Eight Meanings of ‘Shiva’

Shiva Mahadev

One of Lord Shiva’s names is ‘aṣṭamūrti’ (अष्टमूर्ति) meaning “having eight forms”. Therefore, today I present eight meanings of the word ‘śiva’ (शिव) as per four ‘vyutpatti’s (व्युत्पत्ति) and four ‘nirukti’s (निरुक्ति) etymologies. Everything written here is based on the Hindu scriptures and there is nothing that is without a source.


In Sanskrit, the verbal root (dhātu) √śī (शी) means “to sleep”; ‘śete’ = “he/she/it sleeps”. The word ‘śayana’ (शयन) meaning “sleep” comes from the same root. That due to which a person sleeps peacefully is ‘śiva’ (शिव, the neuter-gender word ‘śivam’ or शिवम्’), that is, auspiciousness or welfare.[1] A related word is ‘śeva’ (शेव) which means “pleasing”. One who is ever possessed of auspiciousness/welfare is ‘śiva’ (शिव).[2] This is why in the ‘Śivatāṇḍavastotra’ (शिवताण्डवस्तोत्र), it is said ‘tanotu naḥ śivaḥ śivam’ (तनोतु नः शिवः शिवम्), that is, “may Shiva enhance our auspiciousness/welfare”. Thus, “one always endowed with auspiciousness/welfare” is the first meaning of ‘śiva’ (Shiva).

Shiva Linga


Or, “one who bestows ‘śivam’ or auspiciousness/welfare upon others” is ‘śiva’ (Shiva). [3] This is the second meaning.


Or, one can get the word ‘śiva’ directly from the root √śī. “One in whom the eight qualities (‘aṇiman’, etc.) reside” is ‘śiva’ (Shiva).[4] This is the third meaning.


Or, the word ‘śīva’ comes from the root √śo (शो) which means “to weaken” and the suffix ‘van’ (‘वन्’). Thus, “one who weakens inauspiciousness” is ‘śiva’ (Shiva).[5] This is the fourth meaning.

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Or, “one who, wishing for the ‘śivam’ or auspiciousness/welfare of humans, enhances all fruits of all actions” is ‘śiva’ (Shiva).[6] This is the fifth meaning.


Or, “a confluence of ‘ś’ (श्) = eternal joy and bliss, ‘i’ (इ) = ‘puruṣa’ (पुरुष, the masculine principle, and ‘va’ (व) = ‘śakti’ (शक्ति, the feminine principle) or ‘amṛta’ (अमृत, immortality)” is ‘śiva’ (Shiva).[7] This is the sixth meaning.


Or, ‘śi’ (शि) means “the destroyer of ‘pāpa’s or evil karmas” and ‘va’ (व) means the “the bestower of ‘mukti’ or liberation”. Thus, “one who destroys the evil karmas of humans and gives them liberation” is ‘śiva’ (Shiva).[8] This is the seventh meaning.


Or, ‘śi’ (शि) means “auspiciousness/welfare” and ‘va’ (व) means “bestower”. Thus, “one who bestows auspiciousness/welfare” is ‘śiva’ (Shiva).[9] This is the eighth meaning.

Shiva Linga


[1]. “śete anena iti śivam, kalyāṇamityarthaḥ”. That with which one sleeps [peacefully] is ‘śivam’ ‘शिवम्’(shivam), i.e. auspiciousness or welfare. The root ‘śīṅ svapne gets the ‘van’ suffix from ‘iṇśībhyāṃ van’ or ‘sarvanighṛṣvarṣvalaṣvadvaprahveṣvā atantre, Unādi Sūtras 1.141 and 1.142. There is then ‘hrasva’ or shortening of the vowel due to ‘pṛṣodarāditva’.

[2]. “śivaṃ kalyāṇaṃ nityamasyeti śivaḥ”. One who is ever possessed of ‘śivaṃ’, that is ‘kalyāṇaṃ’ (auspiciousness/welfare) is ‘śivaḥ’. 
Derivation: ‘śiva’ + ‘ac’ suffix by the rule “arśa-ādibhyo’c” (Aṣṭādhyāyī 5.2.127). The meaning of ‘constancy’ is from the ‘kārikā’ “bhūmanindāpraśaṃsāsu nityayoge’tiśāyane, sambandhe’stivivakṣāyāṃ bhavanti matubādayaḥ” (Mahābhāṣya 5.2.94).

[3]. “śivayati śivaṃ karotīti śivaḥ”. One who causes ‘śivaṃ’ or welfare is ‘śivaḥ’. 
Derivation: From the word ‘śiva’, there is the causative suffix ‘ṇic’ by ‘tatkaroti tadācaṣṭe’ (Dhātupāṭha Gaṇasūtra 187) and then ‘ac’ by ‘nandigrahipacādibhyo lyuṇinyacaḥ’ (Aṣṭādhyāyī 3.1.134).

[4]. “śerate’vatiṣṭhante’ṇimādayo’ṣṭau guṇā asminniti vā śivaḥ” (Bharata’s commentary on the ‘Amarakoṣa’). Or, one in whom the eight qualities like ‘aṇimān’ reside is ‘śivaḥ’.

[5]. “śyatyaśubhamiti vā śivaḥ”. (Bharata’s commentary on the ‘Amarakoṣa’). One who diminishes or weakens ‘aśubham’ or inauspiciousness is ‘śivaḥ’.

[6]. “samedhayati yannityaṃ sarvārthānsarvakarmasu, śivamicchanmanuṣyāṇāṃ tasmādeṣa śivaḥ smṛtaḥ” (Mahābhārata 7.203.120). He, wishing the ‘śivam’ or welfare of humans, ‘samedhayati’ or enhances all ‘karma’s (actions) with all ‘artha’s (fruits), hence he is known as ‘śivaḥ’.

[7]. “śaṃ nityaṃ sukhamānandamikāraḥ puruṣaḥ smṛtaḥ, vakāraḥ śaktiramṛtaṃ melanaṃ śiva ucyate” (Śivapurāṇa 1.18.76–77). ‘ś’ is eternal joy and bliss, ‘i’ is said to be Puruṣa, ‘va’ is Śakti and immortality, the confluence is said to be ‘śivaḥ’.

[8]. “pāpaghne vartate śiśca vaśca muktiprade tathā, pāpaghno mokṣado nṝṇāṃ śivastena prakīrtitaḥ” (Brahmavaivartapurāṇa 1.6.52). ‘śi’ means the destroyer of evil karma and ‘va’ means the bestower of ‘mukti’, he is the destroyer of evil karma and the bestower of ‘mukti’ for humans, hence he is called ‘śivaḥ’.

[9]. “śiśabdo maṅgalārthaśca vakāro dātṛvācakaḥ, maṅgalānāṃ pradātā yaḥ sa śivaḥ parikīrttitaḥ” (Brahmavaivartapurāṇa 2.56.53). The sound ‘śi’ means welfare and the sound ‘va’ means giver, he who is the giver of welfare is known as ‘śivaḥ’.

Original Article in Hindi is translated into English by Amit Rao and edited by Nityānanda Miśra himself.

Nityānanda Miśra is a renowned author based in Mumbai. Born in Lucknow, Misra is an MBA from IIM Bangalore. He writes on Indian literature, arts, and music. His famous books are KumbhaThe Om Mala(English & Hindi), and Mahaviri. He has edited and authored eleven books in Sanskrit, Hindi, and English.

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