Ardhanareeshwara – literally meaning the Lord whose one half is a woman – represents Lord Shiva and Parvati as one. This form symbolizes the equality of men and women, and is a beautiful rendering in sculpture with each half showing a detailed rendition of the male and female halves of divinity.
There is an interesting story behind this manifestation –
The story begins with sage Bhringi, who took an oath that he would only worship Lord Shiva. He took his oath so seriously, that he completely ignored Parvati, even when she sat next to the Lord. He insisted on circumambulating the Lord alone, provoking Parvati’s anger. In an attempt to force the sage to circumambulate her along with the Lord, Parvati sat on Shiva’s lap. The sage simply took the form of a bee and buzzed around the Lord’s head alone.
Parvati was incensed by this disrespect towards her and towards all women, and cursed the sage that he would lose everything he had earned through his mother. The sage thus lost all the skin and muscles, which come from a mother’s milk, and was left as a bag of bones alone – the only contribution of his father!
Even then, the sage refused to give up, and continued his prayers to the Lord. He couldn’t even stand straight, so the Lord took pity on him and blessed him with another leg to support himself – and that is how he is portrayed in sculptures – a skeleton with three legs!
Parvati was still not pacified, and tried once again to force the sage to pray to her. She prayed to the Lord to give her one half of his body. The lord accepted, and Parvati and Shiva became one – the right side remained that of Shiva, but the left side became Parvati, and they stood together as one when the sage arrived for his daily prayers.
The sage took one look at them and turned into a wasp, and tried to burrow through the navel, which was the dividing point for the male and female halves!
Parvati was certainly not happy with the outcome, but she admired the sage for his tenacity, and for adhering so strictly to the oath he had taken. She forgave him; though she deemed that he remain forever as a skeleton to signify the role of women and their importance in life.