Ardhanarishvara – When the Ultimate Man Became Half-Woman
Of the numerous forms of Shiva, Ardhanarishvara is probably the most unique. We look at the myth, science and reality behind the symbolism of the Ardhanishvara and explain why Shiva is depicted this way.
Sadhguru: Generally Shiva is referred to as the ultimate man, he is the symbolism of ultimate masculinity, but you will see in the Ardhanarishvara form of Shiva, one half of him is a fully developed woman. Let me tell you the story of what happened. Shiva was in an ecstatic condition and because of that, Parvati was drawn to him. After Parvati did many things to woo him and sought all kinds of help, they got married. Once they were married, naturally, Shiva wanted to share whatever was his experience. Parvati said, “This state that you are in within yourself, I want to experience it too. What should I do? Tell me. I am willing to do any kind of austerity.” 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, since she had placed herself totally in his hands, he just pulled her in and she became half of him.
You need to understand, if he has to accommodate her in his own body, he has to shed half of himself. So he shed half of himself and included her. This is the story of Ardhanarishvara. This is basically trying to manifest that the masculine and the feminine are equally divided within yourself. And when he included her, he became ecstatic. What is being said is that if the inner masculine and feminine meet, you are in a perpetual state of ecstasy. If you try to do it on the outside, it never lasts, and all the troubles that come with that are an ongoing drama.
Full-Fledged Man and Woman
Essentially, it is not two people longing to meet, it is two dimensions of life longing to meet – outside as well as inside. If you achieve it inside, the outside will happen one hundred percent by choice. If you do not achieve it inside, the outside will be a terrible compulsion. This is the way of life. This is the reality which is being expressed in a beautiful dialectal form – Shiva included her as a part of himself and became half-woman, half-man.
This is a symbolism to show that if you evolve in your ultimate context, you will be half a man and half a woman – not a neuter – a full-fledged man and a full-fledged woman. That is when you are a full-blown human being. You are not skewed development, you are not just masculine or feminine, you have allowed both these things to grow. Masculine and feminine does not mean male and female. The “feminine” and “masculine” are certain qualities. Only when these two qualities happen in balance within, can a human being live a life of fulfillment.
Purusha and Prakriti
If you look at the story of Ardhanarishvara as a symbolism of creation, then these two dimensions – Shiva and Parvati or Shiva and Shakti – are known as Purusha and Prakriti. The word “Purush” is today commonly understood as “man,” but that is not what it means. Praktriti means “nature” or “creation.” Purush is that which is the source of creation. The source of creation was there, creation happened, and it fit perfectly well into the source of creation. What is referred to as the Purusha is the cause, the main induction which sets things going. When the existence was primordial, when it was not in a state of creation, what caused it to snap up and suddenly become creation is referred to as Purusha. Whether a human being is born, or an ant is born, or a cosmos is born, it is happening the same way. In terms of human understanding, it is referred to as male or masculine.
The whole human population happened because of a single act of a man, because of copulation, isn’t it? That is not a great act. It could happen in any way. It could happen irresponsibly, negligently, forcefully, in anger, in hatred – it need not necessarily happen beautifully. Whichever way you do it, population will come. But what happened in the womb cannot happen whichever way. It has to happen in a very orderly and beautiful way, otherwise it will not work. If it goes wrong or happens violently, life will not happen.
So when we look at this basic process that set creation going, that process is just like one act. That is known as Purusha, but what takes this on and slowly evolves into life is called Prakriti or nature. That is why nature is represented as feminine.
The Feminine in Society
Today, society and even women have misunderstood feminine nature as weakness. Women are trying to be like men because economics has become the main force in the world. Everything is back to the law of the jungle – survival of the fittest. Once you do that, the masculine will dominate. We have chosen the power of gross conquest over the subtleties of love, compassion and embracing life.
You will see, if you just have masculine, you will have everything but you will 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, we will live very incomplete, lopsided lives.
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