Nandi, Shiva's Mount

In Hinduism, every god and goddess has a mount, or vahana. Typically an animal or mythological creature, the vahana is representative of the deity's virtues. Nandi, the bull, is Lord Shiva's mount. One of the three deities in the Hindu "triad," Shiva is the destroyer of all negativity and protector of the dharma. In Hinduism, the dharma is the embodiment of righteousness, a general term referring to a being's duties and obligations. Shiva is also known as Pashupati, the protector and lord of the animals. Nandi, as his faithful vehicle, is the protector of all four-legged creatures and symbolizes strength, determination and virility.

Although Nandi is often depicted as a bull, he was originally described with human characteristics in the ancient text Shiva Purana. According to legends, a sage called Shilada endured a thousand years of penance to be granted a divine child blessed with immortality. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Shiva appeared before him and fulfilled his wish. A child with three eyes and four arms was born, clad in full armor made of diamonds. Shilada named him Nandi – he who brings joy. Yet, when Shilada returned home, the boy lost all his divine appearance.

When Nandi was seven, two sages visited and lamented that the child did not have long to live. Shilada mourned but Nandi was unaffected and went to the forest to perform penance to Shiva. So intense and concentrated was his meditation that Shiva appeared before him almost instantly. Filled with awe for the beautiful deity before him, Nandi prostrated before Shiva, who blessed him with immortality and made him his vahana and leader of all his attendants. The transformation of Nandi from human to bull form is a development of recent centuries; some texts describe him as half-bull half-human. Many temples dedicated to Shiva today have statues of a bull standing or laying guard at the gate. Traditionally, the worship and appreciation of Shiva also involves worship of Nandi.