Rishi Dadhichi is one of the foremost sages in the Hindu mythology. Having been born in the family of Bhrigu, he is credited with the creation of the Prasna Upanishad. It is however his connection to Lord Shiva that makes him all the more interesting. The most powerful thread that joins Lord Shiva and Rishi Dadhichi is the Goddess Adi-Shakti in her avatar as Sati and then as Parvati. Located in the Misrikh region of Naimisharanya, close to the modern day city of Lucknow, Rishi Dadhichi’s ashram was the abode of refuge for Sati as she grew up through childhood. Away from her prejudiced and vain father, King Daksha, Sati learnt from Rishi Dadhichi about the subtle balance of power between the creators and their creations. She learnt that Shiva was an inimitable part of the Hindu tridev, and that the continuation of the process of life ad evolution of time was not possible unless the principles of creation, preservation and destruction came to bear upon all of the universe.
Shiva’s asceticism and its underlying meaning was first made clear to Sati by Rishi Dadhichi. Shiva was not a deranged begger. Roaming in tiger skin and smeared ash all over himself- Such severe avoidance of materiality was only symbolic of disillusionment and consequent escape from the snares of the material world. Trappings of wealth, power and manifest authority serve to blind the best of humans, and Brahma’s human son Daksha was no exception. He found Shiva’s apparent lack of wealth and rustic appearance unacceptable. However on the insistence of his father Brahma he had reluctantly allowed the marriage of Sati and Shiva.
To appease his sense of affront however, Daksha went on to plot and subsequently insulted Shiva by not not inviting him on a Yajna and then by publicly lampooning Shiva and Sati at his Yajna. The first person to have strongly objected to this impunity on Daksha’s part was Rishi Dadhichi. He was also the first one to leave the great gathering called by Daksh for said Yajna.
After the passing away of Sati, and her reincarnation as Parvati, Rishi Dadhichi made it his personal point to visit the Parvat Naresh (King of Mountains) Himvan to train his daughter in the ways of Shiva worship. Owing to his great devotion, Shiva had blessed him with a boon that had transformed his very bones into thunder. Shiva also taught the spirit of the Mahamrityunjay Mantra to Dadhichi, hitherto unknown to any other mortal. Dadhichi was also gifted the boon of knowing about the secrets of the creation of the world and the universe. These are knowledge that Dadhichi had passed on to Devi Parvati, with the help of Goddess of Wisdom-Goddess Saraswati. It is through Goddess Parvati’s later avatars that a lot more positive things happened in the future to extol the virtues of Shiva and Shakti.
The most influential lesson though that one may draw from the example of Lord Shiva and Rishi Dadhichi is the event where Rishi Dadhichi’s power of Bhakti for Lord Shiva reaches its zenith. The Demons under the leadership of Vritasura, one of the sons of Danu- the mother of the Danav Race, had earned the boon of being immune to all conventional weapons made of steel, iron and wood. The Devas faced crushing defeats at his hands and the King of Gods Indra had his jaws broken, such was the power of Vritasura. Desperate, the Gods went to Lord Vishnu for advice. Lord Vishnu told them, Vritasura could only be slain by weapons forged by the bones of a powerful sage. Unsure about which sage would willingly give up his life for Indra, the Gods asked for further guidance. Lord Vishnu named Rishi Dadhichi as the most suitable candidate.
Indra was troubled to go to Rishi Dadhichi for he had on a previous occasion challenged and beheaded Rishi Dadhichi for teaching the Madhuvidya (the knowledge of reinstating life in a dead body) to the Ashwini twins (Gods of sunrise and Sunset, who brought prosperity to men and removed obstacles). The Ashwini twins had saved Dadhichi using the Madhuvidya. Indra was uncertain if Rishi Dadhichi would curse him and make his life more miserable on account of his request. Rishis were known to have the power to curse Gods to terrible plights.
Given his predicament however, Indra was out of options and had to go to Rishi Dadhichi. Lord Shiva and Rishi Dadhichi were so evenly in sync with the principles of asceticism that the great Rishi agreed to give up his life for the greater good. His bones, he said, would be better off as weapons of Gods rather than being buried somewhere in the ground. Dadhichi used his boon of invincibility from Lord Shiva to help Indra, despite Indra’s prior affront, because it was the greater good that was at risk from the menace of Vritasura. Such forms of ultimate sacrifice can be made only by those who place absolutely no value on their own person, considering even their bodies as matter that would eventually be subject to decay, therefore not worthy of being clung to. The relationship between Lord Shiva and Rishi Dadhichi tests the latter’s resolve to the fullest and he wins moksha with his perseverance and dedication to the divine will.
Lord Shiva and Snakes share a curious connection with each other. In almost all depiction of Lord Shiva and his accompaniments, there is always a serpent seen wound around his neck. Along with his Trishul and Dumru, the serpent is a constant companion of Lord Shiva. This serpent is supposed to be the King of Serpents- Vasuki. So is the serpent only a symbol of the Lord having consumed the Halahal poison to save the world? Or is there more to it than that?
As we know that religions evolve over time and are built around the realities experienced by the communities it serve. In other words, sociologically speaking, religions are a direct product produced by a community for their own consumption, constitutive and representative of the collective subconscious. Lord Shiva and Serpents come together in one iconography signifying the syncretism of Shaivism and local folk deities. The Puranic stories have integrated the races of Gods, Danavs, Manavs, Gandharvas and Nagas. Different stories exist that talk of the ways in which each of these communities came to be. In the case of the Nagas, one of the stories say that they are said to be descendants of Rishi Kashayapa and Kadru. The folk culture of worshipping the serpents were slowly but steadily, absorbed by the Brahmanical mainstream.
The Padma Puran traces the connection between the folk and the mainstream by a story of Shiva and the Serpents. It is said that once Shiva was out on one of his ascetic tours outside Kailash and found himself in a forest of Lotuses. In that forest he was overtaken by a sudden lust and his semen found their way onto some of the forest. A Serpent Queen was in the spot and she fell pregnant with a child. The Queen was the mother of the Serpent King Vasuki. When the child was born to the Queen Mother, the child was adopted by Vasuki as his own sister. She was named Manasha and came to share dominion over the snake races with her brother. It was however Manasha’s ardent desire to worshipped as a Goddess. Given her semi-divine origins however, she found it difficult to find followers and worshippers. One day when Lord Shiva consumed the deadly poison Halahal to save the world from its wrath, Manasha attended on him and healed him back to health. This deed got her recognition and the title of being Vishahara (remover of poisons). Shiva found himself attracted to his saviour but Manasha managed to assert the fact that she was in fact Lord Shiva’s daughter.
Upon learning this, Lord Shiva took Manasha to Kailash. His wife Partvati assumed Manasha was a consort of Lord Shiva and decided to be highly cruel to her. During one of their spats, it is said Parvati had taken her fierce Chandi form and blinded one of Manasha’s eyes. Furious, Manasha aimed her toxic gaze upon Chandi and rendered her unconscious. Lord Shiva was deeply pained by this constant strife in Kailash and decided one day to take Manasha back to the forest. He left her under a tree and was grief-stricken at having to act thus. He used his tears to create a companion for Manasha who was named “Neto” or “Neta”.
With Neto by her side Manasha embarked upon her journey to get worshippers. To her followers she was known to be extremely kind but those that did not accept her divinity, she was wrathful. In one specific example, there was a merchant named “Chand Saudagar” who was a devout follower of Shiva and Durga. He refused to follow or worship the cult of Manasha. The more he resisted, the more adamant Manasa became to have him as a devotee. She sank his trading ships at sea with tidal storms. He would have managed to escape it due to the intervention of Durga, but on Shiva’s insistence she stood back and Manasha got her way. Chand Saudagar was washed to shore however and found a on old friend named Chandraketu, who tried to convince Saudagar to worship Manasha to no avail.
Having lost all his fortune and despite being faced with such adversity, Saudagar still refused to worship Manasha. At which point the Goddess solicited the help of two Apsaras, who agreed to be born as children to Saudagar and his business associate Saha. Saudagar’s little daughter was called Behula and Saha’s son was known as Lakshminder. In due course of time the two fell in love and got married even though Lakshminder was fated to die of snakebite on his wedding night. Saudagar tried to make their bedchambers impervious to snakes but Manasha managed to get one of her serpents to enter, that struck down Lakshminder. Behula prayed desperately to Manasha even as the dead body decomposed on the raft generally floated for all victims of snake bite, with the hope of magical recovery. When the raft reached the village where Neta lived, she took pity on Behula and took her to Manasha. The Goddess promised a new life to Lakshminder if Behula could manage to get Saudagar to worship her. Behula agreed and Lakshminder breathed again. Delirious with joy, Behula narrated the whole episode to her father. Convinced of Manasha’s divinity Saudagar finally agreed to worship Goddess Manasha.
Manasha’s struggle to attain divinity makes her appear as a ruthless Goddess, with her mind bent only on self aggrandisement. One must remember however that the position of worship granted to Manasha who was clearly a folk Goddess into the Hindu pantheon, would not have been an easy one. The fact that the Brahmin classes finally agreed on such a sensitive topic show us the influence the folk culture has on mainstream culture. People of Bengal, who lived close to the river Ganges and in the semi-tropical rain-forested area would regularly come across snakes – a species that is vital to the sustenance of the ecosystem. To get them to worship Lord Shiva, was a tough challenge but perhaps the brilliance of the Machiavellian leaders of the time must be acknowledged in their ability to share religious power. This is a classic example of how the metropolitan centres of power managed to co-opt a regional power to establish hegemonic control.
The end result may be one where Manasha emerges as a slightly maligned Goddess but the acceptance of popular beliefs have led people to be tolerant and eco-friendly, bringing more and more people within the fold of spiritually harmonious existence. That is precisely where the connection between Lord Shiva and Serpents gain credence and relevance even in a contemporary globalised world, peopled by multicultural communities.
Due to his implicit connection to destruction and chaos Lord Shiva and death share a vital relationship. Death is one concept each and every one of us shall have to face no matter how much we may dislike it. It is difficult to form relationships with people in life, more so, those that have a substantial meaning in our lives. Those of us who have had loving families would know how important it is to be able to connect and depend on family members. They are there for us, warts and all. Parents, siblings and as we reach adulthood, spouses and partners constitute the strongest relationships we manage to make and often take for granted, until one day they are suddenly gone.
In our times, when so much of our relationships are conducted online, we call, text and video chat with our loved ones very often. Somehow the virtual connect seems enough to some of us. A lot of our issues and conflicts with each other are left unresolved because we choose not to have confrontations. The popular saying about this goes that “we always hurt the ones we love” and how true that is!
The absolute loss of connection that comes to pass upon death, tells us a lot more about ourselves than the deceased. Every time we hear of a death, we become implicitly conscious of our own mortality. Death spares nobody on the basis of race, class, gender, orientation, nationality or any of the other categories of differentiation human beings like to come up with, in order to make ourselves feel different and by extension, better than other people. The one and absolute equalizer, death has the power to tear to shreds all possible veils of vanity one may have. No matter how big one may become in life, one day all of that power, money and influence must be left behind. No wonder therefore that many cultures around the globe see death as a negative force.
Major world religions try to enforce obedience in their followers with the fear of death and the prospect of what is to come after death. The collusion of the state and religion in many countries still evoke the fear of God and punishments after death to perpetuate a hegemonic system of control over the poorest and weakest section of their population.
But what of us- those who live in advanced democracies, in developed and rapidly developing countries? We have seemingly managed to break the shackles of bigoted clergy, but very few of us would think of ourselves as Godless, and faithless. Even those of us who profess to be atheists, protesting the absence of God, pointing to the rampant suffering and heinous crimes in the world, would not deny the power and influence of death. Will Christ grant us redemption? Will our souls be saved, or shall we be doomed to perpetually suffer hell fires? Is there life after death that some religion like Hinduism professes? Or is our deaths the final closure of everything? That we end, not with a bang but with a feeble squeak?
Philosophers around the globe, across all times have pondered over these questions. Still, 10,000 years into human existence on planet earth, we are nowhere close to finding any definitive answer. All we do know for certain, is that one day we shall definitely perish and the most we could do is hope, we go with the least pain and suffering as possible.
So much for those that have left us forever and gone away! What of those of us that live and must live on regardless of how much it hurts us? What do we do with our thoughts about our beloved and our concerns regarding their fate after death? How do we come to terms with the inevitability of our mortality?
Many of us choose to deposit our worries with some form of idea of divine manifestation we like to call God. All discussions and debates about whether God exists or which religion to follow to reach Him with certainty, have only led to horrific fights and bloodshed throughout human history. In the contemporary times of globalization and multiculturalism, we have become more and more aware of other people and their ways of life. For the most part, we have evolved as a species by learning from one another, but in some cases, where politics and sectarianism have held sway, there has been and continues to be strife.
Ever wondered, why do we fight thus? Is it only to have and control more and more material resources? Or Perhaps there is a deeper insecurity that operates in our collective subconscious, that prompts us to violence? To protect against anything that tries to unsettle our traditionally cherished idea of a moral centre in the world? One would not be too far away from the truth if they were to look closely at the third possibility. We are always trying to control and bring meaning to the otherwise fluctuating world around us, that is in large parts governed by chance. Religion allows us to have that fixed centre to deposit the fears and anxieties that we cannot contain or control by ourselves.
As a system of social structure, Hinduism has survived over 3000 years. It shall be pointless to try underscoring its merits or draw comparisons with other faiths. It has its own share of internecine problems and contradictions just like every other faith, and so called empirical atheisms. Let us consider it to be just another system and try looking at one of its important contributions to the philosophy around death.
Lord Shiva and death happen to form one of the most important connection firstly due to Lord Shiva’s association with the role of the destroyer in the Hindu trinity but at a more deeper level, it talks of a certain understanding of the phenomenon of death that is unique. Just like other religions, it asks us to believe in a higher power in whom we shall all meld and find absolute benediction from, but when it comes to Lord Shiva, the philosophy turns more to this world than to the next. According to some Shaivite sects, the body is not something that ought to be chastised or neglected. It is seen as the medium through which we can experience all the wonders of the world. The sense organs come together and give us the ability to connect, even to our loved ones. We forget over time, that everybody we have ever known apart from ourselves belong to the world outside us. They are all products of the world that binds us to materiality.
This is exactly why Lord Shiva and his followers are said to frequent burning Ghats. They smear ash over their bodies and some sects known as the Aghoris are known to consume human cadavers. These are not mindless acts of barbarity. These are instead, the means to familiarize oneself with the grotesque realities of life. In our pursuit of pleasure and beauty, we forget that the ugly and the painful are as much part of existence. In our need to be loved, and in the comfort of the embrace of our loved ones, we become oblivious to the fact that it would be equally painful if we were to lose them.
One must remember always that Lord Shiva does not represent dwelling on the morbid parts and thoughts of life. He is also a householder with a wife and two sons. He is known to give vent to immense anger and pain, almost as much as he is known to be calm and dedicated in meditation and mercy.
Lord Shiva and death therefore represent a kind of philosophy that advocates constant reality checks in our lives. It keeps us aware of the dual existence of pleasure and pain. Meditations on Lord Shiva will not bring back our loved ones from their graves but it will help us to focus more on the good memories we had created with them or hoped to create. It would remind us that there really never is a ‘happily ever after’. It would grant us the fortitude to suffer bravely, not for the hopes of a fruitful return but for the attainment of a resignation that even we shall pass one day.
Immortality is achievable only when we manage to live life to the fullest. Being able to connect to and become one with the absolute realities of existence, allows for the true enlightenment of the mind. For all the remaining conflicts and loose ends, one can always look within to employ the Panchakshara Mantra and meditate on the ultimate truth of life- constant negotiations between the beautiful and the grotesque in all their varying Shades :
Om Namah Shivaya!
Among all the inter-relations between Gods in the Hindu mythology, perhaps one of the most interesting and often controversial one is the Shiva-Vishnu relationship. Both happen to be part of the Hindu Trimurty or Trinity along with Lord Brahma. Even though all three of them are supposed to be equal in all respects, cult worshippers and communities have emerged that worship Shiva (Shaivites) and Vishnu (Vaishnavs) individually, consider their choice of God to be the Supreme Being. Western philosophers have observed and opined that the Christian Trinity and the Hindu Trimurti are not on the same plane because under Christianity, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are indistinguishable beyond a point. They fuse to form a singular mythography. In the Hindu Trimurti however each God has his own lore traceable to puranas dedicated to them. As such, the question of which among the three is the greatest often get raised among those that are yet to become god-realised.
The Shiva-Vishnu relationship may be charted very interestingly through almost all major Hindu religious texts. Most important however is their apparent opposing position they are assigned by the cosmic order- Shiva is the designated Destroyer and Vishnu the Preserver. It is significant therefore that their relationship must be scrutinised carefully before arriving at any conclusion. Hindu mythological philosophy is highly complex; close and cross referenced readings of scriptures actually show that All three of the Trimurti are actually extensions of each other, fulfilling the tasks of creation, preservation and destruction necessary for the continuation of life and time.
One of the most significant episodes that brought the Shiva-Vishnu relationship to a near clash of superpowers occurred when Shiva’s first wife Sati immolated herself, having to face extreme insult from her father Daksha. Daksha was a human born son of Lord Brahma, a highly learned and powerful being, he was called a Prajapati (or Lord of his praja/people). Daksha wanted his daughter to marry high, in keeping with his status and wealth, Sati however chose Shiva for her husband at her Swayamvara (ceremony where the bride got to choose from all present and eligible suitors). Daksha retaliated by arranging a yajna and deliberately ignored the obligation of inviting Shiva and Sati. This was the height of insult, but Shiva would have ignored it had it not been for the mistreatment and subsequent death of Sati. Daksha was promised protection from all the Rishis (sages) and Devas (Gods) including Lord Vishnu. Shrouded by divine protection, Daksha believed himself invincible. When Shiva’s grief over Sati’s death gave way to his rage, he sent forth Veerbhadra and Bhadrakali , two of his fiercest Bhairav (dark energy) forms against Daksha and all his defenders. The entire ensemble of divine warriors fell against Shiva’s minions. It fell ultimately upon Lord Vishnu to stop them. Vishnu tried but when stopped short of using his primary weapon against Shiva. The clash of their primary weapons would spell absolute doom for all of creation. Vishnu let Shiva have his righteous vengeance in the interest of the preservation of the universe. This was the one scenario that may be comparable to the cold war that affected our planet, reaching its height during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The fine difference lay in the fact that an all out thermo-nuclear war on Earth would cause mutually assured destruction of our planet but a Shiva-Vishnu full frontal face-off would obliterate all of creation.
The best understanding of the depth of the Shiva-Vishnu relationship may be made when we look at the various instances during which they complimented each other instead of having been in conflict. Shiva is known for his simplicity and naivety. He is called ‘Bholenath’ because of his child like earnestness. Once Shiva was pleased by a demon who asked for the boon of being able to destroy anybody he so desired, by placing his hand over their head. This demon, Bhasmasura wanted to test his power and tried to place his hand over Shiva. Shiva had no option but to flee. It was Vishnu who came to his aid. Known variously as Kapti, Challiya (both meaning deceitful) by the demons, Vishnu transformed into an absolutely beautiful woman, named Mohini. Bhasmasura was smitten. Mohini got him to dance with her and in imitation of a dance step, she got Bhasmasura to hold his hand over in his own head, successfully neutralizing the demon for good.
Even during the Samudra Manthan (churning of the cosmic ocean) to yield the nectar of immortality- Amrit, it took the joint effort of Shiva and Vishnu to deal with the associated problems. The churning brought to the fore a poison (halaahal) that could destroy all of creation. Shiva consumed the poison, and it turned his throat blue. This job of preserving the world would ideally be served by Vishnu but Shiva performed it. Later, when the distribution of Amrit was to occur, it was Vishnu who ensured that the demons would not get the gift of immortality, given their incorrigible propensity to violence. Vishnu took on his Mohini avatar and distracted the demons, serving them Sura a divine intoxicant instead of the Amrit, serving that only to the Devas. The demon general Rahu got wind of this deceit and disguised himself as a God and sat in the queue with the Devas. While serving him the Amrit Vishnu realised something amiss and immediate summoned his primary weapon- the Sudarshan Chakra and promptly beheaded Rahu. This quick transformation from the luscious emblem of lust into an ever ready warrior shows the destructive side of Lord Vishnu, a role that fit best Lord Shiva.
There is a third and most controversial aspect to the Shiva-Vishnu relationship. This one brings the two super powers of Hindu mythology into a kind of fundamental conflict that broaches the concept of sexuality most explicitly. The Brahmanda Purana tells us of the time when Shiva was smitten by the utter beauty of Vishnu in his Mohini form. It is said, Shiva pursued Mohini with an abandon to the utter embarrassment of his wife Goddess Parvati. Even though homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned, copulation between the two definitely happens to be among the lesser talked of secret in Hindu myth. The objective is to highlight that even Shiva’s powerful asceticism is not beyond Vishnu’s power of persuasion. The birth of the God Aiyanar, referred alternately as Kartikeya is said to be the product of the copulation between Shiva and Vishnu. Considering the fact that there was no woman present in the process of his birth, Aiyanar is supposed to be the perfect mixture of Shiva’s destructive power and Vishnu’s power of preservation. He was designated the General of the army of the Gods and is credited with the destruction of the demon Tarakasura, even when he was just a child.
Ancient statues and paintings show the two gods fused in the same body as Harihara and there is the Sree Sankar Narayana temple in the Palakkad district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where the two deities are worshipped together in a single body.
The overarching ideas that emerge from the observation of all point of correlation between the myths of Shiva-Vishnu relationship reveals a simple truth that has clear secular implications. The forces of preservation and destruction must work in tandem with each other if life and existence is to run smoothly. Regardless of which religion we practice or which God we bow to, almost all religions profess that divinity is omnipresent and dwells within each of us. Away from a religious domain, critical thought reveals that each of us have the potential power of preservation and destruction within us. Without destruction, new creation is not possible and the resultant stasis leads to decay- the antithesis of preservation. The progression of time cycles and life cycles cannot occur without the conjoined effort the Shiva-Vishnu relationship stands for.