Thursday, April 22, 2010

Can God:Shiva bring prosperity to a country:India that does this ?

God’s friend the saddest creature

I find Hindu mythology enthralling. Nothing is simplistic or pedestrian. Past, present and future come together, each intertwined with respect and acceptance of all forms of life. Many years ago I wrote the dictionary of Hindu names for Penguin and for that I had to read every sacred book, poem, story possible. What emerged after years of research was not just an etymological dictionary of Hinduism, the only one of its kind, but a changed person.

Shiva is my favourite of the Triad of Brahma and Vishnu. I find the others more cerebral, trickier. Shiva is mine, the destroyer and rebuilder, the virile, the fertile, the angry and yet detached one, the austere ascetic who yet loves his wife so dearly that he carries her body through the three worlds, crying copiously and each one of his tears turns into a Rudraksha tree. Each part of him , each event is marked by animals and plants. What is Shiva without his mountains, snakes, bull, bizarre army of beasts/ganas, his elephant headed and mouse-vehicled son Ganesha, his peacock mounted and rooster bannered son Kartikeya?

He renounces the world and yet loves it. He is gentle and fierce and has no respect for material things since they are destroyed and remade easily. And yet he brings prosperity to his worshippers. He destroys evil and protects good.

No temple is complete without the gentle guardianship of cream coloured Nandi the main gana of Shiva and the bull that he rides. He is the gatekeeper of Shiva and Parvati’s abode and to get to them in the temples you have to pass him first. In fact the word "nandi" in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil is used as a metaphor for a person blocking the way. In Sanskrit, a bull is called "vrisha", which has the connotation of righteousness or Dharma. Nandi stands for truth and justice. It is important to seek the blessings of Nandi before worshipping Shiva.

Nandi is a primary god in himself from the time of the Indus valley civilization with his own temples. In fact he was called Pashupati then , the keeper of herds, a title that passed with the name to Shiva. He became Nandikesvara, half man and half bull, son of the divine progenitor Kashyapa and the divine cow Surabhi and husband of Suryasha, and the lord of happiness. His prayers to Shiva resulted in his immortality and position as chief of Shiva’s ganas. He stopped being a deity and became the companion and vehicle of Shiva. Fond of music and dance, when Shiva dances the tandava, Nandi plays percussion. In all paintings and sculptures Nandi is part of Shiva’s family.

According to some Puranas, he was born out of the right side of Vishnu and given as a son to the sage Salankayana. Some Puranas mention him as the son of the sage Silada who got him by the grace of Shiva. Brahma Vaivarta Purana mentions Krishna himself to have taken the form of a bull as no one else in the Universe can bear Shiva. In the Natha/Siddhar tradition, Nandi is the one of the primal gurus. From the yogic perspective, Nandi is the mind dedicated to Lord Siva, the Absolute. To understand and absorb Light you have to experience Nandi the Guru within.

Mythology has it that when the Devas and the Asuras came together to churn the ocean of milk to obtain the nectar of immortality they used Vasuki, the serpent, as the rope, pulling him from both ends. During this churning Vasuki vomited up a poison Halahalaa, so dangerous that no deva or asura wanted to go near it. Shiva drank the poison which stuck in his throat giving him the name Neelakantha. Nandi saw some of the poison spill out of Shiva’s mouth and immediately drank if off the ground. The devas and asuras watching wondered what would happen to Nandi. Lord Siva calmed their fears saying, "Nandi has surrendered into me so completely that he has all my powers and my protection".

Pongal is the festival of the harvest ,celebrated for 4 days by the Tamils starting on the fourteenth of January every year. It marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the Sun’s movement northward for a six month period. The third day, Mattu Pongal, is meant to offer thanks to cows and buffaloes. It is said that once Shiva ordered Nandi to go to Earth and deliver his message to the people that they should massage themselves with oil every day and eat food once a month. The dozing Nandi misheard the message and told the people to eat everyday and massage once a month. Shiva was furious as, due to the mixup,he anticipated a famine in grain. So he made Nandi remain on earth to help humans plough the fields. ‘Mattu Pongal’ is his thanksgiving.

Nandi plays a role in the Ramayana as well. When Ravana stole the heavenly chariot Pushpaka from his brother Kubera, he celebrated by going round the world and landed on Mount Kailash the abode of Siva. He was either asked to go away by Nandi or to wait as Siva was in meditation. Either way, in an attempt to make conversation, I suppose, he started making fun of Nandi’s face, comparing it to that of a monkey. An infuriated Nandi cursed him, saying that his kingdom would be burnt by a monkey. In one interpretation, Shiva, to give respect to his devotee, took the form of a vanara, Hanuman, who did just that.

In the Rig Veda the bull is the symbol of strength power and virility, more important than the cow. The Vedas exhort the rulers " O King, you should never kill animals like bullocks that are useful for agriculture or like cows that give us milk or do harm to such animals" (Yajur Veda)

As chief of the Ganas, Nandi is also the protector of all for legged animals. Look at him in Shiva’s India. Starving , eating plastic to survive, with acid thrown on him by fruitsellers, he is a rare animal now in the streets. Castrated by grinding his testicles together with two stones, he pulls heavy carts round the clock and is whipped , beaten and poked with pointed nails . In his prime his legs are broken and he is loaded into trucks with 60 others and sold for leather in Tamil Nadu and Kerala or smuggled to Bangladesh for meat. Of all the creatures in India , Nandi , the lord of music, dance, happiness, loyalty and justice, the friend and guardian of Shiva is the saddest creature of all. Can Shiva bring prosperity to a country that does this ?

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