According to Hindu belief, everything in this universe goes through three stages in its life time; that is birth, life and death. After the death, a Hindu believe, that a thing takes re-birth depending on the amount of good or bad things that he/she/it did on these first two stages. A person, which completed its cycle of birth in this way, get salvation or moksha with no more birth, life and death.
To maintain this balance of nature Hindus have three principal Gods (known as Thrimurthis)- Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Lord Brahma is the Lord of creation, Lord Vishnu is the God of Protection and Lord Shiva is the God of destruction or death.
Lord Shiva had his origin from Lord Brahma’s lap. The legend goes like this; Lord Brahma asked his four sons- Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Sanalkumara to get married and fill this earth by their kith and kins. When they refused, he gave birth to a boy from his lap, using his divine powers. The newly born boy began to cry loud to get a name and a place to reside for him. Lord Brahma gave him the name Rudra. The boy cried six more times. Thus Lord Brahma gave him seven more names. The names are Bhava, Sarva, Isana, Pasupathi, Bhima, Ugra and Mahadeva respectively.
Thereafter, Lord Brahma got married these eight Rudras and they started a family life. It is believed, the kith and kins of these eight Rudras filled this universe in course of time.
Lord Shiva has two wives: Goddess Parvati and Goddess Ganga. It is believed, Goddess Ganga resides on his mat and generally worshiped as a holy river. Goddess Parvati is widely worshiped in human form throughout the country.
Lord Shiva worship is widespread all over the Indian sub-continent. In most of the cases, he is worshiped in Linga form. There is a legend behind the origin of Linga worship. When Goddess Sathi (wife of Lord Shiva) got immolated herself at Dakshayaga, Lord Shiva started wandering around the universe in grief. He reached Daruvana- a forest where many rishis are doing Yagnas, along with their wives and family.
Somehow, wives of these rishis got attracted to Lord Shiva. This made risihis irritated; they cursed Lord Shiva that his Linga be fallen on earth. The curse came true. Linga of Lord Shiva fell on the earth and he disappeared. The heat from that Linga became intolerable. So devas requested Lord Shiva to take back that Linga. After much persuasion Lord Shiva agreed; with a condition that he should be worshiped in Linga form thereafter.
Shivaratri (usually in February) is the most important festival in the name of Lord Shiva.
Hindu puranas have rich reference to Lord Shiva. Of these, following five legends are popular. In most of the cases any of these five stories form the basis to the origin of the famous Lord Shiva temples in India.
First is Dakshayagam story. Once Dakshaprajapathi (father-in-law of Lord Shiva) arranged a yagna at his palace. He invited all gods except Lord Shiva as he considered Lord Shiva as impure and unsuited to his status as Prajapathi.
Somehow, devi Sathi came to know about this yagna. She went to attend the yagna irrespective of Lord Shiva’s opposition. At the yagna place Daksha insulted Goddess Sathi, by abusing Lord Shiva in front of others. Devi could not bear it; so she immolated herself at the sacrificial fire. Hearing the news a furious Lord Shiva reached the spot; he started a Thandav Nrutya carrying the charred body of Devi Sathi.
The force of the dance was such that the entire universe began to shake. Other gods became weary. They approached Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu, in order to distract the attention of Lord Shiva, crushed the body of Devi using his Sudarsan chakra. The pieces of Sathi’s body fell into many places on earth.
Second popular legend is related to Lord Shiva getting inflicted with Brahmahatya curse. One day there aroused a dispute between Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma over who is supreme among them. When the dispute got heated, a Shiva Linga suddenly appeared before them. A heavenly voice declared that whoever finds the edge of any of the edges first becomes supreme.
Thus, Lord Vishnu began to travel beneath the Shiva Linga for many many years to find its bottom edge; but failed. Finally, he came back and pleaded his inability to Lord Shiva.
Meanwhile, Lord Brahma, who traveled upward, had the same experience. Instead, he saw a rose petal coming down. When asked, the petal replied that she fell atop the Shiva Linga and is falling down for many years. This made Lord Brahma panic as he still needs to fly many thousand years to reach the top.
Lord Brahma befriended that petal and returned to Lord Vishnu. Sighting the evidence of that rose petal Lord Brahma took a false oath that he saw the upper edge of the Shivalinga and as such he became supreme. Lord Vishnu refused to believe this oath and requested Lord Shiva to show the truth.
Lord Shiva appeared before them. He revealed what was happened and cursed Lord Brahma that no one shall worship him anymore for taking false oath and cut-off one of his five heads out of anger.
When he cut-off Lord Brahma’s head, Lord Shiva got afflicted with Brahmahatya sin. So he wandered around this universe as a mendicant- with Lord Brahma’s skull on his hand, to alleviate his sin. Finally, he reached Varanasi. After having a dip in the holy river Ganga he got relieved of his Brahmahatya sin.
Third legend is associated with churning of palazhi or palazhimathan. Due to a curse from sage Durvasa, Devas lost their divine powers and got afflicted with diseases. So they prayed to Lord Vishnu for a solution. Lord Vishnu advised them to churn palazhi or milky ocean to get amruth or nectar; drinking it shall cure their problems. He asked them to get the help of Asuras as devas alone cannot do the job.
Thus, both devas and asuras began to churn the ocean using the divine serpent Vasuki as the rope. When the churning was in progress the serpent Vasuki began to vomit to Kalakutavisha- the deadly poisonous venom.
All became panic as the poisonous gas began to spread. They requested Lord Shiva to swallow the venom before it touching the earth. Lord Shiva agreed and started drinking the poison. Goddess Parvati immediately pressed hard the neck of the Lord to prevent it entering the stomach in order to save his life. At the same time, lord Vishnu closed the mouth of Lord Shiva to prevent returning the venom from Shiva’s neck. Thus the deadly poison got clotted at lord Shiva’s neck; it became bluish in colour.
There after Lord Shiva became Neelakanda- that is one with a blue neck.
Fourth legend is associated with Arjuna of Mahabharath. During the vanavasa period, the Pandava prince Arjun did a severe penance to please Lord Shiva.
In order to test the courage, dedication and also to subdue the false ego of Arjun, lord Shiva appeared before him as a Kirata (forest demon).
They had a tussle over a Pork which both claimed that they have hunted. In the tussle that followed Arjuna got severely injured.
Lord Shiva, along with Goddess Parvati, appeared in front of Arjun and blessed him with an arrow called Pasupatha.
The fifth legend is related to Ravan- the demon king of Lanka . He is an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. There is a legend behind this devotion.
After getting many boons from Lord Brahma, Ravan thought he is above even Lord Shiva. So he challenged Lord Shiva and to show his strength he took the mount Kailas (abode of Lord Shiva) on his palm and began to shake it.
To punish Ravan, Lord Shiva pressed mount Kailas down with his foot fingers. Thus the palm of Ravan got pressed under the weight of mount Kailas. He could not move his palm for many years.
He apologized to Lord Shiva and prayed to him. Pleased by the devotion of the demon king Lord Shiva lifted mount Kailas and also gifted a sword- Chandrahas- to him. This sword made him even stronger.
Famous Lord Shiva temples of India