Why Does Shiva Have Four Arms?

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Shiva has four arms because they represent the four cardinal directions. Each of Shiva’s hands either hold an object or are shown making a specific gesture.

The upper right hand often holds an hour-glass drum. This is a symbol of creation and the “beating pulse of the universe.” The drum is also important because it gives way to the music for Shiva to dance. It can also represent the male and female vital principles. The opposite hand, the upper left hand, typically holds a palm full of tongues with flames. These are supposed to symbolize the element of destruction in the universe through the flames. The balance is between creation in the one hand and destruction in the other.

Shiva is the Hindu god of destruction and is also known as “Nataraja” or the “Lord of the Dancers.” Sanskrit language has “Nata” meaning “dance” and “raja” meaning “Lord.” The first sculpture or canonical form of Shiva came in the Chola dynasty during the 10th century A.D. Since then, Shiva continues to be reproduced in canonical form. Shiva is considered to be one of the chief deities in Hinduism. The name Shiva also means “Auspicious One.” Shiva is a paradoxical deity because he is both the restorer and the destroyer, the wrathful avenger and the benevolent herdsman.