Shiva is a very complex deity. He is the creator and destroyer of the universe, and he is also a deity of the powers of liberation. He holds the trident of divine power, the drum of cosmic vibration, and the flame of destruction. He also wears the beautiful goddess of the Ganges river in his locks of hair. Despite his nature as a destroyer and a generally wild deity, he is known for being respectful, friendly, kind, loyal, and protective to his devotees, which probably explains a lot of his popularity as a deity. He is generally a liberal and nontraditional deity, willing to go against the norms of the Vedic world, and it seems this rebelliousness has caught on to modern and younger generations, as well as those interested in recreational drugs as a form of spiritual transcendence, but in spite of this he was never really vilified in the same way that the deities associated with our notion of Satan have become. In fact, Shiva was still considered a good and righteous deity who fought negative forces and aided cosmic balance, even to this day, but he didn’t always agree with everyone else. He is also self-controlled deity and a devout lover of his wife Parvati, who in term loved him greatly and would have no one else, and what’s very interesting is there are stories of Shiva and Parvati discussing philosophy and abstract concepts with each other and teaching each other forms of knowledge (Shiva is said to have taught Parvati transcendent knowledge, while Parvati is said to have taught Shiva cosmological knowledge). Clearly Shiva was also an introspective deity, a guy who also liked to think about ideas an concepts in a way few did, and Parvati seemed to understand that. He has no time for dishonesty, he doesn’t distinguish between Deva and Asura in the same way Vishnu does (he won’t attack an Asura just because they’re Asura), he opposes atrocity and injustice whenever he hears of it, and he holds holds the power of order and the power of chaos simultaneously, just as he is both a creative deity and the destroyer. His third eye is a testament of his power of destruction, but also of liberation, and his power of fire. He also upholds cosmic balance and has the power to bring opposites together. As Mahadeva he is associated with the powers of the heavens and cosmos, one of the most powerful, if not the highest, of the Hindu pantheon of deities. Shiva is also represented as a Lord of Music (Vinadhara), and a Lord of the Dance. As Pashupati he is the lord of animals. In his capacity as the destroyer, Shiva destroys clutter to make way for space, harmony, and serenity. In a way, he can also be the destroyer of fear, ignorance, and panic, in order to bring peace and serenity to the mind. Shiva seems like a deity who, while wild, can relax, think, and take in the beauty of the natural world, and of his own creation, and he really knows how to love the person he cares about. And he likes to dance and thrash about every so often too. Ultimately, he’s a free spirit
You’re probably noticing a lack of mention to his ascetic side. The thing is, I have a problem with how that’s supposed to make sense. Asceticism in simple terms means ritual self-denial, and in India this meant mortification, the abandonment of worldly pleasures, and usually near-total abstinence from sex (even sexual fantasy), all in search of union with God or some kind of inner peace. But the thing is, Shiva has wife (in this case Parvati), has sex with her, is married to her, and shares the role of raising a family unit and household with her. In logical terms, this would be contradictory, since an actual ascetic lifestyle would mean giving up everything associated with the earthly lifestyle and the pleasures that come with it, including sex. I can see the intent is to demonstrate Shiva as a limitless deity capable of contradictory characteristics, but it in reality this arrangement can’t work absolutely, because there are some things that simply cannot be reconciled. You can’t be an ascetic and a householder because one lifestyle demands the sacrifice or abandonment of the other: one demands abstinence, mortification, and the renouncing of worldly lifestyles, while the other embraces worldly lifestyles and pleasures and rejects mortification entirely. There’s just no room for a middle ground, even in moderation, because asceticism and self-denial are not satisfied by any kind of moderation or balance. Therefore, I do not see Shiva as an ascetic despite whatever intent is given away by his appearance, because it’s just not possible for an ascetic in the traditional sense to have the kind of lifestyle Shiva enjoys.
It has been speculated that a seal found in Mohenjo-daro, an ancient settlement located in what is now Pakistan, depicts an early version of the Vedic deity Rudra, who went on to become the modern Hindu deity Shiva. The deity in question and its seal was named Pashupati, after one of Shiva’s epithets (which means “Lord of Animals”), and shown with the horns of a water buffalo, sitting in a yogic pose, and surrounded by animals. However, for many, Shiva originated as the Vedic deity Rudra. Funny enough, it is said that in Vedic times, an epithet given to Rudra and other deities was Siva (which means “The Auspicious One”), which would become the name of the modern Shiva.
Rudra himself was a lord of storms, wind, and the hunt, and was considered a dangerous and frightening deity, the embodiment of unpredictable and wild nature (which might have made his Siva epithet bitterly ironic). The Rigveda praises Rudra as one of the mightiest deities, if not the mightiest. His sons were a group of storm deities known as the Maruts, who were violent young warriors that attended to the weather deity Indra. Rudra was also feared to cause diseases to people and cattle with his arrows, but it was also believed he was capable of healing people as well. He was mainly appeased and worshiped out of fear rather than devotion, due to his mostly malevolent and unpredictable nature, and was often associated desolate and distant places.
Rudra’s depiction started to change when he became identified as Shiva, the destroyer of the universe and liberator of souls, which likely began with a body of Indian texts known as the Upanishads. One of these texts, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, is notable for is focus on Rudra and Shiva. In fact, it’s the first text where Shiva is definitely used as an epithet for Rudra; the wild, fierce, destructive, and borderline-malevolent deity Rudra started also being considered a kind and benign deity. Over time, Rudra and Shiva became viewed as one and the same deity, and in the time of another body of texts known as the Puranas, the notion of a trinity of deities (that of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer) emerged and Shiva’s role within it was: he was the destroyer and regeneration of the universe, the deity of transformation, and a liberator of souls. However, it was and still is often the case that one or two members of the trinity were favored more than the other. Vishnu and Shiva were always more popular and were treated as the Supreme Being by different sects of Hinduism. There are some who believe Shiva is the supreme being, and Vishnu and Brahma (among other deities) are merely aspects of him, while others believe Vishnu is the supreme being and Shiva is just his supreme guru and the ruler of the material world. Even to this day most people prefer one of them over the other or both, but the deity Brahma never attained same kind of prominence. This may be partly to do with a myth in which Shiva cursed Brahma to never be worshiped. Some say it was because Brahma mated with a goddess named Shatarupa, which was considered incestuous because Brahma had created her and so she was considered to be his daughter. Today, Shiva is one of the most widely worshiped deities in Hinduism and is considered to be benevolent and just as well as destructive, and he is also worshiped in many forms and under many names. Many myths show him to be more powerful than almost all other deities, if not all other deities, and the devas tend to call on either him or Vishnu for aid. The only deity shown to be possibly more powerful than Shiva is his wife, Parvati, whenever she is angered or takes on terrfyingly wrathful forms such as Kali (whose dance of bloodlust almost destroyed the universe before Shiva lay himself beneath her feat as a mattress).
In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Shiva is manifested as the deity Mahakala, a wrathful protective deity (particularly one classed as Dharmapala or “protector of Dharma”) charged with defending practitioners, schools, and teachings of the Buddhist faith. In Buddhist lore, Mahakala is considered a wrathful manifestation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Mahakala arrived to Japan from China (where he was also considered a protective deity) and become a household deity of fortune and farmers, associated with prosperity, and was named Daikokuten. Despite his happy and benign personality, Daikokuten could also assume a wrathful form with six arms and three heads, referred to as Sanmen Daikokuten. Shiva himself also made his way to Japan as one of twelve devas who guard the eight directions, the sun, the moon, up, and down. He is known in Japanese esoteric Buddhism as Ishanaten or Daijizaiten, and he was believed to protect the northeast direction and live in the sixth heaven (the heaven of the world of desire). He is also believed to have been subjugated by Gozanze Myo-O, one of the Five Wisdom Kings, before becoming a Buddhist deity. There is also a myth from medieval times which stated that Japan itself was the domicile of Daijizaiten, who was thought to be its cosmic ruler and the inventor of the Chinese writing script. In the same myth, Vishnu (Bichuten) was the cosmic ruler of China and the creator of the Kharosthi script, while Brahma (Bonten) was the cosmic ruler of India and the creator of its script.