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Ardhanārī

Ardhanārī (Skt., ‘half-female’). The androgynous form of a Hindu deity, especially of Śiva as Ardanārīśvara, ‘Hermaphrodite Lord’. In painting or sculpture, the ardhanārī is represented with the left side of the body as female and the right side as male. On the one hand, this symbol of the union of male and female polarities within the Supreme Being is an image of erotic desire (kāma) and divine creativity. On the other hand, ardhanārī symbolizes the perfect balance of male and female, of all dualities and limitations within the transcendent, impersonal Brahman. In Tantric belief the balance of male and female elements within the individual, achieved by various techniques (sexual and non-sexual), results in enlightenment and bliss. Although the most common ardhanārī is that of Śiva, Viṣṇu, Kṛṣṇa, and other deities are also portrayed in this form.

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