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In Yoga, Lord Shiva is considered the Ādi Yogi and the Adi Guru. He is the foremost among the yogis and the first teacher of the science of Yoga. He is an ideal ascetic and an ideal householder, all in one.He is depicted as sitting in lotus pose on mount Kailāså, unmoved by the events of the universe. He body is smeared with sacred ash. In his hair is the crescent moon symbolizing mystical vision and knowledge. The serpent coiled around his neck symbolizes the mysterious kundalini energy present in all of us. The river Ganges cascades from the crown of his head symbolizing perpetual purification, which he bestows upon his devotees. He is the three-eyed one or Trilochana as he has the third eye or the eye of wisdom in the centre of the forehead. Shiva is described as the blue-throated or Neelkanth. He is said to have drank the poison that emerged during the mythological churning of the ocean by the gods and the Asuras, thereby protecting the world from its harmful effects. His trident represents the three gunas or qualities of Nature, namely tamas, rajas, and sattva. He is Yogeshwara, the lord of Yoga; Maheshwara, the Great God and Bhuteshwara, the lord of the five elements from which the universe is created.
It is said that Shiva first imparted his knowledge to Pārvati or Shakti, his spouse. Also, for the good of mankind, he taught the science of Yoga to the ancient rishis who passed on this knowledge to the rest of humanity. All yogic and tantric systems consider him as the first Guru. These teachings have come down to us in the form of Agama Sastras. From these teachings, came various traditions which still exist. One of them is the Nava-Nāth Tradition founded by Matsyendranath, Gorakshnath and the seven other Gurus of the Nath Tradition, which is still prevalent mostly in North India. In the South, it was the Siddha Agastiar or Agastya Muni, who disseminated this knowledge and created a lineage of Siddhas who specialized in Yoga, Tantra, Medicine, Astrology and other sciences. The tradition of 18 Siddhars is well known in South India.
Through his teachings, Lord Shiva does not give any philosophical explanations, but instead gives very direct instructions on the methods to liberation. Shiva Sutras and Vighyana Bhairava Tantra are popular texts that contain specific techniques to liberate the embodied soul from the limitations of the body and mind and experience his true blissful nature. These techniques got refined over the centuries through various masters, who perfected this art and then taught it their disciples. Thus a Guru Shishya parampara was developed and the wisdom of yoga was passed on through the ages.
Lord Shiva is considered to be with form and without form. The Shiva described with form is worshiped as a powerful deity and a whole system of rituals have developed around it. He is one of the gods of the Trinity, the other two being, Vishnu and Brahma. Siva as a God represents the destructive aspect of the Supreme reality, Brahman. On the other hand, the Shiva described as formless is worshipped in the form of Shiva Linga and is considered the ultimate reality itself. Even though the formless cannot be given a form, the oval shaped Shiva Linga is said to the first form taken during creation. Shiva is considered the supreme consciousness in which the play of creation happens in the form of Shakti. Shiva and Shakti are inseparable, just as the creation cannot be separated from the creator. The whole of creation is described as Shiva Tandava or the dance of Shiva.
In the yogic culture, Shiva is not known as a god, but as the Ādi yogi or the first yogi – the originator of yoga. He was the one who first put this seed into the human mind. According to the yogic lore, over fifteen thousand years ago, Shiva attained his full enlightenment and abandoned himself in an intense ecstatic dance upon the Himalayas. When his ecstasy allowed him some movement, he danced wildly. When it became beyond movement, he became utterly still.
People saw that he was experiencing something that nobody had known before, something that they were unable to fathom. Interest developed and people came wanting to know what this was. They came, they waited and they left because the man was oblivious to other people’s presence. He was either in intense dance or absolute stillness, completely uncaring of what was happening around him. Soon, everyone left,except for seven men.
These seven people were insistent that they must learn what this man had in him, but Shiva ignored them. They pleaded and begged him, “Please, we want to know what you know.” Shiva dismissed them and said, “You fools. The way you are, you are not going to know in a million years. There is a tremendous amount of preparation needed for this. This is not entertainment.”
The Saptarishis were sent in seven different directions to different parts of the world to carry this dimension with which a human being can evolve beyond his present limitations and compulsions. They became the limbs of Shiva, taking the knowing and technology of how a human being can exist here as the Creator himself, to the world. Time has ravaged many things, but when the cultures of those lands are carefully looked at, small strands of these people’s work can be seen, still alive. It has taken on various colors and forms, and has changed its complexion in a million different ways, but these strands can still be seen.
The Ādiyogi brought this possibility that a human being need not be contained in the defined limitations of our species. There is a way to be contained in physicality but not to belong to it. There is a way to inhabit the body but never become the body. There is a way to use your mind in the highest possible way but still never know the miseries of the mind. Whatever dimension of existence you are in right now, you can go beyond that – there is another way to live. He said, “You can evolve beyond your present limitations if you do the necessary work upon yourself.” That is the significance of the Ādiyogi.