Ardhanarishvara – When the Ultimate Man Became Half-Woman
When I take a deep look into the Ardhanareshwar form of Lord Shiva which symbolises half of him as a fully developed woman, it surprises me as well as amuses me to see how the lord who has always been referred to as the ultimate man reforms himself to portray the fact that every individual is made up of a masculine as well as a feminine form. The compilation of the two together makes an individual a complete being.
Now let me throw some light on the myths, science and the reality behind this symbolism of the Ardhanareshwar form of Shiva.
Shiva has always been symbolic of ultimate masculinity but contrary to this, His Ardhanareshwar look transforms one half of Him into a completely mature woman. The story behind this is as follows.
It is believed that Parvati got attracted towards Shiva when she saw Him in his ecstatic state and thereafter she tried many tricks to woo the Lord. After much jostling, they got married. Once they were man and wife, Shiva wanted to share all his life experiences with his better half. Hence, Parvati became curious and said to the Lord one day, “This state that you are in within yourself, I want to experience it too. What should I do? Tell me. I am willing to undertake any kind of austerity.” To this, Shiva smiled and said, “There is no need for you to do any great austerity. You just come and sit on my lap.” Parvati came and with absolutely no resistance towards him, sat on his left lap. Since she was so willing, and had placed herself totally in his hands, he just pulled her in and she became half of Him.
What one needs to understand here is that in order to accommodate Parvati in his own body, Shiva had to shed away half of Himself in order to include Her in Him. This is what the story of Ardhanareshwar is all about.
What is being manifested here is that the masculine and feminine are equally divided within our own selves and when Shiva included Parvati in Him, he became ecstatic. What I'm trying to say by this is that if our inner masculine and feminine self meet, we come to a perpetual state of ecstasy.
Full-fledged man and woman
The union of a man and woman should not be described as the longing of two people to meet, but as two dimensions of life longing to meet- both externally as well as internally. The idea is if internally your souls unite and you have achieved doing so, then externally your physical self is sure to meet without compulsion. On the contrary, if you cannot develop a connection and union with your partner from within, internally, the external union would be a result of a terrible compulsion. This is how life works. It is this pious union of Lord Shiva with Parvati internally which has been expressed in a beautiful dialectal form, when the Lord includes his consort as a part of himself, thereby becoming half-woman and half-man.
This Ardhanareshwar form of Shiva hence throws light on the fact that a full grown human being is not just a male or a female having masculine and feminine attributes. In fact these qualities should have a balance within an individual so as to enable him/her to lead a life of fulfilment.
Now, if taken from a different perspective, the Ardhanareshwar story of Lord Shiva symbolises creation involving two dimensions Shiva and Parvati or Shiva and Shakti. These two dimensions are even called Purusha and Prakriti. The word ‘Purush’ is commonly understood as ‘man’ but that is not what it stands for. Where ‘Prakriti’ means ‘nature’, ‘Purusha’ refers to the source of creation. It is the main induction which sets things going.
In primordial existence, when there was no creation, every form of life, be it an ant, a cosmos or a human being, was born in the same process. But when creation emerged all of a sudden through copulation, it was referred to as Purusha. In terms of human understanding, it is referred to as male or masculine. The entire act of copulation and the process of creation taking place in the womb was a very orderly and beautiful one and had to be carried out very systematically or it would not work. This came to be known as Purusha but what takes it further and slowly evolves into life is Prakriti or nature. Hence nature is represented as feminine.
Society has always misunderstood feminine nature as weakness. But the law of the jungle is prevalent everywhere, the fittest survives always. Hence the power of gross conquest over subtleties of love, compassion and embracing life have been chosen.
What I mean to say is just having masculine might give you strength and power but ultimately you would have nothing. Consciously nurturing and celebrating the feminine in a society is very essential. This needs to happen right from school. Children should go into music, art, philosophy, and literature as much as they go into science and technology. If this does not happen, there will be no room for the feminine in the world. If we don’t see how to make both the masculine and feminine find equal roles to play in our life structure, it will end up in we leading a very incomplete, lopsided life.