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Friday, July 18, 2008

Shiva: My Mystic Love

I was teased a lot in my late-teens by a couple of close friends who knew about my obsession with all things Shiva, the Hindu God. It is no secret that I craved and sought anything I could read up about Him at that time. I lived not too far from Kapaleeshwarar temple in Madras at that time and couldn't wait to go to the temple as many evenings as my young school life would permit.

Now, I am not what typically passes for a religious fanatic. I respect and admire Hinduism and practice it willingly as a way of life. I am awed by the beauty of Sanskrit and am constantly trying to educate myself on both Hinduism as well as the language of the gods.

My first introduction to Shiva's tales (and other mythological tales) was through Amar Chitra Katha graphic books for children. I still have my old copy of ACK's Shiva Parvathi my dad gave me as a child - it is one of the books I packed with me when I came to the US for higher education ages ago. The art work was very typical in ACK books, not entirely to my liking, but, quite evocative and easily filling the young minds with suitably awe-inspiring images.

Anyway, years later, still in the path of Self Realization, and hopelessly lost, I decided to read my favorite tales but from a slightly more comprehensive and intellectual point of view. That's how I came to read Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy by Wolf Dieter Storl.

This is a well-researched book, even if by a non-Indian, and it doesn't attempt to ridicule or overly glorify Hindu mythology. The comparisons with various mythologies like Nordic, Greek and Roman, and even Zoroastrian and Celtic mythologies seems interesting.

However, for someone who grew up with an ardent love for all things Shiva, the similarities drawn between Shiva and gods of other cultures, and even going so far as to establish a proto-Shiva from which our image of Shiva came about seems a bit disturbing, even if the author's research has merit.

I never tire of reading my favorite tales of mythology. I love the idea that Vishnu slumbers on his snake bed of AdiSesha for the life of a universe, and when he wakes up, out of his navel comes a new Brahma, the Creator, sitting on a lovely lotus; Brahma's day is spent in creating all the life forms and letting the world evolve through the yugas (units of years/eons); at the end of each day in Brahma's life, when he sleeps, the world dissolves, only to be re-created again when he wakes up the next day; this way, Brahma carries on for a 100 years.

But, one day of Brahma's life lasts 4,320,000 human years!

This cycle goes on infinitely, with Brahma creating the virtual world we perceive and live as our realities, until everything collapses into Nothingness.

Anyway, this post is not about all the wonderful ponderings of sages from Vedic times, or even about the validity/absurdity of such ponderings. One chooses to believe what one wants, willingly setting aside the constraining and limiting logic enforced by our intellect.

This post was just to record two recent books I read on Shiva and was transported for the duration to a magical world (some might call it a simple fantasy world, but I choose to disagree) where logic and reasoning is pointless as long as one is willing to meditate on the glory of our existence.

One can certainly go about life without belief in God or anything mystical, and there is nothing wrong with that. I agree that belief in God is not a pre-requisite to leading a good life.

But, I love deep mysticism. I ponder on why we are here, who we are and what happens to us as we pass out of this world... and Hindu mythology that I grew up with gives me the ethereal images that kindle my passion for Self-Realization, to become one with the Universe and its Creator - for, the Universe cannot exist independent of its Creator, however we choose to conceive the Creator in our minds.

Moving on, I mentioned two books I read recently, one of which being Storl's book on Shiva. The other fascinated me with its bold and innovative style of graphics and story-telling, more along the lines of comic books or graphic novels aimed at adult audience: The Book of Shiva by Deepak Chopra, edited by Virgin Comics.

This graphic book tells short stories graphically of Shiva, Kali, Uma, Indra, and Ganesha, not as complete tales of mythology, but as a means of understanding our own existence. The perspective is sometimes that of an equitable narrator, and sometimes that of the Gods themselves. The stories don't make complete sense in terms of having a beginning, some adventure, and an end. In fact, knowing the subject, there can be no beginning or end for such a tale, so, the book attempts to evoke a sense of understanding through powerful graphics and crisp and concise writing.

However, I do love to read the story of Sati and Shiva, Shiva receiving Ganga on his head, Meenakshi-Sundareswarar's wedding, Shiva marrying Parvati, the story of how Parvati created Ganesha from her skin and dirt, how Shiva inadvertently cloned Karttikeya to battle Tarakasura, how Shiva burnt Kama the God of Love to ashes, how Shiva drank the halahala poison to get his blue neck... it is endless, I mean, they are all intertwined and I haven't even touched on Vishnu and Shiva together.

And now, I love telling all these stories to Ana. So far, she loves Hanuman and Krishna stories I have told her. I have just started Shiva and Parvati tales for her. To continue the tradition, I started with Amar Chitra Katha books for her.

At first I was a bit apprehensive about letting Ana look at the artwork in the powerfully visual book authored by Deepak Chopra. But, Ana took to it easily and wanted me to tell her all about Kali! I, of course, watered it down and 'babied' it a bit for her and tried not to dwell on the gory images except to express how angry Kali devours evil monsters and finally calms down and becomes Uma, the loving all-mother at the request of Shiva.

Well, there it is: The Book of Shiva by Deepak Chopra and Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy by Wolf Dieter Storl, two books that temporarily slaked my spiritual thirst.

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Blogger Dale said...

Oh, how lovely, that you're passing the tradition down and in such a nuanced, understanding way! I think it's such a shame when people abandon a living tradition because its cosmology doesn't square with the cosmology of modern science. The value of a cosmology lies in what you can do with it. Science enables you to manipulate the physical universe, but Hinduism (or any religious tradition in full flower) allows you to understand the spirit and the heart.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Sheela said...

Dale, you said it!

9:21 PM  

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