Lord Shiva is generally praised as the one Who creates the world and Who is not created, Who finally reduce everything into Him and Who doesn't have an end. It can be found in many of the Holy scriptures that Lord Shiva never takes birth.
But some people when they want to praise a great saint, they call him or her an avatAr of some deity. Almost the names of all gods are used for it, one or the other. It doesn't seem nice. It finally tries to give an impression that if a person should do some marvels and great revolutions he should be an avatAr of God. It ignores the fact that great saints are not only avatArs, but also there can be elevated souls who out of their sAdhanA in the present birth as well as previous births achieve that great states. It finally paves way for human worship - making a person whom we consider great, to be God. For some people it also becomes a lame excuse, that doing great good things for the society requires avatArs, and since they are not ones, they need not do anything for the betterment of the society. A very unfortunate thing is that such things are becoming prevalent and a lot of people have started exploiting this weakness of Hinduism. Our hearts ail when we hear that a so called swamiji who was worshipped like God, was arrested for murder and other charges. It adds to our ailment when so called rationalists start mocking at all the sages in general by equating them with these pseudo saints. Instead of finding fault with them it is better to do an introspection. We created all these troubles by worshipping human beings as God. We do not make 'isms' out of each and every philosopher, but we say it with pride that our religion was not founded by any single person and not based on one particular philosopher's book. But why are we now tilted towards making all people we feel great as God and His avatars.
For example Adi shankara. He was a great saint. He was an ardent devotee. He was a great philosopher. But it is unnecessary to call him an incarnation of Lord Shiva. It is very nice to call him bhagavath pAda. While we will be able to enjoy his devotion reading shivAnanda lahari and other hymns, it may not be acceptable even for Adi shankara to call him avatAr of God. In one of the hymns in shivAnanda lahari he himself says "Oh Lord! Don't give me the status of vishNu or brahmA, then I can't become pig or bird to see your holy feet. Give me the bhakti for your feet". This and many such hymns should make us refrain from calling him an avatAr and rather we should admire at his great devotion. It should be noted that in the purANas, whenever they talk about Lord Shiva coming in human form, He is not born but just appears.
It will be nice to note this statement which was said by one of our contemporary saints, "we (sages), are like the beacon that shows the direction. It is your duty not to stop praying the beacon but to proceed with the light it shows to reach your destination, that is the Lord." Let us stop calling saints as avatAr of one deity or the other, and really follow the principles they taught.
You can find here a sample of portions of our holy texts, which insist that Lord Shiva never takes birth. This is just a sample not all such references (which are a lot in fact) are listed.
There was a remark referring to the hailing in shrI rudram that reads like namaH kapardine cha vyuptakeshAya cha, to be indicating the birth of shankara bhagavatpAda. This is a very misleading remark. Anybody who analyses the pattern in the rudram, it can be observed that the God is being hailed as the Lord of all. This vedic hymn hails the Lord to be in the forms with long hair and shaved head. (All contradictory appearances also the place of the Lord). If one in haste decides that the vyuptakesha refers to bhagavatpAda then what many incarnations have to be thought out for the other hailings like, in the form of lake, pond, trees and theifs... ! There may be a few songs stating Lord shankara is bhagavatpAda. They are mainly from the disciple lineage of shankara. It is customory to equate the guru to God as the guru opens the eyes to see the Lord (for example refer to guru brahmA ...). There needs to be no special significance attached to it apart from viewing this as the gurubhakti of the composers.
The intention of this article is not to blame anybody, but to do a real introspection. It is not intended to defame any great saints, but is intended to say that let us follow the great principles they taught and not just pray them and forget their teaching. It is not intended to make controversy over any real avatArs (of any of the gods) that are praised in our purANAs and epics, but intended to say that let us not make the concept of avatAr as a thing to be mocked at. Let the Graceful Almighty forgive all the mistakes here.
Posted on: 21.07.96