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Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Four Sons of Lord Shiva

The Pashupati Seal Depicting Shiva

Mohenjo-Daro (2350–2000 BCE)

The Puranas and other ancient texts (Itihasas) narrate the deeds of Shiva’s four sons: Kartikeya, Ganesha, Ayyappa, and Hanuman. The four sons had divine births and became the powerful Gods of Hindu tradition. All four are probably celibate—I use the word “probably,” because in some native legends, the marriages of Kartikeya and Ganesha have been described. 

Kartikeya is warlike, muscular, ever-youthful, and armed with divine weapons. He is the leader of the army of devas (Gods) and a slayer of demons. Ganesha is corpulent and profound. He is the granter of fertility and prosperity. He is the God of wisdom and the most proficient scribe in the universe. He wrote the verses of the Mahabharata as they were being recited by Veda Vyasa. 

Kartikeya is associated with the peacock and the rooster (warlike and masculine symbols); Ganesha is associated with the elephant and the snake (fertile and feminine symbols). Based on the story of his divine birth, Kartikeya is sometimes depicted with six heads; Ganesha is always depicted with an elephant’s head which was given to him by Shiva.  

Ayyappa is handsome and rides a tiger; Hanuman is the monkey God and the central character in the Ramayana. Both are celibate, warlike, dharmic, and always engaged in austerities. Like their father Shiva, both are hermits. They are the epitome of dharma, truth, and righteousness. Ayyappa is the slayer of the shape-shifting demon Mahishi; Hanuman is the invincible divine warrior and the dedicated follower of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. 

Ganesha and Ayyappa are the Gods of dharmic living—they enable individuals and societies in discovering the right balance between Yoga and Bhoga so that the values of Artha (economic values), Kama (pleasure), Dharma (righteousness), and Moksha (liberation) are attained. Kartikeya and Hanuman are the philosopher warriors—they are the Gods of protection from worldly dangers and evil spirits. 

The four sons of Shiva represent the values of tapa (pursuit of dharma and moksha) and rasa (pursuit of happiness and the fulfillment of one’s worldly obligations).

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