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[Blog] The Legacy of Lord Shiva: From shared beliefs to collective memory

[Blog] By Dr Shubhankar Mishra, Deputy Secretary General at the World Hindi Secretariat in Mauritius.


Mythology and history have always been significant in our lives, capturing our imaginations and inspiring us in many ways. As children, we were fascinated by stories of powerful gods and goddesses with incredible abilities drawn from sources such as Hindu and Greek mythologies. However, studying history in school often felt monotonous and uninspiring as we were expected to memorize tedious facts and dates. Despite their differences, mythology and history offer invaluable life lessons that are essential to our growth and development. The American science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once said, "A generation that ignores history has no past and no future." Therefore, it is essential that we recognize the importance of mythology and history in our lives and pay attention to their valuable lessons.

Lord Shiva and Shaivism as a way of worship

There are many extensive works written in Sanskrit that can provide valuable insights and knowledge about Lord Shiva and Shaivism, a tradition that worships Shiva. The 'Shiva Purana' and Kalidasa's 'Kumarasambhavam' are two must-reads, among others for anyone, who wants to deepen their understanding of Hinduism. The 'Shiva Purana' offers reliable insights into Lord Shiva, Shaivism, and the cosmos. On the other hand, 'Kumarasambhavam', the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa's masterpiece, emphasizes the significance of Lord Shiva's son Kumara (Kartikeya).

Versatility of Shiva and Parvati

The legend of Lord Shiva has been a powerful source of inspiration for generations, and its historical significance has been thoroughly documented in a multitude of texts throughout history. The tale of Lord Shiva has left an indelible mark on humanity, and its impact is undeniable.

Lord Shiva's wisdom is an invaluable source of knowledge and insight that has been revered for generations. His teachings embody the ideal of self-creation and have been a guiding light for countless individuals throughout history. Traditional beliefs hold that Shiva is the origin of Vedic and tantric knowledge, making him a powerful symbol of wisdom. In Tamil temples, he appears as ‘Dakshinamurti’, an educator who imparts wisdom to sages while seated under a banyan tree facing south. Shiva's timeless wisdom has been a source of enlightenment and guidance for generations, making him an iconic figure of wisdom that continues to inspire and influence people to this day.

Shiva and Parvati are two of the most important deities in Hinduism. Various names, such as Shambhu, Shankara, Mahesha, and Mahadeva, characterize Shiva. He has multiple forms, each unique and inspiring; for example, in one form, he appears serene with his wife, Parvati. In another form, he manifests as the cosmic dancer Nataraja, symbolizing the universe's eternal cycle of creation and destruction. At times, he is depicted as a naked ascetic, a beggar, a yogi, or even the androgynous union of Shiva and Parvati in a single body, half-male and half-female, i.e. ‘Ardhanarishwar’ in Sanskrit.

On the other hand, Parvati, the beloved consort of Shiva, also embodies many forms, including Uma, Sati, Parvati, Durga, and Kali, and is sometimes paired with Shakti, the embodiment of power. Goddess Parvati has ten divine forms, also known as ‘Dashamahavidyas’. Kali is the first of these goddesses and controls time. Tara is the second and created the embryo from which the universe evolved in the form of a cosmic egg. Parvati also took on other forms, such as the dark, demon-fighting goddess Kali and Gauri, the goddess of life. After settling down with Shiva and having kids, she took on the form of Ambika, the goddess of marriage and family. The divine couple with his sons and their trusty vehicle, the bull Nandi, are believed to reside on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas.

Exploring the Majesty of Lord Shiva in Literature

In the rich Indian literature and scriptures, there's a tale of Parvati, who was born as a maiden of the mountain and set her sights on winning over the mighty god Shiva. Despite her tireless efforts, Shiva paid no attention to her. Meanwhile, the gods were suffering at the hands of an invincible demon, and they sought the help of the supreme god. The god declared that the son of Shiva and Parvati would be the one to save them. The gods sent Kama, the god of love, to unite the two. However, Kama's charm only agitated Shiva, who turned him to ashes.
But Parvati did not lose hope and redoubled her efforts to win over Shiva. One day, a young hermit approached her and criticized her for wasting her efforts on the uncouth Shiva. However, Parvati stood her ground and proved that the hermit was, in fact, Shiva in disguise. She convinced him to approach the elders, and Shiva and Parvati were finally united in holy matrimony. This led to the most beautiful scene in the universe - the marriage of Shiv and Shakti. 

This story demonstrates the power of persistence, determination, and love, proving that no obstacle is insurmountable when these virtues are embraced with conviction.

The deities Parvati and Shiva are well-known for their versatility and diverse representations in Indian art and culture. The ‘Nataraja’ is the first representation of Shiva in Indian art, which portrays him with a crescent moon on his head, a damaru in one hand, and a trident in the other. He wears a serpent around his neck and rides on the bull Nandi. Each of these objects has a specific symbolic meaning. The crescent moon on Shiva's head represents his mind, the damru symbolizes the universe's constant expansion and contraction, and the serpent around his neck signifies awareness. The trident represents the three states of consciousness and the three gunas. The holy river Ganga flowing from Shiva's hair signifies knowledge, and his third eye represents the importance of balancing desire and transcendence.

Discovering History:  The Legacy of Lord Shiva

Unravelling the history and mythology of ancient civilizations can be a fascinating and mind-opening experience. The Pashupati seal, also known as the Mahayogi or Proto-Śiva seal, is a remarkable artefact that was discovered in Mohenjo-Daro, a significant urban site of the Indus Valley civilization, now in Pakistan, during excavations carried out in 1928-29, when the region was under British rule. The seal portrays a man in a yogic posture, surrounded by wild animals, wearing horns on his head and bangles on his hands. This groundbreaking discovery has generated much interest among historians and archaeologists, promising to shed light on India's captivating ancient history and mythology, providing valuable insights into our past. It is widely believed that history is often intertwined with mythology, and this seal stands as a testament to the incredible stories passed down through generations.

Famous Temples of Lord Shiva: India and Abroad

Temples are found everywhere in India; the same goes for Mauritius, where these can be seen at the entrance of almost every house. India has an impressive number of temples, estimated at around 649,000, spread throughout the country, which are of immense architectural value. Tamil Nadu holds the distinction of being the ‘temple state’ with the highest number of temples in India, closely followed by Maharashtra. These temples are a true testament to India's rich cultural heritage and serve as a source of inspiration for architects and design enthusiasts worldwide.

The prominent 12 Jyotirlinga temples are located throughout India, from north to south and east to west, and are worth visiting to experience the divine energy of Lord Shiva. These temples include Somnath in Gir, Gujarat, and Mallikarjuna in Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh. Other temples are Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh; Omkareshwar in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh; Baidyanath Dham in Deoghar, Jharkhand, Bhima Shankar in Maharashtra, Ramanathaswamy in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu, Nageshwar in Dwarka, Gujarat, Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Trimbakeshwar in Nasik, Maharashtra, Kedarnath in Rudra Prayag, Uttarakhand, and Grishneshwar in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. One cannot miss visiting these temples, if one genuinely wants to explore and experience the spiritual richness of India's Hindu culture and heritage.

There are various renowned temples worldwide that are devoted to Lord Shiva, including the Sagar Shiv Temple in Mauritius, the Katas Raj Temples in Pakistan, the Shiva Temple in Muscat, Oman, the Shiva Shakti temple in Moscow, Russia, and the Prambanan Temple in Indonesia, among many others. Nepal's most famous Hindu temple is the Pashupatinath Temple, located on the banks of the Bagmati River on the outskirts of Kathmandu. This temple is dedicated to Shiva in his form as Pashupati, who is regarded as the protector of animals. The Pashupatinath Mandir in Nepal has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

Maha Shivaratri Celebrations: In India and Around the World

Maha Shivaratri is a festival dedicated to the veneration of Lord Shiva, one of the most esteemed deities in Hinduism. This festival has many legends and holds great significance for devotees. It is a time for devotees to reflect on themselves, show their devotion, and offer their reverence towards Lord Shiva.

As per Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva tied the knot with Maa Shakti (Parvati), his divine consort, on a particular night celebrated as 'The Maha Shivaratri - Night of Lord Shiva,' to commemorate their divine union. Lord Shiva represents mindfulness or Purusha, while Maa Parvati represents nature or Prakriti. The union of these two entities leads to creation.

According to one legend, Lord Shiva took on the form of Lord Rudra, with the grace of Lord Brahma, during the midnight of Maha Shivaratri, when the universe was being created. It is also believed that on this particular night, Lord Shiva performed his cosmic dance of creation, preservation, and destruction after hearing the news of his consort, Maa Sati's immolation. This celestial dance is known as Rudra Tandav among his worshippers. 

In another legend, Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva which day he liked the most, and Lord Shiva replied that it was the new moon day, which falls on the 14th day of Phalgun month. This news spread throughout the universe, and since then, Maha Shivaratri has been celebrated on this day.
Another interesting story from the 'Vishnu Puran' highlights Lord Shiva's supremacy. Although not directly related to Maha Shivaratri, the legend tells how Lord Shiva consumed a deadly poison called 'halahal-kaalkoot' to save the world during the Samudra Manthan. In this story, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean while the gods and demons churned a mountain for the immortal drink 'Amrit' (Nectar). The poison was so potent that it posed a threat to the world, and everyone was terrified. They all approached Lord Shiva for help, and to save the world, Shiva drank the poison. However, instead of swallowing it, he held it in his throat. As a result, his throat turned blue, and he got the name 'Nilakantha,' which means the one with a blue throat.

The festival of Maha Shivaratri is associated with timeless legends that offer valuable lessons even today. It serves as a reminder of the significance of self-sacrifice, devotion, and compassion. This festival is believed to bring the perfect companion and true love.
On this auspicious day, devotees offer flowers, sandalwood, and incense to Lord Shiva, one of the most revered deities in Hinduism. These offerings are believed to please the lord, who blesses his devotees with marital happiness and bliss.

Maha Shivaratri is celebrated not only in India but also in many countries worldwide. It is observed with equal reverence and enthusiasm. The festival has been celebrated in Mauritius for decades to honour Lord Shiva. In Mauritius, Ganga Talao comes alive with vibrant processions and activities. Devotees carry elaborately decorated Kanwar made of bamboo and colourful paper streamers to Ganga Talao during the festival. In 1972, the holy water from the Ganges River in India was poured into Ganga Talao to establish a symbolic connection between the two. According to legend, Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati landed on the island and formed the lake by dropping drops of sacred Ganges water.

Ganga Talao is now one of the most significant Hindu pilgrimages outside of India, and devotees worldwide revere it. The journey to Ganga Talao is arduous, but the pilgrims are undeterred. They fast and pray for forgiveness during the festival, a time of spiritual reflection and contemplation. The Kanwar are immersed in the lake's sacred waters to seek blessings from Lord Shiva. The tradition of carrying Kanwar is deeply rooted in Hindu mythology and is a beautiful way for devotees to express their love and respect for their god.

Similarly, In Nepal, the Pashupatinath Temple is one of the holiest shrines of Lord Shiva, where devotees offer prayers for marital happiness and bliss.

The Maha Shivaratri festival is celebrated by people from diverse communities, including Jains and Buddhists, who consider Lord Shiva an important spiritual figure.

Salutation to the Lord Shiva: Om Namah Shivaya

Maha Shivaratri is a beautiful festival that allows us to connect with our deepest selves and experience the blessings of Lord Shiva. It is an auspicious occasion for anyone seeking peace, harmony, and the perfect companion in life. Let us embrace the positive energy of Maha Shivaratri and allow it to instil a sense of strength and determination within us.

Shivāste Panthānah Santu! Om Namah Shivāya !!

May the divine grace of Lord Shiva and Parvati bless you with unwavering determination, resilience and courage to achieve your goals and overcome any challenges that come your way.

The author is an Indian government official currently serving as Deputy Secretary General at the World Hindi Secretariat in Mauritius. Prior to this, he held the position of Joint Director in the Ministry of Education, Government of India. He is an accomplished author of several books on language, culture, and education and a recipient of the prestigious 'Children's Book Trust' Prize of India. The views expressed are personal.


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