Shiva is one of the primary gods in the Hindu religion, which is widely practiced in India. Like many Hindu deities, he has a complex and dualistic nature. Many practitioners of Hinduism focus their worship on Shiva and his many aspects, in a tradition called Shaivism. Since he is such an important member of the Hindu pantheon, some people outside of this religion are vaguely familiar with him.
Various forms of Hinduism have been practiced for thousands of years, with the oldest beliefs and teachings of the religion being found in a series of sacred texts known as the Vedas. Originally, Shiva appears to have been worshiped in the guise of Rudra, an older god who was in charge of storms, winds, and hunting. Rudra was sometimes known as “The Terrible,” in a reference to his wild and savage ways.
Like Rudra, Shiva is a very destructive god, capable of wreaking havoc and burning away impurities. But he is also a god of creation, and considered a god of truth, goodness, and beauty. Many people consider him to be a very auspicious god, as well as a god of paradoxical ideas. Many statues, for example, depict him with both female and male attributes, enforcing the concept of Shiva as a very dualistic and sometimes confusing figure in Hindu mythology. In addition to being a creator and a destroyer, he is also associated with dance, the arts, and wisdom, and he is a respected figure in the yogic tradition.
In most depictions of Shiva, he has a third eye, matted hair, and a crescent or horn on his head. The river Ganges also plays a role in Shiva's iconography, since the god is closely associated with the Ganges, and snakes may appear wrapped around him as well. He carries a trident in some images, as that is his weapon of choice, and his body is often naked and smeared in ash. When he requires transportation, Shiva rides a white bull named Nandi.
The primary family of Shiva consists of the goddess Parvati and their children, Ganesha and Skanda. He is also associated with other goddesses and gods in the Hindu pantheon, such as Vishnu and Kali. His first consort according to Hindu mythology was Sati, a goddess of loyalty, truth, and long life. According to legend, Sati immolated herself because her father disapproved of her marriage to Shiva, and she was reincarnated as Parvati.