While trying to understand the purport of this word Shambhu, we must also pair it with another word known as Shankar. Note that both these words come from the common root known as, ’Sham’. This is a very rich word in Sanskrit having several shades of meaning. Some of the ideas implied by the term ‘Sham’ are to pacify, to calm down, to suppress, and to destroy. In this we see the suggestions referring to the characteristics of both the fierce and benign aspects of Lord Shiva.
In his ferocious form, Lord Shiva suppresses and destroys the evil. In his benign form he brings peace and calmness of a Yogi. So, we can say this is a wonderful word that covers both the fierce and benign aspects of lord Shiva and therefore a highly fitting expression to describe Shiva. In general terms, the prominent meaning ascribed to the word ‘Sham’ is bliss. This indicates the divine state of Lord Shiva who is always blissful, Nirmala (one without blemishes), Nischala (one without movements), and Nirakara (one without body or form). Here we must note that form is that which limits. Therefore the limitless nature of Shiva is Nirakara. Guiven all these attributes, Lord Shiva is ever blissful (in the state of ‘Sham’).
Now we move to the other halves of the words namely ‘Bhu’ (in Shambhu) and ‘Kar’ (in Shankar). While the former sound ‘Bhu’ means ‘the source’ the latter sound ‘kar’ implies one who brings or one who causes it. Therefore, we can say Shambhu means the source of bliss and Shankar means the one who causes or brings bliss.
Interesting explanation of ‘Shambhu’
Shri Bhaskar Roy, one of the champions of Tantra and a great devote of Lord Shiva brings out a different shade of meaning of the word Shambhu in the following verse:
शं भवयसि च भवसे शं च भवसि चेति वा देव्।
त्वं देवदारुविपिने लिङ्गे प्रथितोस्यतः शम्भुः॥
Meaning: O the Lord of all, you are the generator of all bliss. You enjoy all bliss (embodiment of bliss) and eternity. Your aniconic form of Lingam that is found (installed or self-manifested) in pinewood forest is called as Shambhu Lingam. Therefore, you are known as Shambhu.
Why Shiva is in a constant state of bliss ‘Sham’
Shiva is also called as ‘Pushti Vardhanam’ the one who nourishes all the beings in the universe. He is the source of all energy, all powers, all happiness and all the supplies to all the beings. To be happy and delightful, we depend on Lord Shiva’s (Shambhu’s) bliss and happiness. He is dancing in eternal joy never afflicted by something. Therefore He is also called as Chitananda (chit + andnda meaning consciousness and bliss). Therefore the constant state of blissful existence justifies the name ‘Shambhu’.
Adishankara’s interpretation of the word
The term Shambhu also occurs in Vishnu Sahasranama. In his commentary of this literature, Adishankara describes thus,
“शं सुखं भक्तानां भावयतीति शंभु:”,
“Sham Sukham Bhaktaanaam Bhaavayatheeti Shambhu”
Meaning: One who causes happiness to his devotees and one who is beyond the reach of mind is Shambhu.
Sri Krishna about Shankar in Bhagavad Gita
While discussing about His different manifestations and aspects, Lord Krishna says, “I am Shankar among the Rudras”. Rudras are the different manifestations of Lord Shiva and Shankar is one of them.
Also note the non-dual aspect of Hinduism where Krishna (Vishnu) and Shiva are not different from one another. In the previous subtitle we saw how the name Shambhu is attributed to Lord Vishnu in Vishnu Sahasranam. The name Harihar refers to the combination of Vishnu and Shiva (Hari and Hara).