Known by many names—Mahadeva, Mahayogi, Pashupati, Nataraja, Bhairava, Vishwanath, Bhava, Bhole Nath—Lord Shiva is perhaps the most complex of Hindu deities, and one of the most powerful. Shiva is 'shakti' or power; Shiva is the destroyer—the most powerful god of the Hindu pantheon and one of the godheads in the Hindu Trinity, along with Brahma and Vishnu. As recognition of this fact, Hindus isolate his shrine separate from those of other deities in the temple.
In temples, Shiva is usually is depicted as a phallic symbol, the 'linga,' which represents the energies necessary for life on both the microcosmic and the macrocosmic levels—both the world in which we live and the world which constitutes the whole of the universe. In a Shaivite temple, the 'linga' is placed in the center underneath the spire, where it symbolizes the navel of the earth.
The actual image of Shiva is also uniquely different from other deities: his hair is piled high on the top of his head, with a crescent tucked into it and the river Ganges tumbling from his hair. Around his neck is a coiled serpent representing Kundalini, the spiritual energy within life. He holds a trident in his left hand, in which is bound the 'damroo' (small leather drum). He sits on a tiger skin and on his right is a water pot. He wears the 'Rudraksha' beads, and his whole body is smeared with ash. Shiva is also often portrayed as the supreme ascetic with a passive and composed disposition. Sometimes he is depicted riding a bull called Nandi, decked in garlands. A very complicated deity, Shiva is one of the most fascinating of Hindu gods.
He dances the ‘Tandav’ when angry — a dance that can destroy the entire world and even the Universe. His third eye in the middle of the eyebrows can burn anything and anyone — when opened in anger. This angry aspect is named ‘rudra’ synonymous with the name of the child that came out of the forehead of Brahma when he was very annoyed with the four rishis — Sanskra, Sanayatak, Sankada and Sanat Kumar for not appearing to populate the world.
Since Shiva has much to do with this world, He is equally worshipped by the Hindus of all sects and temples to Him and his consorts are as numerous as the ones to Vishnu and Laxmi.
Then Shiva is equated with Vishnu in his great interest in the three worlds and their working, when he is in his benevolent form becomes to help anyone who is devoted to him and prays to him. We have Hindus absolutely devoted to Vishnu, and others absolutely devoted to Shiva or Shankar or Mahesh as he is also called.
The first primeval sound, the holy and eternal ‘OM or ‘AUM’ represents Shiva as the ‘Omnipresent’ with all the qualities of the ‘Supreme’ intact, thus accepting the three aspects to be really ‘One’ in its deepest meaning and is known as ‘Onkar’ or as ‘Omkar’, the one who created AUM or the first sound of the Universe.
Mahadev, as Shiva is also called, is the master and protector of the animal world also and is known as Pashupati. In this garb He controls and tames the wild animals. This is represented by Shiva wearing a tiger skin and having live snakes round his neck. He even appears in more of an animal form in some temples on the Himalayas where he is thus portrayed beside the ‘ling’.
Shiva does not distinguish between demons and saints and any one with great ‘bhakti’ for him can reach him easily. Therefore, he is the God of thieves, murderers, ghosts and the lesser beings even they can please him by the path of ‘Bhagti’.