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Lord Shiva - The Dancer Who Recreates

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 Shiva’s 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, Shiva’s 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 ardhanareeswara form.

The ardhanareeswara 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 energy.

As Ardhanareeswara, 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 Shiva’s 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 Brahma’s 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 Chidambaram.

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.