Lord Shiva’s Damru is basically a small drum that is often seen tied to his trishul. It is in tune to the this instrument that Lord Shiva indulges in his cosmic dances of creation and destruction. Unlike the larger drums, Shiva’s Damru can actually be played by the Lord even as he dances without having to break steps. In other words it is an instrument that compliments the art form of dance. Why though is this symbol of such importance one may wonder!
The secret to its importance lay in the realm of metaphors. Shiva’s Damru manages to create cosmic rhythm. As such, it influences the movement of energy in the universe. the balance established thereof is responsible for the proper functioning of the universe. Away from the religious interpretation, if one were to look at the point being made through the metaphor of Shiva’s Damru, the message would come out fairly simply:
Human beings are capable of creation and of destruction. Most things we create using our ability to either improve upon things that exist in nature or those we derive purely from our imagination, we act in the way of Gods. Art then lends to human beings the stature and power of Gods. This power must be used with temperance and balance lest we allow ourselves to live in chaos. Such chaos comes into being when we use the power of science for destructive purposes by making weapons and armaments. The very same potential for creation also allows man to inent cures of difficult diseases and build machines and programs that can not only help us achieve superhuman feats but also inspires the lives of the future generations to outperform the previous.
Here the concept of art must be understood as being akin to that of science insofar as both are literal manifestation of the human ability to create, therefore the importance on maintaining the crucial balance and control.
Shiva’s Damru also serves the purpose of evoking action. The booming of a drum is facilitated by the mechanics of echo. The sound “boum” or the word”bamm” is often used as a prefix to Shiva’s name as “Bhola”. “Bamm Bholey!” then is a common address for Lord Shiva. In Sanskrit the word “Bamm” also refers to space or the fifth element that constitutes creation after air, earth, fire and water. The playing of Damru represents his mastery over the art of creation and that of negation because space is simultaneously symbolic of everything and of the void from which all things are said to have been created. It is little wonder therefore that the vedas fail to describe Lord Shiva and have to end up calling him “neti- neti” (or not this – not this)
We can see therefore that Lord Shiva’s Damru is an instrument that encompasses within it many of the principles that are implicitly associated with Lord Shiva and his position of power and influence not only in the world of religion but also in that of the secular world where his example may be seen in terms of a complex metaphor that places a lot of importance on the human potential for creativity and the subsequent responsibility of temperance.
Shiva and Sati are considered inseparable and epitomize one of the most ideal marital union in Hindu mythology. Sati is the Hindu goddess of marital bliss and longevity. There are many stories about why the goddess agreed to take human form. Some devotees of Shiva believe that Sati the goddess was asked by Brahma to take a human form so that she could bring Shiva out of his ascetic life and into one of wedlock. It seems that Brahma was tired of Shiva and his bachelor lifestyle and he was tired of Shiva making fun of Vishnu and his wedded life and the misery that it sometimes caused them.
Sati was born to the chief of the Manas Putras or the human sons of Brahma. This chief was better known as the learned and valiant Daksha. Since Brahma had asked her to take human form to get her married to the wild god Shiva, Sati right from the early days of her youth, was focused in her thoughts of Shiva. She loved all the Shiva tales, hymns, chants, songs and knew the Shiva stotras by heart. Every day she would pray to the great lord so that he would accept her. As Sati grew older, her beauty grew with her. Soon she grew into a beautiful, carefree girl whose heart was set on the great Shiva. Her father, Daksha, however had other plans. Kings and princes from all over came and asked for her hand in marriage but Sati had her heart set on Shiva. Her refusal of all her suitors frustrated her father. His fury finally compelled Sati to set out alone in her pursuit of Shiva. She forsook all the luxuries and security of her father’s palace and withdrew to the forest. In the forest she lived the life of an ascetic, forsaking comfort for devotion. Such was the passion to achieve her eventual goal of marrying Shiva, that Sati soon gave up all forms of nourishment. She followed this rigorous path for a long time till Shiva finally relented and agreed to have her as his bride. Her rigorous penance paid off and Sati got what she had always wanted, what she had been born for – to be Shiva’s wife.
One of the most famous stories of Shiva and Sati is the one about Daksha’s Yajna. This story highlights the passionate yet considerate nature of this great god. One day when Sati was outside her home on Mount Kailash, she noticed many gods heading in one direction. Wondering where they were all heading, she asked one of them. The god she asked looked shocked and replied that they were all headed to the yagna that the great King Daksha (Sati’s father and Shiva’s father-in-law) was performing. Sati was very upset with her father’s indiscretion and went to Shiva to ask him if he knew about this yagna. When Shiva replied in the affirmative, Sati was appalled that Shiva one of the most prominent gods of the Hindu Pantheon and the supreme power according to Shaivism had not been invited to the yajna. It was considered a great dishonor not to call upon The Destroyer when performing a yagna. Sati insisted that they must go to the yagna, but Shiva refused. While Shiva was not angry at not being invited to the yagna, (he was an ascetic after all) he could understand the shock and hurt that Sati felt. Since he had not been invited, Shiva felt it would be rude of him to “just show up” and refused to attend the yagna, asking Sati to not bother about going either. Their argument continued for a long time until Sati, in a fit of rage, decided that she would head to the yagna without her husband. Shiva warned her yet again that doing so was not a good idea, but Sati believing that her father would not ignore his beloved daughter was determined to go. Before she set off on her own Shiva decided to send his ganas or vassals with her to protect her on the road and to address her every grievance, in his absence. When Sati finally reached her father’s palace where the yagna was just beginning, no one came to greet her or welcome her home. In fact all the gods stood with their back to her and ignored her. Sati waited for a very long time as the yagna continued. Her father refused to acknowledge her presence. The longer she waited the more angry and ashamed she became. Her father would not acknowledge her and she could not go forward and attend the ceremony. She had fought with her husband to attend such a yagna! As more time passed her anger towards her father grew till she could take it no more. She accosted Daksha in front of all the gods present, who in turn, denounced Shiva in extremely derogatory terms. Upon witnessing such blatant abuse of her husband and the indifference of the others present at such affront being heaped upon Shiva’s honour, Sati cursed them all and called upon her cosmic powers as “Adi Shakti” (the form of the eternal mother Goddess) and immolated herself.
When the news of her death reached Shiva, he let out a great roar of pain that shook all of creation. Shiva pulled off a strand of hair from his head, and dashed it to the ground summoning Veerbhadra– his mightiest Bhairava form. Veerbhadra was charged to destroy Dakhsha and everything that kept him from attaining his objective. Part of Daksha’s impudence had arisen due to the fact that all the attendee Gods and Sages of the Yajna including Lord Vishnu himself was sworn to protect the yajna and him against all harm. True to their promise, the Gods and Rishis amassed an army but Veerbhadra cut them down in no time. It came down to Lord Vishnu to stop Veerbhadra. He magically tried to bind Veerbhadra but Shiva sent Bhardakali- the female destructive energy of Aadi Shakti who joined her consort and broke free of the bondage. The only means to stop this form of Shiva would have involved Lord Vishnu using his primary weapon- the Sudarshan Chakra. The resultant clash would have destroyed all of creation. Lord Vishnu stepped away and Veerbhadra destroyed the yajna, severing Daksha’s insolent head, casting it into the fire of the yajna.
Shiva having slipped into a fit of rage could not be pacified even with the death of Daksha failed to appease him. He was so enraged at the premature demise of his beloved Sati that he started to dance the Tandav Nritya or the “Dance of Destruction”. With Sati’s charred body wrapped tight in his arms, Shiva was a fierce sight. The gods were afraid for they knew that the end of this dance meant the end of all creation. What happened next has two slightly different versions. In one, as Shiva got more and more fearsome and his dance became more and more chaotic, Lord Vishnu used his Sudarshana Chakra and dismembered the body of Sati into 51 pieces, which fell down to earth and Shiva’s trance was broken. According to the other version, Shiva’s fearsome momentum during the increasingly violent dance causes Sati’s body to come apart in 51 pieces which then fell to earth. It is only then that Shiva realized his folly and began to calm down.
As Shiva calmed down and beheld the damage he had brought to everyone and everything before and during his Tandav Nritya, he grew remorseful and in one sweep of his arm restored the life and limb of all those who had faced his wrath, bringing back even Daksha to life. The once impudent king’s head was destroyed in the fire and was replaced by that of a goat. In addition to this Shiva created Shakti Pithas around all the spots where Sati’s dismembered body had fallen, assigning a Bhairav to each of the site to protect the site and the city near it for all times to come. The story of Shiva and Sati is one of tragic romance that transcends death to find fruition when Sati reincarnates as the Goddess Parvati and becomes one with her eternal mate Lord Shiva.
The world of the Marvel Comics talks about powerful beings that have taken up the imagination of millions of teenagers and young adults the world over. Gods from the Norse and Greco-Roman folklore already exist in that world like Zeus, Thor, Loki, Odin etc. The addition of the Hindu god Shiva into the pantheon is an interesting exercise primarily because it would interest people unaware of Shiva, to know that the characters and powers of beings from the marvel world that has taken over their imagination for a few decades have also kept the entire Indian subcontinent in awe for over 3 millennia. Lord Shiva and the Power Cosmic are more closely related than one would imagine.
Thinking about Lord Shiva and the Power Cosmic simultaneously can actually manage to bridge two very different worlds of spiritual and creative ideas. Lord Shiva is also known as ‘Shambhu’ or ‘Swayambhu’. Literally translated into English, it means “He who was born by Himself”. He is the “Aadi” or the beginning and the “Anth” or the end of time and all of creation. Shiva is also the lord and master of the five elements, in all their forms that constitutes all life everywhere- air, water, fire, earth and space. He is like the siblings Infinity and Eternity rolled into one. As such the list of Lord Shiva’s powers is limitless and can be explored beyond the religious context to make interesting connections between religion and popular culture of the eastern and western philosophies.
The destructive and restorative powers of Mahadev are legendary. The most important question then that arises is, what does one do with such awesome power? Shiva the destroyer has features of Galactus- who devours worlds, the Watcher who tries to witness the major events of the universe, rarely intervening, except when absolutely necessary. When his third eye of power opens up, Shiva has little difference in intent than Thanos who tries to bring total chaos with his “Infinity Gauntlet”, only in the case of Lord Shiva even ‘Taandav Nritya’ or utter destruction is an art form- a dance of destruction, that comes from within the God and is not some device like the gauntlet, external to Him. These are extreme examples of the use of power cosmic by super human beings. When however simple human beings are gifted with such power their reactions are significant. The Fantastic Four are the best example of humans with the Power Cosmic. They try their best to preserve the moral order. Lord Shiva appearing in his many avatars, is known to bestow fabulous powers through boons on Gods, demons and humans alike.
There are fascinating tales that exist about the marvellous things such holders of power did, for personal gains as well as for the welfare of all and sundry. The Hulk even though he does not possess the Power Cosmic, represents unrelenting anger and resembles closely Lord Shiva in extreme anger. The mythology revolving around Shiva presents a treasure trove of lessons one may draw for oneself even without thinking of it as religious advice. It opens the possibility of complex debates at a material and philosophical level about power, and its relationship with mankind and its follies like rage, ambition, vanity and uncontrolled desire for absolute domination over others. In a globalised world the transmission of culture and values take place on multiple planes. The most powerful ways to connect with others around the world and with one’s own inner self is to find common grounds on which individuals can learn to improve their lives and enjoy themselves while pursuing objectives of life-long value. ‘The Shiva Experience’ acting more as a process allows a participant to dynamically access the teachings of Shiva without being taught; one makes the connections for oneself. The power Lord Shiva wields focuses on this sort of an inclusive, self regulatory gathering of experience and knowledge.
The Power Cosmic exists, albeit in a different name in each one of us, all one needs to do is tap into it with a sincere effort directed towards self realization. Shiva’s promise to His devotees of ‘Mahamrityunjaya stotram’ or assurance of eternal life is metaphorically fulfilled every time one attempts to pursue Him in earnest. He singes off the deathly shrouds of dejection and hopelessness- a common product of contemporary life the world over. Unleashing the power cosmic the Shaivite way is one of the most productive route to transcend banality and attain an ever refreshing spiritual vision rooted in the mores of our material realities.