In the flood waters,
dance with great abandon.
Keep your feet firmly on the ground
and while forgetting yourself----
just dance and let go
The above lines are translations of a ghazal (a form of poetry) by 19th century Indian poet Mirza Ghalib. Mirza Ghalib was a Muslim and like many poets from his religion were fascinated by the image of dancing Shiva. According to scholars of his poetry, the allusions to dancing Shiva in this ghazal are unmistakable.
A few months back while in Shivaliks, these lines kept on reverberating in my head. The sweet fragrance of the footsteps of Shiva and his consort Parvati permeates through all of these low-lying mountains forming outer edge of Himalayas. You cannot escape thinking about the their stories and philosophy. We visited the 15th century temple of Naina Devi (another name for Parvati) situated at the height of 3434 feet. After the temple visit, we stayed at Kandaghat Resort, situated at a height of 4667 above the sea level. The resort is breathtakingly beautiful. The glaring blue of the sky tirelessly untames the nature burdened by human activity. Shiva and Parvati temples enchant the whole cosmos of the area to no end.
Visiting these ancient places brought back the memory and desire of elemental quest, buried under life’s trials and tribulations. Visiting Shiva and Parvati’s stories in my head while walking on these mountains, rekindled that fire. During the long walks, the image of Shiva and Parvati playing chausar (a form of chess) with dice kept on flashing in front of me. The image implies that death is certain, but timing is not. I marvel at the thought process of Indian mystics. God of death himself is playing dice. The famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking once said “Not only does God play dice, but... he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen." The image teaches that the life is governed by laws of intolerable, permanent uncertainty. The image says leave your questions open and be prepared for unpredictability.
Every fortnight, I visit my oncologist and every couple of months I have brain and lung scans. During my visits, I notice that some faces have gone forever only to be replaced by new ones. I am part of the caravan of violated bodies seeing death not so quietly percolating, creating arid pain and morbid gloominess. I realize that to look at Sun (Shiva, the transcendent) one must stay under shade (completely aware of mortality). I hear Shiva, the dispeller of fear, saying that the struggle and end of life will happen whenever the time is ripe. So during your brief sojourn on this planet walk fearlessly and take whatever is given as prasad (blessing). Again, Ghalib using the image of Shiva, says:
If you have the motivation, then why do you talk of ending your struggle,
Forget the speed and dance, listening to beat of ‘dra’,
and let go.
On the formless substrate of this music which produces thousands of moving emotions sits immovable Shankar, the abode of joy. The depiction tells us that life and death are joined like lovers journeying together. Shankar (the abode of joy) is another aspect of same reality known as Shiva (the one who is self-illuminated and pure consciousness). This unmistakable symbol tells us that life soars to high skies on the wings of death. Enjoy the flight and celebrate the dance with full abandon. That is the only way to get drenched in life’s nectar at every moment of your breath. Mikhail Bulgakov in The White Guard expresses same sentiment using different words:
"Everything passes away-suffering, pain, blood, hunger, pestilence. The sword will pass away too, but the stars will remain when the shadow of our presence and our deeds have vanished from the earth. There is no man who does not know that. Why, then, will we not turn our eyes toward the stars? Why?"
In Hindu mythology, Shiva is the only god who is a householder. He and his consort Parvati (daughter of mountains) have three sons, Ganesh, Kartikeya, and Ayappa. To keep the world in perfect balance, their marriage is a union between Wisdom (Shiva) and Compassion (Parvati). This combination is the most appropriate response to needs of life. Shiva is also known as Somnath (lord of mind), and Parvati is also known as Gauri (Intellect). Mind cannot function in an optimal manner without cultivated intellect. Indian literature is full of stories of Shiva’s compassionate actions upon the cajoling of Parvati. Under cathedral of mother goddess Parvati people were witnessed and heard thus calming their internal roar.
I get tremendous solace while looking at Shivalinga sitting in non-emotive silence with my inner turmoil. Sitting In that silence, you hear Shiva saying in words which cannot be said in words. One understands that the journey of faith does not give you answers but gives you acceptance and peace with the bubbling questions.
Shiva Sutra ( teachings of Shiva) says “ Hriday Chittasanghatad” meaning that once your heart and mind are in union every being appears to belong to you. Shiva’s teachings emphasize non-ritualistic spiritual journey. According to teachers of Shiva Sutra, the teachings of Shiva were given to everyone without consideration of color, cast, and creed. You see pictures of Shiva surrounded with animals and simple poor people of lower casts indicating that Shiva dwells in horizontal relationships. Shiva’s teachings tell us that supreme consciousness lives in every form and every form is perfect in itself. Man has no business of thinking himself as someone on top of the heap of evolution.
There is a story that consummate lover Shiva embraced and made love to Parvati and half of her body fused into him. For that reason he is also called Ardhnarishwara (half women and half man god). The symbol behind the allegory is unmistakable. A real man must cultivate and imbue himself with women’s sensibilities. That is only way to achieve good understanding and balanced life.
As mentioned before, Shiva is self- illuminated and beyond death. Contemplating on non- dualistic nature of Shiva, the primordial light, and acting according to virtuous instructions, one attains perfect bliss. These words of Rumi connect so beautifully with Shiva:
I am the real world, giving it endlessly away
Grow rich, flinging gold (to) all who ask
Live, empty heart of paradox
I will dance with you cheek to cheek.
While writing these lines, my thoughts went to a an uplifting and soothing lines from Shiva Sutra:
Namah Sri Sambhave, Svatmananda Prakase Vipuse
( I bow down to the wealth ( Shiva) that brings peace and joy )
While thinking these lines, I find myself uttering Shivoham, Shivoham ( I am Shiva, I am Shiva)