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What is the Difference Between Shiva and Shankar?

Growing up, all of us heard several stories of Lord Shiva the destroyer and his manifold miracles. We would worship him in his linga form or his human body form. But, most of their depictions show one of them meditating in front of the other, implying that there indeed is a difference between the two. And while our parents would have us believe that they both are the same, in a lot of ways, they are not. The linga of the formless is Shiva, whereas the angelic deity is called Shankar. We are all set to take you on a journey to discovering how different and similar they both are. First, let’s tell you the meaning behind both the forms.

The oval-shaped form of shivlinga that we worship has a much deeper meaning to it. Shiva is the supreme soul, the Paramatma. The universe came into existence because of Shiva. The oval shape indicates the formlessness of the Ishvara (not to be confused with other devas or devatas). It is energy itself. Shiva’s representation as a linga is symbolic of his incorporeal nature. Shiva is supreme and needs no identity- neither young nor old, neither male nor female, unborn (anadi) and undead (anant). A knowledge powerhouse, Shiva has always existed. A tripund usually adorns a shivlinga. The tripund is symbolic of the three characteristics of Shiva- trinetri, trilokinath, and trikaldarshi. In other words, it stands for the Trimurti- Brahma, Vishnu and Shankar. The little red dot is Shiva who resides in all of them. The linga form is a reminder of all of this.

Shankar has a distinctly human form. His form is supposed the most beautiful physical form in the Universe. Shankar resides on Earth (in Kailash) along with his consort- Parvati. He is depicted having long, matted hair- symbolic of his ascetic days. A serpent is coiled around his neck, representing Shankar’s domination over fear. The trident placed next to him (or with him) is representative of his control on all the three worlds. He usually wears animal skin, which again is a reminder of his asceticism. Myths attribute the presence of the crescent-shaped moon on his matted hair or jata to him curing the moon God of a curse. The damru signifies the non-dual nature of the world. He also carries the holy Ganga on his head. He has a blue throat owing to the poison he drank to save the world. But the thing that stands out the most is his third eye- representative of eternal wisdom and extreme awareness. Shankar is the destroyer- not just of the world, but of all the sins and impurities of the human soul.

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Now that we’ve established the form-related differences between Shiva and Shankara, let us take you through other distinctions. Worshiping Lord Shiva

Legends say that Shiva is the creator of all we know (and not know). According to the Linga Purana, this particular shivaling has the divine power to create, destroy, and re-create the existence of everything. The Supreme Soul is the reason all of us exist. Shankar, on the other hand, is the destroyer. He not only destroys the old world order, but he is also the destroyer of the impurities and doubts and darkness prevalent in the world. In fact, the meaning of Shankar’s name literally translates to doubt (shanka) destroyer (hara). One of his many names is Hara- destroyer.

The formless Shiva is omnipresent. Shiva has no identity, is abstract and encompasses the entire universe. Shiva grants knowledge to people and Gods alike. For Shiva, there is no such thing as good or evil, friend or enemy, truth or false. Everything is Shiva- the vices and the virtues alike. Everything began from him, and in the end, everything will merge with him, including Shankara, who usually is responsible for the end. Shankar, as per the many tales of Shiv Mahapuran, has set characteristics which define his identity. The stories revolve around Shankar starting off as a sage to assuming the identity of a householder and to later identifying himself as a father, as well. He has multiple names and has complicated facets to him. For him, destroying the evil present within oneself is mandatory.

That is just a basic idea of the differences between Shiva & Shankar. Shiva and Shankara, in their own way, have a lot more to them. All this was just the tip of the iceberg. It is almost impossible to know everything about them. And if one ever so rarely did achieve such impossible feat, s/he will definitely be an enlightened one.

Like we said earlier, we often use Shiva and Shankar interchangeably. However, the subtle differences between the two are rarely known to people. We aren’t entirely wrong in worshipping them as one. But doing so, without the knowledge of the fundamental distinction is a kind of ignorance. Anyway, coming back to the similarities. The creation stories allude the origin of Brahma and Vishnu to the eternal formless Shiva. According to one of the creation stories, Shiv appeared in front of Brahma and Vishnu as a massive linga with no end and no beginning. This infinite pillar of energy entrusted Brahma with the duties of creating life as we know it. Brahma had successfully created man. Although he was quite happy with his creations, he found that something was missing and that there was no means of procreation. He turned to Shiva for help. Shiva then appeared in front of him as Ardhanarishvara (half-male and half-female). Mesmerised, Brahma asked Shiva the meaning behind his form. Shiva went to explain Brahma that without the presence of feminine energies (shakti) in the Universe, something will always be missing. Without the unification of the male energies and the female energies, creation will always remain incomplete. Shakti is the power that makes him Shiva.

Upon hearing the greatness of Shakti, Brahma asked Shakti to help him out. In a rather painful separation of Shakti from Shiva, emerged Laxmi (Vishnu’s consort) and Saraswati (Brahma’s consort). Shakti then went on to become the beauty in the universe- Prakriti. The feminine aspect of the world emerged from her. But, in doing so, she left behind her other half in a distraught state. It is said that this remaining half of Shiva turned a blind eye towards all the beauty in the world and started living like an aloof sage. He, however, went around spreading a lot of wisdom. The day Shiva appeared on this Earth in his human form is celebrated as Shivaratri. Over the years, Shiva gradually adopted the quirky aspects that makeup Shankar. Ergo, when we say that Shiv and Shankar are the same, yes they are, and they are not. Shankar becomes the supreme deity (Mahadeva) Shiva only if he has his other half, his Shakti (Parvati) with him. And without Shiva, the Universe will not function. That is why all the Gods were so hell-bent on Shankar-Parvati union. Interestingly, they chose to get married on Shivaratri– the day it all began!

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With Ganesha’s Grace,
The GaneshaSpeaks Team