Ardhanarishvara Shiva is a composite half-female and half-male form of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati Mata. The right half in Ardhanarishwara is usually the male Shiva, illustrating his usual attributes.
This form represents how Shakti, the Mother Goddess, is inseparable from Lord Shiva, the Lord of the Lords.
Ardhanarishvara form in Puranas
Ardhanarishvara form of Lord Shiva was mentioned in many ancient Hindu Scriptures. In his ‘Mahimnastava’, Pushpadanta refers to this form as ‘dehardhaghatana’. ‘Ardha-Gaurishvara’ is another name given to this form as per Brihat Samhita. The Vishnudharmottara Purana described this form as ‘Gaurishvara’.
The Skanda Purana reveals an interesting story about Ardhanarishvara form. When Goddess Parvati worshipped Shiva to allow her to reside with him, Shiva accepted her request and thus Ardhanarishvara is formed. Another story is associated with Ardhanarishvara in the Skanda Purana. When a demon called Andhakasura wanted to seize and marry Parvati, she revealed her Ardhanarishvara form to him.
As per the Shiva Purana, Brahma worshipped Ardhanarishvara’s female half to give him a female to continue creation. The Goddess created various female powers from her body and allowed the creation to progress.
In other Puranas such as Linga Purana, Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana, Kurma Purana and Markandeya Purana, Shiva appears in front of Brahma as Ardhanarishvara with frustration due to the slow pace of creation.
Ardhanarishvara form is associated with another story as per the Matsya Purana. By the severe penance of Parvati, she gets a boon from Brahma to be in golden complexion. Shiva then gets attracted towards Parvati and merges as one of her body.
As per another story in Tamil Nadu and some parts of South India, to make Bhringi learn a lesson that Shiva and Shakti are not different and both are inseparable, Shakti merges with Shiva and thus forms Ardhanarishvara.
In the Kalika Purana, another story is mentioned. To stay eternally with Shiva, Parvati merges herself with Shiva.
As per the North Indian tale, to pacify the jealousy of Parvati, Lord Shiva gets her merged with him and forms Ardhanarishvara. (The reason for jealousy of Parvati is: Always, Ganga stays on the head of Shiva and Parvati stays away from the Lord sometimes).
Vehicles or Vahanas of Ardhanarishvara
Sometimes, Ardhanarishvara is depicted with the common Vahanam, Nandi (bull). Sometimes, Nandi (bull) is depicted as the Vahana of Shiva and Simha (Lion) as Parvati’s Vahana.
In Tamil Nadu, Ardhanarishvara form of Lord is worshipped. Popular Ardhanarishvara temples are located in Tiruchengode and Kallakkurichi taluk of the state.
There are many prayers dedicated to Ardhanarishvara. Ardhanarishwara Ashtakam written by Adishankaracharya is a popular one among them.