In Yoga, Ardhanarishvara expresses the unity of masculine and feminine energies of the totality (Purusha and Prakriti), and illuminates how Shakti, the female principle of the Divine, is integral to Shiva, the male principle of the Divine. The union of these principles is honoured as the essence and womb of all creation.
Purusha/Shiva is the passive force of the universe, while Prakriti/Shakti is the active, energetic force. Both of these forces must embrace and harmonize with each other to generate and sustain the universe. This idea is depicted by the union of the Linga of Shiva and the Yoni of the Devi — birthing the entire creation.
Ardhanarishvara represents the “totality that lies beyond duality,” “bi-unity of male and female in God” and “the bisexuality and therefore the non-duality” of the Creator. It relays that the Almighty is both Shiva and Shakti, “both male and female, both father and mother, both aloof and active, both fearsome and gentle, both destructive and constructive,” and merges all other apparent separation of the macrocosm.
Ardhanarishvara is an androgynous form portrayed as half male and half female, split down the middle. The right half is usually the male Shiva, illustrating his traditional attributes. The right side is generally related with masculine features and cerebral operation like logic, direction, and systematic thought, and also with courage and associated habits. The left side is connected to the heart, with common feminine attributes such as creativity and intuition.
The source of the concept of Ardhanarishvara is linked to hermaphrodite symbols in both the ancient Hindu and Greek cultures. The earliest figures of Ardhanarishvara date back to the Kushan era, records of which exist from the first century CE.
Many cultures of the world also believe that hermaphrodite figures such as the Ardhanarishvara also symbolize fertility and boundless growth. Shiva embracing Parvati/Shakti is linked with the limitless reproductive strength of Mother Nature herself.
Image Source: Manisha Raju
This article was originally published for Salt Spring Malas.