One of the most ancient gods of the Hindu pantheon, who is often represented in India in puppet theatre and in the shadow theatre. Shiva creates the world through dance. One of his names is Shiva Nataraja, indicating that many Indians venerate him as the “Lord of Dance”. His third eye, closed, situated in the centre of his forehead, symbolizes living consciousness. If ever the eyelid (of the third eye) opens, the world would be annihilated.

Both male and female, Shiva has a consort, Parvati. He has numerous progeny, two of whom are his daughter Kali (or Bhagavati in the form of Kali), also an avatar of his consort Parvati, who rules over the kingdom of the dead, and Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. Shiva is usually depicted as having a blue throat, sometimes his entire body is blue, due to having drunk the poison emitted by Vasuki, the primeval serpent; the poison had threatened to infect the Ocean of Milk (the Milky Way) when it was being churned at the moment of the creation of the universe.

The puppets, as also certain forms of dance-dramas, like the chhau from the Mayurbhang region of Orissa (Odisha), often depict Shiva as a naked yogi, with the lower half of his body covered with a tiger skin, a trident in hand, with his hair tied up in a topknot from which escape long matted locks of hair, origin of the river Ganga. The shadow figures represent Shiva in his cosmic aspect and often interacting with court characters, as in tolu bommalata and togalu gombeyata.

(See India.)