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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.

The word "samkara" as in the expression "varna samkaram" has a different connotation meaning intermingling or inter mixture. In rural Andhra pradesh, there is an expression "samkara jati" ( and I am sure similar usage may be found else where also), which is used to refer domestic animals borne out of two different breeds. In this context "Samkara" probably was also used either as a reference to the black color or as the cause of color (caste) confusion.

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 is the dispeller of all doubts. By his dynamic response to our prayers, He destroys all our doubts, and stabilizes our faith in Him.

Faith is the absence of all forms of doubt. Faith is a natural expression of the Sattvic nature in man. While the qualities of rajas and tamas are ego oriented and tend to strengthen the egoism in us, the quality of sattva inspires us to surrender to the divine and work for our salvation from the cycle of births and deaths.

Selflessness, humility, purity of thought and devotion are its fundamental evolutes. Without these qualities, man cannot expect to progress much on the spiritual path. 

Shankara destroys the animal nature in man, which is represented by the tamasic and rajasic qualities.

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 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, you should invariably worship Lord Siva in order to overcome these  impediments. 

This, in essence, is the meaning of the word, "Shankara", the Destroyer of all doubts.