Ardhanarishwara is one of the forms of Lord Shiva. In this form, Shiva is shown as half male and half female. The female part of this form represents Shiva's consort Parvati or Shakti. Ardhanarishwara means Lord or God who is half woman. It signifies the feminine and masculine forces which lay the foundation of this cosmos. Every living being born here is born with both masculine and feminine energy. It is the dominance of one which determines the gender of a being. However, both the parts are incomplete without each other and hence operate in duality.
There are numerous stories in our scriptures that tell us why Shiva had to take up this form. Shiva was a hermit and Parvati was the daughter of the mountain king Himavan. One day when Parvati saw Shiva, he was meditating and experiencing immense ecstasy. Parvati was enchanted and wanted to experience the same. She underwent severe austerities to please Shiva. Pleased with her devotion Shiva married Parvati. After marriage, Parvati requested Shiva to help her experience the same ecstasy which Shiva experienced during meditation. This is when Shiva merged with Parvati
In another story, sage Bhringi who is an ardent devotee of Shiva visits Shiva and Shakti. He requests Shiva to allow him to encircle Shiva as a way to worship him. Shiva tells him that he needs to encircle both Shiva and Shakti as he is incomplete without her. Bhringi did not acknowledge this and tried to move only around Shiva. Looking at this Shakti came forward and sat on Shiva's lap so that Bhringi would encircle her as well. Bhringi still did not give up. He took the form of a bee and tried to encircle Shiva alone by moving through the space between Shiva and Shakti's neck. Enraged Parvati now cursed Bhringi that he shall be devoid of all the things he had inherited from his mother as he had insulted the feminine power. Bhringi lost all his blood and flesh and was reduced to a skeleton. He could not even walk around. This is when Shiva merged with Parvati so that such a situation is never repeated. He wanted to establish the fact that men and women are equal in all aspects and should always be treated equally. In another story, it was Parvati's jealousy towards Ganga, the goddess who sat on Shiva's matted hair that made her insecure. Shiva merged with Parvati to pacify her anger.
The masculine part refers to Purusha which is the power to create and the feminine part is Prakriti which is the creation itself. Purusha refers to the static and still state where Prakriti refers to active and dynamic state. Purusha refers to ascetic and spiritual life whereas Shakti refers to the material and physical world. However, the unison refers to the fact that both are the same and points towards nonduality. It refers to God who transcends duality and encompasses everything. It refers to the all-pervasive cosmos. It also states that opposites attract and are dependent on each other to function. The Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang is very similar to this concept. The symbol hints towards opposite forces working together in complete harmony.
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