Shiva’s vahana and an important member of Shiva Pariwar. Thus he becomes the
chief of Shiva’s army. He is also said to lead the Shiva Ganas. His deity is
normally found in all Shiva temples either near the...
idol or facing it from a distance. It is also
placed at the entrance of Shiva temples in a sitting or standing posture. In
Sanskrit, the word for 'bull' is 'Vrishabha', which also means Dharma or
righteousness. This is why it is considered appropriate to seek the blessings of
Nandi even before bowing down to Shiva!
BIRTH: Nandi's birth has
various versions. The popular once are from the Puranas. One states that he was
born from Vishnu's right side, exactly resembled Shiva and was brought up by
sage Salankayana. Another Purana states that he was born by the grace of Shiva
to sage Silada. Apparently he was found when the sage Silada was digging the
ground for sacrifice. Siva was pleased by his penance and gave him Nandi and
made him the chief of the ganas. Thus he was obliged by Shiva by making him his
It is said, he was the gift of Kamadhenu, the divine supplier of
food, and hence she is considered as his mother. There is no temple of Shiva
without Nandi in it. In later period mandapas were built exclusively for Nandi
called Nandi Mandapa to house the image of Nandi. On many sculptures Shiva is
shown as riding bull.
DEPICTION: According to the Puranas, the
Nandikeswara is featured with a bull's face and human body which is similar to
Shiva Himself. He has four hands, two holding the Parasu or axe and the Mruga or
antelope. The other two are folded in prayer. Nandi is depicted in white color.
This is symbolic of his purity and sense of justice. In paintings he is shown
pure white. He has a rounded body, large brown eyes, heavy shoulders, a shining
coat and a black tail. The hump is like the top of a snow-capped mountain. He
has a golden girth round his body and sharp horns with red points.
NANDIKESHVARA: Originally, under the name of RIishi Nandikeshvara, Nandi seems
to have existed in human form as a sage who acted as Shiva’s door keeper before
achieving divine status. In some Puranas, Nandikeshwara is shown as bull-faced
with a human body resembling Lord Shiva. His two hands are holding the Parasu,
axe and Murga, the antelope. The other two hands are joined together in Anjali,
obeisance. No-one could get near Shiva easily. So in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana,
Sri Krishna is said to have taken the form of a bull.
Nandi is the gatekeeper for Lord Shiva and Mother Parvathi’s abode. He follows
them to play the same role in their other abodes. In the older texts, it is said
that Nandi along with Mahakala were Shiva’s watchmen. Mahakala is also another
name for Shiva Their main task is to allow sincere and devoted bhaktas, even
devas and Gods. Otherwise they are blocked. Indeed, in the south among Tamil,
Telugu and Kannada people, the word ‘nandi’ is a cliché for ‘blocking the way.
They were represented outside the main doorway of temples. In some traditions,
it is a custom to whisper into Nandi’s ears messages for Lord Shiva for the
faithful attendant to inform the Master of the same. Nandi’s role is described
in Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava.
PASHUPATI: The Tamil word Pasu means
cow. It can also cumulatively mean bull and cow. Pashupati as a deity is much
alike Shiva in that it was a keeper of herds. There is archeological evidence of
bull worship in the Indus valley. Temple sculptures and art are replete of bulls
shown as strong body with their notable hump, tall horns and drooping chin to
give its dignified effect. Thus the Pashupati Seal which carries the bull
embossed is indicative of the importance of the bull in Hindu culture and also
of Nandi worship more than 5000 years ago. The later emperor Asoka caused a bull
to be placed between animals in the Dharmachakra. A fine art of a bull is found
in Asoka Pillar. Nandi is also depicted in Buddhist art and culture.
TEMPLES AND WORSHIP: Nandi worship is of ancient origin and he is considered as
a separate and powerful deity. There are several temples built solely for Nandi
worship ant his history can be traced right from the Indus Valley Civilization.
Pasupathi, a similar deity as caretaker of herds and linked to dairy farming is
also worshipped from ancient times.
With the development of Siva
temples, sculptures of Nandi became quite popular. Adorning Siva temples with
huge bulls became a practice. A Vijayanagara temple at Lepakshi in Ananthapur
district of Andhra Pradesh has a Virabhadra temple built in 1538 AD. In the
Nandi Mandapa of this temple is a huge Nandi 15 ft tall and 22 ft long and is
considered to be the biggest image of Nandi in South India. The Nandi image
(1659 AD) at Chamundi Hill is 16ft in height and hence taller than the image at
Lepakshi. Nandi image at Srikanteshwara temple is 5 ft tall and was erected in
FERTILITY: The reason for the association may have stemmed
from Shiva’s relationship with Rudra who was sometimes referred to as the bull.
This probably has roots in the vast mythology and the symbolism surrounding
bulls that are found in ancient cultures. Even today, women worship Nandi as a
bestower of fertility. Nandi’s association with fertility is illustrated by the
custom of the devotees touching the feet and testicles of’ the Nandi idol when
entering a Shiva temple. The bull is said to embody sexual energy, fertility.
Riding on its back, Shiva is in control of these impulses.
While the Puranas consider Nandikeswara to be the leader of the Siva Ganas, he
is a Shaivite guru. As the principal disciple of Shiva, Nandi is a guru in the
Natha and Siddhar tradition. He is said to be the primal guru to Siddhar
Thirumulanathar, Patanjalinathar and many others of the ancient Natha- Siddhar
tradition disciples who then went on to be great sages. These traditions hold
that from the yogic perspective, Nandi or Nandikeshvara is the mind dedicated to
Lord Shiva, the Absolute. To comprehend and absorb this Light and Truth, the
experience and wisdom is Nandi which is the Guru within.
There are a few popular legends about Nandi. One states that Nandi cursed the
ten-headed asura king, Ravana that he and his kingdom would be destroyed by a
Vanara or monkey. Later Lanka was destroyed by Hanuman. Another tale is about
Shiva and Parvati playing a game of dice. Nandi agreed to become the umpire.
Nandi declared Shiva as the winner even though He lost the game. This angered
Parvathi and She cursed Nandi that he would be a grass. When Nandi begged for
forgiveness and told Her he had lied only to protect his Master. Relenting this,
Parvati offered him a way of atonement and release from her curse. Nandi was
asked him to offer his favorite foodstuff to Her son, Ganesha on the latter's
birthday. Nandi did as he was told and was immediately released from the curse.
It will be seen that till today people offer Arugampul to Ganesha during
SAMUDRA MANTAN: The most popular legend is the Samudra Mantan
or churning of the Ocean of Milk. Shiva had to swallow the Halahala, the deadly
poison that arose from the sea. Shiva drank it but the descent of the poison was
stopped at his throat. Thus he was known as the blue throated one, Nilakantha or
Visakantha, the poison throated one. A few drops of the poison falling to the
ground, Nandi immediately licked if off the ground to everyone’s amazement and
shock. Nandi’s saranagathi or complete surrender to Shiva brought Nandi the
least harm. Thus Nandi was a lesson in the concept of ‘saranagathi.’
FLAG: Nandi dhwaja is an important folk form in which importance is given to the
dhwaja or the flag. Basically this is a religious dance symbolizing Nandi, the
Vahana of Siva.The fluttering flag symbolizes the superiority of Shaivism. It is
believed that Nandikesvara had a flag shat tied to his body when he came down to
earth to punish the wicked and to protect the good. This is referred to as Nandi
Kamba or Nandi Kolu.
COINS: Nandi was also chosen to be the symbol in
punch-marked coins of 400 BC. The Maharathi rulers of Banavasi, Chitradurga and
Karwar minted coins with Nandi on them. The Kushanas minted gold coins with
Shiva and Nandi on them. The Satavahana and Pallavas coins also show the
portrait of Nandi on them. The Nolamba coins show a highly artistic Nandi on
them. Many Vijayanagara Kings minted copper coins with Nandi on them. Shivappa
Nayaka of Keladi also issued similar coins. Mughal emperor Jahagir's Zodiac gold
coin representing Vrishabha rashi has Nandi on it.
KAMASUTRA: The words “kama” and “sutra” have definite meanings. Kama means desire in the general
sense but particularly sexual desire. Sutra literally means thread but it is
implied in the sense of a thread to hold a line going in a direction. In
Sanskrit it refers to a set of aphorisms or verses that form a manual that
instructs on love, erotic or sensual pleasures. The Kamasutra is not a sex book
for crying out loud. It is a book touching on many aspects of social and
individual life such as nature of love, family life and pleasure oriented
activities with much needed restraint. The gist of it is divine physical union
of man and woman on a spiritual base. Shiva and Parvathi were finally married
despite Dakhsa’s animosity to Shiva.
They then depart to Mount Kailasha, Shiva's favorite dwelling place, and immerse themselves completely in
sexual dalliance, which continues uninterruptedly for long periods of time.
Kama, Love God and Rati, Goddess of Sensuality cast their eyes and arrows on the
Divine Couple. Love bloomed as kama is resuscitated. Shiva embraces Parvati and
the sweat from her body mingles with the ashes of the burned god. It is said
that their lovemaking is so intense that it shakes the cosmos, and the gods
become frightened. They are frightened at the prospect of what a child will be
like from the union of two such potent deities. They fear the child's
extraordinary powers. They thus plan to interrupt Shiva and Parvati's
Vishnu goes with his entourage of gods to Kailasha and
waits patiently outside the quarters of Shiva. Many years passed and yet Shiva
remained closeted with Parvati. Vishnu spoke in a shrill and plaintive voice and
entreated Shiva to come out and listen to their problem. When Shiva disregarded
this, Agni, the Fire God disguised himself as a pigeon and entered the
bedchamber of Shiva. Parvati immediately sensed that her privacy was violated.
She was disturbed and angry that the gods had assembled and interrupted her
erotic pleasures, and cursed them that all their wives would be barren. Shiva
withdrew from coitus and a drop of his semen fell on the ground….so on so forth.
The rest of this story and the ensuing birth of Karthikeya has been told in
What has all this got to do with Nandi? The vast
information contained in the Kamasutra is attributed to him. He was Shiva’s
doorkeeper, who was moved to sacred utterance by overhearing the divine couple’s
lovemaking. Shvetaketu, son of Uddakala, later produced a summary of Nandi’s
work. This was summarised by a later scholar by the name of Babhravya and his
disciples. The oldest text of Kamasutra is by Vatsayana and is wrongly called
the mythical creator of erotic science. Many commentaries on Vatsayana such by
Jayamangala of the 13th century and others have taken different directions.
Ratirahasya by Kokkaka in the 13th century and Anangaranga by Kalyanamall in the
16th century are some notable ones.
Hara Hara Mahadeva.See