A little girl asks who Shiva is and it is the beginning of a family journey through stories and incidents across the expanse of Shivbhumi.
Writing in the Harikatha style of traditional storytelling, Renuka Narayanan weaves story after story from across India takes us closer to this elusive but much-loved god of gods, the Mahadev.
The Mahadev doesn’t have straightforward, linear stories with a beginning, middle and end like Vishnu has in the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavatam. Instead, like our religion itself, Shiva has no parents, no beginnings. He always was and is. He has “incidents”, he dances in and out of a whole lot of stories.
Read on for delightful, hidden glimpses of the Mahadev behind and beyond the more popular myths!
How the famous ‘Nilakanth myth forms one of the backstories to the Mahabharata
“The vish purush or spirit of Kalakuta sprang out of Shiva weeping in shame at the outrage he had involuntarily committed by burning Shiva’s throat and in despair at the ferocity of his substance. So the Lord, who wanted nothing for imself but gave things away to others, blessed him with a boon, for it was not Kalakuta’s fault that it was so deadly It grew fierce only when fiddled with, and brought out just as so many other things are poisonous if we stir them up ourselves. ‘Lord Shiva granted the vish purush the boon that he would return to Nature by being born on earth one day as the son of Drona and would kill his father’s enemies. So the vish purush was born as Ashvatthama; and Vishnu himself, as Sri Krishna, had to fend him off. Ashvatthama’s spirit is said to still wander the earth, quietly and is called out only if and when we stir up terrible world-destroying poisons . . . like nuclear bombs, I should think.”
How the Mahadev played with the very idea of the creation myths
“Very long ago, Brahma the Creator was given the task of making people inhabit the three worlds, which were well connected to each other then. For Bhulok, the earth, Brahma first created four handsome young men to be the ancestors of mankind and they sat down to pray for guidance on the shore of Manasarovar. Suddenly, a great white swan swam up before them.’ ‘It was Shiva, the ultimate free soul or “supreme swan”, the Paramahamsa. The swan swam all over the lake to warn the four young men that the world was merely maya or illusion, and that the only way to escape its bonds was to refuse to become fathers. Shiva did that because he felt that it was only fair to warn them that creation was just a game for the gods.
How the tragic story of Sati became the source for the revered Shaktipeeth
“Shiva’s fury and sorrow plunged the whole world into deep gloom. To save the situation, Vishnu repeatedly flung his discus at Sati’s body. He cut it up into fifty-one pieces that fell on earth and became high-energy points called Shakti Peeth, places of goddess-strength. The farthest one north-east is Kamakhya in Guwahati in Assam. The farthest one north-west is Hinglaj Devi in Balochistan.”
How the sacred feminine forms the basis of all Mahadev lilas
“As Dakshinamurthi, He had retreated from the world with no thought for this maya-engulfed universe, its inhabitants or their troubles. Ambika (Shakti) became Kameshvari, love incarnate, and made him Kalyana Sundara to change Him from an ocean of knowledge (in the form of Dakshinamurthi) into an ocean of compassion(in the form of Kalyana Sundara). Though we say She is instrumental in making Him shower blessings on this world, in reality, it is She who does it. To remain unmoving and static is His nature. All actions are Hers. Still, She made it appear that He was the one doing everything.”
How the stories about the Mahadev’s entourage become the source myths for one India’s most beautiful topographical features
“The story goes that Shiva once spent a night in the hills of Unakoti in Tripura on the way back home to Kailash,’ said the guru. ‘With him were 99,99,999 followers, one short of a crore or “Unakoti”. Wanting to get home soon, Shiva asked his followers to wake up well before dawn. However, not one was awake on time except for Lord Shiva himself. So Shiva went off on his own, leaving them behind. When they woke up and realized their mistake, they were too ashamed to move and turned to stone, deciding to stay forever at the place where they had last seen Mahadev. The rocks on the Unakoti hills are said to be the remains of that entourage.”
Read more such facts in Renuka Narayan’s Mahadev