The title Bhoothnath ascribed to Lord Shiva is highly interesting and is endowed with a deep meaning. The literal translation of the word means the Lord (Nath) of Bhooth (here booth could mean five elements, spirits, or ganas). Here we discuss the different dimensions of this name.
The term Bhooth means the five elements that make up the universe namely ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Lord Shiva is depicted in the form of Linga which is otherwise known as the Hiranya Garbh (Golden Womb) or the primordial matter from which the cosmos emerged during creation. Also, this is the destination that absorbs the entire created universe during dissolution. Therefore, Linga can be understood as the source as well as the destination – ‘Liyate’ or emanation and ‘Gamyate’ or mergence). Lord Shiva, being the source and origin of all the five elements, is called as Bhoothnath.
The term Bhoothnath also can mean Lord Shiva as the Lord of spirits. Lord Shiva is the God of destruction. His favorite dwelling place is the crematory grounds. He wears garlands of skulls, smears his body with the ashes from the pyre and dances in ecstasy along with all the ghosts and spirits that live over there. Shivashtakam describes him as ‘Smashane Vasantam Manojam Dahantam’ meaning the resident of the cremation grounds and also the destroyer of the thoughts born out of the mind. He is the final point where everything culminates. Therefore, he is beyond destruction and ever-existing as the eternal witness to everything manifested and also un-manifested (Sarvatii Saakshi Bhootam). He is the deliverer of all the beings who confers Moksha to every created soul upon emancipation. Therefore, the term Bhoothnath views Shiva as the supreme master of all souls (spirits).
There is also yet another interesting interpretation of the term Bhoothnath. Lord Shiva has a massive army also known as Ganas. Shiva Ganas comprise of different troops namely bhootas, pramathis, naagas, raksha ganas, yakshas, guhyakas, pishacas, vinayakas, manushyas, devas, gandharvas, vidhyadharas, and siddhas. Since Lord Shiva is the master of such a versatile and massive army, he is called as Bhoothnath.
Here it is appropriate to recall the first verse from Shivashtakam with its meaning:
prabhum praana naatham, vibhum vishwanaatham
jagan naatha naatham, sadaananda bhaajam
bhavad bhavya bhooteshwaram bhoota naatham
shivam shankaram, shambhu mesha na meede
Meaning: I pray You, Siva, Sankara, Sambhu, You are the Lord, You are the Lord of our lives, You are Vibhu, You are the Lord of the world, You are the Lord of Vishnu (Jagannatha), You always dwell in happiness, You impart light or shine to everything, You are the Lord of living beings, Who is the Lord of ghosts, and Who is the Lord of everyone.
Therefore the term Boothnath has several shades of meanings. The most obvious meaning of the term ‘Booth’ is a ‘living entity’. So, the term Boothnath is ascribed to Lord Shiva since He is the Lord of all beings or lives. He is the Supreme Soul or Paramatma where all the Jivatmas merge after emancipation.