“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” With these words black leader Marcus Garvey has rightly expressed the importance of one’s own culture. In fact, no matter how much prosperous or prestigious we become in the modern world, deep down our heart we have a longing for our own culture and origin. It is human nature; even the leaves of a tree which has grown its branches in the high sky ultimately come to touch its roots. We need to be connected to our roots as much as we need wings to fly.
Remembering our roots means having knowledge about our religion and culture. Since time immemorial Lord Shiva has been worshipped in Hindu culture. Myths and legends tell us that Shiva saved the world from burning down to ashes by drinking the poison that came from churning the cosmic sea. He killed demons on several occasions and protected the innocent ones. Each Hindu has heard about several auspicious acts of Shiva. Worshipping Shiva intimately during the month of Shrawan shows our deep longing for cultural roots.
“Shiva” the word literally means “The Auspicious One”. Hindus widely believe that connecting with Shiva is inviting auspicious circumstances and good luck to life. There are many scientific reasons behind this; it connects us to the foundation of our civilization. The meaning and purpose of life becomes clear to us and our faith consoles and guides us in the arduous journey of life.
One of the interesting aspects of Shiva is his incarnation as Nataraj, the Lord of Dance. Through this form, Shiva wants his devotees to lead a happy and cheerful life. It is believed that when he performs the Ananda Tandava, the whole universe cheers and dances with him. This is the dance from the heart. When we dance from the heart, our body begins to communicate with the soul. Anyone who has seen the performance of Tandava Nritya believes that the dance is dreaming with one’s feet. The art of dancing is something magical; it immediately sets one free. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has rightly said, “We should consider everyday lost in which we have not danced at least once!”
The Indian treatise on performance arts Natya Shastra says that the purpose of Tandava Nritya is to release the soul of all men from the snare of illusion (maya). We live in a very complicated world; we don’t know how to make things easier. Shiva with his universal dance shares with us the ultimate wisdom that life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is learning to dance in the rain.
One of the least familiar but most interesting incarnations of Shiva is the Ardhanarishwara. Literally meaning half woman half man god, this incarnation offers food for thought to intellectual minds as well to the people with an aesthetic sense. Psychologists have stated that half of our personality is man and the other half is woman. Many girls worship Lord Shiva wishing a good husband for them in Shrawan. Our search for the better half, the good man or woman, will not be complete until and unless we realize that the very thing that we are seeking outside is already within us! Human beings are half masculine and half feminine because they get birth from the conjugation of man and woman. Part of our self is from the father and part of our self is from the mother. Surely, we are the Ardhanarishwara!
The epithet of Shiva, yogishwara, also strengthens the concept of this unique union of two opposite traits. ‘Yoga’ the word literally means union, the union of individual soul and the universal soul and the union of masculine and feminine qualities as well. One becomes whole only when he finally realizes this union within himself.
Shiva encourages us to focus our attention inward, meditate upon ourselves and realize the inner man or woman within us. In fact peace and happiness we are seeking in the outer world is momentary. We may discover the lasting peace and happiness inside ourselves. This is the symbolic meaning.
The ascetic form of Shiva is a great meditator who could successfully open his Third Eye and developed the insight. The quest for a good person in the outer world is commonplace; even the animals are doing so. The quest for the same within oneself is something worthy of a human being. We are no better than animals as long as we desperately seek good man or woman with our eye sights. We become yogis when we develop the insight and find the very man or woman not outside but within us.
The author is a yoga instructor and writer of several books on Hindu culture [email protected]