top of page

Shiva’s Cosmic Lila

In Shiva's Cosmic Lila, we will begin by looking into Shiva's background. After that, we will explore Shiva's lila in various myths, such as the dice game, the slaying of Andhaka, Shiva and Parvati's marriage, the shaking of Mount Kailas, and the Forest of Pines. These myths are also carved in stone in the caves of Elephanta and Ellora. After we seeing Shiva's lila in "stone and story," we will examine and analyze the myths, investigate the significance of Shiva's dance, and the importance of this eternally returning theme. Next we will take a quick detour and see how Hollywood's WarGames (Badham, 1983) applies, before we end by contemplating the strange similarities between modern science and Shiva.

Background and Bio

Nietzsche announced the death of God, but Nietzsche also said: “I would only believe in a god who could dance” (Nietzsche, 1892/1978, p. 41).  Well, Shiva is Nietzsche’s kind of god, for Shiva is Nataraja, the lord of the dance, the god of drama, and Kaleshvar, the lord of the arts.  As we will see later, the eternally recurring nature of Shiva’s dance would resonate with Nietzsche.  


Shiva, like the entire Hindu pantheon has many aspects. Shiva an Introduction (Pattanaik, 1997) provides a look at Shiva cosmology and shows his central importance in the Hindu Pantheon.  Shiva is the destroyer, complementing Brahma the creator, and Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva is thought to be the most powerful of them all.  Like these other gods in the Hindu pantheon, Shiva has a goddess associated with him—Parvati or Shakti.  Although Shiva’s resume is long and he has 1008 names, reflecting his myriad manifestations, a few of the more important ones will be mentioned.  


You can think of them as nicknames, if you will, each highlighting a different aspect. He is Mahakala, the lord of time, the god of death and rebirth, the regenerator, transforming the sediments of destruction into the foundations of another life.  Life is thought to be a wheel rotated by Shiva: the eternal cycle of births and rebirths. He is also the devourer of time, Kalantaka.  


Shiva is also Guheshvar, the mysterious one, lord of caves. He is the great cosmic teacher Dakshinamurti who taught the secrets of yoga without a fee, and Yogeshvar, the lord of yoga, the science that yokes the individual mind to the way of the cosmos enabling one to control the mind to see beyond the veil of illusion, thus he imparts cosmic wisdom to all. Shiva means the auspicious one, and he alone can destroy the ego, and he is Bhuteshvar, the god of the five elements out of which all things are formed.  He is also Ardhanaranari, the androgyne, half male-half female, whose wisdom helps Brahma after Brahma makes a mess out of creation. (Pattanaik, 1997). 

Danielou (1982) points out the parallels between Shiva and Dionysus. Shiva is often associated with cremation and burial grounds and other underworldly things (Svoboda, 2004), and while Avens (1980) and Briggs and Peat (1989) allude to his underworld connections, when they connect Dionysus and Shiva.  These gods are also associated with Hades and we will be visiting them all somewhere along the line, so there is merit in remembering that there are affinities and resemblances between them.

Shiva’s Lila In Stone and Story—Monuments and Myths

 The lila of Shiva has a quite different flavor and is much more cosmic in nature than Krishna's, and Shiva's lila will be our focus.  Shiva is also the god of gamblers, and apologies to Einstein, but “Hindus maintain that Shiva is perpetually absorbed in the game” (Handelman & Shulman, 1997, p. xvii).  The game of which they speak is playing dice with Parvati; in fact, as we will see Shiva gets very involved when he plays!  In the caves at Elephanta and Ellora we can see this “etched in stone.” So believe it Einstein, wherever you are, Gods do play dice! 


Mythic Analysis

  • It's Getting Dicey in Here

    • Dicing It Up: It’s Separation Any Way You Slice It!

    • The Game Itself

    • Cosmic Significance

  • Don’t Try This at Home —Violent Reintegration

  • Together Again: Erotic Union—Reunited and It Feels so Good…

  • Tapas: Is It Hot in Here or Is It Just Me? (Fusion & Reintegrating Separated Pieces of God)

Dancing Is My Life

Shiva’s dance exemplifies this internalizing erotic process.  “He is drawn into the whirling movement of the dance, accelerating to the point where the dance and the dancer are one,” inward in a vortex of fluid innerness, and in this fluid innerness “the eye becomes conscious of seeing its seeing” (Handelman & Shulman, 2004, p. 100-101). Coomaraswamy (1924) says that no matter what the origins of Siva’s dance are, “it became in time the clearest image of the activity of God, which any art or religion can boast of” (p. 56), and he continues:


Reprise—Putting It All Together, the Play of Gods

Handelman and Shulman (1997) summarize the fundamental intuitions and recurring perceptions that seem to pervade all of these panels:

that god moves into and out of himself, or upward and downward—from the density of being that reigns at the highest levels to the porous spaciousness that opens up inside him in the lower range; that god can, in some sense, fall into or through these very gaps in himself, and that he can get lost in the blackness; that slippage of this kind is, finally the major form his presence takes (for us);

Shall We Play a Game?

In the movie WarGames (Badham, 1983), Matthew Broderick plays a teenager named David Lightman who hacks into a Silicon Valley computer that he thinks belongs to a company that makes video or computer games.  He begins to play a game called “Global Thermonuclear War.”  


The “Strange” Similarities Between Shiva and Science

Handelman and Shulman (1997) say that Shiva is a holographic god, and after seeing him in action, through the myths and the dance itself, we can see how this is so.  In Looking Glass Universe, Briggs and Peat (1984) discuss the looking glass cake episode in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.  

bottom of page