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24. 09. 2017
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The story of Lord Shiva part-1

"To the utterly at one with Siva There's no dawn, no new moon No noonday, nor equinoxes Nor sunsets, nor full moons His front yard is the true Benaras O Ramanatha !"

— Devara Dasimayya, 7th century Tamil poet

Shiva is Isvara, the great god and like Vishnu his worship reverberates across the land. As the third member of the divine trinity with Brahma and Vishnu he has the terrible role of the destroyer. Once the creation of Brahma has run its course and reached its final stage, Shiva destroys it all, so that the cycle of creation can start again. He dances the maddened cosmic dance of the Tandava and everything is demolished under his dancing feet. His third eye opens and its fierce rays all to ashes.

The sect that worships Shiva is called Shaivite and the temples to the god are to be found in every part of the country. The worship of Shiva is founded on surrender and asceticism and less on the tender devotion of the Vaishnavas. It appeals to the questioning and meditative mind and it is less bound by the rules of caste or religious rituals. As a matter of fact some of the greatest mystic-poets who wrote hymns to Shiva belonged to lower castes.

Another Shaiva cult is of the Tantric way of worship which is an obscure, rather esoteric sect that uses complex spells, sacred formulas and secret rituals known only to the initiates. Its worship includes both Shiva and his consort the Devi and offers salvation through this hidden, mysterious Tantric way. The Tantric also influenced a Buddhist sect and is popular in Tibet.

Shiva's devotees have ranged from kings to potters and hunters and among them the most famous are the Nayanmar poets of South India. Poets like Basavanna, Sambandar, Appar, and Sundarar sang to the many moods of this complex god, trying to capture his quicksilver character as they surrendered to the worship of Shiva. As Sambandar wrote in the seventh century,

"The serpent is his ear stud, he rides a bull

He is crowned with the pure white crescent

He is smeared with the ashes of destroyed forests

He is decked with a garland of full blossoming flowers

When his devotees call him he comes glittering

And bestows his grace upon all.

He is indeed the thief who has stolen my soul away."

He is a contrary god, the lord of darkness and light, death and creation, a complex blend of compassion and quick anger, generosity and impatience. He is the god of the ascetics and also a family man narried to Parvati. He can wander about wearing animal skins and adorn himself with silk and flowers. He is indifferen: to pleasure but also a symbol of regeneration. He is the outcaste among the gods and the champion of the outsiders in human society, the people without status. He is ofbn in a state of genial intoxication and can generate a mysic fervour in his devotees. Like a chameleon Shiva encompasses every human feeling and experience and that is wiy he is so beloved of his devotees.

Shiva is usually depicted as a wandering mendicant. He is dark skinned, wears i tiger skin and his bare body is smeared with the ash from cremation grounds. His matted locks are piled on top of his head and within his locks hides the river goddess Gangi, while the crescent moon glows above his forehead. Shi/a wears a necklace of rudraksha beads and carries a small drum, the Damaru; a trident, the Trishula, and a begging bowl. The Trishula is his favourite weapon but he is also the divine archer and uses a giant bow called Pinaka. Across his forehead a;e drawn the three stripes called the Tripundraka and in the centre is the third eye that symbolises wisdom and also anger. Snakes writhe around his neck like a living necklace and be:ide him sits his vehicle, the Nandi bull. He lives on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas and has no heavenly palaces, hone is often in a cave or under shady trees. Sometimes, in a hippier frame of mind Shiva dresses as a bridegroom in silks but even then unlike Vishnu he wears little jewellery. The simple mendicant is quite pleased wearing just a garland of fresh flovers and bilva leaves. He is an earthy god, in essence an ascetic and is never a resplendent king of the heavens like Vishnu.

As Sukumari Bhattacharji tries to discover Shiva's inexplicable attraction as a god, she writes, "He stands for supreme detachment as also for ritual abandon and indulgence. He is indifferent to worldly ties, yet he himself is the only god with a really convincing family. He lives both in cremation grounds and on a lofty mountain peak and is a friend of Kuvera, the god of wealth. He is dressed as a mendicant and is yet a giver of many gifts. Himself the object of meditation, he is ever lost in meditation."

One of the greatest bhaktas of Shiva was the mystic poet Basavanna, who called Shiva, "the lord of the meeting rivers" and tried to explain why he worshipped this volatile, impulsive but still merciful god,

"How can I feel right

About a god who eats up lacquer and melts

Who wilts when he sees fire?

How can I feel right About gods you sell in your need, And gods you bury for fear of thieves? The Lord of the meeting rivers, Self-born, one with himself, He alone is the true god."

Vishnu was at least mentioned in the Vedas, Shiva does not appear at all in Vedic literature.'His beginnings are traced to an obscure Vedic god called Rudra who had just two and a half hymns dedicated to him. Shiva does share many of the elements of Rudra but the god who rose to eminence in the epic period was a much more complex deity who had evolved from many local gods and their cults. The Dravidian people had a god of the animals scholars call Pasupati, who resembles Shiva and whose worship must have continued even after the arrival of the Aryans. This god was also worshipped in his phallic symbol of the lingam and this phallic worship was also absorbed into the worship of Shiva.

In the Rigveda, Rudra, the "yeller" is not a very pleasant god. He is merely a manifestation of Agni and the Maruts are his sons. In other hymns he is treated as a separate deity who is the lord of sacrifices and a healing god of animals. However, he is also an angry god, Rudra means the god who shouts. He has a red skin, a blue neck, and a thousand eyes who rides a chariot carrying a thunderbolt, bows and arrows and is "as terrible as a wild beast, destructive and fierce". At another place he is described as "dark, black, destroying, terrible". And orie hymn intriguingly calls him "the bountiful, the lord of spirits and the lord of thieves".

Shiva first appears as a complete god with his own myths in the epics. In the Ramayana, Rama breaks the bow that Shiva had given to King Janaka and wins Sita as a bride. Then even though he is an avatar of Vishnu he worships Shiva just before crossing the ocean to invade Lanka. The Mahabharata has passages that call Vishnu supreme and others that praise Shiva as Mahadeva, the great god. It must have been a time of strife between the devotees of the two deities because the epic is full of mutual claims of superiority. Also there are more conciliatory passages by writers saying that in the final analysis Shiva arid Vishnu are the same.

One passage in the Harivamsa trying to reconcile the twoi warring sects says, there is "no difference between Shiva wlho exists in the form of Vishnu and Vishnu who exists in the form of Shiva". The Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Shiva,, Skanda, and Agni puranas are all written in the praise of Shiva and his myths are found in them. Many of the mylths show a conflict between Shiva and the other gods in which he comes out supreme. He cuts off one of the heads of Brahma after an argument. At the churning of the sea of milk Vishnu prays to him to rescue the earth from the poison flowing out of the mouth of the snake Vasuki. Once when he was meditating, Kama the god of love, had ignited passion in Parvati and she had disturbed her husband's meditation. At this Shiva's third eye had opened and poor Kama was burnt to ashes. However, Shiva was calmed by Parvati's entreaties and revived Kama.

Shiva the destroyer is called Mahakala, the great time and the fearsome Bhairava and when he dances the Tandava, he is Nataraja, the Lord of the Cosmic Dance. However, in Hindu belief, destruction and creation are part of the same cycle, so Shiva or Shankara is also auspicious as he begins the new cycle of creation. The Shiva lingam is the symbol of this creative force of Shiva and his phallic symbol is worshipped more often than his images. The lingam combined with the female organ of the yoni, the female creative force of shakti, symbolises all that is creative in the universe.

The appearance of the first lingam is told in a myth of the jyotirlingam, the lingam of effulgent light. The story begins when Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva could not agree about who among the three was the supreme god. So they consulted the Vedas for an answer and all the four Vedas said that Shiva was supreme. Both Brahma and Vishnu were reluctant to accept their verdict at which volatile Shiva lost his temper and turned into an endless glittering column of light that pierced the sky, the earth and the netherworld. Both Brahma and Vishnu were curious to find out where this column ended. Vishnu turned himself into a boar and dug deep into the earth while Brahma flew up to the sky on the back of his swan. They travelled for a thousand years and still could not discover the ends of the column. When they returned to earth, the column reduced in size to that of a Shiva lingam and Vishnu worshipped it as Shiva. However, Brahma claimed that he had seen the end of the column and he called to a ketaki flower to bear false witness and support his claim. At which Shiva finally lost his patience and turned into the raging Bhairava and cut off one of the five heads of Brahma.

Now there is no greater sin than the killing of a Brahmin and so the skull of Brahma's severed head stuck to Shiva's hand and would not come off. Shiva performed many penances and visited many pilgrimages but could not free himself from it until he arrived at Varanasi where his penances were successful and the skull fell off. This is why Varanasi or Kashi is Shiva's favourite city on earth. Here Shiva is the supreme god and all the other gods worship him. Created from pure light, the jyotirlingams are called Swayambhu or self created. There are twelve jyotirlingams in the country and among them the most sacred are at Kedarnath, Rameshwaram, and Varanasi. Varanasi or Kashi, the resplendent city of light is like a living shrine to Shiva. Every lane and corner has temples dedicated to the god and there are myriad myths that speak of Shiva's love for Kashi. It is said that after Shiva married Parvati he was looking for an abode on earth and his eyes fell on Kashi with its golden spires and he chose to stay there. Kashi is called Anandavana, his garden of bliss and as he never forsakes it, Kashi is also Avimuktaka.

The mountain dweller Shiva found a city home in Kashi and the three most sacred lingams here are of Vishveshwara, Omkareshwara, and Kedareshwara. At Kashi, Shiva offers salvation to his devotees. He himself acts as the boatman taking their souls across the ford between this world and the next. As he rows with the soul on its journey to liberation or Nirvana, he intones the Taraka mantra of salvation. This is why Kashi is the greatest tirthasthana of all, a place of pilgrimage for the Hindus. Brahma after losing his fifth head became Chaturanana while Shiva is at times depicted with five heads as Panchanana. His five faces illustrate his five cosmic functions of creation, conservation, destruction, incarnation, and liberation. Each has a different expression and together they capture both his accessible and obscure nature. First there is Shrishti, the face of creation, and then Sthiti, the face of preservation. The angry face of destruction is called Samhara. The fourth is of the Shiva who is hard to discover, as he is concealed as Tirobhava. Finally there is the indescribable fifth face of revelation, salvation, and compassion called Anugraha.

Shiva is the Mahayogi, the great ascetic and lives the life of a nomadic mendicant, wandering in cremation grounds covered in ash, wearing a garland of skulls, accompanied by ghosts and goblins. His devotees often practise the system of meditation called yoga. He is Digambara, the naked or sky clad and Dhurjati, with matted hair. He takes intoxicating drugs and drinks and as he dances, snakes writhe around his blue throat. So he is Nilkantha, the blue necked. But this terrible face does not repulse his devotees to whom he still looks hypnotically handsome. This aspect of Shiva appeals to the dark, fearful side of the human mind, where nightmares lurk. The Indian sadhus with their tridents and begging bowls are living images of the Mahayogi.

Shiva's rather unique garments have also gathered their own myths. Once when the great yogi was wandering in the forest he came upon the ashrams of rishis and here the wives of the rishis fell in love with the handsome ascetic. Angered by this, the rishis conjured up a tiger to attack him but as the tiger sprang, Shiva killed it with the nail of his little finger, stripped off his skin and wore it around his body. The rishis sent serpents and he wrapped them around his throat like garlands. A wild elephant was stripped of his skin and Shiva now had a cloak around his shoulders. Finally a demon dwarf, apasmara, was unleashed on him and Shiva danced on it and it forever stayed under his foot. Then the rishis understood who stood before them and worshipped him.

Many of the myths portray Shiva as an outsider in the assembly of gods and this reflects the time when the worship of the non-Vedic Shiva was still being resisted by the priesthood. Shiva and the Devi were deities of the people whose popularity forced the priesthood to admit them into the Hindu pantheon. Even today Shiva's simple rituals of worship and symbols reflect his non-Vedic, Dravidian beginnings. Among all the myths the one around Daksha's sacrifice illustrates this stage of transition the most clearly, as the Vedic gods first accept and then are eclipsed by the power of Shiva.

The story of Daksha's great sacrifice first appears in the Brahmanas. Daksha was a son of Brahma and as a Prajapati, one of the fathers of the human race. Among his many daughters was the beautiful Sati who chose to marry Shiva. This did not please Daksha as Shiva was hardly the ideal groom for his daughter but obeyed Brahma who wanted the marriage to take place. The Vedic gods lived like kings in palaces, travelled in chariots, wore jewels and silks, while Shiva could only offer a mountain home and the life of a wandering ascetic. However, Sati was adamant and Daksha allowed her to marry Shiva.

Daksha was angered even more when at a gathering of the gods all the others got up to greet him except Brahma and Shiva, who both remained seated. Brahma as his father was rightfully waiting to be greeted by him but Shiva's actions were taken as an insult by Daksha. So when Daksha decided to hold a big sacrifice he invited every god in heaven except Shiva. Sati saw the chariots of the gods all heading for the sacrifice and in spite of Shiva asking her not to, insisted on going to Daksha's home.

At the sacrifice Daksha explains his not inviting Shiva to the assembly of gods in these words, "What is his lineage and what is his clan? What place does he belong to and what is his nature? What does he do for a living and how does he behave? This fellow who drinks poison and rides a bull. He is not an ascetic, for how can one who carries a weapon be an ascetic? He is not a householder for he lives in the cremation ground. He is not a celibate student, for he has a wife. And he cannot be a forest dweller, for he is drunk with the conceit of his lordship."

Daksha goes on painting Shiva as being outside the order of caste and therefore undeserving of worship, "He is not a Brahmin for the Vedas do not know him as one. Since he carries a spear and trident he might be a kshatriya but he is not. Since he delights in the destruction of the world, he cannot be a kshatriya, who protects the world from harm. And how can he be a vaishya, for he never has any wealth? He is not even a shudra, for he wears the snake as a sacred thread. So he is beyond the castes and the stages of life," and so it goes on, describing an interloper into the pantheon of Vedic gods.

On the day of the sacrifice Sati discovered that her husband was missing from the gathering. Hurt and insulted she jumped into the yajna fire and died. Hearing of her death an enraged Shiva appeared at the gathering with his matted locks flaring around his head like flames. From these locks two demons appeared, Virbhadra and Bhadrakali and they immediately destroyed the sacrifice and attacked the gods. They cut off Daksha's head, knocked out Pushan's teeth, Bhrigu lost all his hair and they plucked out Bhaga's eyes. As chaos reigned Vishnu intervened and persuaded the gods to worship Shiva. As his anger cooled, Shiva allowed Daksha to live but with the head of a goat. Later Sati would be re¬born as Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas and his wife Mena and after many penances Parvati would once again win Shiva as her husband.

Shiva is also involved in the descent of the Ganga river to earth. In the beginning Ganga was a goddess and a celestial river that flowed in heaven. On earth there ruled a mighty king named Sagara who performed a grand Ashvamedha Yajna that rivalled those that were performed by the gods. The gods became jealous of Sagara's growing power and when the sacred horse of the sacrifice was sent out to wander the land, Indra hid the horse. As the horse did not return, Sagara sent his sixty thousand sons to search for it. In their quest they dug so deep into the earth that the oceans were created and that is why they are called Sagara. During their searches in a forest they disturbed a sage, Rishi Kapila at his meditations. The angered rishi burnt Sagara's sons to ashes.

The ashes of the sons lay at the bottom of the ocean and the only way their souls could be freed was for Ganga to descend to earth to wash them away with her sacred waters. However, as a goddess she refused to come to earth and the penances of Sagara failed to persuade her. Many years later Bhagirath, a descendent of Sagara performed the severest of austerities and Ganga was forced to answer his prayers. But she was still unwilling and in her rage she flowed down in a fierce, angry torrent. The gods feared that her turbulent waters would engulf the earth and kill all living creatures. They all prayed to Shiva to save the earth and he obligingly put his head in the path of the angry river. He caught her waters in the coils of his hair and she wandered there for a long while until Shiva allowed her to flow out divided into seven streams. continue...

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