More Tales Of Shiva

Sati, the daughter of Daksha, the god of established
order, loved him; even as a child. Uma, the daughter of Himmavat, the king of the Himalayas, brought ) offerings of milk and water to his shrine; and Ravana offered his heads in sacrifice to him. This was Lord Shiva, whose home was among the snows at Kailash.

In the Mahabharata, we have Arjuna and Krishna singing his praises, and yet the Gods mocked at him as a naked ascetic, a homeless wanderer and a being who haunted the unclean cemeteries and his father-in-law went so far as to forbid him to attend his yagnas (ritual sacrifices).

As Brahma appeared from the navel of Vishnu, two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha, attempted to kill him. Brahma, taken aback, prayed to Vishnu to protect him. Vishnu, pleased that Brahma, the Immense One, should beg him for a favour, expressed anger with the demons and from his frown emerged Lord Shiva as Shambhu, wielding a trident, and destroying the demons.
Thus Lord Shiva manifested himself as the Destroyer; and that attribute has stuck to him. Since all things are subject to decay and destruction, it was necessary to have the Destroyer, or indirectly the Re-creator; allowing all forms of existence to manifest themselves. Death is not death, but simply a manifestation into a new life. So he is Lord Shiva, the Bright One.

His name does not appear in the Vedas, but he has been identified with Rudra, the Vedic god of storm. In one story from the Vishnu Purana, Brahma, desirous
of having a son, wished for one and a little boy appeared sitting on his knee. But he would not stop weeping. When Brahma asked him the cause of his sorrow, he said that he had not been given a name. Brahma then named him Rudra – from rud which means ‘to weep ‘.

Lord Shiva was a difficult being to follow. He was a wanderer, sometimes living in the cold snows of the Himalayas, and sometimes descending to earth to reside in his favourite city of Kashi or Benaras. It was to this city that he repaired after having cut off Lord Brahma’s head in a quarrel. Brahma, wishing to create again after a long sleep of a thousand years, created Ahankara or the consciousness of the ego.

But out of the darkness had already risen a form with three eyes, carrying a trident. An argument ensued, fuelled by Ahankara as to how each one came into being. Lord Shiva, incensed at this question, cut off Brahma‘s head, but it would not fall out of his hand. Brahma, being the progenitor of all Brahmins, then created a giant to slay Lord Shiva since he had committed the unforgivable sin of the murder of a Brahmin. To escape from him, Lord Shiva came to Benaras and was absolved of his sin. Thus, Benaras became a city where one could absolve oneself of one’s wrong actions. It was to do penance for this sin of brahminicide that Lord Shiva was doomed to be a wandering ascetic.

Lord Shiva’s wife Parvati, once questions him about his austerities. When the heat of summer is unbearable, she asks why he does not have a roof to protect him from the vagaries of the seasons. “I am, 0 lovely one, without a shelter, a constant wanderer in forests”, comes the reply. But his perceived poverty and asceticism does not make him subservient to any of the other gods. His meditative powers are phenomenal, building up his physical strength and giving him unlimited powers to perform miracles (and also to strengthen his image as a fertility god) and the strength thus acquired makes him superior to all me gods combined.

The asuras obtained a boon from Brahma so they could become lords of three castles, from where they then constantly attacked the gods. The gods approached Brahma, who directed them to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva agreed to transfer half his strength to them, but they found that they could not sustain it. In the end Lord Shiva took half their strength and fired the arrow to destroy the demons, but decided not to return this extra strength to the gods, thus becoming the strongest god in the Universe.

So Lord Shiva came to be known as Mahadeva or the Supreme Lord and his supreme creative power is worshipped as the linga or phallus. To explain this to the common man, the Padma Purana relates the story of the curse of the sage Bhrigu, who had wished to ascertain for himself who the greatest god from the Trinity was. When he went to visit Lord Shiva, he was stopped at the door by a doorkeeper who informed him that no one could disturb Lord Shiva and Parvati in their dalliance. Bhrigu, after having waited for some time, left after pronouncing the curse, that since Lord Shiva preferred the embraces of Parvati to his meeting with Bhrigu, he would be doomed to be worshipped as the linga and yoni, instruments of desire and procreation.

The union suggested by the linga and the yoni is the link between the two worlds, one where life manifests itself, and the other where the spirit becomes incarnate; and the linga is the symbol of the Divine Creator, a symbol understood by even the most ignorant. The linga represents the joy of life and creation, as well as liberation after the control of desire. A mastery over the sexual instinct makes us dominate the physical as well the mental sphere. Lord Shiva’s vehicle, Nandi the bull, symbolises the instincts which often overrule the rational self; and Lord Shiva, since he has conquered all desire, rides on the bull, signifying that only those who have acquired knowledge are masters of themselves. It was difficult to imagine Lord Shiva the Destroyer; the Ascetic, the Wanderer, as the ideal husband for his daughter Sati so Daksha, ignoring Sati’s love for Lord Shiva, invited all the gods except Lord Shiva, for his daughter’s swayamvara (a gathering of princes, so that she could choose a husband by garlanding the one of her choice). Sati, disappointed at not finding Lord Shiva, threw the garland into the air, praying to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva manifested himself and took Sati away, much to Daksha’s fury.

Daksha, as the god of established order and the Vedic ritual sacrifice, was a direct contradiction to Lord Shiva, the yogi who believed in meditation and austerity and was available to all irrespective of their birth or status. Thus he was accused by Daksha and the other gods of being a teacher of the low born and hence not good enough to participate in the sacrifices of the yagnas.

This in effect was the struggle for supremacy between the Aryan and Vedic religions and the older religion of the Dravadian inhabitants of Bharat (India), which surprisingly still continues to this day, even after 2000 years.

So once again Daksha had a yagna and refused to invite his daughter Sati and her husband Lord Shiva. Sati insisted on coming to the celebration at her father’s house despite Lord Shiva’s protests. Daksha, finding her there, cursed her husband and belittled him before all the gods present. Sati, anguished by the insults heaped upon her absent husband, gave up her physical body by consigning herself to the flames, thus giving rise to the term sati – the one who burns herself on the funeral pyre. Lord Shiva was in Kailash when heard the news, and was consumed by grief. He arrived at Daksha’s house and let loose his hair, freeing the thousands of demons that resided there. These demons destroyed Daksha’s sacrifice, and in battle, Lord Shiva cut off his father-inlaw’s head, later repenting and giving Daksha a goat’s head to bring him back to life. In the Puranic version, Lord Shiva created an image of fire, Virabhadra, who destroyed the sacrifice and routed the gods.

Sati was born again as Uma, the daughter of Himmavat, the king of the Himalayas. In his grief, Lord Shiva had given himself up to meditation
on Mount Kailash, and refused to be tempted by any of
the offerings and prayers of gods and mortals.

But the heavens and the earth were ravaged by the evils of the demon Taraka who had been granted a boon by Brahma that he would be killed only by Lord Shiva’s son; Lord Shiva, however, in his grief for Sati was not likely to produce a son. But they saw their salvation in Uma, who as she grew up, made her way to Kailash and also prayed and meditated hoping to arouse Lord Shiva. The gods, delighted by this, sent Kama, the God of Love and his wife Rati, to interrupt Lord Shiva’s meditation so that the shaft of love would make him give in to Uma’s entreaties. Lord Shiva, in his anger at being disturbed by Kama, opened his third eye and reduced him to ashes. But the mischief had been done – he had looked upon Uma and fallen in love with her. So the couple retired to Kailash and out of this union was produced a seed which, nurtured by Lima’s elder sister Ganga (the goddess of the river), became Kartikeya, the leader of the army of the gods, who killed Taraka.

So, though Lord Shiva is Rudra the Fearsome, there is also the humane side to this god. He is impulsive and destroys but he is also repentant and gives back life as in the case of Daksha or Kama who was restored to Rati in the spirit world. He is benevolent and bestows boons. He distributed the waters of the holy rivers to a parched earth. He is said to have caught the river Ganges in his locks to break her fall and prevent her from splitting the earth in two with her force. When the gods were churning the ocean to withdraw the amrit or nectar from it, suddenly the ocean threw up kalakuta, a poison slated to destroy all the creatures on earth. The gods, afraid, withdrew, all except Lord Shiva, who gallantly drank the poison to save humanity. Parvati, alarmed for his life, leapt forward and held his throat, thus preventing the poison from being swallowed. The poison stuck in his throat, thus giving it a blue colour and a new name for him – Nilakanth, the Blue Throated.

Lord Shiva’s benevolent aspect is also depicted in his image as the Lord of Sleep, the remover of pain since sleep dilutes pain. He is the transcendent being,
absorbing mortals who tire of life and action, pain and pleasure and enter into a peaceful state of non-existence. We fear death because we do not understand it; death means liberation from the bondage of life – like Lord Shiva – destruction moving towards a new existence.

Lord Shiva is depicted as a fair man covered with ashes; with four arms, five faces and three eyes on the face in front. His three eyes represent the three sources of light, the sun, the moon and fire and through these he can look into Time – past, present and future. The third is the inward-looking eye, destroying when it turns itself outwards. It is a powerful weapon, used for the destruction of- his enemies. It is said that each yuga or period comes to an end when Lord Shiva-opens his third eye. The third eye was also opened to save the world. One day, Parvati playfully covered Lord Shiva’s eyes with her hand. Immediately the world was plunged into darkness and all life ebbed out of it. Suddenly, from Lord Shiva’s forehead, burst a flame, which scorched the mountains, but dispelled the gloom.

Lord Shiva’s ornaments are skulls and snakes; the skull represents the revolution of Time and the appearance and disappearance of the human race. It also symbolises destruction at the end of a cycle, when all is destroyed except Lord Shiva. The snakes represent death; and though Lord Shiva is always surrounded by death, he himself is beyond its power. But the serpent also represents the dormant energy which is the source of all spiritual conquests and is said to be coiled at the base of the spinal cord.

The best known symbol of Lord Shiva is the trishul or trident, representing the three aspects of nature, the sattua, rajas and tamos; the three functions, as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer; it also symbolises lightning, so Lord Shiva is the god of storms. It also represents Lord Shiva as the god of righteousness who has to punish wrong-doers. He holds a bow, Pinaka, made of a serpent with seven heads and poisonous teeth. This is used to help the gods in times of need. Lord Shiva’s battle-axe Parasu, was bequeathed to Parasurama, an incarnation of Vishnu, to destroy the warrior-race of the Kshatriyas, and his spear Pashupati, used for destruction at the end of each age, helped Arjuna in the battle of the Mahabharata.
Lord Shiva’s tiqer skin depicts him as beinq beyond the power of nature, since the tiger, the vehicle of Shakti, is itself the symbol of that power. The skull is again used on the club, the khatwanga.

The damru or drum, becomes very important during Lord Shiva’s dance. He is Nataraja, the god of dance, said to have created 108 dances. Some of them are gentle and slow, others are fearsome and rock the very foundations of the Universe. He is the god of rhythm, dancing for joy in anger or sorrow. Dance is the glory of Lord Shiva, causing movement in the Universe. Not many are fortunate enough to have witnessed the spectacle of the tandau, the dance that destroys the world at the end of each cosmic cycle and then integrates it within the cosmic spirit, thus destroying maya or illusion. It is said that Seshnag, the serpent attendant of Lord Vishnu, saw this dance and was so dazzled by it that he forsook Vishnu for several years, hoping to catch a glimpse of it again. The gods assemble to watch it in wonder, the demons of the cemeteries are dazzled by it, thus bringing even evil spirits into the orbit of his spiritual power, hence he is known as Bhuteshwar, Lord of the Ghosts.

In one of his forms he is shown with five faces; he is the god of medicine and prayers for healing and recovery are made to him. In the absence of a temple, he is represented as a shapeless stone placed under a tree. He is said to possess people who suffer from epilepsy, and he is propitiated with offerings to be induced to leave the victim’s body.

Lord Shiva has been known as Swayambhu or the self-manifested, and is god of the five elements. His main temples are also dedicated to the elements – in Benaras, there is the water linga, in Kanchi (Conjeevaram), the earth linga, Chidambaram the ether linga, Kalahasti the air linga and the fire linga in Tiruvannamali.

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