Lord Vishnu said (to Lord Brahma)
शिवः सर्वस्वकर्ता हि भर्ता हर्ता परात्परः |
परब्रह्म परेशश्च निर्गुणो नित्य एव च ||
Shiva is really the creator of everything, maintainer and destroyer, above the highest, the supreme element, the highest God, as well as without form and eternal.
Lord Siva has four aspects corresponding to the four main functions and principles he represents. These are:
* Parameswar or Paramasiva
* Maheswar or Mahasiva
* Iswar or Lord Siva
* Minor Incarnations and Emanations
At the highest level, Lord Siva is Parameswar, or Paramasiva. As Paramasiva he is the transcendental Reality, the highest and the most unknown. He is Brahman Himself, the Supreme Lord, the Eternal Truth, the Absolute Principle, without a beginning and without an end, indivisible, beyond the senses and mind, without a form and without division, the end of all devotional and spiritual practice, by knowing whom everything is known and realized. In this aspect he is the eternal mystery, pure consciousness and bliss, whom Uma Haimavathi refers in the Kena Upanishad as the "Spirit Supreme", by knowing whom Indra excelled all other gods and became the ruler of the heavens.
At the next lower level he is Maheswar or Mahasiva, the Lord of the manifest universe. As the awakened Supreme Self he is the Cosmic Lord, who combines within himself the roles of creation, maintenance and destruction and projects out of himself all that we know as material universe. The creation is but his conscious dream, a set of vibrations that emanate from his cosmic dance and makes possible all that we experience and enjoy as conscious beings. He is the Purusha of the vedas, the cosmic male, who creates Prakriti the cosmic female and then establishes himself in it in order to manifest the wonders of creative forms and sustains life and consciousness in them.
At the next lower level he is Iswar, representing an aspect of the Trinity. Till this level the whole creation is one and indistinguishable. But at this level, the dual nature of creation becomes apparent and the Highest aspect of Brahman manifests itself into each of its cosmic roles. While Brahma is the Creator and Vishnu is the sustainer, in this plane Lord Siva is the destroyer. He is hara and Shankara, the lord with a thousand names, the lord of Kailash, the partner of Parvathi and the object of veneration of all the siddhas, siva ganas and myriad yogis and devotees. In this role he facilitates the spiritual progress of humanity. He destroys things and elements in order to facilitate the renewal and regeneration of the manifest material universe. He destroys all the undesirable movements and emotions, desires and thoughts in our consciousness to facilitate our spiritual evolution. Finally at the end of current creative cycle, he destroys the worlds to prepare the ground for yet another cosmic renewal. In this role he is also responsible for the flow of divine consciousness into our earth consciousness and our transformation into spiritual beings.
At the next lower level we see many of his incarnations. As a part of his cosmic role, in this plane he assumes many forms and roles for one reason or the other. Hanuman, Dakshinamurthy, Tandavamurthy, Bhairava, Virabhadra, Chandakesvara, Mahakaleswar, Ardhanariswara, Bhikshtanamurthy, Tandavamurthy are some of his well known minor aspects or incarnations.
It is important to know that Lord Siva is not a mere idol or sivalinga whom people worship in the temples or in open for temporary boons. He is the eternal Brahman himself who descends into lower planes to manifest an alternate reality which we experience as the immediate reality. It is only by transcending this physical reality through devotion and spiritual practice and through the grace of ones personal divinity we will be able to overcome our limitations and become one with the Highest Truth.
Note: The aspects of Siva are such that this subject can be approached from many perspectives. Here I have approached this subject from a cosmic perspective and dealt with the four highest aspects. I have excluded any reference to the Panchanana aspect of Lord Siva as well as his peaceful and terrific aspects. You may find reference to these aspects in my other articles available on this website. Followers of Lord Vishnu may argue that the first two levels are also represented by Vishnu. This is very much true because at these highest levels there is no clear distinction and demarcation of roles among the trinity of gods. We can ascribe these roles to any of the Trinity Gods equally. The confusion is well explained in the story relating to eternal nature of Lord Siva where both Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu set out to find the beginning and end of a Sivaling and fail.
Veda Vijanan Rishikulam