The verse not only lauds this form as uniting with ‘Jagdish’ – the Supreme Creator and Commander of the universe, ‘Jaga-mata’ – the Supreme Mother, and their son – the stay of devotional minds, but also reveals the Vedic perception of this form as ‘Veda-bakhani’, that is, as the Vedas described. It obviously alludes to the Rig-Vedic stand in regard to unity of two apparently conflicting aspects of the cosmos, male and female, that reflects in various Rig-Vedic observations. At one place the Rig-Veda observes that the cosmos, or existence, was the single egg but split into two – the 'Prana' and 'Bhuta', that is, life, or self, and matter. The Rig-Veda has called this cosmic egg as ‘Hiranyagarbha’, ‘Hiranya’, the gold, symbolic of life, and ‘garbha’, the fetus, its material aspect. At another place the scripture acclaims that he, who is described as male, is as much the female, a position now widely accepted by modern scientists. In this Rig-Vedic analogy Shiva is Hiranyagarbha, the life as also the matter, and is ever the same; and, his Ardha-narishvara form is its most apt manifestation. Puranas promoted many other theories for the duality of Shiva’s being more significant among them being that of the ‘Maithuni-srashti’ – procreation by self-generating sexual union. Realising Brahma’s inability in effecting creation out of just the ‘male’ Shiva separated from his being his female aspect and thus the two-aspected creation emerged.
Psychologists world-over say that every male has in him the half female, and vice-verse, the female, the half male. The most controversial but as much novel and totally different kind of thinker of this era, Rajneesh, known amongst his followers as Osho, says that the symbolic thrust of the Shiva’s Ardha-narishvara manifestation is apparent. Its emphasis is obvious that the line dividing God's creation as male and female is only superfluous. The creation is essentially composite in its character and the Ardha-narishvara form is its best manifestation. To Osho, an Ardha-narishvara image, painted or sculpted, represents Shiva in his absolute or most accomplished form and is hence more sacred and so is his worship in his Ardha-narishvara form. Osho observes that wise ones should have Shiva’s Ardha-narishvara images in preference to his other forms in their houses for such an image shall broaden their vision and destroy the fallacy that draws gender-line distinction. His aniconic votive ‘ling’ and Mahayogi forms that go back to the Indus days apart, the Ardha-narishvara images that beginning pouring in from around the second century are among Shiva’s earliest iconic forms to emerge.
Though an absolutely balanced anatomy, the two forms discernible only on minute observation, such as the halo having lesser peripheral breadth on the left, that is, around the female aspect of the face, the figure’s right has been conceived as different from its left. Besides the ash-grey body colour as against the golden hue of the left, the ‘jata-juta’ – knotted hair defines the hair-style on the right whereas it is normally dressed on the left and is covered under the ‘odhini’ – upper wear. The golden colour of the left manifests energy, and ash-grey, the lifeless mass that without Shakti Shiva is.
A crescent form adorns the ‘jata-juta’ and from it is bursting a stream of water, symbolic of river Ganga, the attributes of Shiva’s image, whereas the left half does not have any such attribute. Tied around the ‘jata-juta’ there is a four-laced ornament made of pearls. Like the halo on the left this lace-ornament is also downwards inclining; besides, this side of the ornament has been distinguished from the other using an elaborately imbedded brooch, essentially a feminine ornament.
The differently conceived right eye reveals intoxication, and the left, amour and absolute contentment. The right ear has been conceived with a ring, and the left, with a flower-like designed ornament. As against the unadorned normal nose on the right side, it has a nose-ring on the left. The right side hand, besides adorned with a ring and ‘Rudraksha’ beads, and Shaivite ‘tri-punda’ marks rendered with sandal paste, holds the Shiva’s favourite ‘damaru’ – double drum, whereas the gold-like glistening left, has on it a range of colourful glass bangles and is holding child Ganesha. This left arm seems to branch from much below the right side. The figure is putting on the right shoulder the tiger skin, a garland of skulls and snake, the attributes of Shiva. As in the ornamentation of the two aspects the similar distinction has been made also in the attires of the two parts. In many representations of Ardha-narishvara even forms of their mounts, Shiva’s Nandi, the bull, and Shakti’s lion, are blended into one figure. This artist, however, preferred their distinct identities, though painted them close to each other.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.