In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Shiva

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage
  • Vedic and Iconographic Precedents for Shiva
  • The Epics
  • Art
  • South India
  • Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism
  • Śaivism and Buddhism
  • Southeast Asia
  • Critiques and Reviews

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Hinduism Shiva
Benjamin J. Fleming
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 January 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0088


Shiva is one of the major gods of classical and contemporary Hinduism, along with Vishnu and Durgā. He figures prominently in South Asian art, ritual, literature, and liturgies and has been the topic of a range of scholarly studies, both thematic and historical. Some studies have sought to provide synthetic accounts of the mythology and iconography surrounding him, while others have explored the historical development of the figure of Shiva, Śaivite ritual schools, and “pan-Indian” Śaivism. A particularly rich line of research concerns the god’s relationship to the local spaces of the Indian subcontinent as constituted through pilgrimage practices and Māhātmya literature, his absorption of local deities, and the flourishing of regionally distinct traditions surrounding him; for instance, the distinctiveness of Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada traditions about the god in South India has long persisted, even in dynamic interaction with northern, Sanskrit-centered traditions. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the study of medieval Sanskrit Puranas, long central to scholarship on Shiva, has been revitalized by the discovery and publication of an early version of the Skanda Purāṇa. New archaeological discoveries have also helped open new vistas onto the history of Śaivism, together with new work on Āgamic literature, epigraphical evidence, and Śaivism’s political history within and beyond India. This article focuses on the figure of Shiva. It also considers Śaivism, understood both in the more specific sense of the ritual schools as defined in Āgamic literature and in the broad sense of the complex of traditions surrounding the god in Hindu thought and practice.

General Overviews

Introductory and accessible works on Shiva tend to focus on the mythology and iconography of the god, particularly in their classical (especially medieval) forms. Kramrisch 1981 provides a broad, thematic survey of relevant motifs and is useful as an entry point into the study of the topic. Doniger O’Flaherty 1973 helped popularize Shiva as a topic of interest in the study of comparative mythology and exemplifies a line of research that highlights the psychological and symbolic over the historical; because of the composite character of Śaivism in its growth and development, such approaches tend to conflate temporal and regional differences in order to evoke a holistic picture of the tradition. A sense of the importance of local traditions comes clear, by contrast, in Chitgopekar 1998. Handelman and Shulman 1997 and Fleming 2009 also consider the representation of Shiva in a manner that resonates with concerns in the field of religious studies, combining literary and iconographical evidence.

  • Chitgopekar, Nilima. Encountering Śivaism: The Deity, the Milieu, the Entourage. Delhi: Munshiram, 1998.

    Study exploring medieval developments of Shiva and his pantheon with a sensitivity to regional specificity (especially Madhya Pradesh), drawing on literary, documentary, and art historical evidence.

  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Śiva. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

    Popular exploration of seemingly paradoxical themes in the mythology of Shiva, as investigated through detailed structuralist analyses, ingeniously applying the ideas of Claude Lévi-Strauss to historically diverse textual sources (especially epic and Puranic materials). It was republished in 1981 under the title Śiva the Erotic Ascetic.

  • Fleming, Benjamin. “The Form and Formlessness of Śiva: The Liṅga in Indian Art, Mythology, and Pilgrimage.” Religion Compass 3.3 (2009): 440–458.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00141.x

    Introductory essay on the worship of Shiva focusing on the mythology, iconography, theology, and ritual surrounding the god’s dominant emblem, the liṅga.

  • Handelman, David, and David Shulman. God Inside-Out. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    A wide-ranging, insightful treatment of Śaivite mythology through a focus on cosmology, drawing on epic and Puranic stories, together with the iconography of the famous cave-temple sculptures and relief carvings of Elephanta.

  • Kramrisch, Stella. The Presence of Śiva. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

    Lucid introduction to the development of mythological motifs related to Shiva, surveying the full range of relevant Vedic, epic, and Puranic sources, together with some reflection on medieval representations of Shiva in the plastic arts. It also includes an appendix on Elephanta, a major early site. Accessibly written and organized, this book offers a handy entry point into the study of images of the god in art and literature.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.