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.

From the Shiva Purana: Shiva’s Grace

Once upon a time, a huntsman, sitting on the branch of a tree, was trying to shoot down a deer. As he aimed the arrow, he unknowingly pushed some bilva leaves and water on a Shivalinga that was situated near the base of the tree. Before the arrow was fired, the deer gave its consent to become the hunter’s food but requested the hunter to spare some time so that it could meet its children at home and hand them over to someone for guardianship. The hunter allowed it after the deer vowed to return. While the hunter was waiting for his quarry to return, another deer appeared at the scene. The incident repeated itself exactly, and the hunter ended up dropping some more leaves and water on Shiva’s symbol. Surprisingly, the incident repeated itself a third time as the hunter waited for the second deer to return.

Towards the end of the night, the three deer (and their kids) appeared before the hunter to fulfill their promise. The hunter was pleased to see them. But as soon as he pulled the arrow for the fourth time (and dropped some more leaves on the Shivalinga), a change occurred in his mind. Feeling shameful of his actions, he questioned himself, “If deer can surrender themselves to fulfill my appetite, can I, born as a human, not bring beneficence in my own life?” His mind started generating compassion. What was the reason for this change in personality? It was Shiva’s wedding anniversary (Shivaratri), and the hunter had unknowingly observed it by offering Shiva leaves and water, four times over the night. And this karma, though performed unintentionally, was ample for a transformation. As soon as the hunter let the deer go unharmed, Shiva gave him a darshan.

Pleased with the new devotee, Shiva also gave the hunter a new name, Guha, along with boons for material abundance as well as eventual liberation. Above all, he blessed Guha with the friendship (and darshan) of Lord Rama in forthcoming times. The story tells us how the grace of Shiva is exemplary; the God of all does not need a reason to bestow it on a jiva.

Happy Maha Shivaratri!

Maha Shivaratri Special: Lord Shiva’s Ancestry

Lord Shiva’s wedding anniversary is celebrated as Shivaratri on the 14th day (krishna-paksha; waning fortnight) of the lunar month Magha (Phalgun according to some calendars). Shiva’s wedding with Goddess Parvati forms a popular, beautiful devotional event and some of its retellings in the Puranas are associated with a few witty scenes, all saturated with the devotion of His followers.

According to the Skanda Purana, when Parvati’s father, Himavan (personification of the Himalayas), asks for Shiva’s gotra (lineage) while performing the marriage ceremony of kanyadaan, Shiva prefers not to respond to the question. Instead, Rishi Narada starts playing his stringed musical instrument, the Veena. Finding the moment unsuitable for a musical recital, Himavan politely requests the seer not to create instrumental sound.

Narada then reacts with a full-scale lecture: “Shiva’s lineage and family is the Nada – sound energy – for He becomes available to the individual soul by Nada (from chanting, mantra, or music), and Nada and Shiva are both positioned in each other. I was playing the Veena only to truly answer your question.” Continuing his speech, Narada explains that none, including Brahma, is aware of Shiva’s family background, for He is the unborn and formless one. “Because of His power of illusion, the other seers present here do not know Him as well. Moreover, you do not really know your own daughter. Parvati and Shiva are the cause of the universe and its sustenance,” concludes Narada.

Happy Maha Shivaratri!

Peer-to-peer learning: An instance from the Ramacharitamanasa

According to the Ramacharitamanasa, when Garuda (eagle; Vishnu’s vehicle) helped Lord Rama in His divine play on earth by untying Him from a mystical weapon, he got doubtful about the divinity of Rama. He kept pondering that if Rama were the Absolute, why would He ever need any help from him. On seeing no end to this confusion, Garuda eventually reached Lord Shiva for help. All Shiva had to do was explain to him that Rama is the Absolute Reality and Rama’s maya is responsible for such divine plays. And Who could have been a better guru than Shiva – the Only One Who knows Rama. But in stead of resolving Garuda’s problem, Shiva prescribed a “long term satsang” with another bird named Kakbhushundi for the reason that “a bird can understand only what a bird says.”

This is an example where Shiva promotes peer-to-peer interaction in learning and clearance of doubts. We have better chances of learning from people we have faith in and who resemble us. In line with this logic, a saint understands what a saint says and entrepreneurs understand what their corporate community says. When we see people like ourselves, we open our mind to receiving data from them. The similarity of our experiences in a peer group can also enable better connectivity and information exchange between the ‘preacher’ and the ‘learner.’ This may also explain why Shiva rarely initiates us into spirituality Himself, but sends us to another human guru so that we can reach Him.

Lord Shiva: The Benevolent One

In his Vinay Patrika, Tulasidasa eulogizes Lord Shiva, the Lord of all, in a very distinctive tone. Basically, Lord Brahma, who authors everyone’s destiny, visits Shiva’s abode and offers his resignation to Goddess Parvati. He complaints that Shiva keeps playing with the karmic law to bestow boons upon His devotees. As a result of Shiva’s habit to grant, Brahma believes that he is forced to create heavens for individuals whose destiny does not allow delight for even a moment. Because Brahma cannot take it any more, he concludes, “Could you please authorize someone else to write destiny? I would rather live by alms.”

The unparalleled kindness of Lord Shiva is reiterated everywhere in the Epics and Puranas. In the Ramayana, in spite being Lord Rama’s Personal God and devotee as well, He grants boons to Ravana, who symbolizes evil. In the Mahabharata, while showering His love on Arjuna, who is struggling for being righteous, He does offer a boon to Jayadratha that is responsible for the demise of Arjuna’s son in the war. Numerous mythological events of this category echo why fathering the universe is difficult. Just because some of His kids could not turn out to be righteous, Shiva does not entirely turn down their prayers. Nonetheless, He always ensures the eventual victory of dharma through His manifestation as Vishnu.