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Nandi ( The Bull )


Nandi At Mysore


Overview:
  • The Hindu god Shiva is one of the most popular deities in the religion. Shiva’s devotees are called Shaivas and form one of the largest sects in modern India. Included within Shaiva religious sects are devotees to Shiva’s other forms, including that of Lord of the Dance, ‘Nataraja,’ or to any of Shiva’s consorts such as Parvati, Durga, or Kali. Additionally, Shiva’s mount (vahana), the divine bull Nandi, is an immensely popular image and has been for more than a thousand years. Specifically, most temples dedicated to either Shiva, Parvati, or any of their emanations, contain an image of Nandi seated outside usually facing the shrine’s opening. Some temples are dedicated only to Nandi himself.
  • The Nandi myth tells begins with the sage called Shilada. Shilada desired to have an immortal child. The god Indra, king of the gods, the Zeus of the Vedic religion, told Shilada to appease Shiva with penance. Shilada did penance for a thousand years and in that time, his body rotted away. Impressed, Shiva appeared to Shilada’s remains and granted him the boon of a child. Shiva restored him to his former self. Undergoing the fire ritual, a child was born within the sacrificial fire. The child’s body was made of diamonds and named Nandi. In time, however, the child lost his divine appearance but was trained in the Vedas by his father. Learning from other gods that the boy was destined to die young, Lord Shiva appeared to Nandi and Shilada and gave Nandi a necklace which would grant immortality. The price, however, was that Nandi would become half-bull and Shiva’s vehicle.
  • Historically, oxen and bulls specifically are extremely important for societies in South Asia. They are relied upon for a number of life-giving reasons, such as milk, manure for fuel, and plowing power. As such, they are considered divine and often idealized. Nandi represents the pinnacle for such divinity. As far back as the Indus Valley civilization 2,000 BC the imagery of the bull can be found on mercantile seals.

Imagery:

  • There are many different ways to represent Nandi the bull. He may be seen laying down by himself, as either a light or dark bull, as an anthropomorphized human-bull standing, as a carrier for Shiva and/or Parvati, or just as a face. Along with Ganesha, the man-elephant, who is the son of Shiva, Nandi completes a natural theme for artistic imagery related to Shiva and his family. Devotees of Nandi look to him for purity and protection. The white Nandi sculptures especially represent purity. Since bulls are considered to be essential to life and life-generating, they’re often prayed to by women seeking increased fertility. Most of the time Nandi will not appear without Shiva nearby. However, as at Khajuraho, there are some shrines dedicated strictly to Nandi himself that are located nearby a major Shiva temple.



Nandi Bull At Sri Meenakshi Temple