Yogavasistha: Tandava and the dissolution

It is believed that Rudra, a form of Shiva, performs the Tandava dance with his Shakti when it is time for the dissolution of the universe. However, according to the Yogavasistha [1], this dance is a continuous process. Symbolizing the impermanence of the material world, the entire universe, where every single object is destructible, becomes the theatre for Tandava. The drying up of water bodies, destruction of the fourteen worlds, and the collapse of the stars – are all a part of Tandava.

Describing his own vision of a great dissolution from a kalpa [2] of the past, Rishi Vasistha, in this scripture, explains that the Tandava concluded when Rudra engulfed the entire universe as if it were a leaf. Rudra, beyond comprehension, then turned invisible, according to this book. As of the universe, nothing but absolute peace and consciousness remained, which is the true nature of Shiva [3].

[1] Note that the Yogavasistha supports the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. Hinduism involves multiple philosophies, and alternate and more detailed descriptions about the universe’s dissolution can be found in other Hindu scriptures.

[2] aeon

[3] According to popular Hindu theories, following the dissolution of the universe, numerous abodes (loka) of God continue to exist, where beings live permanently with God.

Devi Parvati’s dedication for Shiva

Though Bhagavan Shiva is extremely benevolent towards all, it was not easy for Devi Parvati to please him and have him accept her marriage proposal. After obtaining the panchakshara mantra [1] from Devarishi Narada, the Mother Goddess started her tapasya for Shiva in a forest of the Gangotri region. Meditating full time, she ate only fruits from the surrounding trees in the first year and accepted only leaves in the second year. A few years later, she even renounced leaves. Due to her austerity, this forest became an equal of Kailasa [2], as the Shiva Purana tells us, where all jivas had turned spiritual. The fauna, blessed by her presence and surprised by her brilliance, developed friendliness towards each other, and new species of flowers and beautiful plants appeared near her ashram.

After thousands of years passed, the glow released from her dedicated tapasya began to create distress for the gods and the world. The gods took the shelter of Lords Brahma and Vishnu so that Shiva could be convinced. Shiva, out of his grace on all souls, got ready for marriage but designed a couple of tests for Parvati before accepting the proposal. First, the saptarishis [3] were sent by Shiva to test her bhakti. In the second test, Shiva disguised himself as a Brahmin and tried to discourage her from thinking about him. But Parvati’s determination for Shiva was unyielding; she aspired for nothing but Shiva. As a result, we all get to celebrate the Shivaratri.

Happy Mahashivaratri!

[1] the five-lettered mantra for Shiva
[2] the abode of Shiva
[3] the seven sages

Shiva: The beautiful one

There may be an infinite number of attributes in the universe that would make Shiva unique, for there is none like him. But some of the things that have always enticed me are as follows:

  1. Shiva can be pleased simply by offering water or leaves of a plant [1]. More than his liking, this shows the height of his acceptance.
  2. Just like Shiva accepts the weakest plants — even the poisonous ones — he also accepts prayers from tamasic beings, including asuras. Few other forms of the Divine possess such unparalleled grace [2].
  3. Sacred stories teach us that even other forms of the Divine, including Rama, Krishna, Vishnu, and Devi, worship Shiva. The list of his devotees, of course, includes the gods, saints, humans, and lower life forms. In other words, he is accessible to all — from a bee to Brahma.
  4. He is easily pleased with both sakama and nishkama bhakti. He understands that many of us, the weak souls, may not be ready for his nishkama bhakti.
  5. Sanatana dharma considers Shiva the ultimate giver. The scriptures describe how he gave away the most impressive functions of the universe to Vishnu and kept nothing for himself.

[1] It is the rainy season, the time of the year when Shiva makes it easier for Hindus to offer him water. Consequently, his temples are more frequently visited by Hindus during the month of shravan. Remember that Shiva not only accepts water or leaves, he accepts flowers, sweet fruits, and vegetables as well!
[2] This should never be interpreted as, “Shiva is worshipped by mainly non-sattvic beings”; such interpretations suit only unthankful humans.

Edited on October 15, 2012.

Sati and Shiva

The Shiva Purana explains that though Shakti-Shiva are inseparable, they can appear to be separated in divine plays that perplex even saints. One such drama was designed by Bhagavan Shiva and his spouse, Devi Sati, to set the environment for Sati’s rebirth as Parvati. The divine plan started unfolding when Daksha allowed his intellect to abandon him and encouraged animosity for Shiva in his mind. In due course, he expelled Shiva, the Lord of all, from all yajnas through a curse [1] and chose to not invite Shiva in future celebrations arranged by him. When Sati visited Daksha, her father, and questioned him about his intentions, he insulted Shiva further, as a result of which Sati was deeply hurt. Because she no longer wished to be identified as the daughter of a person who was corrupt and devoid of Shiva’s bhakti, she renounced her body through the power of her yoga.

This incident infuriated Shiva, the eternally calm Lord, who then caused a divine being and Mahakali to appear from his hair and punish Daksha for his karma. Daksha and his army were destroyed, but they later regained their life when Shiva’s anger subsided. The eternal shakti of Shiva then waited for the right moment to incarnate on Earth as the daughter of the god of the Himalayas and marry Shiva once again.

Happy Maha Shivaratri!

[1] When Nandi felt hurt on Daksha’s behavior, Shiva explained to Nandi that he could never be cursed or expelled, for there was nothing in the universe except him — Shiva is the soul of all yajnas and everything else that exists.

Edited on May 24, 2019.

Shiva as Rameshwaram: Guidance for Hanuman

As soon as Lord Rama returned to India after defeating Ravana, a few sages, headed by Rishi Agastya, advised him to establish a Shivalinga that would be remembered by his name. Accordingly, Rama scheduled an auspicious time and asked Lord Hanuman to bring a Shivalinga from the Kailasa Parvat. As expected, Hanuman started off for the Himalayas with great enthusiasm. But Shiva, who probably wanted to initiate a divine play, took his time in appearing before Hanuman. Because a Shivalinga had to be established before the set deadline, Rama placed another Shivalinga, which Goddess Sita had built, at the destined location. He then hit the earth with his bow to create a well and offered its water in the new temple.

When Hanuman returned with a beautiful statue, he saw that Rameshwaram had already been established. With slight despair, Hanuman said, “It appears that my effort has turned futile.” Sensing that Hanuman is feeling ignored, Rama responded, “I know the karma of every being that has been born or will be born. Do not let the slightest gloominess reach your mind, for all sorrows are a hindrance to jnana. Instead, focus on your eternal self-illuminating soul. Once you establish yourself in oneness with the Supreme Soul, you will see that all your actions are my own and all my actions are your own. Please perceive that the Shivalinga which I have established has also been placed by you.” Finally, Rama said, “Now, you should establish the Shivalinga that you have brought from Kailasa. It will be known in the three worlds by your name, and jivas will visit Hanumadisvara before they visit Rameshwaram.”

* This story is from the Skanda Purana. Alternate versions tell us that Rama established Rameshwaram before visiting Lanka.

Shiva as Somnath

The temple of Somnath, a Hindu pilgrimage site, is situated in Gujarat and is considered one of the twelve foremost temples of Lord Shiva on the planet. The mythological story behind the emergence of this Jyotirlinga, which symbolizes Shiva as a column of light, revolves around the moon (personified as a god) and the nakshatras (constellations). According to the Shiva Purana, Moon married Daksha Prajapati’s twenty seven daughters (the 27 constellations), but he could not treat his wives equally and loved Rohini* more than her sisters. Consequently, his other wives felt distressed and lodged a complaint with their father. Daksha discussed this matter with Moon and asked him to respect all his wives. But when his request was rejected, Daksha became furious and cursed the moon with an incurable disease.

With the moon falling ill, all the gods panicked and reached Lord Brahma’s abode for help. Brahma advised Moon to go to the Prabhas region and worship Shiva with the Mahamrityunjaya mantra. Moon followed the recommendation and after six months of continual remembrance, Shiva appeared before him. When Moon requested him to cure his illness, Shiva said, “From now on, your rays will diminish over a fortnight, but then they will intensify again over the next fortnight.” To grace the moon god and the area where he had worshipped Shiva, the Lord of all gods decided to stay there as Somnath, the “Lord of the moon.”

*Rohini falls in the sign of Taurus in Vedic astrology.

%d bloggers like this: