None gave him birth, He knows no Lord. None rules
Him in the world, nor yet controls. No features mark Him out, yet
cause He is. Prime cause of that which steers, the senses five, the
soul within. Shvetashvattara Upanishad.
Shiva! The name, the
word itself seems to come with so much aplomb to the Hindu mind.
Images flood the mind eye. The savage one; The handsome one.
The fierce one; The ardent lover of Parvati. One who wears snakes
for ornaments; One who holds the Ganges on his head. One who
destroys; One who dances. Wearer of leopard skin; Wielder of
cymbals. One with long matted hair; One who wears the moon on his
head! Worshipped in the form of a phallic symbol; Worshipped for the
power of his third eye
I could go on endlessly.
Abandon for a moment, if you can, the truth that you are reading
about a deity, a religious figure in the Hindu pantheon and look at
Shiva for himself. Every time I encountered him in the pages of one
Purana (ancient text) or the other or in the stories of my
grandmother, the came through as a wonderful majestic man, not
polished and sophisticated like Vishnu, not ornamented and decorated
as Vishnu, but a man whose every cell speaks, whose every moment
makes the history of time. His characterization is so cogent and
integrated through texts over centuries found across the length and
breadth of India that it is amazing. It is real.
If you wonder why that
should be amazing, it is because historically, the story of Shiva is
fragmented. Historians and indologists trace the beginnings of the
idea of Shiva to very very early in history. He was the deity of the
Harappa civilization. The bull inscribed on the coins of Harappa is
in fact, they say, symbolic of Shivas mount. He was worshipped
in the form of Pasupathi, the Lord of animals. Researchers even go
as far as finding parallels between Sumerian civilization and their
pantheon which has counterparts of Siva and the Lady of the
Mountains, Parvati, Shivas consort.
So Shiva, going by the
antiquity of his worship, must have been present long before
creation. It is therefore they say that the Dravidian God is Shiva.
He has always been Siva.
Around the beginning of
this millennium, it is said there was a revival of Saivism and the
power of Shiva. By then the idea of Shiva had built into the vedic
texts too. He is identified with Rudra in the Rig Veda. Various
texts give different versions of his creation and each one they say
is symbolic of his many facets. He, Shiva, is the one who has
conquered time, for He destroys and re-creates. He, Shiva, is white
in colour for white stands for justice in acts of annihilation. He,
Shiva, is the one who has conquered death and historically his
resurgence from the Pre-Aryan period to the present day obsession is
one way of looking at it.
The Rig Vedic story
begins with the Gods watching an incest about to take place. The
father of creation is desirous of his own daughter. At that time,
the gods chant the sacred word. The power of the sacred word. The
power of the sacred word is immense. There appears before them an
archer Sharva, the raudra (the angry one). The archer aimed
and shot, putting a stop to the act. Time and with it the universe
had been set into motion with the flight of the arrow in Space.
There, the passionate
father was still in pursuit of his daughter. The gods hung their
heads in shame while the hunter let out a wild cry. There he got his
name Rudra where rud means to cry. To appease him the father
gave him the kingdom of animals. Be Pasupathi, the lord of
animals, he said. But Pasupathi, in his new form was still
with single purpose. He shot another arrow and the seed of the
father flowed down on earth and all creation sprung.
Another story says the
Lord of all beings was a householder and of his wife Usha was born a
child. The child kept crying so the father questioned him as to why
he cried. He said he cried for the want of a name. The father was
quick to name him if that could bring some quiet and he was called
Rudra, from the rot word rud which means, to cry.
The Linga Purana has yet
another version to relate. According to this story, Brahma, the
creator had five mind-born sons. Many fathers may be able to
sympathize with Brahma, for the father of creation too was
dissatisfied with his sons. None of them showed any promise, the
typical progenitor felt. He contemplated on Siva for solution. Siva
himself appeared and told him He was his son. Siva then assumed the
is yet another concept that Shiva stands for. In this aspect he
draws the feminine into his own self. He is half man, half woman. A
symbol of the Samkhya philosophy which talks of Purusha (the male
energy) and Prakriti (the female energy) together making the cosmic
Shiva destroys the old, for in destruction there is renewal, it
cleanses and constructs anew. In this new construction, he is the
Father of Brahma. And the cycle of time, the process of recreation
begin all over again.
Shiva the auspicious one,
is also known as Ashtamurti and here is yet another myth that
tells you of his manifestation thus. If the number of stories on
Shivas birth are discomfiting, remember you are not the only
one, there is a constant struggle to understand them by many because
our mind can think only of linear progress of time as moving forward.
But here many cycles seem to be described. Researchers also say,
each birth, as we ourselves find now, is symbolic of one attribute of
Shiva. The happening itself is not as important as the symbolism
within it. In Hindu mythology, there are many stories that switch
the position of the primal creator between the three most important
deities: Brahma Vishnu and Shiva, the triad, reaffirming as it were,
the equal importance of creation, preservation and dissolution.
Story goes Brahma sat in
deep meditation holding all his vital energies and from the sound of
Om that he held close to his heart, emerged Shiva He came out
of Brahmas forehead. He stood before him as Ashtamurti
that is displaying all his eight manifestations, He was in fact the
Vishwarupa or the universe for he had the heaven as his head,
the quarters as ears, the sun, moon and fire as eyes, the sky as
umbilicus, the winds blowing at his feet and was clothed in the
oceans. He wore for ornaments the constellations. In this version is
the beginning and the end. He is all.
The description of his
eyes as fire bring another mythological association where Siva is
held almost synonymous with Agni or fire. He is the Trinetra
or the one with three eyes, the third eye being all fire.
In successive kalpas,
or age, Shiva donned five roles. The five-form concept later took
shape as the Panchamukha Shiva or Five faced Shiva with each
face given a direction the dimension of space had thus been
added to the dimension of time. As Sadyojata he faced East, as
tatpurusha he faced north, as Aghora he faced west and as Ishana he
faced south. As Sadesiva (Eternal Shiva) he was looked above;
symbolic of him being above all space. In the Linga Purana,
Vishnu described Sabasiva as a pillar where the Ishana was the crown,
Tatpurusha, the face, Aghora the heart and Vamadeva his sex organ and
Sadyojata as his feet. The metaphor had been gathered into a
manageable symbol and while many other stories exist for the worship
of the phallic symbol of Shiva, this was the beginning.
A story is told located
at the legendary ashram of Daruvana. Today some say it is the same
place as where the Jageswar temple in Almora stands on the lower
Himalayas. Here, some sages were engaged in penance. To test their
dedication, Shiva began dancing in the forests. The wives of the
sages who had gone to collect firewood remained transfixed. At
sundown when the sages cam in search of their wives and caught sight
of a man dancing to the joy of their wives, they cursed him, not
knowing he was Shiva himself. By the curse, his penis fell to the
ground and rose with the brilliance of fire in both directions. The
earth trembled and Vishnu and Brahma came to look for solutions.
They each went south and north respectively in search of its end, but
could not find it; symbolizing both infinity in space and eternity in
time. Shiva was then accepted as Supreme by both Brahma and Vishnu
and he withdrew.
(Being of the same rank,
there are many stories on the quarrels and disputes between Shiva and
Vishnu, their assertion of superiority one over another is a debate
even today amongst their followers!)
Shiva married twice, once
the granddaughter of Brahma, named Sati and then Sati again when she
was reborn as Parvati, the daughter of the King of the Himalayas,
Daksha. He had two sons, Ganesa and Kartikeya.
One of the derivations of
the word Rudra denotes running and constant movement, the pulsation
of life, its steps. Therefore Shiva is also perceived as the Cosmic
dancer, Nataraja. The magnificent Nataraja who dances though life
has won many a hearts and imaginations. Many temples have been built
to the Lord Nataraja across Kanakasabha (golden hall) at the temple
Of Shiva, one can not
write and stop. There are sixty-four lilas or sports in which
he is said to have partaken and infinite stories from his tumultuous
marriage to his drinking of the poison during the famous incident in
Hindu mythology of the churning of the ocean. Through all the myths
Shiva emerges the same, powerful, impulsive, angry, frightening,
charming, one who holds the damru (drum) either sides of which
makes our night and day and one whose ankle bells are the source of
all sound. To write on Shiva is as continuous a process as the idea
of Shiva himself.