Shiva's diverse and contradictory appearances convey the entirety of existence with all its complexities, dualities, and paradoxes. God of the cosmic dance; member of the superme Hindu triad, along with Brahma and Vishnu, Shiva is a complex god with many conflicting attributes and names. He is Lingodbhava, the phallic deity, Rudra, lord of beasts; Pashupa, protector of cattle; Bhutapati, father of demons; Tryambaka, accompanied by three mother goddesses; Digambara, Nataraja, king of the dance. Shiva indicates benevolence, but the name was propitiatory for he was dangerous, destructive and lethal. Round him collected all the negative deities of the Dravidians, the "clothed in space" or "sky-clad"; and original inhabitants of southern India. Shiva is not a bhagavatisvara ("a master"). He is the leader of all those who have no place in society: outcasts, vampires, demons, ascetics. Although destructive he is also merciful; although a phallic god he is also an ascetic. Shiva combines contrasting characteristics and so points the way to an underlying principle of unification.
One of the most eloquent and expository of Shiva's manifestations depicts him as Nataraja, Dance-King or the Lord of the Dance, whose cosmic lila, or "play," forms the very nature and reason of reality. Shiva fills the whole cosmos with his joyful dance called tandava, which represents his five activities: shrishti, or creation; sthiti, or preservation; samhara, or destruction; tirobhava, or illusion; and anugraha, or salvation. In one hand he beats his drum, the primordial heartbeat of creation, while ("blessed one"), but an in another hand he holds the fire of all encompassing destruction. Yet Shiva as Lord of Dance also offers an alternative to the cycles of life and death, for his third hand, with palm facing outwards, performs the mudra or gesture of abhaya ("fear not" or "hope") which relieves us from despair, while his fourth hand points to a raised foot indicating liberation from the demon of ignorance upon which his other foot firmly stands. He dances and dances until the cosmos is brought to the point of annihilation; it has to be destroyed in order to be reintegrated into the Absolute. Shiva's intoxicating and revelatory dance was often the cause of conversion of heretics and enemies. It is finally creative, for it expresses the otherwise inexpressible.
Ultimately Shiva offers a resolution to all paradoxes of existence through his mythic roles and actions which contrast, combine, and transcend life's dualities.