Shiva has many aspects, though the most popular representations are Nataraja, the cosmic dancer, and the lingam. Like a magician he engenders by his Maya the diversity of world-phenomena and in this aspect he is Mayavin. In a subtle sense he destroys and creates at the same time: he destroys a lower harmony to construct a higher one and in this aspect he is the symbol of consciousness, which abolishes a status quo to realise its transcendence on a superior plane.
Again, Shiva is Pasupati, guardian of souls whom he protects and goads on in the path of moksa. He is ascetic, Dhurjati, but the lover and husband of Parvati, the Divine Mother, at the same time. As ascetic, as Mahayogin, he reduced to ashes the god of love, Kama, who came to disturb his meditation. But he is the god of love, the beloved husband of Parvati, whom he holds in eternal embrace in the aspect of Ardhanarishvara. Kalidasa in the invocatory verse in his drama Malavikagnimitra celebrates this aspect of Shiva, saying, “Though in eternal union with your wife, O, Shiva, you are untouched by desire and hence foremost amongst yogins.”
It is in this aspect that we are going to study him in this article. Though an eternal yogin, he married Parvati in order to accomplish a world purpose — to give a commanding general to the army of gods to fight against the demons. Subramanya their son assumed the leadership of the gods. Burning Cupid, then accepting marriage and then again under the aspect of Ardhanarisvara giving to the world the glowing example of the supreme Advaitic position of Asparsa-Yoga — Shiva passes from negation to enjoyment and then again to negation demonstrating to the world thereby that the supreme Reality refuses itself to be contained either in the one or in the other; that is, one cannot attain Reality neither by enjoyment nor by negation as it transcends both.
Again, Shiva is the one with the third eye, Trilocana whose powerful flame burnt not only Kama, but also the god of death, Yama. As destroyer of Kama, his third eye symbolises his power of converting physical love into spiritual knowledge; as destroyer of Yama, he is conqueror of death, Mrityunjaya.
As Nataraja, Shiva is the master of rhythm and music. All dancers in India invoke his benediction before beginning the performance. Shiva is also the divine author of the Sanskrit grammar. According to a tradition, when he played on his damaru the first rules of Sanskrit grammar flowed out in the form of aphorisms. Panini, the first grammarian, in summing up his first aphorism says: “Thus the aphorisms came from Shiva.”
In studying the being and acts of Shiva, we shall follow the four modes of expression of the Trinity.
First mode of expression
The first of the four is the act of God of which the continuity of the world as a theatre of values is the proof. We take two acts of Shiva to support this thesis: one, the drinking of the poison to save the world and two, the receiving of the river Ganga on his head. Ganga was first in the heavens and, when she was to come down, nobody could bear the impact of her torrents except Shiva. He received her on his head and from there she flowed down to the earth. How much Ganga contributed to India’s material and spiritual welfare cannot be exaggerated; it is a matter of history.
Shiva’s drinking poison and surviving it brings us the picture of God who accepts the sufferings of the world, but refuses to be crucified by it. It is one thing to allow, in an attitude of abandon, events and political forces to gain dominance and finally to take form as an act of immolation, which is survived by the incarnation’s love and supreme pardon. It is quite another thing not to allow nature to gain dominance over God or incarnation, but to see beforehand the catastrophe and take the ‘poison’ of nature, i.e., the nature of things, on himself. In Christ, we see nature and man taking their worst turn and Christ accepting to be crucified; but his love and pardon surviving with great force. In the act of Shiva, we see God not allowing nature to take her turn, but accepting the worst in the beginning to change its course.
The descent of the Ganga as well as Shiva’s intervention in it is a marvellous story that explains how human effort combined with grace can change human destiny, not of an individual, but of thousands.
The line of Kings belonging to Raghu, that is Rama’s lineage, long before Rama was born, came under a malediction and all the princes were reduced to ashes. There was a way out—a very difficult way— that if the Ganga were to come down and her waters were to touch these ashes, they would come back to life. One prince in the royal line whose name was Bhagiratha, coming to know of this curse on his ancestors and the way for redemption, wanted to work for their salvation. On coming to know that Shiva alone of the gods could receive the Ganga on his head, Bhagiratha meditated and worshipped Shiva for hundreds of years and finally his wish was granted. So Ganga came down with all her torrents of powerful waters and Shiva received her on his head and from him flowed down Ganga to the spot where was piled up in a mountain the bones of those princes under curse. Prince Bhagiratha was waiting for her arrival by the side of the bones of his ancestors. He waited and waited and the waters did not arrive. So he went in search tracing the line by which the river probably could have taken to flow down from Shiva in the Himalayas. The prince came to a forest where traces of floods were, but no water. He was told that a great sage meditating in the centre of the forest knew of what had happened. The prince went before the sage and as the sage was in meditation with closed eyes there was no question of putting questions to him. He prayed by his side and the sage, knowing the prince’s request, opened his eyes and asked him what he could do for him. It had happened in the following way: Ganga had come with all force and had flooded the forest, thus immersing the sage’s pedestal of meditation and was threatening to wash him off. The sage then opened his eyes and took the waters by a twist of his hands and drank the whole of the river thus making conditions favourable again for his meditation. Now the prince was to get the water out of the sage’s body. So he prayed to the sage for that. The sage put his finger in his ears and took out a drop of water and threw it, and off flowed in torrents again the Ganga, the sacred goddess, made more sacred by the contact of the sage’s body!
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News & Notes from Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission
Reminiscences of Sargachhi
(Continued from previous issue. . .) Swami Premeshananda (1884 – 1967) was a disciple of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. For over two decades he lived at Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Sargachhi, West Bengal. Under his inspiration countless people led a life of spirituality and service, and many young men and women entered into monastic life. His conversations – translated from Bengali and presented below – were noted by his attendant who is now Srimat Swami Suhitananda Ji, one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order.
The Three Gunas
Under the spell of God’s maya man forgets his true nature. He forgets that he is heir to the infinite glories of his Father. This divine maya is made up of three gunas.
The Story of Periaazhvaar
Srimat Swami Tapasyananda Ji (1904 – 1991) was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. His deeply convincing answers to devotees’ questions raised in spiritual retreats and in personal letters have been published in book form as Spiritual Quest: Questions & Answers. Pariprasna is a selection from this book.
This is the ninth story in the series on devotees who had a role in the divine play of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna.
Naren Worships Mother Ganga
A fictional narrative based on incidents from the childhood of Swami Vivekananda.
The Katha Upanishad states, “Arise, awake, and learn by approaching the excellent ones. The wise ones describe that path to be as impassable as a razor’s edge, which when sharpened, is difficult to tread.”1
Swami Shivananda: A Living Light
(Continued from the previous issue...) In this article, Swami Shraddhanandaji reminiscences about his interaction with Swami Shivananda, one of the direct-disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and the 2nd President of the Ramakrishna Order. From 1957, Shraddhanandaji served in the American centres of San Francisco and Sacramento until his mahasamadhi in July 1996. This article was sent to The Vedanta Kesari by Lali Maly, a devotee of Vedanta Society of Sacramento, USA.
Shiva: Interval Between Enjoyment And Its Negation
Swami Nityabodhanandaji was a disciple of Swami Shivanandaji, the second President of the Ramakrishna Order. He was editor of The Vedanta Kesari, from 1942-1948 and later for three decades he was the head of Geneva centre of the Ramakrishna Order in Switzerland. This article is reproduced from the March 1968 issue of Prabuddha Bharata.