Nandi – Shiva’s mount
See part 1
Nandi, the Bull, is Lord Maheswara’s (Shiva) gatekeeper and mount. Nandi is a Shiva bhakta (devotee) and the most important of Shiva’s ganas. Like Garuda for Vishnu, Nandi too plays a major role in Shiva’s life. One can see a statue of the bull, facing the Lord’s idol, in most Shiva shrines. There are several temples built solely to worship Nandi as well.
Unlike Garuda, who is a lesser god, Nandi is considered a separate, powerful god, whose history can be traced right from the Indus Valley Civilization. Dairy farming was the most important occupation then and so, the Nandi was given much respect at that time. There was also a deity, much like Shiva, who was then worshipped as the Pasupathi (the caretaker of herds).
In some Puranas, the Nandikeswara features as one with a bull’s face and human body which is similar to Shiva Himself. He is shown with four hands, two holding the Parasu (axe) and the Mruga (antelope) and the other two folded in prayer. In Sanskrit, the word for ‘bull’ is ‘vrisha’, which also means Dharma or righteousness. This is why it is considered appropriate to seek the blessings of Nandi even before bowing down to Shiva!
While the Puranas consider Nandikeswara to be the leader of the Siva Ganas, he is also said to be the principal disciple of Shiva, also a primal guru to Siddhar Thirumulanathar, Patanjalinathar and many others of the ancient Natha / Siddhar tradition.
There are no accurate records of Nandi’s birth. According to some Puranas, he was born from Vishnu’s right side, exactly resembled Shiva and was brought up by sage Salankayana. Yet other Puranas say that he was born by the grace of Shiva to sage Silada.
Nandi cursed the ten-headed asura king, Ravana, that he and his kingdom would be destroyed by a Vanara (monkey). Hanuman was the one that burnt and destroyed Lanka.
Shiva and Parvati once played a game of dice, in which Nandi agreed to become the umpire. Though Shiva lost the game, Nandi declared Him the winner, as he was His favorite. Thereupon, Parvati lost her temper and cursed Nandi that he would die of a terrible and incurable disease. When Nandi begged for forgiveness and told Her he had lied only to protect his Master, Parvati relented and offered him a way of atonement and release from her curse. She asked him to offer his favorite foodstuff (grass) to Her son, Lord Ganesha, on the latter’s birthday. Nandi did as he was told and was immediately released from the curse. This is also why people offer Arugampul (a type of medicinal grass) to Ganesha during prayer.
During the Samudra Manthan (churning of the Ocean of Milk) episode, Shiva swallowed Halahala, the deadly poison that arose from the sea. When Nandi saw a few drops of the poison falling to the ground, he immediately licked if off the ground. All observing were shocked and fearful of Nandi’s state after consuming the poison, but Shiva smilingly assured them that the bull would not come to any harm, as he had completely surrendered his will to his lord and master, Shiva.
Nandi’s white color is symbolic of his purity and sense of justice. Even today, women worship Nandi as a bestower of fertility.
The largest Nandi idols throughout India can be found at Lepakshi, Thanjavur, Chamundi Hills at Mysore, Bull Temple at Bangalore, Rameswaram and Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, Karnataka.
Egyptian and Greek mythology
In Egyptian mythology, Apis or Hapis, a bull-diety is worshipped as a major deity in the Memphis area. Greeks belive that Apis is an incarnation of Osiris. Romans also give Apis a divine status in their culture.