Lord Shiva is one of the many sons of Brahma. He was born from between his father’s eyebrows, when Brahma became angry with his four sons, the Kumaras, who refused his request to get married. Shiva can therefore be very angry, as exhibited in his form as Rudra, or when he destroys the creation. The name ‘Shiva’ means ‘auspicious’. He is self-illuminated, exactly like Lord Vishnu and is also very powerful. Unlike Vishnu, though, he very easily awards gifts and boons to those who approach him, even if his devotee’s motives are selfish. His name is therefore Asutosh, or ‘one who is easily pleased ’. He is also called Bhutanath, ‘lord of the ghosts’, for many subtle beings are attached to him because of his kindness to them. Although Shiva bestows material opulence on his worshippers, he and his wife Parvati prefer to live austere lives, remaining without shelter on Kailash mountain. Shiva’s body is reddish, and is coved with ashes. He also lives in cremation grounds where corpses are burnt.
Once the demigods were struggling in their ongoing differences with the demons, and had recently been defeated in battle. Lord Vishnu promised them amrita (nectar) if they would temporarily cooperate with the demons and churn the ocean of milk. Seeing it in their own interests to co-operate, they made a proposal to the demons who agreed to this joint venture. So, using mount Mandara as a churning stick and the serpent Vashuki as the churning rope, they carried out the order of the Lord. Vishnu appeared as a turtle, and acted as the pivot for Mount Mandara..
Initially, the churning of the ocean produced nothing valuable, but there emitted a dangerous poison called Halahala. When the uncontrollable poison was forcefully spreading up and down in all directions, all the demigods approached Lord Shiva, seeking shelter in him and praying for his protection.
Being compassionate and dedicated to auspicious, benevolent work, Lord Shiva agreed to drink all the poison. Goddess Parvati, the wife of Shiva, being aware of her Lord’s capabilities and strength, gave her consent.
Shiva reduced the vast slick of poison it to a small quantity that he could hold in the palm of his hand. While he was drinking it, a few drops fell from his hand, and was immediately consumed by poisonous snakes, scorpions, toxic plants and other venomous creatures of the world. After Lord Shiva drank the poison, his neck became bluish, enhancing his beauty. One of his names is therefore Nilakanta – ‘one with a bluish neck’.
In the Bhagavat Purana, there is an instructive verse regarding Shiva’s compassionate act, as follows:
“It is said that great personalities almost always accept voluntary suffering because of the suffering of people in general. This is considered the highest method of worshiping the Supreme Lord, who is present in everyone’s heart.”
“The Second Avatar of Vishnu” (STO-302)
“Shiva and Vrikasura” (STO-312)