Translator’s commentary
SHANKARA-- Ardhanarishwara Stotra A prayer to God who has the power of man and the beauty of woman)

Usha Kishore 

Translator's commentary-

The Ardhanarishwara Stotra is a beautiful Sanskrit verse by the South Indian (Kerala) poet and philosopher Sankara (788-820 AD) that proclaims gender equality in glorious terms. This equality theme makes the shloka a masterpiece.  This composition, although attributed to Sankara, has also been thought of as an anonymous text.  There are many versions of this shloka.   Some scholars feel that although Sankara was the original composer, there have been alterations, over time. I have chosen one version of the shloka that I have been familiar with since childhood – the one that was often chanted by the elders of my family. The rationale for choosing this version for my translation is as follows:
·        It projects the working of an important aspect of Indian culture - the oral tradition.
·        It gives a completeness to the shloka, as after the initial keshadipada varnana {the head to feet (top to toe) description}, the divinity is elaborated in the rhythms of the lasya and samhara thandavas and the cosmic union of Shiva and Shakti or Prakriti and Purusha
·        The all pervasive Shiva and his consort Shivaa permeate the whole shloka.
My translation can be considered a contemporary interpretation of the original. I have used the concept of I am Shiva/Shivaa (instead of “Salutations to Shiva/Shivaa” – Namashivaayai scha namashivaya), based on the Prakriti Purusha dichotomy.  Instead of the prayer format, I have adopted the Shivoham (I am Shiva) ideology for the translation. This translation follows my previous one of Nirvana Shatka and hence, the idea of “I am Shiva” has filtered into this one too.
This is a highly metaphoric translation based on my interpretation from a feminist perspective and I have dwelt on the great Hindu ideology of gender equality innate in the concept of Ardhanarishwara. Unfortunately, this concept is only a religious symbol; its meaning is yet to be translated into the Indian society, where woman is still a second class citizen. 
My translation is loyal to the original as it is in two voices – that of Shakti (Shivaa) and of Shiva (in italics). The original alternates between the description of Shiva and Shakti in each stanza. Only in the last stanza, do we see the aikya or union. I have adhered to this structural format.
The diction and themes in my translation are highly contemporary. For instance, the translation of jagatjanannyaischajagadeka pitre  is  -  “the womb of the universe and the impregnator of the universe”.  I have used these phrases instead of the literal “mother and father of the universe”,   as I felt that my translation/interpretation would actively highlight the creation of the universe. Here, I have incorporated the Shiva-shaktyaikya (union of Shiva and Shakti) in entirety ranging from the physical to the metaphysical aspects of this duality, which is often read as a single entity. This also is inclusive of the idea of gender equality and the sharing of body, mind and soul by the man and woman, as in the archetypal Prakriti-Purusha and in the mythical Shiva-Parvati duos. Although esoteric, this ideology, I feel, is the quintessence of the Ardhanarishwara Stotra.
Questions would certainly arise on Stz 6.  I have translated kalamayaayai, vikalamayaya as “art incarnate and macabre defined”. I have interpreted the lines as the beauty and the cruelty of nature, not with holding references to:
·        Shiva as dwelling in the smashana (cremation ground).
·        Shiva as Virupaksha.
·        Shiva as the terrible one, aspiring fear.
Here, I take refuge in Sankara himself and his Ninda Sthuti (Damnéd Praise)
I have read the text as a literary piece rather than a religious one.  My attempt has been to give the text contemporaneity, both in language and theme and thus elicit interest in ancient Sanskrit texts, which are timeless and always open to new interpretations. This piece has been a labour of love and has taken me a long time to complete.  I am grateful to Balambal Balasubramaniam and Mahesh Subramoney for their comments on the same.  They have both taken me on a journey from the physical aspect of Shiva(a) to the philosophic to the cosmic.



My blue–black hair flows in tresses of rain clouds,
My dread locks flash in flames of lightning
I am no God,
I am all God;
I am Shivaa, I am Shiva!


My earrings tinkle in rainbow gems
My ornaments slither as serpents
I am the beloved of Shiva,
I, the lover of Shivaa
I am Shivaa, I am Shiva!


 My eyes blossom in the hues of the blue lily,
My eyes bloom in the dreams of the lotus;
My eyes evenly poise in harmony,
My eyes oddly blink in discord;
I am Shivaa, I am Shiva!


Twinéd mandara flowers scent my neck,
Skewered skulls rattle around my neck;
I am wrapped in the silks of divinity,
I wear the naked sky;
I am Shivaa, I am Shiva!


 I am perfumed in musk and saffron,
I am smeared in the ashes of cremation;
I am beauty revealed,
I am beauty concealed;
I am Shivaa, I am Shiva!


Golden bells chime on my ankles,
Hooded serpent kings hiss at my feet;
I am art incarnate,
I am macabre defined;
I am Shivaa, I am Shiva!


I dance to the tune of creation,
I whirl in the rhythm of destruction;
I am the womb of the universe,
I impregnate the universe;
I am Shivaa, I am Shiva!



I am within, I am without; I am in between,
I am east, I am west, I stretch across horizons;
I pervade you in entirety,
I permeate you in eternity;
I am Shivaa, I am Shiva!

The source text – Ardhanarishwara Stotra.
Secondary reference:
Lalita Sahasarnama
Nirvana Shatka
Soundarya Lahiri
Shiva Kavacha
Ravanakrita Shivathandava stotra




(Article from Sollin Selvi, Abhinava Saraswathi Smt.Sivananda Vijayalatshmi)

By the Grace of the Supreme Mother I am now venturing in giving short notes on some select verses from the Holiest of Holy, Beautiful among the most Beautiful Soundarya Lahari.

Soundarya Lahari, composed by Sri Adi Shankaracharya, holds a high place in liturgical literature on account of its poetic, devotional and mystic aspects.

Soundarya Lahari combines in itself hymns of devotional prayer, a Mantra Sastra and a spiritual (meditative) mode of worship of the Supreme Mother. As a hymn of praise it is suited to the novice in spiritual exercise. As a mantra Sastra it fulfills the material and spiritual needs of the seeker. As a Tantra Sastra it elucidates a spiritual discipline, guides and leads the aspirant to liberation also which is the summum bonum of human existence.

Soundarya Lahari – the very word – conveys the great meaning. It is a Flood of Beauty. The first 41 poems of this book of 100 verses are called as Ananda Lahari – Waves of Bliss.

The second portion is called as Soundarya Lahari – waves of Beauty. It contains a magnificent exposition of the beauties of the charming form of the Divine Mother from head to foot. It is an exquisite and delicious literary master- piece also.

If people read and recite this Stotra with all faith they can find many details of the worship of the Supreme as Mother – The Dynamic aspect of Brahman – as Sakthi, Her Potency, manifestations for worship, modes of meditation internally in the microcosm.

This Stotra combines in itself the ecstasy of a Bhakthi Stotra and efficacy of a Mantra – Sastra.

The first sloka starts with the word ‘Siva’ – an auspicious expression – This is a beautiful and benedictory invocation of the Supreme Being.


Siva is capable to create everything United
O Shakthi
with Thee alone without Thee
the Energy all-powerful
He is incapable of even a stir
That is why
Thou art worshipped by the Trinities
Hari, Hara, Brahma and all celestials.
How then could people Bereft of laudable deeds
Praise or Worship Thee?

The first sloka describes the real power of Shakthi or Divine Energy. Absolute Brahman is called as Siva, the all pervading, primal cause of the entire universe, full of Bliss, auspiciousness, prosperity and happiness. It acts only when it is in union with the Energy – the Supreme Shakthi.

Shakthi is not different from consciousness – chit – Their relation ship is inseparable – Avinabhava Sambandaha – Through Her action a spandana – a stir is created. Static Energy and the Kinetic Energy act together. Shakthi acts through Siva. Siva acts according to Shakthi’s Will. Their union is revealed in the animate and inaminate - in the entire universe. This is the secret of creation.


The 16 vowels in Sanskrit syllables represent the Shakthi aspect for articulation. The 35 consonants represent Siva – says the Agama. The consonant Sh when mixed with a & i in the vowels become Shi. The consonant V when combined with A becomes Va. In the making of the word Siva itself we see Sh + a + i, V + a – giving the full form for that word. It is no exagiration to say that the whole world has sprung out from Shiva – and Shivaa – (i – e -) father and mother of everything. This is the inner meaning that is conveyed by the first two lines of the sloka.

Those blessed souls who have reached higher orders of evolution are classified as Devas. All such Devas and even the Trinities act according to Devi’s Will and Power - who is the creatrix of the entire universe.

Only through meritorious actions, we can develop proper devotion towards Para Devatha – the Mother of all Lokas - Sarva Loka Janani -

With staunch belief and deep devotion let us try to worship Devi. There are three types of worship. They are Kayika – bodily; Vachika – Vocal; Manasika – mental.

Pranam denotes bowing down in all humility, with total surrender of all ego. This is a form of bodily worship.

Shuthi – means recitation. Those who are not capable of the above mentioned three types of worship can easily take to this recitation method. This is suggested in this sloka.

If we are determined to bow at the feet of Devi and recite Her Name, Mantra or Stotra – We will definitly become blessed souls – Punya Atmas. The Mother of the entire Universe will make us all Krutha Punya Atmas – people of meritorious actions. This is guaranteed in this sloka.

Let us understand the inner meaning of this sloka, make obeisance to Her, repeat this Stotra and attain all blessings that are vouchsafed to sincere devotees.

The writer can be contacted at




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