Imagine there’s fire everywhere. Everything’s burning. In this chaos and destruction, there’s only one person who is able to rescue the trapped. He’s badass and brave. The filmy-geek in you is already playing a western rock background music in your head, and lo! His mighty silhouette appears in the smoke. It’s so compelling that the fire is now irrelevant and a sense of safety and relief is instilled in you.
He’s probably the only deity that has the capability to make a filmy entrance at any given time in his natural form. that’s probably one of the many ways we see Shiva, quite literally one of the most unique deities to have ever been worshipped. Shiva!
Nataraja, Kalabhairava, Shankar, Mahadeva, Rudra or Dhakshinamoorthy, Shiva is associated with many names and each name evokes a completely different emotion in us, unlike other god figures which have a set perception.
Hence it begs the question, who is Shiva? Or what is Shiva? and more importantly why Shiva? We shall try to arrive at an answer through this article
Side note – We won’t be getting into much about the stories (that depict Lord Shiva’s appearance). You can read them here.
As a part of Trinity
Even if you know the least about Hindutva, you’ll know that the three principal deities that constitute Hindutva are the Trimurti or the holy trinity. They are constituted by Brahma the creator, Vishnu the organizer/administrator, and Shiva the destroyer.
The Aswatha Vruksha Stotram or peepal tree chant accounts thus of them in its very first verse as follows,
This verse takes a tree, in this case, a Peepal tree (also called as Bodhi Tree) as a metaphor for life, hence it compares the stages of life with the Trimurti as it grows.
The मूल or the roots as Brahma for it is responsible for the creation of the plant i.e. its life is caused due to life, implying creation.
Then the trunk of the tree or the मध्य is called Vishnu because he is supposed to be the administrator, the way this works is that the growth of the tree in the direction of the sun i.e. life is administered by Vishnu.
The fire of life drawn from the roots travels through the Stem and finally culminates in the Top, in the form of branches the mini administrators, the leaves, the flowers, the fruits, and its seeds, seeking Laya (balance) with the Prakruti (nature). The act of bringing balance to life is the responsibility of Shiva, hence he is called लयकारक (layakāraka)!
Side note – It is for this very reason that the Peepal (Sacred fig) tree is called the king of trees or वृक्षराज (vṛkṣarāja)!
As a part of you..
This idea is quite conveniently placed in the Taittariya Upanishad in its Namaka Stotram’s Laghunyasa as follows,
सर्वेष्वङ्गेषु सर्वा देवता यथास्थानं तिष्ठन्तु । (sarveṣvaṅgeṣu sarvā devatā yathāsthānaṃ tiṣṭhantu)
i.e. Each god in a human being occupies a certain organ in our body as follows. Observe how Shiva is placed,
हस्तयोर्हरस्तिष्ठतु । (hastayorharastiṣṭhatu)
i.e. Hara/ Shiva resides in your hands. For the hands perform any task human.
हृदये शिवस्तिष्ठतु । (hṛdaye śivastiṣṭhatu)
i.e. Shiva (the purest one of all) resides in your heart.
शिरसि महादेवस्तिष्ठतु । (śirasi mahādevastiṣṭhatu ।)
i.e. In your head and hence mind Mahadeva/ Shiva resides.
Note how Shiva is positioned in organs most responsible for human activities (Karma)!
Hence Acharya Shankara rightly proclaims “शिवोहम्” or I AM SHIVA.
Shiva – the closest divinity to humanity
Let us tell you how –
first he is
The king of expression
Shiva dances flamboyantly and gracefully and yet somehow appear completely normal given the situation. ahh! NATARAJA he is. The king of expression. All these expressions of Shiva’s character as NATARAJA, Dakshinamurthy, Rudra etc are distributaries to a huge river called “Shiva- the Lord who is the closest divinity can get to humanity”.
Our Lord when angry can and has at times caused a destruction of the entire surrounding creation. His wrath is immeasurable. It has been proven time and again. He decapitated his own son because he didn’t allow him in his own home. He later gave him the head of an elephant and made him “Ganesha”.
During the churning of the ocean, he risks it all by offering to hold the extremely strong poison in his throat so that the churning could go about undeterred, the above two incidents are quite opposite to each other on an emotional graph.
Most forgiving god of them all
And at the same time, he’s also the most forgiving god of them all. He’s known to be the easiest god to please. He’ll appear before you even before Vishnu starts to observe you or Brahma takes notice. Remember Bhasmasura? The dude who easily won Shiva with simple penance and got the boon that’d kill anyone whose head he’d touch with his palm and then wanted to try it out on Shiva himself and the latter had to run to Vishnu for help who later had to turn into Mohini to kill Bhasmasura!
Many demons from yore have attained their strengths by simply penancing on Shiva. But all this doesn’t mean he’ll just give anyone whatever in the world they’d want. With Pippadala, the son of Dadhichi (Of Vajrayudha fame) wanted to avenge the supposed murder of his father, he requested Shiva to (again, according to one legend) open his third eye and destroy Amaravati (capital of heaven).
We are alike!
All this combined brings us here, observe all of the above-mentioned stories, we can’t help but notice the similarities between his lifestyle and ours. We’re equally eccentric. We’re both easy to please (human gets attracted to shiny objects and gets pleased by it easily.). We’re equally rugged. We too do patchwork (Go Green yo!) to protect our world.
What we’re trying to get at is, we find ourselves so similar to Shiva and thus chant “Shivoham” to sum it all up. This raises the question, aren’t we all in a way Shiva? Are we the fierce Kalabhairava and the ever calm Shankara and still find time to be the omniscient Dakshinamurthy? We are! We have!
The advancements from history stand proof, right from the Mahabharata to the World Wars, we have been pretty destructive and angry at each other. He has been Dakshinamurthy through people like Aryabhata, Buddha (yes! Yes! He is Vishnu’s incarnation, but on paper, he was a man who lived in the past) to most recently Ramanujan and Einstein. He has been Shankara through us common folk, who just want to mind our businesses and be about it. He’s been Layakaraka (grammatically and colloquially) through the likes of Ashoka, freedom fighters, and other peacemakers. He’s been ‘Rudra’ the destroyer by causing natural calamities and other events of destruction and has in ways brought balance to the system.
Celebrating Maha Shivratri
He’s taught us valuable lessons in life through his sometimes impulsive acts. To those atheists out there, assuming the non-existence of god, see around you, observe Shiva’s traits it’s a walking collection of everything so imperfectly perfect human traits that we humans read as psychology.
Hence “I am Shiva, so are you” hence “सर्वम् शिवमयम् ” i.e. everything is Shiva, is rightly used.
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