Shiva – The Destroyer of Maya


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.

The Curse of the Eight Vasus

The eight vasus are the eight demi-gods Anala, Anila, Soma, Ahas, Dhara, Dhruva, Pratyoosha and Prabhasa. Together, they represent the very elements of the Mother Nature.

Once, the wife of Prabhasa persuaded her husband to get her a cow which actually belonged to Rishi Vashisht. Prabhasa was initially reluctant to ask for anything from a Brahmin but disarmed by the usual weakness of a man towards his wife, he agreed to steal the cow for her. With the help of his seven brothers, the eight vasus purloined away Vashisht’s cow for Prabhasa’s wife. Rishi Vashisht, through his ascetic powers, figured out that the stealth was an act of the vasus. He cursed the eight vasus to be born on earth as mortals and suffer the pain like all mortals do.

The eight vasus begged Rishi Vashisht for mercy, but as I mentioned here, a curse could not be taken back. It could, at best, be modified. Rishi Vashisht granted some relief to the seven vasus that their lifetime on earth would be short and after that they could ascend to paradise. But the eighth vasu, Prabhasa, who instigated the other seven to steal the cow out of his passion for his wife would suffer the pain of the account of all the seven vasus.

He who committed a crime out of desire for his wife will never know the pleasure of a woman. Even without a wife and sons, he will spend his entire life struggling to serve his household. And in the end he will die at the hands of a woman, for his desire for a woman made him turn vasus into criminals.

The Eight Vasus

The eight vasus then went to the Mother of all beings, Ganga to help them keep their stay on earth short. Ganga, who too was cursed by Brahma to suffer as a mortal on earth promised them that she would give them birth through her own womb and will drown them in the waters of Ganga to set them free from the curse the moment they would be born. Ganga drowned the seven vasus immediately on their birth, but Rishi Vashisht’s curse came true when she was about to drown Prabhasa and she was stopped by Shantanu. It was Prabhasa who grew up as Devavrata, later to be known as Bheeshma for his terrible oath, the oath that will be the cause of all his suffering and also, in a way, the cause of the Kurukshetra war.

Important Terminologies from Mahabharata

There are a few terminologies that appear as frequently in Mahabharata as cheer-leaders appear in the IPL matches. The only difference is that the terminologies mostly appear for a reason.

I hope knowing these terminologies would help in understanding the Epic more. Dissecting them, however, would not do much good. They can be highly confusing and unbelievably random but that’s true for most of our studies. Isn’t it?

1. Boon / Vardaan

A boon is a promise made by a higher party (a demi-god, rishi or a parent) that grants the receiver a certain power or some kind of advantage. Sometimes the receivers achieve boons by the virtue of their devotion in the party and sometimes just because of their luck. Boons can be highly technical and may come with if-else conditions. Eg., Jaydrath receives a boon from Shiva that one day in a war he would be able to overpower the Pandavs IF Arjuna is away!

2. Curse / Shaap aka Shraap

Curses are the antonyms of boons. They are the most undesirable things or situations that one is bound to suffer mostly because of a mistake he made or a crime that he committed. Eg., Karna is cursed to die in the battlefield unarmed because he killed an innocent cow by mistake. Curses are highly technical too, can be modified and sometimes intelligent people use them to their advantage. Eg., Arjuna was cursed by Urvashi to become a eunuch for life but Indra’s intervention reduced the duration of that curse to ‘one’ year. Arjuna used this curse during the 13th year of his exile when he was required to conceal his identity.

3. The Law of Karma

This law is the actual source from which Newton derived the third law of motion. It simply states that for every action there is a consequence, either in this life or in the next. No person can escape the consequences of his action. An action taken today will yield a result one day and the person concerned will suffer its consequences. If he doesn’t, then his relatives or progeny does. But there is no escape.

4. Niyog

This was the concept of surrogate father which was much prevalent in those days. To ensure a continued and unharmed inheritance kings always desired sons. But some were not lucky enough to effectuate their desires into results. So they summoned higher mortals, and at times immortals, to make their wives conceive sons. Ideally, the chosen man was supposed to be of a higher stature and preferably a stranger who would have no emotional attachment or anything to do with the wife after the moment. The culture considered the husband and not the biological father to be the child’s actual father. It would require data analytic experts years to calculate how many characters in the Mahabharata were a result of Niyog.

5. Brahmastra

This was one of the most potent missiles, the weapon of Brahma, that the best warriors possessed. In Ramayana, Ram, Lakshman and Meghnadh are known to have possessed the Brahmastra. In Mahabharata, Krishna, Bheeshm, Dronacharya, Arjun and Ashwatthama possess it. The scarcity power comes from the fact that a warrior could receive it only from his guru through a mantra after displaying extremely profound learning of archery. If the guru did not find his student worthy, he chose not to give it to him and he could not attain it in any other way. Karna received the Brahmastra from Parshuram but the curse of Parshuram made him forget that mantra. The Brahmastra was close (or probably a little more intense) than the nuclear bomb of today and its use meant nothing but the destruction of the entire world hence it was never practically executed.

6. Pashupatastra

This was another terrific missile, the weapon of Shiva (Pashupati), that was possessed by a few great warriors. Meghnad, Bheeshm and Arjun are known to have possessed it but never practically used it. As opposed to the Brahmastra that destroyed the entire world, Pashupatastra could be focussed even to a needle point but possessed infinite energy to destroy that object within a fraction of a second.

7. Narayanastra:

This was the terrific weapon of Vishnu, with almost equal in impact as the Brahmastra but could also be customized to damage selected areas like the Pashupatastra could be. The major condition of using this weapon that it could be used only against someone who was violent. The weapon wouldn’t harm anyone who was calm. Meghnad and Ashwatthama are known to have possessed the Narayanastra.

8. Prayshchit / Pashchataap:

The English translation of these two words is “Penance”. It is the act of observing severe austerities or inflicting pain on oneself as an expression of repentance of a wrong-doing. Throughout the Mahabharata, there are many characters who underwent through this as a mistake they made. Eg., On discovering that the deer he killed in the forest were Rishi Kindam and his wife, Pandu left the throne of Hastinapur and went to the forest away from all luxuries for pryayshchit. It must me noted that it is a self-inflicted punishment and wasn’t imposed on anyone by the society. A person followed it out of guilt in order to punish himself for his own mistake.

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.