took this form of a keerat or hunter to test Arjuna. During the exile period, Arjuna prayed to Shiva for his blessings and to get pashupatasthra. This is the most destructive and powerful weapon according to Hindu mythology and can help the user to vanquish any being.
Arjuna was in deep meditation when a demon Mooka took the form of a boar to kill him. Both Arjuna and the keerat killed the boar with their arrows. Each of them claimed to have killed the boar first and this led to a fight between them. Lord Shiva was impressed with Arjuna’s bravery and gave him the astra.
Lord Shiva took this form to test Parvati’s determination when she prayed to him with full devotion in order to marry him. He appeared before her as a brahmachari and started talking ill of Shiva. Parvati could not tolerate this and condemned him. This pleased Shiva and he agreed to marry her.
Shiva appeared before the Devas to remove their pride and false ego after consuming the amrit. This concerned Shiva and he went to them dressed like a yaksha (Hindu texts represent yakshas as semi divine beings with a benevolent nature) and gave them each a blade of grass. He then asked them to cut it. They tried doing it individually and using their combined powers but failed miserably. The Devas understood who the yaksha was. Their pride and ego vanished and they sought his forgiveness.
The other forms of Lord Shiva are Krishna Darshan, Yatinath, Sureshwar, Avadhut, Durvasa and Rishaba.