NEW DELHI—Tourists flying into this ancient city are sometimes surprised to find their descent re-routed at the last minute by the presence of an 86-foot bronze statue that sits at the end of a runway. The giant icon depicts none other than Lord Shiva, one of Hinduism’s most popular and powerful gods. Known alternatively as the destroyer and the creator, family man and hermit, teacher and warrior, kind herdsman and wrathful avenger—Shiva is, like India itself, a perfect symbol of contradictions.

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