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Lord Shiva is both figurative and abstract Nirakaar or Sakaar

Lord Shiva is revered with the hundreds of synonyms. Shankar the Well Wisher, Mahadev The lord of lords and Parmeshwar The Supreme God.  Shiva is a part of Trimurty the Hindu trinity that includes Brahma and Vishnu.  Shiva is the Supreme Lord who creates, protects and transforms and destroys the universe yet revered along with Vedic Gods Vishnu and Brahma. 

Shiva has pre-Vedic tribal roots having his origins in primitive tribes, signs and symbols as the explorers have found early prehistoric paintings at the Bhimbetka rock shelters near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. These carbon dated pre-10,000 BCE period rock paintings are depicting Shiva dancing, Shiva’s trident, and his mount Nandi. Rock paintings from Bhimbetka is depicting a figure with a Trishul possibly as Nataraja seems to be of the Mesolithic age. The Pashupati seal was found during the excavation of the Indus Valley archaeological site of Mohenjo-Daro carbon dated 2350-2000 BCE.  It is showing a possible representation of a yogi or proto-Shiva figure as Pashupati the Lord of the Animals. Pashupati is one of the form of Lord Shiva as per Shaiva philosophy. It establishes that Lord Shiva is originally a Dravidian God. 

There is no reference of Lord Shiva in Vedic period of Aryans except for once in Rigveda.  The Vedas describe Rudra a Rigvedic deity with fearsome powers and who  was the god of the roaring storm. There were 11 Rudras. Shiva shares many features with Vedic god Rudra and viewed as same personality in later Hindu scriptures such as Upnishads, Brahman Grinths and Aranyaka. Hymn 10.92 of the Rigveda states that deity Rudra has two natures, one wild and cruel (Rudra) while another is kind and tranquil (Shiva).

 It seems to me as a conciliatory acceptance of each other’s gods by Aryans and Dravidians when formers arrived in India.  Aryans went a step ahead accepting Shiva as Devadidev or Mahadeva means Lord of lords or Supreme Lord. Shiva is also known as the patron god of yoga, meditation and arts.

Lord Shiva is both figurative and abstract Nirakaar or Sakaar. The iconographical figure  of Shiva is wearing a serpent around his neck, the  crescent moon on the head , the Third eye  on his forehead , the Trishula or trident as his weapon, the holy river Ganga flowing from his entangled  hair, and also holding a  musical instrument  Damaru drum. He is usually worshipped in the form of lingam the phallus God  emerging from Vagina. Shiva is revered widely by Hindus in Indian continent including South East Asia. The Shiva temples out number all other Hindu deities dotting entire Indian landscape.

Lord Shiva is also known as Pashupatinath, the lord of animals. The Pashupatinath tradition is one of 6 major tradition within Shaivism. The Pashupatinath idol is a complete merger of Rudra and Shiva with eight faces. The eight faces represent the various aspects of Shiva in regional Shaivism theology such as Bhava, Pashupati, Mahadeva, Isana, Rudra, Sharva, Ugra and Asani. It is referred as   Ashtamukha or Ashtamurti. There are two Pashupatinath temples which are well known in the world. One of course is very popular as located at Kathmandu in Nepal while another is situated at Mandsaur in the western side of central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The Mandsaur Shivalingam is much larger than Kathmandu Temple. 

The ancient city of Mandsaur has a glorious past in the Indian History.  The City surrounded by villages with fields where farmers grow opium since ancient times. The colorful poppy flower bloomed fields turn the landscape beautiful in seasons. A river called Shivna flows through the city. The famous shrine is nestled on the banks of this river. 

In the early sixties an Ashtamukhi Shiva Linga was found in the riverbed of Shivna by a laundryman, Udaji,  who  used to wash clothes on a huge stone on the banks of River Shivna.  According to legends, one night while sleeping, he dreamt of Lord Shiva telling him that he was washing clothes on his idol.

Next day, it was found that the stone on which Udaji used to wash clothes was  actually a very beautiful huge Shivlinga with eight faces and he was washing clothes on the broad head of idol.   When people of Mandsaur tried to carry the idol to Ujjain, the bullocks did not move a mile. That night Udaji again dreamt of Lord Shiva instructing him that the temple should be built there only. This is the beginning of  constructing Pashupatinath Temple at Mandsaur.

The eight face Shiva found in the reconstructed Pashupatinath temple is from the 1st millennium CE and possesses a rare iconography. The Shiv Ling in the temple is 8′ x 10.5′ and weighs 4.6 tons.  It has been re consecrated into the temple. The upper part of the linga has four heads in a line, while the other four heads are carved below them in the second line. The faces have open eyes, with the third eye on their forehead visible.  Each face has elaborate hair probably reflecting the culture of its time for men. Each wears jewelry such as earlobes, necklace and many other ornaments. As described aforesaid, the eight faces represent the various aspects of Shiva in regional Shaivism theology: Bhava, Pashupati, Mahadeva, Isana, Rudra, Sharva, Ugra and Asani.  According to some historians, this Mandsaur linga is likely from the early 6th century. It was the same time when Nepal  kings constructed  Kathmandu Pashupatinath temple. The eight-faced idol is still the same as it was left by the sculptors in that era, the lower faces have been partially worked upon and they are not as clear as the upper four faces. The shrine has four doors in four directions. The temple built on the river is 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 101 feet tall. On top of the temple is a 100 kg gold plated pitcher. Every monsoon the water level in the Shivna river rises to touch the holy Shiv Ling of lord Shiva. This phenomenon is termed as “Jalaabhishek” which means worshiping god through the water.

A question comes to mind whether any temple existed in the area in the ancient times  ! Certainly the archeological antiquities and ancient historical references in and around area indicate it. The history of the site is traceable to the 2nd-century CE when it was already a Hindu pilgrimage site and region was known as Dashapura as per ancient inscriptions found around Mandsaur.   It is mentioned by the ancient Indian poet Kalidasa, who praises the women of Dashapura as “so practiced in their seductive movements” in his epic Maghdootam. Ten inscriptions found in the area suggest the Mandsaur site was an important cultural and religious center in the first half of the 1st millennium CE. Nine of these inscriptions are Sanskrit poems, most dated between 404 and 487 CE, and all include invocations to Hindu gods such as Vasudeva and Shiva in various forms. They mention kings of Gupta Empire era, as well as temples of Dashapura.  The sculpture from the temple and other archaeological findings such as the Mandasor inscriptions is called by the historians as the longest and certainly the most beautiful of the Gupta inscriptions reflecting the flavor of life at its best in 

The inscriptions also suggest that the sculpture and temples of Mandsaur were built with resources pooled by the common people, such as silk weavers of Dashapura, who had settled there from Gujarat. However, these inscriptions mention a Surya (Sun) temple, a Vishnu temple and others. They do not mention the Pashupatinath temple. Excavations have yielded several brick temples of Shiva which have been dated to the 6th century, suggesting that Shiva was a prominent deity along with others in ancient Mandasor Gupta times. Discoveries of Sanchi Stoops and Vaishnavite caves depicting huge Varah Awatar and Lord Vishnu resting in the lap of colossus serpent  in Udaigiri Vidisha are the rare highlights of  Golden Gupta periods. Both the destinations are not far off. 

The discovery  of Yashodharman’s   early 6th century two  pillars with Sanskrit  inscriptions on them from a village Sondani  about 4 kilometers from Mandsaur is another solid evidence of the era during which this beautifull Shivalinga was carved.    These record the victory of Aulikara king Yasodharman over the Hun king Mihirakula.  According to historians,  these are notable for their outstanding literary, calligraphic and historical value.  The inscription adds to the evidence in Buddhist texts, such as the memoirs of the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang who calls Mihirakula as extremely cruel and barbaric, one who killed monks and destroyed monasteries in  Gandhara.   The Mandsaur inscription praises Yasodharman, describes him as having rescued the earth from rude and cruel kings of the Kali age, who delight in viciousness. It also throws lights on the contemporary times. 

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