Ardhanarishvara Concept In Hinduism

by VioletteRose

The Ardhanarishvara or Ardhanareeshwara concept also known as Shiva Shakthi in Hinduism symbolizes the equal importance of feminine and masculine energies in the universe.

Ardhanarishvara is one of the most important concepts in Hinduism. It is a representation of the deity God Shiva along with his wife, goddess Parvathi. Half of the deity is male which represents god Shiva and half of the deity is female which represents goddess Parvathi, who is also his wife. The word 'Ardha' means half, nari means woman and Isvara means god.

The Ardhanarishvara concept shows Shiva is inseparable from Shakti, where Shakti is another name for goddess Parvathi, and they are incomplete without each other. In fact the names of the god and goddess are often referred together as Shiva Shakti or Shiva Parvathi.
This is a spiritual union showing the importance of both male and female energies in the universe. The term Shiva stands for pure awareness or consciousness and the word Shakti stands for pure energy or strength. You can also call this as Purusha and Prakrithi, meaning male and nature respectively.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons Image

More About The Meaning Of Shakti, The Feminine Power Also Known As Prakrithi

The word Shakti can be translated to strength or power, while the word Prakrithi can be translated to Nature. What does it mean by the association of the feminine power with the nature? According to the HIndu beliefs, it is the feminine power or energy that controls the movements in nature. It is the power or energy that you see in the movement of giant ocean waves and also in the movement of a tiny leaf. It is the power that you see in winds and it is the power that  cause the earth to rotate. It is the energy that you see in all living and non living things. It is the energy within the universe. 

According to Shaktism, a major sect in Hinduism where the goddess is worshipped as the supreme power in the world, Adi Parashakti form of goddess Parvathi is considered as the supreme goddess or 'para brahman' known as the Divine Mother. She is the creator, observer and destroyer of the entire universe, as per the beliefs of the followers of Shaktism. The word Adi Parashakti can be translated to "The Original Supreme Power". Interestingly, many scientists refer to Adi Parashakthi as the Supreme Intelligence or Sacred energy responsible for the creation of the universe, and this energy is said to exist before the creation of the universe as well as after the destruction of universe. In terms of science, this energy is known as Zero Energy. The Adi Parashakti form of goddess Parvathi is more popularly referred as goddess Durga.

This belief makes sense of why the feminine power is referred as Prakrithi or nature itself in Hinduism. 

You can see watercolor paintings of Ardhanarisvara or Shiva Shakthi below, which are available to buy from Amazon.

The Legend Behind

The significance of the Ardhanarishvara concept can be understood from the following legend as depicted in a South Indian temple. There was a sage named Bhringi who was a devotee of Lord Shiva. He always worshipped Shiva, but chose to ignore goddess Parvathi as he perceived her only as goddess but not god. When it was time to answer his prayers his favorite deity Shiva appeared in front of him in the form of Ardhanarishvara and tried to convince him that Shiva is incomplete without Shakti, and so the blessings from Shiva alone is not complete.  Bhringi was not convinced by this, and he sought for the blessings only from Shiva. As a result of what he sought, Shiva blessed him while Shakthi did not. The result was that the sage was left with just a skeleton. 

This is because, the masculine form is static while the feminine part is the dynamic energy which gives movement and strength, and life is incomplete or cannot exist without the presence of both the energies.


I do not know what happened to the sage afterwards,  but this story definitely has a message that conveys the importance of the mother goddess or the female energy in the existence of life. In fact, many of the Hindu legends look controversial on the outer side but they have more deeper meanings when we observe, which relate to the existence of life and the universe itself.

Idol of Shiva near the banks of river Ganga

Wikimedia Commons Image

Idol of Shiva Parvathi in a temple

Ardhanarisvara Idol
Wikimedia Commons Image

Paintings From The 18th Century

Painting Ardhanarisvara
Wikimedia Commons Image
Painting Of Ardhanarisvara
Wikimedia Commons Image
Wikimedia Commons Image

More About The Spiritual Meaning Of The Concept

According to the hindu beliefs, the energy or power in the feminine form should be used for attaining the pure consciousness or wisdom within us, which is otherwise inactive in the static masculine form. The awareness about the self and the universe leads to the ultimate knowledge which is the path to moksha or the end of physical existence in earth. If the knowledge is never attained, the cycle continues and the life in earth  continues through different reincarnations. The one who seeks spiritual knowledge and puts his desires and efforts to attain the right consciousness finally surpasses the cycle birth and death, and attains moksha where the soul reunites with the supreme power. 

Moksha can be defined as the state of liberation or release when your soul dissolves or unites with the ultimate supreme power and therefore you overcome the cycle of births and deaths and also the associated temporary happiness and sorrows.  There is actually no more " you" once the soul within you have united with the supreme power. 

Attaining the state of moksha is quite difficult as you will need to attain the consciousness or awareness for that. One who is enlightened or attained the pure consciousness or wisdom will have no desires or attachments in his mind. He sees everything as part of the same energy and he should have overcome all the desires from the five senses.

Attaining this kind of a state is very hard or nearly impossible as we are all driven mostly by our emotions, desires and passions. It is believed that there were great sages who attained the wisdom or consciousness as a result of deep meditation for years. According to Bhagavad Gita, God Krishna explains that there is an alternative path for attaining the world you want and the simple yet the straight path is through pure devotion and love for god. 

The main subdivisions in Hinduism happen here.

There are many people who are devotees of God Shiva who want to go to the Shivalok where god Shiva and goddess Parvathi resides, and they are known as the Shaivas and the sect is known as Shaivism.  In Shaivism, people consider God Shiva as the supreme god.

There are devotees of God Vishnu or Krishna (incarnation of God Vishnu) who desire to go to the Vishnulok where God Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi resides, they are known as the Vaishnavas and the sect is known as Vaishnavism.

Personally, my favourite deity is Krishna and I believe Krishna or Vishnu as the supreme god,  but at the same time I can clearly understand the equal importance of the feminine power that is present in everything in the world. The believers of the different sects, including myself, also believe in other deities and so other forms of gods and goddesses are also worshipped by all the HIndus although the view about the supreme power is different in each sect.

In Shaktism, devotees consider the goddess as the supreme power in the world.

It is very important to note that the believers of all the sects in Hinduism worship all other deities of gods and goddesses too, regardless of whom they consider the supreme power. The practice of worshipping different forms of the mother goddess or the feminine power is considered very important and there are many number of temples in India where the main deity of worship is any one of the forms of the goddess.  In other temples where the main deity is different, the worship of the goddess can also be found along with the worship of the god. In general,  each temple has its own primary deity of worship, but other deities are also worshipped alongside and the worship of the sacred feminine goddess is considered important in most of the temples.

My understanding about all these different beliefs is that the supreme powers that we call God or Goddess are the different forms of energies like that we saw in the Ardhanarisvara concept, and the presence of this power or energy is there in all living and non living things. The only difference I can understand is that people choose to worship this power in different forms based on their personal preferences.

If you read Bhagavad Gita, you can see that God Krishna or Vishnu is mentioned as the supreme power, but it is also understood that the deity anyone wants to worship is completely a personal choice and you finally reach where you want to, of course based on your actions too. And the dedicated path of devotion is the way to attain the world you want. 

The message from Gita says fulfilling your responsibilities in the world with a devoted mind and trying never to get worried about the results as they are not always under your control. It calls to look up on both success and failure with the same heart, neither overjoyed by success nor saddened by failure.

As per the beliefs in Hinduism, heaven and hell are just two temporary places that you may reach based on your karma or actions. Those who have done good deeds are believed to go the heaven and those who had done bad are believed to go to hell. Once the results of our actions are over, the stay is over and we are back to the earth. According to the Hindu beliefs,  there are total 14 worlds that you may go, including the earth, heaven and hell.


Bhagavad Gita clearly explains the spiritual concepts in Hinduism, as explained by God Krishna to his devotee Arjuna. You may not be able to find so much about the Ardhanarisvara concept or the sacred feminine power in detail, but it will help you understand the concepts of moksha in Hinduism.


In case of the difficult path of attaining the awareness, where it is not necessary to worship any particular representation of the deity, the first step is to let go the ego in our thoughts that makes us think "I" or "me".  The words "I",  "Me" and "You" are only acceptable for references,  as there are no such differences that exist in the eyes of someone who attained the ultimate awareness or wisdom. He sees the same kind of energy in everything, including the energy in you and me and the energy even in a  droplet of water or in a particle of sand. 

Gita quotes about those who attained consciousness as "Those who have conquered themselves live in peace, alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame. To such people a clod of dirt, a stone, and gold are all the same."

The Hindu beliefs say that one cannot attain this kind of wisdom or consciousness without using the feminine energy within us in the right way. It is extremely difficult to overcome the desires in life, but it is possible to use the feminine energy within us to devote ourselves to god which finally leads to the awareness or consciousness. The static masculine energy and the dynamic feminine energy are present in all of us, even though the presence of the amount of energies and how they are used can be different in each individual.

Temples In South India

Most of the temples that worship Shiva as the main deity also have goddess Parvathi worshipped there. The deity of God Shiva is  seen facing East while goddess Parvathi is facing West.

The Ardhanarishvara is a popular iconographic form of God Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, yet there are only few temples where Ardhanarishvara is the deity, and most of them can be found in South India.

Popular Image Of Ardhanarishvara In South India

Shiva Shakthi
Wikimedia Commons Image

Lakshmi Narayana Concept

Lakshmi Narayana concept is similar to Ardhanarishvara concept as this represents the  togetherness of God Vishnu or Narayana (Narayana is another name of God Vishnu) and goddess Lakshmi who is also the wife of God Vishnu. The difference from the Ardhanarishvara concept comes from the fact that even though this represents the spiritual union of Lakshmi and Vishnu, it is not a representation where you can see half male and half female form. God Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi retain their individual forms, yet appear together and they are often mentioned together everywhere as Lakshmi Narayana.

Lakshmi Narayana is worshipped in some temples in North India and also in some temples in Nepal. This is also a popular sacred chant among Hindus.

Have you ever heard about the Ardhanarishvara concept before?

The article is written based on my understanding about the concept. If you have a different view on this, please let me know!

Updated: 07/04/2016, VioletteRose
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VioletteRose on 05/26/2014

You're welcome Mira :) and thanks again!

Mira on 05/26/2014

Thank you, Violette, for your response! Much appreciated!

VioletteRose on 05/25/2014

Thanks Frank! I will try to write on festivals and more, whenever possible.

frankbeswick on 05/25/2014

You are right, VioletRose, to say that within a religion there needs to be a choice of paths to suit personalities. I had an elderly aunt who was not very well educated, but she was very devout and she expressed her devotion through holy pictures, shrines like Lourdes and sacred objects like statues. She was kind enough to care for us children when my mother was in hospital, so her behaviour was true to Christian teachings. Yet while I respect her way, I cannot share her very concrete devotional path, and I prefer a more cerebral approach. Both ways are equally valid.

What is important to say is that the arrival of your Hinduism article has added a new aspect to religious debate on Wizzley. Your position is closer to Jo's than to mine,but it is different in its own way and complements our writing. Keep it up. I would be interested to know of Hindu festivals, but sadly I will not be using the information in schools. I have just decided to finally retire from school and college teaching. The time is right for it, but I will keep on writing.

VioletteRose on 05/25/2014

Hi Mira, thanks for stopping by :) If my article made you believe the goddess is about the senses, I am really sorry since I didn't mean that. The mother goddess represents the feminine energy present in the universe and also within us which is much beyond the abilities of the five senses and this energy is said to have so much power that it is possible to control our senses utilising this energy in the right way, at least to those who have the determination to do so. But it doesn't have to be that hard, as you can also utilize the energy to devote yourself to your favourite deity, or the supreme power what ever you call. As per the beliefs in Shaktism, a major sect in Hinduism, this feminine energy itself is the supreme power which controls the universe itself. Even to those Hindus who don't follow Shaktism, the goddess has much importance.

Mira on 05/25/2014

Very interesting information. I've been wondering about these notions, too: the male half and the female half, reason and the senses, etc. What I don't quite understand is how you reach moksha if you worship both Shiva and Parvathi, since Parvathi, being about change, is also about the senses (I imagine).

VioletteRose on 05/25/2014

I agree, studying different religions can only broaden your view. I believe different religions might have evolved based on the culture and lifestyle of people, as they are so different in different parts of the world. And every religion point to the existence of a power that is beyond the power of humans and the goal is to seek that sacred power based on your own beliefs, as you say. There are differences that you see in the religious beliefs and teachings, even with in the same religion, and I believe these differences are suitable for the different lifestyles that you see in the world. Everyone choose the path that is right and suitable for them, and the most important thing is to respect other's beliefs whatever your belief is. It is interesting to learn the similarities and differences in different religious approaches, when we actually learn to respect the differences.

frankbeswick on 05/25/2014

I think that true religion [whatever faith you hold] is to seek the seek the sacred/holy wherever it is to be found and engage with it through prayer of various kinds and philosophical/theological reflection, using the widest range of concepts available to you. You need to engage both mind and heart in this quest, and be ready to change, as the encounter with the sacred transforms you. You should be open to the good in all others, even those not of your faith.

I began with studying Philosophy and Christian theology, and I still study it, but I expanded by studying world faiths. This was a mind broadening experience that challenges prejudices and makes you rethink elements in your own faith, and my own faith has been enriched rather than damaged by studying other religions. But studying world faiths can make a maverick of you, as you have broken the mould that others want you to fit into.

In this quest you will have preferred paths. My soul resonates to a Celtic rhythm, as you can see from the fact that I am fscinated by Jo's articles on Celtic religious matters. But I am substantially Celtic, so this can be explained.

But we should always avoid thinking that all religions say the same thing. They don't, and there can be points of difference between them, but they all should be respected. There is no religion in the world today that does not contain sincere people striving to seek the sacred according to their own knowledge.

VioletteRose on 05/25/2014

Hi Jo and Frank, I agree if we observe we can see many of the concepts are related in different religions and some of them more commonly recurring as Jo mentioned in Celtic Wicca and Hinduism. There could be many other similarities between various religions, and I also agree our archetypes have elements in common due to our way of thinking. I think it is really important to focus on the similar ideas among different religious views, as it is a positive approach. Thanks for commenting :)

VioletteRose on 05/25/2014

@DerdriuMarriner, thank you so much for stopping by :)

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