Let us become nobler

Sanskrit word 'Arya' or 'Aryam' stands for nobility. Let us implore everyone to become noble, the Arya or Aryam. Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews, communists or capitalists, rich or poor, clever or dumb, weak, meek or bully. Uncomfortable perhaps are they with other, threatening peace. Ray of hope for the world is ‘include-all’ ideas of ancient Indian wisdom popularly known as Hinduism. Only they knew how to celebrate individuality of each person. Aryas respect ideas of others, respect way of worship of others, help others and become a noble citizen of this wide and varied world. Idea behind this blog is to bring out those ideas and help each of us become better than what we are. 'N' in the 'Aryan', by the way, was a mistake made by colonial 'experts' who wanted to underplay and undermine the culture and religion of those who they clandestinely enslaved.





Thursday, June 23, 2016

6- Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and Me.

(A decade ago after a trip to Tibet, Nepal and India, I wrote down my impressions. It was not meant to be a book, however after it was read by some, it was suggested that if it gets published, interested persons can use it. However I thought (and still think) that the narration was more of a personal quest into Bhagavan Shiva and that it may not interest a wider audience. Therefore instead of commercially publishing it, I thought of placing it on a website of Publishing house Harper Collins’s website known as Authonomy.com. It remained on their website as "Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and Me", for people to review my narration for many years. However, last year, when Harper Collis shutdown Authonomy.com and I realized that some people still wanted to read my account, I decided to place all 26 chapters of that travelogue on this blog. Reader views and comments are welcome)

Chapter 6.   Shiva-Linga, A Unique Symbol. An ‘Unmanufactured’ Entity Shiva-Linga / Shiva-Raatri or Maha-Shiva-Raatri: A Unique Festival

 

 In addition to being Their abode, Mount Kailash itself is considered an embodiment of Bhagavan Shiva Himself. This has led to an interesting development, unique in Hinduism. A symbol came to represent Him. In Sanskrit language, ‘Linga’ word is used for ‘Symbol’. Shiva-Linga is a small cylindrical or conical stub that stands on a key-hole shaped base. This is a symbolic representation of Bhagavan Shiva and it looks like mountain Kailash embedded in the upper Himalayas complete with water, around its base, that flows down from its heights and flows away to the Himalayan plateau (See the aerial picture as well as satellite-image of Mount Kailash). Its key-hole base is the Parikrama  route.

 

Some knowledgeable people explain the Shiva-Linga as symbolic representation of ‘One’ and ‘Zero’. Linga is ‘one’ and Base is ‘zero’, collectively they seem to say Only One, the God matters and without Him everything else is a big naught.

 

Shiva-Puran provides an account of an incident during ancient times that also gives credence to the symbolic representation of Bhagavan Shiva in the form of Pillar-like structure found in many Shiva-temples. According to that description, Creator Brahma and sustainer Vishnu had an ‘argument’ as to whom between them is really more powerful, bigger or important. This led to Bhagavan Shiva unfolding a flame that seemed to go high above in the sky and the go down below the earth. Gods Brahma and Vishnu were challenged into reaching extremities of the flame-pillar, the person who reached any one of the extremity would emerge as more powerful. Bhagavan Shiva wanted both other Gods to know that, both were equal and that He was infinite. Both Gods tried for a long period with all their might and skill. Brahma went towards sky to reach top of the flame and Vishnu in the opposite direction of the bottom of the flame. None could see where the pillar-like flame ended. Since that day, the pillar-shape came to become Bhagavan Shiva’s symbol, jetting out from ground. I would not be surprised if Egyptian obelisks are found to have their origin in this story. Thus how, presumably Bhagavan Shiva’s symbolic representation came to be a rock, a cylinder, a mountain etc, and is known in Sanskrit and other Indian languages as ‘Shiva-Linga’(Linga is Sanskrit for Symbol).The Supreme-Power is beginning-less and end-less, no matter what you do, even the most powerful also can not fathom Him. A Shiva devotee comes to Him, recalls this incident, proceeds with his worship, soaked in humility and ponders on omnipresent, all-knowing, ‘entity’ the God that created him, that nourishes him, that would keep his karma safe with Him and take him closer to Him by becoming like Him until eventually, becoming Him upon ‘Realization’, ending this ‘drama’ of cycle of life and death, the final ‘Liberation’.

 

Also a few interpret Shiva-Linga as a play of creation, the male and female principles of God at work. For them, Shiva-Linga literally represents male and female organs in sexual union. In Hinduism, the sex is sacred and is respected as instrument of creation; hence if any one was to interpret Shiva-Linga as genitalia, I can not have any quarrel with it. This idea has some credence in Hatha-Yoga too. However I would like to point out clearly for reader’s benefit that, that sort of meaning is not interpreted by much of the Purans, Upanishads and mainstream Hindu scholars. In Hinduism, every aspect has to be tested on one touch-stone; Every Hindu identity, imagery or process or whatever, has to be meant for human upliftment and evolution. Sexual interpretation does not fit the bill of providing inspiration to reach high moral, ethical or conscientious lives. But sex is best seller hence if those who want to ‘sell’ in preference to providing spiritual guidance lap up sexual interpretation with their both hands; I would not be one bit surprised. None of the authentic Indian scriptures consider sexual interpretation as valid. Practicing Hindus do not recognize, sexual meaning behind the Shiva-Linga.

 

Sexual interpretation is not new. Many old and new and even ‘respected’ writers have made obscene remarks and some have got down to write filthiest description and woven some fantastic stories around the sex theme. Most of these authors are or were ‘travelers’, ‘thinkers’ and ‘historians’ from Europe and Middle-East with little or no exposure to authentic Indic philosophies. Having known true colors of some of them, usually I compare their notes with others before forming my own opinion. I know for a fact that histories and travelogues (including this one) are never an accurate account. It is ‘his’ ‘stories’; heavily biased in favor of barbaric victors, always showing in poor light those who are subdued and colonized or in the least, falling victim to sensationalism. Even the best known Indologist Max Muller once dismissed 5000 years old Rig Veda (World’s most ancient literature, revered by most intellectuals due to its advanced literary content, rich in metaphors and descriptions of nature, of rain, of rivers etc) as “dark and helpless utterances”. So much for ‘history’! Interestingly, in India, they have “Itihaas” (Not ‘history’). Literally translated, the Sanskrit word ‘Itihaas’ means, “Thus it was” or “thus it happened”. Very different from ‘his -story’.  The endless charm of Sanskrit Language!

 

Thus Bhagavan Shiva is worshipped by devotees in two ways. In the idol form (in the form of ‘Human’ image, like most other Hindu deities) and also in abstract, ‘Form-less-Form’ or non-idol form of Shiva-Linga. Shiva-Linga can be viewed to be similar to the Cross of the Christians or as Islam’s calligraphic names of Allah or Picture of Kaaba in one sense, it points at something very important. Shiva-Linga symbol has unlimited number of shapes, unlike fixed symbols presented by Cross or Calligraphic ‘Allah’, Shiva-Linga’s unlimited shape-size-form-color, demonstrate that God transcends any attribute or quality. Another difference being, the Shiva-Linga is generally in the unmanufactured natural state, unlike cross/calligraphy made by Carpenters, masons, ironsmiths or artists.

‘Unmanufactured’ Entity Shiva-Linga

 

His simplicity bears out the moment one looks at Shiv-Linga or image of Bhagavan Shiva. Almost all Shiva-Lingas in the places of pilgrimages, in the temples and those that are kept in homes of devotees are generally, ‘unmanufactured’ or ‘not made by human agency’. Generally these are naturally occurring rocks, stones or crystals, identified by holy men to have possessed elevated divine spiritual presence. These may vary in size, shape, color, structure or content. In Kashmir, just 140 km from Srinagar in the Himalayas is a massive cave known as ‘Amarnath Cave’. It is at a height of 12,000 feet. In this cave, one finds one of the most sacred Shiva-Lingas, a naturally created huge Linga from frozen water. Stones from the River Narmada have special value as Shiva-Linga. At Kedarnath, the Linga is a rock that appears like an unsymmetrical pyramid. Mount Kailash is itself a Shiva-Linga. The fact that many Shiva-Lingas appear to be in the bare, unsophisticated, natural state still does not go to make a law or a tradition. There are many famous and holy Shiv-Lingas, such as the ones at Pashupati-nath and at Kashi-Vishwa-Nath are sculpted 4-headed Shiv-Lingas. From ancient epic scripture Ramayana, we understand that Bhagavan Rama had made the Shiva-Linga from the sands at the sea shore of Kanyakumari . at the tip of Indian peninsula.  Commercially available Shiva-Lingas are most often manufactured using stone, wood, metal, crystal, or their combinations. However once consecrated (God- instilled) they all come to possess divinity.

 

Not only the Shiva-Linga, but almost everything that goes to represent Bhagavan Shiva must qualify as natural and simple to be part of Him. Ornaments are River Ganga, a crescent moon, snakes, seeds of Rudraksh tree, occasionally human skulls collected from cremation ground, tiger skin for sitting on and elephant skin to occasionally wrap around. His cosmetics are ashes remainder from burnt corpses in the cremation ground. The only ‘manufactrured’ items seem to be a trident and a tiny drum, known as ‘Damru’, both rudimentary instruments are simple and unsophisticated..

Shiva-Raatri or Maha-Shiva-Raatri: A Unique Festival

 

We celebrate anniversaries and holy days of great persons, saints and Gods but who celebrates us, the ordinary mortals? Shiva-Raatri in that sense is a unique festival. It commemorates achievement of a nameless, faceless ordinary mortal, exactly like you and me. But do we need to be celebrated? We have none of the attributes of those exalted whose commemorative days are, and rightly so, celebrated. Rama-Navami represents birthday of Bhagavan Rama and Janmashtami, that of Bhagavan Shri Krishna. Dashera and Kaali Chaudas are victory days. In stark difference, Shiva-celebration-day, the Shiva-Raatri is none of these. It is not even ‘day’; it is night! (Raatri in India means night). Bhagavan Shiva is birthless, deathless and perpetually victorious, thus allowing no specific one day (or night) that can be marked out for veneration. Shiva-Raatri is the anniversary of the night; one very ordinary man achieved his enlightenment. Purely a spiritual day. Yes, we need to be celebrated to remember imbedded unlimited power within each of us, so powerful that it can take us to highest level, no matter who and where we may be.

 

It is claimed by a few respected religious men that Shiva-Raatri represents wedding anniversary of Bhagavan Shiva, even if true, scriptures seem to have ignored this view and have emphasized how even an ordinary mortal could get enlightenment by change of heart. Perhaps some devotees may define the enlightenment as astral wedding of a devotee with God. In this sense, even if the day is assumed to be wedding anniversary, it still retains its significance as a spiritual day and that is how the scriptures want this festival celebrated.

 

As told in the Shiva-Puran, many years ago, a hunter goes to forest on this day (Krishna 14th of Hindu month of Magh; around January-February). While he was on his routine hunting mission, when he was just about to shoot an arrow towards a deer, a mother deer, she speaks to him. She says she is prepared to die but has one request. If he lets her go for a few hours, she can get the medicinal herb for her mate and give one last feed to her baby. Hunter does not believe a word she says and yet somehow lets her go. Within a few hours, to the utter disbelief of the hunter, the female deer returns and asks the hunter to shoot her. At that time other members of her family too run across, each demanding to be killed in lieu of other. The hunter gets overcome by the love and compassion at the innocent sincerity of his prey. He was moved. So moved was he that in no more than a flash, he became enlightened. Shiva-Raatri is celebrated to convey two important truths. That, anyone and everyone, even a hunter can get enlightened if his heart and mind becomes sensitive enough. And that the enlightenment can come in as short a time as a flash for a sensitively ripe mind.

 

In many ways, Bhagavan Shiva is God of us mortals. He would never shun us because He does not shun even the lowest among the lows. Everyone is a deserving candidate for His mercy: consider the list of ‘people’ He has bestowed His boons onto, be he a mortal, a sinner, even a ghost, once he has demonstrated change of heart and mind! He, being a God, naturally we tend to see Him as possessor of and enjoying best of all things, but lo, He is proletarian among Gods! What he prefers most are those things that have hardly any value, monetary or aesthetic. He is happy with offering of just plain water, dripping on Shiv-Linga and flowing away as does River Ganga on His matted hair. He has decided to leave all the ‘good things’ for others. Bilva leaves that no one wants and Bilva fruits that can never occupy any dining table are what he prefers. He accepts poisonous Dhatura flowers that are shunned even by animals. Every Hindu Cremation ground, where dead are consigned to fire, unfailingly one finds there a Shiva-temple. He does not mind even staying on graveyard. He does reject nothing and no one. Nothing and Nobody. Bhagavan Shiva seems to assure us by these that however unwanted one may be for the world around, He would still want him. His accessibility is limitless, one does not need to look at clock before deciding to pay a visit to His temple. Prior appointment (or any fixed time, day or month) is unnecessary. Bhagavan Shiva’s temples are the only ones among all places of worship that remain open 24x7 and are open to everyone. By scriptural authority, these temples can not refuse entry.

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