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Approach of Shiva

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 5:15 AM

Ardhanaranari, the cosmic being whose right side is masculine and left side is feminine; South Indian bronze Man and Woman

In the beginning, all was calm. Time and space did not exist. Neither did the gods. Nothing did.

Only Brahma, the creator, slept peacefully within his golden lotus, the hiranyagarbha. He was like a child in his mother's womb. Creation was yet to begin.

The lotus bloomed; Brahma awoke, ready to begin his work. He created the prajapatis, fathers of all creatures who would populate the world. "Go forth and multiply," Brahma told them. "How?" they asked.

How indeed? Brahma wasn't sure.

Suddenly he heard a divine voice: "You have just created the fathers; what about the mothers?" With that message came the image of the cosmic human being, containing the whole world within itself. It was Ardhanaranari its left half was a woman while its right half was a man.

Brahma realised his mistake; he had produced just one half of creation. The other half, the feminine side, had been totally ignored.

Shiva in contemplative mood, pondering over the mystical doctrine of yoga; Stone stele Brahma created the first woman. She was Ushas.

All the assembled prajapatis gazed at her. She was beautiful. Brahma's heart fluttered with excitement and there arose a dark youth with curly hair and a cheeky smile. "Who are you?" everyone asked.

"I am Kama, the lord of desire," he said shooting arrows dripping with love into the hearts of all the assembled men.

Birds and Beasts

Brahma wounded by Kama's love-dart, desired Ushas. He tried to grab her but she fled taking the form of a cow. Brahma chased Ushas in the shape of a bull. She then turned into a mare and ran faster. Brahma turned into a stallion. So it came to pass, Ushas became a goose flying in the air, a dolphin swimming in the sea, a mosquito, a crab, a lioness.., and each time Brahma turned into the corresponding male. Thus all animals of the world came to be, from the smallest insect to the largest mammal.

Finally in the shape of a doe, Ushas rose up into the heavens. Taking the form of a buck Brahma continued to follow her.

The prajapatis who witnessed all this were alarmed. The indiscipline displayed by the creator was unforgivable. It would wreck the whole cosmic order, dharma. "Somebody stop him," they cried. But who dared attack the cosmic father?

Suddenly from Brahma's own brow arose a being, terrible in appearance, wild in disposition. He was Rudra, the howler. With a menacing growl Rudra raised his bow and let loose his fiery missile that struck Brahma and pinned him onto the sky. Ushas was saved!

Ash smeared Shiva sitting in a cremation ground"Who are you?" asked the assembled fathers.

"I am Shiva," replied Rudra. Everybody recognised his voice: this Shiva was none other than Ardhanaranari, the man-woman image that had earlier inspired Brahma to create Ushas. They all bowed before Shiva, the bravest and wisest of the gods.

Brahma thanked Shiva for restraining him with his arrow. "As a sign of my gratitude, I make you Pashupati, the lord of beasts, he who controls our beastly passions."

And to endorse this position, Brahma gave Shiva a mighty bull, Nandi, to serve as his vehicle, vahana.

Shiva as Pashupati is worshipped in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Plants and Trees

Five headed Sadashiva with a garland of datum flowers around his neck and an elephant hide over his shoulder; North Indian MuralBrahma, restrained by Rudra's arrow, continued with creation; but this time with a difference. He worked with Ushas, as partner, not master. She now called herself Saraswati and gave Brahma the wisdom needed to create the cosmos.

Together they created every creature that wanders in the cosmos: gods, demons and humans, even ghosts and goblins.

Suddenly Brahma noticed that the beasts were becoming restless and violent. Some even moved menacingly towards the prajapatis. What was wrong?

"They're hungry," replied Saraswati, "They want food."

"Let them eat each other and survive," said Brahma.

A few of the animals, those with strong jaws and sharp claws, did just that.

The gentler beasts were at their mercy. They turned towards their lord, the Pashupati, for help. "Don't worry," he said, with a reassuring smile, "I will find something for you too."

Shiva meditated, and from the heat of his austerities, tapas, rose every herb, shrub, grass, creeper and tree imaginable. Shiva became lord of all vegetation, Vriksha-natha. The hungry animals ate the plants.

"And what will the plants live on?" asked Brahma.

"They will live on the five elements, the bhutas: earth, air, light, water and ether," replied Shiva, who came to be known as Bhuteshvar, master of the elements. 

Brahma  Death and Rebirth

Having satisfied their hunger, all creatures began to reproduce. Soon there were too many of them.

"I see the world filled with creatures who are eating and reproducing. They are doing nothing else. The cosmos is choked with life. Where did I go wrong?" wondered Brahma.

"You forgot to create Death," said Saraswati. "Entry into the world must be followed by an exit. That will give new life space to survive."

Brahma realised his mistake. He created Mrityu, a maiden, dark in colour, dressed in red robes.

"Go forth and kill all creatures. Stifle their breath and take away their life," he ordered her. Mrityu recoiled in horror. "Why should I do that?" she asked.

"Without death, life has no meaning," said Brahma. But Mrityu remained unsure. She ran away.

Shiva found Mrityu crying in a desolate place. He consoled her saying, "Fear not. I will see to it that all who die at your hands are reborn. Though a killer, you will still be a mother. Death will not be the end of life; it will be the gateway to a new one."

Mrityu became Mahakali, devouring all life. Shiva became Mahakala, the lord of time, the regenerator, transforming the sediments of destruction into the foundations for another creation. Life thus became a wheel, rotated by Shiva. It became the eternal cycle of births and rebirths, samsara. 

Brahma's Fifth Head

Shiva took a good look at the world created by Brahma: it was terrible.., he saw pain and suffering, death and disease; he saw frustrations, unhappiness, misery. He saw pettiness, viciousness and cruelty ... and had an occasional glimpse of pleasure that beguiled all creatures into going through one life before moving on to the next.

Shiva wept and from his tears came the rudraksha beads.

"What have you done, Brahma?" Shiva cried, tormented by the plight of the living, "You haven't created a world, you have created a tantalising mirage, maya, that ensnares man into an eternity of aspiration and frustration."

Brahma was in no mood to listen. Instead he sprouted four heads to survey all sides of his creation. He was quite proud of it, so proud in fact that he popped a fifth head to accommodate his pride.

The sight of an uncaring creator, the pompous five headed Brahma, infuriated Shiva. He became Bhairava, the furious one. With his sharp claws he attacked Brahma. "How dare you attack me?" yelled Brahma. "For this act of disrespect you will never be invited to any sacrifice or given any portion of the sacred offerings."

Kama, lord of desire, shooting flowery love-darts Unintimidated, Bhairava wrenched out Brahma's fifth head. Brahma howled in agony and begged for mercy, but there was none in Bhairava's glowering eyes. "Brahma, you have created this world filled with misery. You are unworthy of reverence. You shall never be worshipped. Few will bother to build temples for you or organise festivals to your glory."

And so it is that the cosmic creator is not worshipped in India except at two shrines: Pushkar in Rajasthan and Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu.

Brahma said, "I just created the world, not the misery. The world is neither beautiful nor ugly; neither joyful nor sorrowful; neither right nor wrong. It just is! The rest are just perceptions of the mind ..."

"But you created the mind too," interrupted Shiva.

"The mind can be deluded by perceptions or it can be enlightened by the truth.

Whose choice is it?" Whose choice? Who controlled the mind? The questions were interesting.

Shiva shooting BrahmaThe Theory of Yoga

Shiva, his hands smeared with Brahma's blood, his heart tainted with anger and sorrow, went to Avimukta, at Kashi. There he brooded over the questions that plagued his mind. He sought a way to control his mind, make it see the truth, beyond the veils of illusion. Only that would make sainsara bearable.

Finally he found the way. It was yoga: the means to yoke the individual's mind to the way of the cosmos.

Sages, gods and goblins, all who felt the frustrations of life and sought a release, moksha, from samsara rushed to learn the secret of yoga from Shiva.

Under a great banyan tree, seated on a tiger skin, facing the south, dakshin, Shiva revealed it all. He charged no fee, dakshina, and so his students called this great cosmic teacher Dakshinamurti.

"Know this," he said to his students, "there are two realities of existence, both eternal, both distinct. One is the purusha, the serene cosmic spirit that stands still, beyond the reach of time and space. Then there is prakriti, matter, the cosmic substance, source of time and space, always in a state of flux."

Shiva as Vrishabhanatha, lord of the bull, controller of beastly passions"What is born and reborn, what feels the pain and the pleasure is not the purusha, it is your body and your mind, your prakriti.”

You are reborn because you are attached to the world by your actions, your karma. Actions generate reactions that you are obliged to experience, if not in this lifetime then in the next.

"You cannot escape the material world as you are enchanted by the eternal transformations of prakriti. It makes you act, react. You do not see its true nature. You have lost touch with your purusha. 
"Yoga helps you see the world for what it is, clearly, wisely, dispassionately, uncoloured by opinions, emotions and perceptions. It raises your level of consciousness and gives you a more panoramic perspective. It gets rid of all delusions, ignorance, attachments and fear, kleshas that trap you within relative truths. Having done that, yoga stills the mind. It makes you serene, aware, and undisturbed by the turbulence of the world around.

"Only then will you trascend joys and sorrows, attractions and rejections, birth and death. Only then will you move towards perfect bliss, kaivalya, and find mukti, liberation, from the cycle of life."

Mrityu, dancing the dance of death while a new life crouches out from between her legs; Nepalese bronze The Practice of Yoga

Having explained the aim of yoga, Shiva elucidated the means to reach it: "Restrain all your interactions with the material world through the practice of yama: restrain yourself from violence, lies, greed, theft and sex. Discipline yourself with the practice of niyama: be pure, content, tolerant, observant and have faith.

Shiva then manipulated his body in 8,40,000 ways, each representing a different bird or beast. These postures, asanas, energised the body, revealing the pulsating animal instincts within, the ones that have to be brought under control. He also revealed the secret of breath-manipulation, pranayama, of controlling the movement of life-giving-energy, prana, enabling the mind to expand beyond the narrow confines of the body.

"Go into yourself, just as a turtle goes into its shell. Do not react or respond to the temptations and threats perceived by your five senses. This internalisation, pratyahara, will help you focus on your mind, its activities, its reflexes and responses, without external distractions.

"Then through concentration and meditation, dharana and dhyana, you will finally attain samadhi, the ability to be truly objective. You will rise beyond all subjectivity, both physical and mental. You will transcend material temptations and transformations. You will be a pure witness, one with the cosmic soul, purusha; you will simply observe the seductive performance of prakriti. 
Bhairava, Shiva in his fury with Head of Brahma
"And when that is done, you will be truly enlightened, aware of the eternal absolute laws that govern the cosmos, sanatana dharma. The creation and destruction of the body or the satisfaction and betrayal of the mind will cease to trouble your being."

The sages, gods and goblins, who sat around Shiva, rejoiced. Like him they became aware of the transience of all thoughts, all actions, all events; they detached themselves from the endless transformations of the world. They learned to let go. They found salvation, moksha.

The sage Patanjali compiled these profound teachings in a series of aphorisms known as the Yogasutra.


Having taught the essence of yoga, Shiva renounced the world. He detached himself from everything, even his body. Shiva walked out of society with a strip of tiger skin wrapped around his loins. Reptiles slithered across his limbs, dogs and ghosts followed him.

Ushas, the first woman He wandered in cremation grounds amidst the blazing pyres. Smearing his body with ash, Ithasina, he became Bhasmeshvara, the lord of ash. "Every joy, every sorrow, every birth, every death, every body, every mind, every event and every achievement, every god and every cosmos, will end up in its own furneral pyre. After every fire only ash will remain. Why then be excited, why then be frustrated? Let me just be, exist in eternal equanimity, vairagya."

Shiva moved around the world like a vagabond, unconscious of the way he looked or how he was perceived. He was at peace.

Shiva, Yogeshvara, the lord of yoga, the celestial ascetic, lost interest in worldly things. Neither reacting nor responding, he transcended the world around him.

Writer – Devdutt Pattanaik


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