Siva: Samkara and Shankara

The meaning of Samkara and Shankara:

The word “samkara” or “sankara” is a combination of two words: “sam”+”kara”. “Sam” means good and “kara” means doer and therefore “samkara” means doer of good deeds.

According to another interpretation, “sam” means the “sam” of “samadhi” or the state of complete self absorption or self realization. According to this interpretation, the word “samkara” means the cause of union or self realization.

The word “sam” also means harmony, as in the word “sam/veda” or “sama/veda”. Of all the Vedas, Samaveda contains the most musical hymns and are actually sung according to a set melody.

Probably for this reason, Lord Krishna declared in the Bhagavad gita that of all the Vedas He would be found in the Samaveda, signifying the harmony and melody hidden in the hymns. If we go by this meaning, the word “samkara” means creator of harmony or music. Indeed Lord Siva is very much the master of sounds and music as symbolized by the dhamru he carries.

There is no true equivalent to the Sanskrit letter “sa” of the word “samkara” in English. The nearest rendering of it is “Sha”. In practice Lord Siva is pronounced as “Shankara” or “Shankar” not “Samkara” or “Samkar”

If we take the word as “Shankara” instead of “samkara”, we come across two more interpretations. The word “Shankara” is a combination of two words, namely “shanka” and “hara”. “Shanka” means doubt and “hara” means destroyer. Thus the word “Shankara” means, He who destroys or defeats doubt.

Shankara destroys the animal nature in man, which is represented by the tamasic and rajasic qualities. These two qualities are primarily responsible for his lower nature, his egoistic disbeliefs and profound ignorance. By destroying these qualities and thereby our lower nature, Siva establishes the conditions conducive to the emergence of divine nature in man.

It is interesting to note that in the Hindu mythology, most of the demons, such as Ravana of the Ramayana, Surapathma or Bhasmasur and many others, were great devotees of Siva, who despite of their excessive wickedness, showed immense faith in Siva.

These stories tend to suggest that only Siva can transform such individuals, who are characterized by excessive rajas and tamas, through His immense powers. The moral of these stories is that if you have excessive rajas and tamas in you, should invariably worship Lord Siva in order to overcome these impediments.