Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 6:15 AM
The cosmos revolved around Mount Mandara. On its peak sat Shiva in serene meditation, unconcerned with the world, transcending samsara.
In his hand was Brahma's skull, serving as his drinking-bowl. With it he confronted the world, the body and the mind, with its mortality. He was Kapalin, the skull-bearer.
Shiva was glad to be out of the cycle of life.
Brahma was not.
"If every creature on earth renounces the world like Shiva, the universe will cease to exist. This must be stopped. But how? " Brahma turned to Vishnu, the cosmic savior, for help.
"We must get him a wife," replied Vishnu, "One who will bring him back into the ways of the world.
"For the survival of society the quest for moksha, spiritual liberation, must be supplemented with the fulfillment of dharma, material duty.
"The path of restraint, yoga must be balanced with the delights of pleasure, bhoga. Together, Shiva with his consort will generate the middle path between participation, bhukti and renunciation, mukti."
Suddenly the antagonism between Brahma and Shiva became clear to the gods Brahma was rajasic, active and energetic while Shiva was tamasic, passive and inert. What Brahma created srishthi, Shiva destroyed, samhara what Shiva destroyed, Brahma recreated. The two justified each other's existence. While Brahma was passionately involved in the creation of the world, Shiva was equally dispassionate about it, preferring to transcend its wiles and become an ascetic. Now that he had, it was time to recreate the cosmic tension by seducing him back into the ways of the world.
Between Shiva and Brahma stood Vishnu, the cosmic savior, always ensuring survival of the prevailing order, sthithi. He was totally sattvic, constantly trying to create a balance between the aggressiveness of the creator and the aggressiveness of the destroyer.
"But where will we find a woman who will match Shiva in spirit and strength?" wondered Brahma. "I have already found one the mother-goddess herself," said Vishnu.
"Yes, yes. Who better than her! She is the personification of prakriti, embodiment of Nature's elements and energies. But will she agree?"
"She already has ... look, she has already taken birth in the house of the prajapati Daksha as his youngest daughter, Sati."
Daksha, the prajapati, was the master of civilization, samaj. He formulated the rules of society and ensured the survival of the traditional order. His daughters were wives of the gods and their children had gone on to populate the whole world.
His youngest child, Sati, was something very special, a manifestation of the mother-goddess herself. She would make the perfect wife for Shiva, thought Vishnu. Brahma agreed.
But there was one problem Daksha himself.
Prajapati Daksha never liked Shiva. Shiva was Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society. He refused to conform to the ways of the world. As guardian of civilization, Daksha found that subversive.
"Shiva wanders in cremation grounds with a rowdy bunch of renegades consuming intoxicants that are forbidden in decent society. He sings and dances wherever he wants to, with little heed to decorum and protocol. He has no home, no possessions, no family, no vocation; he is a no good drifter, ritually impure, unsuitable for any of my daughters, especially Sati," he said.
These were of course excuses. There was a very simple reason why Daksha couldn't stand Shiva: Shiva refused to indulge Daksha's ego.
Daksha made the laws, defined codes of conduct, formulated the rules of society. He naturally considered himself to be someone special, someone more important than others. He expected everyone to bow before him. Shiva refused. He refused to indulge any social rules that promoted pomposity in the name of respect.
Above the bowed heads of the gods, Daksha saw Shiva. "He does not respect me; nor does he disrespect me. It is as if I don't exist, that I don't matter!" thought Daksha.
Chandra, the moon-god, had married twenty seven of Daksha's daughters the nakshatras, lunar asterisms. But he preferred only one of them, the charming Rohini. He ignored the rest, angering Daksha who cursed him, "May your radiant body, of which you are so proud, wither away and disappear."
As the curse took effect, Chandra became weak and dim. With each passing day his lustre waned. Terrified, he went to the gods seeking a cure. But there was none forthcoming. Vishnu suggested, "Go to Shiva. He is Somnath, keeper of the sacred herb soma that might cure you."
Sure enough Vaidyanath, the supreme physician, helped restore his lustre.
But in time Daksha's accursed disease returned, once again gnawing into Chandra's flesh. The moon-god ran to Shiva for help and again sought the magical soma. Even this cure was followed by a relapse. This went on for some time curse followed by cure followed by curse. Daksha's terrible malady wouldn't go away. Finally Shiva said, "Come and stay within the locks of my hair. Here you will find all the soma you need. Each time the disease troubles you, you can rejuvenate yourself with my grace."
Shiva's blessing went against Daksha's curse. While Daksha caused the moon to wane, Shiva by placing the moon on his head helped it to wax again. Shiva, the saviour of the moon, came to be known as Chandrashekhara. Thanks to him, moonlight came to be filled with the magic of soma and the moon came to be known as Soma.
Daksha considered Shiva's action an insult to his authority. He definitely did not want this maverick for a son-in-law.
But the matter was out of his hands. Sati was already in love with Shiva and had made up her mind to marry him.
"How can I marry her?" cried Shiva, when Vishnu made the suggestion. "I have renounced the world," he said. But he could not ignore the intensity of Sati's love for him.
The prajapati's daughter had abandoned the pleasures of society to be with him. She lived like a hermit, alone, deep in the forest, surviving on fruits and roots, performing terrible austerities, tapas, demanding an audience with the hermit-lord.
"Why do you want to marry me?" Shiva asked her.
"Because you are incomplete without me and I am incomplete without you."
"But I have nothing to offer you?"
"I do not ask for anything, but you."
"I have neither property nor a lineage, kula, nor do I desire any."
"I accept you for what you are, not for what you have."
"I only observe society; I do not participate in it."
"I would like to observe it with you."
Sati's determination impressed Shiva. He accepted her as his wife.
Brahma and Vishnu rejoiced. The circle of life was complete as Shiva became yet another cog in the wheel of existence.
Only Daksha was unhappy.
Sati walked out of Daksha's palace. She followed Shiva wherever he went: over lonely hills, across desolate plains and dense forests, through cremation grounds. In Shiva's company she did not miss her father or his home or his society.
Shiva at first ignored Sati. He barely acknowledged her presence. Sati didn't mind. She followed him selflessly, content to be by his side. Her fortitude and patience, her serene determination to be his consort, her giving nature and radiant personality everything about her pleased Shiva. He fell in love.
Daksha meanwhile organized a great yagna.
Everyone was invited except Shiva.
"I think it is an oversight. Let's go anyway," said Sati.
"No Sati, don't be an uninvited guest."
"I will go to my father's house, with or without you, whether you like it or not," said Sati firmly.
Dressed in her finest robes with a garland of lotuses round her neck, Shiva's headstrong wife went to Daksha's yagna. She walked right into the sacrificial hall. Around the sacred fire sat all the gods, the sages, deities from every plane of existence. None rose to greet her. To her surprise, even her father did not seem particularly pleased to see her.
"You weren't invited. Why did you come? Have you had enough of your vagabond husband?" Daksha asked. His words hit Sati like poisoned barbs. The assembled gods and sages chose to ignore Daksha's remarks. Unlike them, Sati stood up for Shiva. "My husband is no vagabond. He is a yogi, aware of the ways of the cosmos."
Surprised by his daughter's retort, Daksha said, "If he is such a wise man, how come he does not know the basic rules of society. Look at the way he lives, the clothes he wears, the company he keeps."
"Society is an artificial creation of man. My lord is one with Nature, he is lord of the plants, lord of the beasts."
"Lord of the beasts! He is a beast himself: no home, no family, no decency, no decorum. I am ashamed to introduce him as my daughter's husband." The gods laughed. Sati wept.
Suddenly it all became clear; Sati realized that the sacrifice was an elaborate ritual aimed at insulting her lord. The humiliation was too much to bear. Death seemed a better alternative to the shame.
Sati sat on the ground, her mind fixed on Shiva. She controlled her breath and stoked her inner fire, prana-agni, until it consumed her.
The fire she created is the dreaded Jwala-mukhi that is now found in Himachal Pradesh.
News of Sati's death shocked Shiva. Then came the pain.
Shiva experienced the pangs of separation viraha, the anguish of loneliness. From that suffering, dukkha, came anger, krodha. With the anger came the monsters of fever: the germs that inflame the body and fill it with purulent fluids. Shiva became Jvareshvara, lord of fevers. His indignation contorted his features and turned him into the savage Virupaksha, the malignant-eyed.
Shiva plucked out his hair and lashed it on the ground to create the grim Virabhadra and the fierce Bhadrakali. "Go ravish the sacrifice violate the fire, poison the waters, pollute the air and kill the gods. They deprived me of Sati, let them be deprived of their lives," ordered Shiva.
Virabhadra picked up his trident and summoned an army, a cackling horde of ghosts, goblins, ghouls, genii, monsters, demons, dragons, freaks, fiends and spirits the ganas of Shiva. They marched towards Daksha's sacrificial halls cheered by the shrill cries of Bhadrakali.
Evil omens had begun to appear at Daksha's palace. Vultures circled above the sacrificial altar, wolves howled.
Fear arose in the very heart of the cosmos.
A hundred thousand rabid dogs rushed into Daksha's precinct carrying on their backs the monsters of fever. These fiends leapt on the gods and struck them with such fury that they all began to convulse and vomit blood.
Then with a virulent war-cry Virabhadra and his savage entourage descended on the scene. They wrecked the place: sacred vessels were kicked, tapestries were ripped and pavilions burnt.
As the gods took flight, the demons seized and massacred them all... Bhadrakali drank their blood.
The sage Bhrigu used his magical powers and tried to conjure up spirits who would save thesacrifice. But the spirits refused to emerge when they heard Bhadrakali howl. Those that did were dismembered by Shiva's gams.
Finally Bhadrakali dragged Daksha by his feet towards the fire-altar. Virabhadra raised his axe and beheaded the prajapati. The severed head was tossed into the flames.
Then, Virabhadra laughed and Bhadrakali danced. She used the heads of the gods as beads for her garland while he decorated his body with their entrails. The ganas joined in the gory revelry. The sacrificial hall was now claimed by Shiva. He became known as Hara, the ravisher.
With that, Shiva's fury subsided. Only the sorrow remained.
Shiva walked into Daksha's sacrificial hall and was confronted with the aftermath of the bloodbath a feast for wolves, vultures and vampires. He was filled with pity, karuna.
The survivors of the carnage fell at his feet and begged for mercy. He smiled. Instantly a fragrant breeze swept across the scene. The fevers subsided. The dead gods arose as if waking from a deep slumber. Their wounds had healed, the broken bones had been mended, the missing limbs restored.
Shiva found Daksha's headless body and brought it back to life, replacing his head with that of a goat.
Shiva then gave him the city of Bhogya, "This is a city of uninhibited pleasure. I created it for Sati. Here I indulged in every pleasure imaginable and became a bhogi. But now Sati is no more. I have no use for Bhogya. I gift it to you."
Daksha was overwhelmed by Shiva's generosity. The goat headed prajapati began to sing Shiva's praises. "You are Shankar, the benevolent one, a kind god," he said. Daksha completed his sacrifice. This time he gave Shiva his rightful share. Shiva ceased being a rejected god, an outsider. He was accepted, adored, held in awe. He became part of the celestial pantheon.
Only Sati was dead.
Shiva picked up Sati's lifeless body and walked out of the sacrificial hall. He could not bring himself to cremate it. The body was all that he had to remind him of his beloved. He refused to part with it.
Distraught, he wandered across the cosmos with Sati's corpse in his arms, tears rolling down his cheeks. His ganas followed him silently, not knowing how to console their lord. His mournful cry rent the galaxies and stunned the gods. "This must stop," said Brahma, "Otherwise the whole cosmos will be submerged by Shiva's agony."
Vishnu raised his finger to spin his mighty discus, sudarshan chakra, and let it fly. Its sharp edges ripped Sati's corpse into 108 pieces. These fell in different parts of Jambudvipa, the rose apple continent of India, and became shaktipithas, the shrines of Sati.
With the body gone, there was nothing left to remind Shiva of Sati, except memories. And memories fade.
Sati had taught Shiva all about pleasure, Kama. Her departure had taught him about anger, krodha. Together Kama-krodha trap man in samsara.
Shiva had had enough of life. He isolated himself in the icy caves of the Himalayas. He became a recluse once more.
The mother-goddess, embodiment of all matter, is never stable. She is constantly in a state of flux. Her death was just a transformation; Sati would return in another form. The gods knew that. Shiva did too.