Campaign of the Month: February 2017
The god of destruction and change
The third member of the almighty Trimurti, Shiva is the god of destruction and transformation, the one who takes the things created by Brahma and maintained by Vishnu and destroys or remakes them in new ways. A fearsome sight to behold, he is a bone-thin ascentic with ash-smeared skin, a glaring third eye, matted, tangled hair and a mottled blue throat; he is one of the most univerally feared of all the Deva, and, indeed, of all the gods of every pantheon. While his mastery over space and time and his terrifying visage and destructive tendencies are truly frightening, he is also understood to be a benevolent god and part of the natural order of things; he effects necessary change and prevents stagnation, and without destruction the natural cycle of creation could not continue. He is also the lord of the dance and the god of delight and happiness, representing his gentler side, and his steps are unmatched anywhere else in the universe.
In the beginning, Brahma and Vishnu were the only members of the Trimurti, and they quarreled as to which was the more powerful; Brahma claimed that it was he, since he wielded the vast power of creation, while Vishnu contended that he was the more powerful since it was only through his power that Brahma’s creations survived. Coming to a massive pillar that ran between earth and the heavens, they each resolved to best the other and win the argument; Brahma turned into a goose and flew to find the top of the pillar while Vishnu turned into a boar and dug down to find its bottom, and they agreed that whomever found the end of the pillar first would be the victor. After many days and nights, however, neither could find the pillar’s end, and they returned, discouraged, to where they had first begun searching. With a great blazing light, the pillar cracked open and Shiva emerged, and when he had demonstrated his power the other two realized the futility of their argument and agreed that, along with Shiva, they were a triumvirate of equal strength and importance.
Shiva and the Ganges
The Ganges, most sacred of rivers, once flowed only through the heavens, and the earth below was parched and miserable for lack of its healing waters. A wise sage, wishing to aid his suffering fellows, sneaked into heaven and toppled a great stone to divert the river’s flow; while this did indeed redirect the river to flow on earth, it also caused it to leap its banks, becoming an uncontrollable flood that threatened all life on earth. Seeing humanity’s plight, Shiva stepped forward and stood at the river’s fall, letting it flow through his hair and leave it matted and tangled so that it would be calmed by the time it reached earth.
Shiva and Vasuki
When the gods had successfully churned the ocean to make the elixir of immortality, they used Vasuki, the king of all serpents, as a rope; in doing so, however, they pulled him so tightly that he vomited up some of his poison into the oceans. The gods were dismayed and frightened by this, as Vasuki’s poison was incredibly potent and could end all life on earth if allowed to spread. Vishnu suggested that they appeal to Shiva for help; when they did, he agreed to save mankind and knelt to drink all of the poisoned oceans, holding them in his throat so that they would not be let free to poison others. The poison was so strong and deadly that it turned the flesh of his throat blue forever after.
Shiva and Sati
Sati, a beautiful and graceful goddess in human form, was born at the behest of Brahma and grew tall and lovely, worshiping Shiva above all other gods. As she grew to womanhood, she set her heart on marrying Shiva, though she had never met him, and refused all other suitors that her father, Daksha, presented before her. Rejecting his entreaties for her to marry a king or a god of high standing, she instead went into the forest to live, fasting and praying to Shiva and soon giving up all food and sleep in her devotion. Moved by her dedication and love for him, Shiva rescued her from death’s doorstep and consented to marry her.
Though Sati was ecstatic and she and Shiva were very happy together, Daksha was furious at her poor taste in men and all but disowned her from her family. Seeking to mend their relations, Sati went to a party at her father’s house despite Shiva’s attempts to discourage her, and there was forced to listen as Daksha slandered Shiva before all his guests, calling him unkempt, weak, and a vagrant. When he turned his insults further on Sati herself, she was so miserable and mortified by the unbearable shame and pain of his words that she went to his courtyard and immolated herself, crying out to Shiva as she died.
When he discovered what had happened, Shiva’s wrath was so terrible that the very earth itself shook; he burst into Daksha’s house with his demon servants and slaughtered all within, decapitating Daksha himself and grinding his body into the dirt. Then, mad with grief, he took Sati’s charred body in his arms and wandered the world with it, speaking to no man or god in his misery. Seeing that this could not continue, Vishnu caused Sati’s body to break into fifty-one pieces which scattered throughout the world, and Shiva, restored mainly to his senses, resurrected many of those he had killed, all of whom became his devoted worshipers.