Lord Shiva, one of the Holy Trinity, is seldom seen without a bull near him, in his old or new depictions. This bull is known as Nandi. Nandi is generally shown sitting with his legs folded, in front of Lord Shiva.
Bulls are believed to be the symbols of sincerity. A bull is honest, brainy and hard-working. Otherwise a peace-lover, a bull can even fight a lion when angry. Probably considering these qualities of a bull in his mind, Lord Shiva made Nandi his mount.
It is after Nandi that all the bulls are considered sacred and associated with Lord Shiva. But how did all this happen?
A story mentioned in Vayu Purana says Rishi Kashyap was childless. He and his wife Surabhi often remained tensed and wanted a child in their family who would carry on the name of the clan. It was only after continuous and determined worship of Lord Shiva that Rishi Kashyap and Surabhi were blessed with a baby. Happiness and joy spread in the house with the coming of a boy. So they named the child Nandi which means joyous and happy.
However, according to some texts, it was sage Shilaad who had asked Lord Indra for an immortal and strong child. Lord Indra then told him to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva for it. Lord Shiva, gave a blessing as a result of which sage Shilaad found a baby in the fields and adopted him.
A few years later, Lord Varun and Lord Mitra appeared before Shilaad pleased with his worship. They blessed him with long life but also told that his son Nandi would die at the age of 8 years. Nandi was 7 years old then.
When Nandi came to know this, he could not see his father in grief and therefore, started penance in order to please Lord Shiva. The lord listened to his prayers, appeared before him and gifted him the bell necklace as a blessing. While he removed the curse of early death for him, Lord Shiva also told that Nandi would now be a half-man, half-bull.
It is said that Shilad and Nandi went to the abode of Lord Shiva after this. Nandi was made the head of the Ganas of Lord Shiva and the mount of Lord Shiva.
Today, Nandi is worshipped as a deity in the temples of Lord Shiva. The Mahanandiswara temple at Kurnool is one of the few temples dedicated solely to Nandi. The biggest statue of Nandi is located here.
Nandi symbolises justice, faith, honour, wisdom and virility and anybody with these qualities can become dear to Lord Shiva. It is said that Nandi plays the music when Lord Shiva performs the Tandava. He had even killed the demon elephant Airavat while being the commander of the army of Lord Shiva. Nandi is the protector of Dharma and the giver of boons.