The first fact about Mahadeva is that there are no facts – there are only stories. If you love (or claim to) Mahadeva and Mahamaya, you must try to hear or read as many of these stories as possible, because no single story may be classified as canon.
The stories that you choose to believe in will reflect on you, and on you alone – and not on the religion or on Lord Shiva.
Having said these, here are some essential (and relatively indisputable) facts about Shiva.
- Shiva is a Vedic Deity, he is known in the Vedas as Rudra. The Rudra Prashna aka Rudram Chamakam from the Yajur Veda is one of the most iconic prayers dedicated to him. The hymns describe him just as he is worshiped today.
- Shiva’s primary weapons are the bow Pinaka and an axe. He is described as a dweller of charnel grounds, wearing a necklace of skulls, and using a skull as a begging bowl.
- The depiction of Shiva with a trident is believed to be a later development. The axe later became associated with Ganesha.
- There existed an intense Shaiva-Vaishnava rivalry in India, which resulted in bloody wars that were observed as recently as in Mughal Emperor Akbar’s time.
- It has been conjectured that the Ramayana was composed with the express goal of resolving these tensions, with Rama the monogamous archer modeled after Shiva himself.
- The concept of Trimurti first arose in medieval times as an attempt to curb the Shaiva-Vaishnava rivalry. This was modeled on the Vedic Trinity of Indra-Mitra-Varuna.
- Adi Shankara brought lasting peace by establishing the smarta tradition which recognizes 5 (later 6) major Deities.
- The Mahabharata started the convention of referring to Shiva exclusively as Ishwara and Krishna (Vishnu) exclusively as Bhagavan. Prior to that these terms were generic. The Rudraprashna for example consistently calls Rudra Bhagavan.
- Shiva and Shakti are always worshiped together. Shakta communities never ignore Shiva, and even the most radical ascetic Shaivas don’t ignore Shakti.
- All Jyotirlingas have an incarnation of the Goddess associated with the incarnation of Shiva being worshipped. Similarly all Shakti peethas have a Bhairava associated with them.