Incarnations of Shiva – Shiva Purana
In the Section 3 of Satarudra–Samhita of Shiva Purana, the countless incarnations of Shiva are mentioned. These incarnations are in fact symbolize the scheme of creation and maintenance of the universe. Other incarnations are for the benefits of devotees and protecting them from evils.
The five famous forms of Shiva are named Ishana, Tatpuruṣa, Aghora, Vamadeva and Sadyojata. Each form stands in relation to a particular element or organ as follows.
Significance - These five faces symbolize the scheme of creation evolved out of twenty-five constituents viz. five gross and five subtle elements, five organs of action and five of knowledge, besides mind, ego, intellect, nature and the individual soul.
The universe consists of the eight essentials viz. earth, water, fire, wind, ether, soul, sun and moon. These essentials are eight incarnations of lord Shiva i.e., Rudra is fire, Sarva is water, Pasupati is plants, Ugra is air, Asani is Vajra, Bhava is Indra, Mahadeva is moon and Ishana is sun.
Significance - These eight incarnations made the whole world function
Incarnation as Ardhanarishvara:
Brahma performed a great penance to enable creation produced by couples. Then the delighted Shiva appeared. Brahma said, “the gods and others were mentally created by me. But they do not multiply themselves. Hence, they are being created again and again. Hereafter I wish to make all my subjects flourish by making the creation originate from pairs.”
Shiva spoke to Shakti: “O goddess, yon have been propitiated by Brahma, through his penance. Lovingly become pleased with him and fulfil his desires.”
Receiving that behest of lord Shiva with her bent head, the goddess became the daughter of Dakṣha on the importunity of Brahma. Ever since then, creation became copulatory.
Significance - Ardhanarishvara (half-male and half-female) is symbolical of the process of creation by copulation.
In the ninth aeon of Dvapara of the seventh Varaha Kalpa, in the Vaivasvata Manvantara, Shiva’s ninth incarnation was as Rsabha to stabilize the path of yoga.
Other nineteen incarnations of Shiva took place in other aeons of Dvapara. They were Gangadvara, Satatejas Vyasa (reviver of path of renunciation), Sage Bali, Gautama in the family of Angiras, Vedasiras, Gokarna, Guhavasin, Sikhandin, Jati, Malin, Attahasa, Daruka, Suṣmayaṇa Vyasa, Sveta, Sulin, Sakti Vyasa, Sahisnu, Somasarman and Krishna.
Incarnation as Nandi:
Silada, a great sage did a severe penance of Shiva and sought a boon for a son equal to him, devoid of death and not born of a womb. Shiva granted the boon and said: “I shall become your son by the name of Nandi. I shall not be born of a womb. Thus, you shall be my father, of me who am the father of the worlds.
Incarnation as Bhairava:
When deluded by maya, Brahma made fun of Shiva’s form who appeared out of mass of flame, Shiva created Bhairava. Bhairava was with terrifying features. Kala-Bhairava, in a trice, cut off Brahma’s fifth head with the tip of the nails of the fingers of his left hand.
Significance - To detach 5th head of Brahma and latter to remain as protector in Kashi and to devour sins of those people who reach Kashi.
Incarnation as Sarabha:
Another incarnation of Shiva was Sardula. For the benefit of the gods, the wonderfully divine form of a Sarabha (the mythological animal with eight legs and capacity of killing lions) of blazing fire-like lustre was assumed by lord Shiva to control Ugra Narasimha from destroying the Universe.
Significance - To control Ugra Narasimha from destroying the Universe.
Incarnation as Agnishvara:
Grhapati, a son of Brahamin, did great penance of Shiva and secured the title of Agni and the boon that the phallic image installed by him, will be known as Agnishvara and it will be conducive to the enhancement of all splendour.
Significance - A person who worships Agnisvara, the bestower of prosperity, at Varanasi, is honoured in the region of fire even if, by chance, he dies elsewhere.
Incarnation as Yakṣeshvara:
When the gods and the Daityas have churned the milk ocean to get nectar, poison blazing as the fire of dissolution came out at first. They were highly agitated and frightened and sought refuge in Shiva. Shiva quaffed off the terrible poison afflicting gods and Asuras. Shiva retained obliquely the acute poison that he drank, in his neck. He shone much thereby and became Blue-necked. Released from the burning sensation of the poison thanks to the blessings of Shiva, the gods and the Asuras began to churn again. The nectar came out after many gems which was drank by the gods, thanks to the favour of Vishnu. Then a great battle ensued between them inflicting pain on both. The moon was eclipsed by Rahu and fled in terror of Rahu. He went to the abode of Shiva extremely agitated by fear and sought Shiva’s protection. The, Shiva wore the moon on his head as the latter had sought refuge. Then Rahu too, came there and eulogised lord Shiva with reverence. Realising his desire, Shiva fixed on to his neck his head that had been formerly cut off by Vishnu, and that was known as Ketu. Then the Asuras were defeated by the gods in the battle. By drinking nectar, the gods had become powerful and gained victory.
Deluded by Shiva’s Maya, Vishnu and others became very haughty. Then Lord Shiva, the suppressor of arrogance, became a Yakṣa. He hastened to the place, where the gods were stationed. Yakṣeshvara said to them: — “O gods, why have you all assembled here. What is your goal? Tell me the reason as I ask unto you.”
The gods said: — “O lord, a terrible battle took place here wherein all the Asuras were killed. The few that remained fled away. We are great heroes and powerful slayers of the Daityas. How insignificant in strength are those Daityas in front of us!”
On hearing the arrogant words of those gods, lord Shiva, in the form of Yakṣa said: --
“O gods, do not be arrogant. There is another lord who is the creator and annihilator. You have forgotten the great lord. You boast too much but you are devoid of strength. If you are proud and think that you know your strength to be great, O gods, split this blade of grass placed by me, with your own weapons.”
Then Vishnu and other gods professing to be heroic exerted their manliness and hurled their respective weapons. But the weapons of the gods, were rendered fruitless before the power of Shiva. Then a celestial voice arose that dispelled the surprise of the gods — “O gods this Yakṣa is Shiva who removes the arrogance of the arrogant.”
O hearing the celestial voice they became divested of their arrogance. They had realised Yakṣeshvara. They bowed to and eulogised him.
Significance - Yakṣeshvara incarnation of Shiva, that dispels the arrogance of the arrogant and lets the devotion of the good flourish.
Ten Incarnations & their significance:
Kashyapa, the father of asuras, did great penance of Shiva. Shiva on being pleased, was born in eleven forms to Surubhi, the wife of Kashyapa. These eleven Rudras are Kapali, Pingala, Bhima, Virupakṣha, Vilohita, Shastṛa, Ajapada, Ahirbudhnya, Shambhu, Chaṇḍa and Bhava.
Significance - The ten Pranas in the body, with the Atman as the eleventh. When they depart from this mortal body, they make one's relatives weep. Because they make them weep (rud), therefore they are called Rudras.
Incarnation of Hanuman:
Significance - To help Lord Rama in Ramayana.
Incarnation of Mahesha:
Significance - Urged by the friendship with Bhairava Lord Shiva incarnates as Mahesa to play with him.
Incarnation of Bull:
Significance - To bring back Lord Vishnu from Patala.
Incarnation of Pipplada:
Significance - To subdue the pride of Saturn and thus helping people to overcome affliction of Saturn.
Incarnation of Vaisyanatha:
Significance - To redeem a prostitute named Mahananda who was devotee of Shiva, Lord Shiva goes to her house taking form of Vaishya and finally takes her to Shiva Loka.
Incarnation of Dvijaswara:
Significance – To test of king Bhadryu by taking form of a Brahmin.
Incarnation of Yatinatha Hamsa:
Significance – To test of a Bhilla (tribe race) by taking form of Yatinatha.
Incarnation of Krishna Darshana:
Significance - Lord Shiva taking the form of Krishna Darshana shows that the part left after the Yajna also belongs to him, also Instructs Nabhaga.
Incarnation of Avadhutesvara:
Significance - Taking the form of Avadhuta Lord Shiva subdues arrogance of Indra and the birth of Jalandhara is triggered from this event.
Incarnation of Bhikshuvarya:
Significance – To dispel the suspicion of Brahmin women.
Incarnation of Sureshwara:
Significance - Taking the form of Indra Lord Shiva tested devotion of Upamanyu.
Incarnation of Jatila:
Significance – To test the Penance of Parvati by taking the form of Jatila.
Incarnation of Sunartakanata:
Significance - Taking the form of Sunartakanata Lord Shiva goes to Himalayas house to ask hand of Parvati.
Incarnation of Sadhu Dvija:
Significance - Gods being afraid that Himalaya will attain instant salvation due to giving of Parvati to Shiva request to Shiva to delay salvation of Himalaya. So, Lord Shiva taking the form of Sadhu Dvija goes in front of Himavat and start to insult Lord Shiva.
Incarnation of Ashwatthama:
Significance - Destruction in the 18th night of Mahabharata war is carried out by Ashwatthama and so on.
Incarnation of Kirata:
Significance - Lord Shiva taking the form of Kirata tests the war skill and devotion of Arjuna.
Other incarnations of Shiva are as Durvasa and the Twelve Jyotirlinga are separately published.
Shiva’s incarnations are countless and conducive to the benefit of good devotees. Their number cannot be counted or specified.