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Shiva's name means "auspicious" and it is an appropriate description of him. He is often portrayed as a king, yogi, or ascetic in Hindu mythology and art. His importance earns him a place as the third member of the Hindu "trinity" in which he is usually thought of as the god who destroys (recall, Brahma is the Creator and Vishnu the Preserver). Actually, he is one of the more complex images of deity in the Hindu pantheon. His destructive power leads ultimately to good for he removes impurity for the sake of liberation. Like in other places in Hindu religion, we find in Shiva the union of opposite principles which make him a representation of the totality of life. He is at the same time creator and destroyer, ascetic and erotic, life-denying and life-affirming, spiritual and material. He combines the Hindu life-stages (asramas) of householder and ascetic. In at least one depiction, he exhibits both male and female qualities. In the West, he is best known in his form as Shiva "Nataraj" -- Lord of the Dance -- who dances the world both into and out of existence. Several attributes or associations which are related to Shiva are his bull (Nandi), cobra snake, phallus (lingum), trident, matted hair, and tiger-skin loincloth. His wives include Parvati and Sati and his sons are Ganesh (elephant-headed) and Skanda (many-headed).

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