Conforming to canonical iconography, the male side is shown with the hair tied in the manner of a Hindu ascetic. Around his waist he has a leopard skin, and a garland of freshly severed heads hangs down the neck. Additionally, a serpent coils around his arm, and a scrotum-shaped container rests near his foot. In his hand he holds a betel leaf or paan. According to Sushruta, the great Ayurvedic surgeon of the fourth century AD, the betel leaf is "aromatic, stimulant, carminative, astringent, and an aphrodisiac." Finally issuing from his locks is the river goddess Ganga, filling up the foreground.
The female side wears an orange skirt, golden scarf, and a rich collection of jewelry, including a nose-ring, popularly known as a nath. On her fingertips can be seen traces of henna, a singularly feminine ornamentation.
Parvati's mount the tiger can be seen behind her, and Nandi the bull, Shiva's vehicle can be seen grazing in the background behind him.
Surprisingly it was Kalidasa, the great Sanskrit poet of the fifth century AD, who gave a clear and imaginative interpretation of this composite image. In his poem, the Raghuvansha, he addresses a verse to Shiva and Parvati, comparing the literary fusion of meaning (artha, masculine) and poetic diction (vach, feminine) to their harmonious union. Although as inextricably united as a word is with its sense, the couple yet retain their separate identities.