Shiva - The Adiyogi illustration

Who is Shiva: Man, Myth or Divine?

Shiva refers to both “that which is not,” and Adiyogi because in many ways they are synonymous. Explore the stories and legends that surround this most prominent figure of Indian spiritual traditions.

Meaning of Shiva

When we say “Shiva,” there are two fundamental aspects that we are referring to. The word “Shiva” means literally, “that which is not.”

Shiva is Nothingness

Today, modern science is proving to us that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. The basis of existence and the fundamental quality of the cosmos is vast nothingness. The galaxies are just a small happening – a sprinkling. The rest is all vast empty space, which is referred to as Shiva. That is the womb from which everything is born, and that is the oblivion into which everything is sucked back. Everything comes from Shiva and goes back to Shiva.

Shiva is Darkness

So Shiva is described as a non-being, not as a being. Shiva is not described as light, but as darkness. Humanity has gone about eulogizing light only because of the nature of the visual apparatus that they carry. Otherwise, the only thing that is always, is darkness. Light is a limited happening in the sense that any source of light – whether a light bulb or the sun – will eventually lose its ability to give out light. Light is not eternal. It is always a limited possibility because it happens and it ends. Darkness is a much bigger possibility than light. Nothing needs to burn, it is always – it is eternal. Darkness is everywhere. It is the only thing that is all pervading.

But if I say “divine darkness,” people think I am a devil worshiper or something. In fact, in some places in the West it is being propagated that Shiva is a demon! But if you look at it as a concept, there isn’t a more intelligent concept on the planet about the whole process of creation and how it has happened. I have been talking about this in scientific terms without using the word “Shiva” to scientists around the world, and they are amazed, “Is this so? This was known? When?” We have known this for thousands of years. Almost every peasant in India knows about it unconsciously. He talks about it without even knowing the science behind it.

Meaning of Adiyogi - The First Yogi

On another level, when we say “Shiva,” we are referring to a certain yogi, the Adiyogi or the first yogi, and also the Adi Guru, the first Guru, who is the basis of what we know as the yogic science today. Yoga does not mean standing on your head or holding your breath. Yoga is the science and technology to know the essential nature of how this life is created and how it can be taken to its ultimate possibility.

This first transmission of yogic sciences happened on the banks of Kanti Sarovar, a glacial lake a few miles beyond Kedarnath in the Himalayas, where Adiyogi began a systematic exposition of this inner technology to his first seven disciples, celebrated today as the Sapta Rishis. This predates all religion. Before people devised divisive ways of fracturing humanity to a point where it seems almost impossible to fix, the most powerful tools necessary to raise human consciousness were realized and propagated.

One and the Same

So “Shiva” refers to both “that which is not,” and Adiyogi, because in many ways, they are synonymous. This being, who is a yogi, and that non-being, which is the basis of the existence, are the same, because to call someone a yogi means he has experienced the existence as himself. If you have to contain the existence within you even for a moment as an experience, you have to be that nothingness. Only nothingness can hold everything. Something can never hold everything. A vessel cannot hold an ocean. This planet can hold an ocean, but it cannot hold the solar system. The solar system can hold these few planets and the sun, but it cannot hold the rest of the galaxy. If you go progressively like this, ultimately you will see it is only nothingness that can hold everything. The word “yoga” means “union.” A yogi is one who has experienced the union. That means, at least for one moment, he has been absolute nothingness.

When we talk about Shiva as “that which is not,” and Shiva as a yogi, in a way they are synonymous, yet they are two different aspects. Because India is a dialectical culture, we shift from this to that and that to this effortlessly. One moment we talk about Shiva as the ultimate, the next moment we talk about Shiva as the man who gave us this whole process of yoga.

Who Shiva is Not!

Unfortunately, most people today have been introduced to Shiva only through Indian calendar art. They have made him a chubby-cheeked, blue-colored man because the calendar artist has only one face. If you ask for Krishna, he will put a flute in his hand. If you ask for Rama, he will put a bow in his hand. If you ask for Shiva, he will put a moon on his head, and that’s it!

Every time I see these calendars, I always decide to never ever sit in front of a painter. Photographs are all right – they capture you whichever way you are. If you look like a devil, you look like a devil. Why would a yogi like Shiva look chubby-cheeked? If you showed him skinny it would be okay, but a chubby-cheek Shiva – how is that?

In the yogic culture, Shiva is not seen as a God. He was a being who walked this land and lived in the Himalayan region. As the very source of the yogic traditions, his contribution in the making of human consciousness is too phenomenal to be ignored. Every possible way in which you could approach and transform the human mechanism into an ultimate possibility was explored thousands years ago. The sophistication of it 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. This had nothing to do with what was happening around him. It was just an outpouring of himself. In great detail, he gave a meaning and a possibility of what you could do with every point in the human mechanism. 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.

Explore the different facets of Shiva


Sadhguru explains the significance of the imagery of Kali standing on Shiva's chest. He tells us a story that depicts dialectically how the feminine dimension of energy functions and the complementary roles of Shiva and Kali. Finally, Sadhguru tells us about the tantric processes based on this event.

Read more about the Tantrik symbolism behind Kali

Why Shiva has a Blue Throat

Sadhguru explains the symbol of Shiva being depicted with a blue throat, revealing how a certain dimension of the energy body called the vishuddhi chakra is located at the pit of the throat and is responsible for filtering out harmful influences.

Read more about the Vishuddhi Chakra and Shiva’s Blue Throat

Aum Namah Shivaya

Aum Namah Shivaya is a mantra that purifies the system and helps one become meditative. Sadhguru looks at what it means to chant this mantra and speaks about why it is not to be chanted as Om Namah Shivaya but as Aum Namah Shivaya.

Find out the right way to chant Aum Namah Shivaya

Shiva’s Third Eye, Crescent Moon, Trishul, Snake and Nandi the Bull

Sadhguru explains all the key symbols that have traditionally adorned Shiva the Adiyogi. Learn all about the mighty trident or trishul, the crescent moon in his matted locks, the snake that wraps around his blue throat and the third eye on his forehead.

Read all about Shiva’s Third Eye, Crecent Moon, Trishul, Snake and Nandi

Shiva Purana

The Shiva Purana is an ancient text that includes many aspects of fundamental science in it and is a powerful tool to transcend limitations. Presented in the form of stories and parables, this way of expressing scientific truths has been a hallmark of the yogic culture.

Learn all about the Shiva Purana


The wedding between Shiva and Parvati was a grand affair, and the very elite of society were present in all their rich finery and splendor. Then entered the groom, Shiva – dreadlocked, matted hair, ash smeared from head to toe, wearing the fresh skin of an elephant and dripping with blood.

Read the full story of Shiva and Parvati’s strange wedding


Revered by many religions and seen as the most sacred site for pilgrimage in the Yogic culture, it is said in the tradition that Shiva resides in Mount Kailash. Sadhguru explains that this is because he stored everything that he knew in this mountain.

Read more about Kailash – Shiva’s Abode

Nataraja – Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer

Shiva is also known as Nataraja – the cosmic dancer or the Lord of the dance. This is a dialectical way of expressing that the cosmos is in a dance and the dance is guided by a certain intelligence. Shiva as Nataraja represents the exuberance of creation.

Read all about the significance of Shiva as Nataraja

Shiva Linga

In Sadhguru’s words, “linga” means the form. We are calling it the form because when the un-manifest began to manifest itself, or in other words when creation began to happen, the first form that it took was that of an ellipsoid.

Here are 12 things you may not know about Shiva Linga

Why is Shiva the Destroyer? 

Shiva is worshipped across the land of India as the most auspicious aspect of divinity, but is also widely known as the destroyer. Sadhguru discusses this paradox and explains the wisdom behind the seemingly negative imagery of seeing the divine as the destroyer rather than the creator. He explains how liberation or mukti become a possibility only in destroying the limited.

Read More… 

3 Lord Vishnu and Shiva Stories

Rife with rich symbolism, the Yogic sciences are known to present profound concepts in a dialectical way. Portrayed respectively as the creator, maintainer and destroyer, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is a common symbolism that has pervaded the spiritual culture of India. Sadhguru explains how the imagery is not to be taken literally and shares three stories of Lord Vishnu and Shiva that are pregnant with a deeper meaning.


Shiva, Ganesha and Parvati – The Story of Ganesha’s Birth

Sadhguru tells the story of how Parvati was longing to have a child as she grew lonely during Shiva’s long years of wandering. This longing led her to use occult means to create a little boy. The story then takes a dramatic turn as Shiva returns to find this boy blocking his path and summarily takes his head off! Find out how Shiva gave back life to this beheaded boy by attaching the head of one of his ganas.

Read More…

Shiva and Ganga 

The mighty Himalayan river of Ganga is held as the most sacred river in the Yogic culture, and its water is said to have special properties. Sadhguru demystifies the symbolism of Ganga originating in Shiva’s matted locks, sharing his own experience of trekking in the Himalayas and how when he was hungry, a few handfuls of Ganga water kept him going for more than forty-eight hours without any sense of fatigue.

Read More…

Shiva as Mahadeva

In a land that is home to 330 million gods and goddesses, one being is held above all as the one who is above all gods - Mahadeva. This is Shiva - the Adiyogi, who is the source of Yoga. Sadhguru reveals why Adiyogi was called Shiva and offers an insight into the timeless nature of his offering. Adiyogi did not give a teaching or an immediate solution to the problems around him. Instead, he offered methods of self-transformation that are relevant in any context. 

Read More…

Shiva the Perfect Ascetic and Householder 

How did an ash-smeared vagabond roaming the graveyards with a garland of skulls happen to get married and start a family? In order to make a fierce ascetic like Shiva into a householder and share his inner experience with mankind, an elaborate conspiracy was hatched. Finally, Shiva the Adiyogi gave in and moved from ultimate dispassion to passionate involvement with life.

Read More…

Shiva’s Blue Throat 

In the Yogic lore, Shiva is also known as “Neelakantha” or the one with the blue throat. Another name for this form of Shiva is Vishakantha, which literally means, “One with poison in his throat.” Sadhguru narrates the specific story that explains how Shiva got this name. Going further, he lays bare the symbolism of Shiva’s blue throat and how handling the poison of prejudice is essential to one’s spiritual process.

Read More… 


Mahashivratri is known as “The Great Night of Shiva” and is the most significant event in India’s spiritual calendar. But is it a mere festival or is there a science behind it? Sadhguru explains what makes this night so important, and how we can make use of it.

Read more about Mahashivratri – The Great Night of Shiva


Related Tags

Shiva Tatvam

Get latest blogs on Shiva

Related Content

Velliangiri – A Mountain of a Temple