Photo of Adiyogi Shiva from a birds eye view.

10 Forms of Shiva Explained

Sadhguru looks at 10 different forms of Shiva from the yogic lore, and explains what they each represent. Find out about dynamic Nataraja, fearsome Kalabhairava, childlike Bholenath and more!

Sadhguru: Shiva has numerous forms that encompass every possible quality that the human mind can and cannot imagine. Some are wild and fierce. Some are enigmatic. Others are endearing and charming. From the naïve Bholenath to the fearsome Kalabhairava, from the beautiful Somasundara to the terrible Aghora – Shiva embraces every possibility, remaining untouched by it all. Among all these, there are five fundamental forms.

Five Fundamental Forms of Shiva

Yoga Yoga Yogeshwaraya

Bhuta Bhuta Bhuteshwaraya

Kala Kaleshwaraya

Shiva Shiva Sarveshwaraya

Shambho Shambho Mahadevaya

The Yogeshwara Form

Being on the path of Yoga means you have come to a phase in your life where you have felt the limitations of being physical, you have felt the need to go beyond the physical – you have felt restrained even by this vast cosmos. You are able to see that if you can be restrained by a small boundary, you can also be restrained by a huge boundary at some point. You do not have to criss-cross the cosmos to experience this. Sitting here, you know if this boundary restrains you, if you crisscross the cosmos, that will also restrain you after some time – it is only a question of your ability to travel distances. Once your ability to travel distances is enhanced, any kind of boundary will be a restriction for you. Once you have understood and known this, once you have felt this longing that cannot be fulfilled by mastering physical creation, you are on the path of Yoga. Yoga means to breach the barrier of physical creation. Your effort is not just to master the physicality of existence, but to breach its boundary and touch a dimension that is not physical in nature. You want to unite that which is bound and that which is boundless. You want to dissolve the boundary into the boundless nature of existence.

The Bhuteshwara Form of Shiva

The physical creation, all that we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch – the very body, the planet, the universe, the cosmos – everything is just a play of five elements. Only with five ingredients, what a magnificent mischief called creation! With only five elements that you can count on one hand, how many things are being created! Creation could not be more compassionate. If there were five million ingredients, you would be lost.

Gaining mastery over these five elements, which are known as the pancha bhutas, is everything – your health, your wellbeing, your power in the world and your ability to create what you want. Knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, individual people attain to some level of control or mastery over these different elements. How much control or mastery they have determines the nature of their body, the nature of their mind, the nature of what they do, how successfully they do it and how far they can see. Bhuteshwaraya means that one who has mastery over the pancha bhutas determines the destiny of his life, at least in the physical realm.

The Kaleshwara Form

Kala means time. Even if you have mastered the five elements, become one with the boundless, or you know dissolution – as long as you are here, time is ticking away. Mastering time is a completely different dimension. Kala does not just mean time, it also means darkness. Time is darkness. Time cannot be light because light travels in time. Light is a slave of time. Light is a phenomenon that has a beginning and an end. Time is not that kind of phenomenon. In the Hindu way of life, they have a very sophisticated understanding of time as six different dimensions. One thing you have to know – as you sit here, your time is ticking away. The Tamil expression for death is very good – “Kalam aayitanga,” meaning “his time is up.”

In English, we also used such an expression in the past – “he expired.” Like a drug or anything else, a human being also comes with an expiry date. You may think you are going to so many places. No, as far as your body is concerned, it is going straight to the grave without deviating for a moment. You can slow down this process a bit, but it will not change direction. As you are getting older, you can see the earth tries to suck you back. Life completes its turn.

Time is a special dimension of life – it does not fit into the other three dimensions. And of all the things in the universe, it is the most elusive stuff. You cannot pin it down, because it is not. It does not exist in any form of existence that you know. It is the most powerful dimension of creation, which holds the whole universe together. Because of this, modern physics is clueless about how gravity functions. There is no gravity; it is time which holds everything together.

Shiva – Sarveshwara – Shambho

Shiva means “that which is not; that which is dissolved.” That which is not is the basis of everything, and that is the boundless Sarveshwara. Shambho is just a key, a passage. If you can utter it in a way that your body tears up, it will become a passage. If you want to master all these aspects and get there, it will take a long time. If you only want to take the passage, you can transcend these aspects not by mastery, but by sneaking in.

When I was a young boy, I had friends in the Mysore Zoo. On Sunday mornings, with my two rupees pocket money, I used to go to the fish market – deep inside – where they sold the half rotten fish. For two rupees, I sometimes got two to three kilograms of fish. I put them in a plastic bag and took them to the Mysore Zoo. I did not have any more money. The ticket at that time was one rupee if you walked in straight through the gate. There was also a barrier about two feet above the ground. If you were willing to crawl, it was for free. That was not a problem for me – I crawled. I spent the whole day there feeding all my friends with the rotten fish.

If you want to walk straight, it is a tough path and a whole lot of work. If you are willing to crawl, there are easier ways. Those who are of the crawling kind do not have to worry about mastering anything. Live as long as you live. When you die, you go and reach the Ultimate.

There is a certain beauty, an indescribable aesthetic in mastering even something simple. Kicking a ball for example, even a child can do. But when someone masters that, suddenly there is an aesthetic to it that makes half the world sit up and watch. If you want to know and enjoy mastery, there is work to do. But if you are willing to crawl, it is simply Shambho.

Shiva’s Forms in the Yogic Tradition

The Bholenath Form of Shiva

Shiva is always seen as a very powerful being, and at the same time, as one who is not so crafty with the world. So, one form of Shiva is known as Bholenath, because he is childlike. Bholenath means the innocent or even the ignorant. You will find that most intelligent people are very easily taken for a ride because they cannot subject their intelligence to petty things. A very low level of intelligence that is crafty and shrewd can easily outsmart an intelligent person in the world. That may mean something in terms of money or society, but it does not mean anything in terms of life.

When we say intelligence, we are not looking at just being smart. We are looking at allowing that dimension which makes life happen, to be in full flow. Shiva is like this too. It is not that he is stupid, but he does not care to use intelligence in all those petty ways.

The Nataraja Form of Shiva

Natesha or Nataraja, Shiva as the Lord of Dance, is one of the most significant forms of Shiva. When I visited CERN in Switzerland, which is the physics laboratory on the planet, where all the atom-smashing takes place, I saw that there is a Nataraja statue in front of the entrance, because they identified that there is nothing in human culture which is closer to what they are doing right now.

The Nataraja form represents the exuberance and dance of creation which self-created itself from eternal stillness. Nataraja standing in the Chidambaram temple is very symbolic because what you call as Chidambaram is just absolute stillness. That is what is enshrined in the form of this temple. The classical arts are to bring this absolute stillness into a human being. Without stillness, true art cannot come.

The Ardhanarishvara Form

Generally, Shiva is referred to as the ultimate man, but in the Ardhanarishvara form, one half of him is a fully developed woman. 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. Masculine and feminine does not mean male and female. These are certain qualities. Essentially, it is not two people longing to meet but two dimensions of life longing to meet – outside as well as inside. If you achieve it inside, the outside will happen 100% by choice. Otherwise, the outside will be a terrible compulsion.

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.

The Kalabhairava Form

Kalabhairava is a deadly form of Shiva – when he went into a mode of destroying time. All physical realities exist within the span of time. If I destroy your time, everything is over.

Shiva put on the right kind of costume and became Kalabhairava, to create the Bhairavi Yatana. “Yatana” means ultimate suffering. When the moment of death comes, many lifetimes play out with great intensity, whatever pain and suffering needs to happen to you, will happen in a microsecond. After that, nothing of the past remains in you. Undoing your “software” is painful. But this happens at the moment of death, so you have no choice. He makes it as brief as possible, suffering has to end quickly. That will happen only if we make it super-intense. If it is mild, it goes on forever.


In the yogic tradition, Shiva is not worshiped as a God. He is the Adiyogi, the first Yogi, and Adi Guru, the First Guru from whom the yogic sciences originated. The first full moon of Dakshinayana is Guru Purnima, when Adiyogi began the transmission of these sciences to the Saptarishis, his first seven disciples.

This predates all religion. Before people devised divisive ways of fracturing humanity, the most powerful tools necessary to raise human consciousness were realized and propagated. Their sophistication is unbelievable. The question of whether people were so sophisticated at that time is irrelevant because this did not come from a certain civilization or thought process. This came from an inner realization. It was just an outpouring of Adiyogi himself. You cannot change a single thing even today because he said everything that could be said in such beautiful and intelligent ways. You can only spend your lifetime trying to decipher it.

The Triambaka Form of Shiva

Shiva has always been referred to as Triambaka because he has a third eye. A third eye does not mean a crack in the forehead. It simply means that his perception has reached its ultimate possibility. The third eye is the eye of vision. The two physical eyes are just sensory organs. They feed the mind with all kinds of nonsense because what you see is not the truth. You see this person or that person and you think something about him, but you are not able to see Shiva in him. So, another eye, an eye of deeper penetration, has to be opened up.

Any amount of thinking and philosophizing will never bring clarity into your mind. Anyone can distort the logical clarity that you create; difficult situations can completely put it into turmoil. Only when vision opens up, only when you have an inner vision, will there be perfect clarity.

What we refer to as Shiva is nothing but the very embodiment of ultimate perception. It is in this context that the Isha Yoga Center celebrates Mahashivratri. It is an opportunity and a possibility for all to raise their perception by at least one notch. This is what Shiva is about and this is what Yoga is about. It is not a religion; it is the science of inner evolution.


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