Shiva – The Destroyer of Maya

Shiva

Shiva – The Destroyer

The Hindu Mythology talks about three manifestations of the Almighty. Brahma – the Creator, Vishnu – the Preserver and Shiva – the Destroyer.

In the first place, it would appear that Creator and Preserver must be good and Destroyer must be bad. However, in India we worship the Preserver and the Destroyer but not the Creator. Confusing?

The confusion occurs because the notion of the world in our scriptures is very different and we are not much aware of it.

According to the scriptures, in the beginning only Narayan existed. From his navel emerged Brahma who was scared to be in a dark space. This feeling of insecurity generated fear in his mind and to materialize his significance he created the world. The world was, thus, not a result of divine grace but a result of Brahma’s desire. The world is thus considered Maya, or Illusion. It is this Illusion that Shiva ignores. He believes in the existence of soul and the power of tapasya so he rejects this materialistic world and thus metaphorically destroys it. Therefore he is called the Destroyer.

After he created the world, Brahma’s desire did not end but increased even more and he went to chase the Goddess Saraswati. She ran away from Brahma. She went to the East so Brahma emerged a head in the East. She went to the West so he propped a head in the West. She went behind him so he emerged a head at his back. She ran in the upward direction so he emerged a fifth head on the top.

Shiva got so disgusted by this utter display of desire by Brahma that he beheaded his fifth head. Thus the Destroyer destroyed the excessive desire of the one who created Maya. Therefore the Destroyer is worshipped and the Creator is not.

(Vishnu, the Preserver, recognizes that the world is an illusion and believes in the power of tapasya. But at the same time he understands the existence of Brahma’s desire and believes in preserving it as long as the desires are in limits. This concept of limited desire is called Dharma. A man who learns to control his desire and outgrow his fear walks on the path of Dharma. He who is overwhelmed by his fear and cannot control his desires steps on the path of Adharma. Vishnu creates this balance on Earth, therefore he is the Preserver. He watches it sportfully when Dharma is being followed and allows Brahma existence. When he sees Adharma overpowering Dharma, he takes an avatar and sets things right.)

To destroy, Shiva needs power therefore he is associated with the Goddess of power, Shakti. Throughout the epic Mahabharata, many characters worship Shiva to seek power in some form or the other. Amba worships Shiva to get a boon to kill Bheeshm. Arjuna worships Shiva during his exile to achieve deadly weapons to prepare for the Kurukshetra war. Jayadrath worships Shiva to obtain a boon of overpowering the four Pandavas (this is how he gets Abhimanyu killed).

It is also interesting to note that three people mentioned in the above example are obtaining power to avenge some kind of humiliation.

3. Pururava and Urvashi – A Tragic Love Story

Indian Cinema has, for long, been portraying obsessed lovers. Some of them possess an extra-ordinary verbal communication style (K-K-K-K-Kiran). Others possess supposedly cool hairstyles.¬†And some have a story where they leave the world for somebody and then that ‘somebody’ leaves¬†them. When you go back in time, you see the same happening in Mahabharata too and the victims such tragedies are mostly the kings. Would you really be that interested if it were to happen to a commoner anyway?!

Pururava was a young and handsome king. When I say young and handsome, it means that practicing warrior-skills, hunting and partying were his major hobbies. Administration of kingdom, for such kings, was usually the second priority. There are a very few examples of kings who were young and handsome and capable at the same time. Unfortunately, Pururava was not. And before he could make his transition from young and handsome to capable, something happened!

Once when he was out hunting in a forest, he came across the apsara (river-nymph) Urvashi. The sight of the scantily dressed apsara, who was a favourite even among the Devas, was definitely the most enthralling sight of Pururava’s youth.

With the confidence characteristic of kings and attitude characteristic of self-proclaimed handsome men, Pururava went to Urvashi and asked her out.

***

Pururava: The Almighty must have exhausted all his creativity in carving a beauty like you. What would it take of me to make you mine? I want you to marry me and be my queen.

Urvashi: No ordinary man can ask me out in this fashion. Your confidence and your flashy attire indicate that you are from the royal bloodline. But are you worthy enough for the beautiful creation of the Almighty like you just said?

Pururava: There is no feat in this world impossible for me to perform as long as I possess my bow and arrows. You can be sure about me.

Urvashi: I would rather marry a lover than a warrior. I don’t seek the power of your weapons, I only seek the power of your words. You will have to promise me that you will take care of my pet goats. They are very dear to me. Also, promise me that except for me you will never appear naked in front of anybody. If you are willing to make these two promises, I will marry you.

Pururava: I am a Kshatriya, to protect the helpless is my Dharma. Will I not protect your goats? I promise I will. And I will protect your second promise too. My Kshatriya instincts are not limited to people alone!

***

These promises were perhaps Urvashi’s ways of ensuring that her husband remains loyal to her concerns and never brings in a second wife that decreases her importance. Pururava didn’t think much before making the promises either. The Kshatriya factor often deluded the decision making powers of the kings. Anyway, they both got married and lived happily for some time, increasing the prospective candidates for the royal inheritance and inspiring stories that would be carved out later in Indian temples meant for selective visitors.

Indra, the original boss of apsaras, could not bear this long separation from the apple of his eye, Urvashi. He wanted her back at any cost, so he ordered the gandharvas to bring Urvashi back. The gandharvas stole the pet goats of Urvashi one day when Pururava was busy making love to her. Urvashi, on realizing that her goats had been stolen, requested Pururava to rescue them. He hurried out without bothering to cover himself keen to keep the first promise he made to his wife while forgetting the second one. At that moment, Indra launched a thunder in the sky causing a public display of the king’s private properties.

In spite of his best efforts, Pururava could not keep both his promises. Urvashi decided to leave Pururava the way he was, not continuing her stay with the husband king since the promises that were the basis of their marriage were broken.

Pururava and Urvashi

Pururava and Urvashi

The separation left Pururava devastated and he lost all sense. He isolated himself from his kingdom and became mad, not being able to rule the kingdom anymore. Had India had access to Italian Marble in those days, a Taj Mahal would have come into existence much before in Indian History than when it actually did. Pururava was replaced by one of his more capable sons.

The story of Pururava and Urvashi holds relevance for two major reasons in the Mahabharata:

1. Generations later, much like Pururava, Shantanu was also smitten by beautiful nymphs/ladies. First, it was Ganga to whom he made promises without giving any thought and then Satyavati, to whom he did not make any promises but somehow the situation was quite similar (wait for the related post).

2. When Arjuna visited Amravati during the exile, he was approached by Urvashi with amorous intents. He politely declined the tempting offer of the celestial beauty following the code of conduct of his civilization which ended in his being cursed by her.

Numerous incidents of previous generations keep on influencing the course of lives and decisions of characters throughout the Mahabharata.

Brahma Vishnu Mahesh

Brahma Vishnu Mahesh

Brahma Vishnu Mahesh

Hindu mythology talks about three manifestations of the Almighty. No, they are not Amar, Akbar and Anthony but Brahma – The Creator, Vishnu – The Preserver and Shiva – The Destroyer.

Hindu mythology does not see the world as the ultimate Truth. It sees the world as an illusion, created by Brahma to actualize his existence. Brahma, its creator, is thus considered the first father (Param – pitah). He appears as a priest and is associated with knowledge – Saraswati. On creating the world he gets so mesmerized by his creation that he follows it passionately, ignoring the ultimate Truth of soul but pursuing the possession of materialistic truth and believing only in his subjective world. Thus, Brahma is not worthy of worship according to Hindu mythology.

Shiva is the God who does not believe in illusions but seeks the soul that is the only Truth. Thus, he shuns the notion of the world, society, rules and culture. He prefers to stay alone on the icy mountains of Kailash, smeared with ash which is an indicator of what remains when everything destroys (soul), wearing a tiger-skin and is deep into meditation. Through the continuous Yoga of eons he becomes an infinite source of spiritual power – Tapa. He is thus a hermit, dressed like one and associated with power – Shakti. By ignoring Brahma’s creation, he thus destroys it and so he is called the Destroyer. He is worshiped by the hermits who renounce the world to seek the soul as well as by those who seek power.

Vishnu is the God who recognizes the illusion created by Brahma but at the same time recognizes and accepts the concept of soul of Shiva. However, he does not shun Brahma. He rather believes in uplifting him and making him realize the Truth of Soul. He thus becomes the Preserver of Brahma’s world as well as the endorser of Shiva’s soul. Hence, he’s known as the Preserver. He’s the God of the householders and stays in the boundaries of culture, dresses like people with family and is associated with wealth – Lakshmi, which is indispensable for running a household. He is worshiped by the priests, hermits and householders alike.

The three Gods are thus associated with the three Goddesses.

Brahma – Saraswati | Vishnu – Lakshmi | Shiva – Shakti

 Lakshmi Durga Saraswati

Lakshmi Durga Saraswati

The three Gods and three Goddesses appear in different forms, in different ways, at different places and at different times throughout the Mahabharata influencing the course of the story.