Updated: Jul 11
If you have been to a Shiva temple, you would have surely noticed the sculpture of a bull on the temple premises. This is Nandi, also known as Nandideva, the vahana (mount or vehicle) of Lord Shiva. Other deities are seen to be sitting on or next to their vahanas, but Nandi always sits outside the shrine, on a platform called the nandi-mandapa. He wears necklaces and bells around his neck. Sometimes he has a saddle on his back. He gazes at the main temple, where Shiva resides, with calm devotion. People visiting the temple first pay their respects to Nandi, the divine guardian, and then proceed to worship Shiva.
This is the story of why Shiva’s vahana is a bull, and why he sits outside the temple.
Once there was a devout ascetic, Sage Shilada. He had devoted his life to pursuing religion and did not have a family. Shilada once decided that he wanted a son who would be free from the cycles of birth and death — an immortal child. First, Shilada prayed to Indra, the Lord of Swargalok, for a child. Lord Indra was pleased with Rishi Shilada’s penance and appeared before him. However, on learning the wish of the sage, Indra suggested he pray to the most powerful god, Lord Shiva, who had power over death itself.
Taking the suggestion of Lord Indra, Rishi Shilada started a severe penance, praying to Lord Shiva. It is said that he meditated for a thousand years. His austerities and worship pleased Shiva, who appeared to the sage and asked him his wish. Shilada told Lord Shiva that he wanted a son blessed by him, who would be free from birth and death. Lord Shiva granted Shilada his wish and promised that he himself would take form as his son. Truly enough, Lord Shiva presented a part of himself in the form of the child, who was named Nandi. Thus, Nandi was born as a boon from Lord Shiva, as a child who was beyond the cycles of birth, ageing, and death.
Nandi, like his father, was a great devotee of Lord Shiva, and spent most of his time in prayers and austerities. Nandi prayed for the grace of Lord Shiva with a severe penance. Lord Shiva was pleased and blessed Nandi by making him his companion. Shiva conferred the necklace with the bells on Nandi, which you can see in his sculpture. He blessed Nandi with immortality and made him his vahana, the head of his Ganas and his doorkeeper. Nandi was transformed into half man, half bull. Thus, wherever Lord Shiva dwells, Nandi lives with him, too.
This is how Nandi, the immortal child born from Shiva himself, became the Lord’s bull vahana. Every Shiva temple you visit, you will always find Nandi just outside the temple shrine, facing Lord Shiva, eyes full of patience and devotion. When we make a darshana of Nandi, we too create the image of Lord Shiva in our hearts. It is said that without first having the image of Nandi in one’s mind, one cannot attain the grace of Lord Shiva. The sweet sounds of Nandi’s bells denote Lord Shiva himself. Nandideva reminds us to devote our mind to God and knowledge