The Sanskrit word ‘Om’ is perhaps the most significant word in Hindu mythology. It stands for everything and nothing, it is used to address every God and Goddess, yet by itself it means nothing. It is the primary invocation for any and all holy chants. This curious, liminal characteristic of the word makes it relevant to Lord Shiva, more than any other deity because Mahadev represents infinity and eternity alongside a limitless void. How then is the Shiva Omkara special? When chanted, the word ‘Om’, a form of primal energy is said to originate from the navel, rising upward through the lungs and into the vocal chords till it finally comes to the throat and exits through the mouth. Modern science is only beginning to understand the importance of healing and rejuvenation through sound therapy. Groundbreaking studies are being made that have reported how plants and animals grow faster and become more productive in terms of yielding fruits and milk respectively when exposed to certain kinds of sounds. What scientific discourse is discovering now had been put into use by sages and learned men of India thousands of years ago!
The ‘Omkara’ or the sound of ‘Om’ is very similar to the Sanskrit word ‘Vyom’ which means space- the fifth and final element that constitutes the universe. The vastness of space is still a matter of major inquiry in the scientific community even though mankind has already managed to travel to space. It is only now that we are beginning to understand the immensity of our universe and our relative insignificance not only as a species but also as a planet. Thousands of galaxies and millions of star systems have been identified yet we are no closer t finding out the actual extent of the universe. Astrophysicists only have theories to make assumptions, whether it be the Big Bang Theory or the latest Higgs Boson particle, we have presumptuously called the ‘God particle’.
This ultimate expanse cannot be plotted. The void or ‘Vyom’ encompasses everything. In other words, it fits one of the description given to Lord Shiva thousands of years before the advent of science. This is not to question the validity of scientific thought but when one thinks about it one realizes there are things beyond the reach of human comprehension. Once again this thought takes us back to thinking all about the Shaivaite philosophy which depicts the Hindu god Shiva as a formless or ‘Nirguna’ entity. Almost all the sects of Shaivism concur on the belief that Shiva the destroyer also operates in the ways that is beyond human comprehension. Lord Shiva’s ‘leela’ or divine will, ensures that humans gain knowledge and wisdom even as the same ‘leela’ conceals knowledge and challenges the human senses and mind.
The third eye of Lord Shiva if opened can turn to ashes, anything that stands in its field of vision. The same eye when shut, allows Shiva to look within and meditate, generating the cosmic power that runs all of creation. Interestingly the word Lord Shiva chants when He meditates is ‘Om’. As He does that, He invokes the power of all Gods and Goddesses at the same time.
The ‘Shiva Omkara’ therefore has immense value both in the spiritual and scientific context, operating literally and metaphorically, signifying everything conceivable and non-conceivable, representing the awesome power of Lord Shiva.
The Ravan Tandav Stotra is one of the most powerful mantras dedicated to Lord Shiva by any of his bhaktas or devotees. All through the majority of north Indian states Ravan is seen as a figure of unmitigated evil. During the festival of Dussehra effigies of Ravan and his siblings are burnt, marking the victory of Lord Rama (human avatar of Lord Vishnu) over evil. Considering that Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma constitute the Hindu Trinity, one wonders how can the devotee of one of them end up being a cursed enemy of another? To answer that question and to better understand the character of Shiva himself, one must take a closer look at the legends surrounding Ravan.
Ravan was the demon king of Lanka. Prince Ram, who would go on to ascend the throne of Ayodhya, found himself challenged by Ravan. Ravan had abducted Rama’s wife Sita and held her as a diplomatic hostage compelling Rama to meet him in battle. Ravan descended from Sage Vishrava grandson of Brahma (the Creator)
himself and the demon princess Kaikesi. Kaikesi’s father Sumali was exiled from his kingdom in Lanka by Kuber, Sage Vishrava’s other son. It was Sumali’s plan to have Kaikesi married to Vishrava so that the bloodlines of the demons and brahmans would mingle to produce a child with demonic strength and brahmanic intelligence. True to his expectation, Ravan showed signs of exceptional brilliance as he grew up. He had an exceptional grasp over the vedas and excelled in martial skills. Under the tutelage of Vishrava and Sumali, both his demonic and divine powers grew stronger. Ravan managed to strike the critical balance required to make the most of both his inherent tendencies.
As years passed Ravan became stronger and more learned. He performed difficult tapasya (penance) and pleased Brahma, gaining from him boons of weapons and invincibility. Feeling invincible Ravan went up to Lord Shiva’s abode and tried to pluck out Mount Kailash from its roots. Lord Shiva was offended and placed his little toe on the ground and Ravan found himself unable to hold up Kailash. He was trapped under gigantic rocks and found it difficult to breathe. Realising his folly he prayed to Lord Shiva for forgiveness. It is this prayer song that is now known as the Ravan Tandav Stotra. Generous and kind as he is, Lord Shiva was so pleased with Ravan’s ingenious creativity reflected in the Stotra, composed under extreme duress, not only did he forgive Ravan, but having extricated him from under the rocks, also bestowed upon him the Chandrahaas Astra. Ravan in turn remained ever devoted to Lord Shiva throughout his life.
So earnest was Lord Shiva’s influence on Ravan that he learnt the values of not being trapped in the world of materiality. Many who worship Ravan in temples dedicated to him praise the fact that when his ultimate battle with Rama neared, he gave up his control over the 9 planets or Navagraha whom he had imprisoned to derive power from them. Ravan’s devotees also believe that he undoubtedly wanted to be recognised as the most powerful ruler of all creation, but he wanted to do this more to spread the name and honour of the demon races all around creation than for personal aggrandisement. As far as Ravan was concerned the ultimate fight between him and Rama was a fight of two races that of the Aryas and the Daityas. It is debateable if Rama and his cohorts would have managed to win against Ravan had it not been for the betrayal of Vibhishan, Ravan’s brother, who gave away Ravan’s strategic secrets to Rama’s army, enabling them to weaken Ravan at crucial junctures. The foremost betrayals included the stealthy murder of Meghnad, Ravan’s son, while he was in deep meditation and the destruction of Ravan’s “Abhijeet Chandi Yajna” atop Ratnagiri hill. Ostensibly these sabotages were conducted by Lakshman and his friends, despite the express disapproval of Rama.
The ultimate sign of Ravan’s renunciation in keeping with Shaivaite principles is said to be his decision to not counter Rama’s Brahmastra with one of his own. Ravan, it is believed, desisted because the clash of two Brahmastras had the potential to destroy all of creation. Victory at the cost of such destruction was not what he sought. Consequently, he welcomed the fired weapon with respect and upon being hit, thanked Lord Rama for granting him moksha from the the cycles of births and rebirths. Ravan recognised Lord Vishnu in Rama and realised he was simply playing his part in a larger cosmic game, ordered according to Vidhi’s Vidhan or the inscrutable divine will. All these facts are remembered by devotees of Shiva and Ravan when they chant the Ravan Tandav Stotra.
Loosely translated in English, the Ravan Tandav Stotra appears as follows:
That Śiva, Who having held a long-garland of the best-snake (cobra) at the neck which is purified by the flow of trickling water-drops in the forest-like twisted hair-locks, Who danced the fierce Tāṇḍava-dance to the music of a sounding-drum, — May that Śiva extend my bliss.
At every moment, may I find pleasure in Śiva, Whose head is situated in between the creeper-like unsteady waves of Nilimpanirjharī (Gańgā) which is swirling unsteadily in the vessel forged from twisted hair-locks, Who has crackling and blazing fire at the surface of forehead, and Who has a crescent-moon (young moon) at the forehead.
May my mind seeks happiness in Śiva, Whose mind has the shining universe and all the living-beings inside, Who is the charming sportive-friend of the daughter of the mountain-king of the Earth (i.e. Himālaya), Whose uninterrupted series of merciful-glances conceals immense-troubles, and Who has as much direction as His clothes?
May my mind embrace Śiva, by Whom — with the light from the jewels of the shining-hoods of creeper-like yellow-snakes — the face of Dikkanyās’ are smeared with Kadamba-juice like red Kuńkuma, Who looks dense due to the glittering skin-garment of an intoxicated tiger, and Who is the Lord of the ghosts.
For a long time, may Śhiva — Whose toes are grey due to the pollen dust from flowers at the head of Indra (Sahasralocana) and all other demi-gods, Whose matted hairlocks are tied by a garland of the king of snakes, and Who has the crown-jewel of the friend of cakora bird — produce prosperity.
May we acquire the possession of tress-locks of Śiva, Which absorbed the five-arrows (of Kāmadeva) in the sparks of the blazing fire stored in the rectangular-forehead, Which are bowed to by the leader of supernatural-beings, Who has an enticing-forehead with a beautiful streak of crescent-moon.
May I find pleasure in Trilochana, Who offered the five great-arrows (of Kāmadeva) to the blazing and chattering fire of the plate-like forehead, and Who is the sole-artist placing variegated artistic lines on the breasts of the daughter of Himālaya (Pārvatī).
May Śiva — Whose cord-tied neck is dark like a night with shining-moon obstructed by a group of harsh and new clouds, Who holds the River Gańgā, Whose cloth is made of tiger-skin, Who has a curved and crescent moon placed at the forehead, and Who bears the universe — expand [my] wealth.
I adore Śiva, Who supports the dark glow of blooming blue lotus series around the girdle of His neck, Who cuts-off Smara (Kāmadeva), Who cuts-off Pura, Who cuts-off the mundane existence, Who cuts-off the sacrifice (of Dakṣa), Who cuts-off the demon Gaja, Who cuts-off Andhaka, and Who cuts-off Yama (death).
I adore Śiva, Who only eats the sweet-flow of nectar from the beautiful flowers of Kadamba-trees which are the abode of all important auspicious qualities, Who destroys Smara (Kāmadeva), Who destroys Pura, Who destroys the mundane existence, Who destroys the sacrifice (of Dakṣa), Who destroys the demon Gaja, Who destroys Andhaka, and Who contains Yama (death).
May Śiva, Whose dreadful forehead has oblations of plentitude, turbulent and wandering hissing snakes—having first come out of a pillar of flames and then glowing eternally, Whose fierce tāṇḍava-dance is set in motion by the sound-series of the auspicious and best-drum (ḍamaru) — which is sounding with ‘dhimit-dhimit’ sounds, be victorious.
When will I adore Sadāśiva with an equal vision towards varied ways of the world, a snake or a pearl-garland, royal-gems or a lump of dirt, friend or enemy sides, a grass-eyed or a lotus-eyed person, and common men or the king.
Living in the hollow of a tree in the thickets of River Gańgā, always free from ill-thinking, bearing añjali on the forehead, free from lustful eyes, when will I become content while reciting the mantra ‘‘Śiva?’’
Reading, remembering, and reciting this eternal, having spoken thus, and the best among best eulogy indeed incessantly leads to purity. By the perception of Hara (Śiva) an immediate state of complete devotion is achieved; no other option is needed. Just the thought of Śiva (Śańkara) is enough for the people.
At the time of completing the prayer, s/he who reads this song by Daśavaktra (Rāvaṇa) — Śambhu shall grant him/her stable wealth including chariots, elephants and horses, and a beautiful visage.
There are many other beliefs that are suggested by various experts and religious figures but these are the main things that should be kept in mind while worshipping the shivling.
Om Namah Shaivaya!!!
Secure in himself and with complete faith in humanity, Shiva does not resort to unnecessary cunning ways lesser beings employ. To him the intent and emotion displayed, behind an offering far supersedes the action. His existence as the supreme godhead, is repeatedly demonstrated, as each time a bunch of deceitful demons try to manipulate him, he extricates himself from their ruthless clutches & saves the worthy. Such is the infinite wisdom of the lord divine.
Once, Vishnu got the gods (Devas) & demons (Asuras) to churn out nectar or Amrita, the elixir of immortality from the ocean of milk( presumably an allusion to the milky way galaxy). The ocean gave them many worthy returns, which were quickly consumed by all of them. At the end of all these activities, the ocean ejected a large amount of venomous toxin so powerful that it had the potential to destroy all of creation. Rendered powerless against such a force all the gods & demons then had no option but to beseech the mighty Shiva, to come to their aid. Compassionate & powerful as he is he undertook the dreadful task of drinking the poison. Of course, at this point his protective consort, who felt he was being ill treated, came to rescue him, by squeezing his neck as he drank the poison, so that it couldn’t go beyond his throat. His neck turned blue, which is how he came to be called “Neelkantha.”
In another tale portraying his merciful and compassionate aspect, he demonstrates how the intensity of emotion & honest love of a devotee is what he protects and rewards. A young tribal called Tinnan, went against the grain & offered flowers from the forest, which he wore in his head, to the lingam, water from the mountain stream, which he held in his mouth & meat after carefully removing the bones. This, he continued to do while everyone else, offered the ritualistic best including milk, flowers, incense, ashes & fruits. To test the worthiness of his disciples, Shiva gave eyes to the lingam, one of which began to bleed. Fearful that this would portend evil, the worshippers fled the place. Tinnan stayed on and tried to stop the flow of blood. When he could not succeed, he cut his own eye and offered it to the lingam. Tinnan, was thus a chosen soul who was welcomed to Kailash.
Such is the magnanimity of the Lord of lords. He does not leave anyone’s prayers unfulfilled. Those who come with a genuine heart & forsake all material gains for his grace, find room in his abode, sooner or later. It takes nothing but sincerity & desire.
Of course, an intellectual analysis may be done to assess, the level of grace one receives. The obvious repartee to which is- grace descends in quantum abundance & equal force for all seekers. The crucial factor is how much is the recipient ready & open enough to experience. If the negativities of his mind block him & he clothes himself heavily in the cloak of materiality, he will not see, hear or experience, any divine wisdom because he does not seek it. No, there is anything wrong with that. Grace for such a person limits itself to things like familial ties, kinship, social acknowledgement, intellectual pursuits or purchasing power.
For one who dares to go beyond, one who shuns luxury for austerities to free himself from bondage altogether, grace descends differently. Often for one such individual, misery is grace, because it cuts down accumulation of negative Karma & releases the individual to higher realms, beyond mind & body.
Know that he, the Supreme Shiva, is always there for you. The real question is how much of him do you seek. As a divine sage once said, “When the seeker is sincere, the master appears”.
Obeisance, O divine master, Humble me so, I may always be absorbed in thee!
OM TAT SAT