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Ashtamurti Shiva – Hindu God Shiva With Eight Faces

 Ashtamurti Shiva (Ashta Murti or Ashtamoorthi) is a rare form of Hindu God Shiva with eight faces.  Each face has a name. The names are –

  1. Sarva
  2. Bhava
  3. Rudra
  4. Ugra
  5. Bhima
  6. Mahadeva
  7. Ishana
  8. Pashupati

The faces represent his worldly manifestations such as the

  1. Earth
  2. Water
  3. Fire
  4. Air
  5. Akasha (space)
  6. Moon
  7. Sun
  8. Yajamana (worshipper)

This concept of ashtamurti Shiva was quite well known to the Hindus of ancient times, as can be seen from the benedictory invocation in Abhijnana Shakuntalam of Kalidasa (ya srushtis srashturadhya).

In Hinduism, Shiva is closely associated with Agni and eight more or less similar names are given to Agni. Similarly, the five mukhas (faces) of Shiva – Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Ishana are connected with the five elements.

Puranas such as the Linga Purana, Kurma Purana and the Markandeya Purana give these names, adding to the list the names of their wives and sons. Puranas also try to explain the significance of the tangible forms.

Examples of Shivalinga endowed with eight faces are found very rarely. One from Mandasor (Madhya Pradesh) of the late Gupta period is known. Perhaps the earliest is an image from Mandhal (4th century CE) near Nagpur. Here is an anthropomorphic form, the God endowed with four heads and two hands is shown with four more heads on his arms and thighs. The normal heads show matted hair. The eight-headed figure is identified by a moustache in the front and a third eye at the back.