Tag Archives: Shiva

Garhwal Diaries 7 – Offering Prayers at Kedarnath

After offering my prayers i took a round of the temple complex. Here are a few snap shots:

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Indian Mystic Sadhu

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A temple behind a temple

IMG_0275Carvings within the temple complex

IMG_0279For Whom the Bells Toll

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Temple pichhwada!

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Garhwal Diaries 5 – Reached Sitapur

Nature is at its best in the Garhwals. I could not stop clicking even if it meant capturing blurred images.

I was so smitten by the beauty of nature that I almost lost track of time only to be reminded  by the driver that I have reached by next destination Sitapur.

A recently developed small-town, Sitapur has a few motels where you can spend a night. Most of these motels offer home-cooked sumptuous meals. These days travellers prefer Sitapur over Gaurikund in order to avoid crowd.

IMG_0255The Sitapur Skyline

IMG_0300Next morning heading towards Gaurikund

gaurikundI started for Gaurikund sharp at 8 in the morning after Breakfast. The drive took barely 40 minutes. Upon reaching Gauri Kund I was shocked to see the crowd.

IMG_0256 (1)The trekking base for Kedarnath, Gaurikund has a hot water spring of the same name. However, I did not waste much time and headed towards the much awaited place.

Shiva: A Cultural History or Logical Myth?

India is a country of great religious and cultural diversity. Hinduism, being the oldest practiced religion in the world, abounds in Gods, Goddesses and myths. But little do we know that every myth has logic and science behind it.

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Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwar are the Godheads and they seem to be in a constant struggle for dominance. Many scholars believe that each is a manifestation of the other, thereby following the concept of one God. Among these three, Shiva is the most debated one.

The reason, perhaps, is the fact that none have been able to understand Him clearly due to His paradoxical nature. He is the stoic ascetic and the loving husband. He is the destructive power as well as the creative energy. He looks fierce and handsome. He is the wrathful God as well as the serene yogi. He encompasses all these contradictions within himself at the same time. Moreover, he is a dancer, who performs the dance of death which is the key to life.

Let’s take a look at some of His primary features or traits and attempt an analysis:

Shiva’s matted locks decked with a crescent moon

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Shiva’s unkempt hair is in indication of his asceticism. This contrasts with his role as the beloved of Parvati. The crescent moon indicates the changing seasons and rejuvenation of life. This again contradicts with Shiva’s image as the destroyer.

Snake

Shiva wears a snake coiled around his upper arms and neck and waist. Snakes symbolize the Hindu concept of reincarnation. Their natural process of shedding skin is symbolic of the transmigration of human souls from one life to another.

Damru

The upper right hand holds a damru or an hourglass shaped object which has a double significance. Some scholars believe that the first syllable of sound came from Shiva’s damru while others claim that the triangular upward and downward representation of the damru symbolizes the male and female procreative potential, namely, the Lingam, and the Yoni. The creation of the world begins when the lingam and the yoni meet at the mid-point of the damru.

Shiva and Dance

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Shiva as Nataraja or the Cosmic Dancer is the second most popular form of Shiva worship, after the Shivalingam. The very idea of dance carries within it a variety of significations. Dance, according to ancient Hinduism, is used to induce trance, ecstasy and the experience of the divine. Dance was meant to be a rhythmic release of energy which was aimed at approaching God. Therefore, Nataraja, represented the rhythmic movement of the entire cosmos.

According to Hindu mythology, Shiva’s dance symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and annihilation as well as the daily rhythms of birth and death. Shiva’s dance is perceived by some scholars as the source of all movement within the universe. According to historian, Anand Coomaraswamy, Shiva’s dance represents five essential activities: ‘Shrishti‘ or creation;’ ‘Sthiti‘ or preservation’, ‘Samhara‘ or destruction’, ‘Tirobhava‘ or illusion; and ‘Anugraha‘ or emancipation. In this way the figure heightens its paradoxical nature by uniting its inner tranquillity with outer activity.

The dance of Nataraja is not just a myth. There is a vivid logic behind it. Nataraj’s dance is an allegory of the human condition. Shiva, here, is not just a personal God but a universal principle. The place of the dance, Chidambaram, which is regarded as the centre of the universe, is actually symbolic of the human heart. Shiva performs the dance of Nature.

At an individual level, man is a unity in himself. But at the same time he identifies with the cosmos and is in harmony with the world around him. As Coomaraswamy says, “Everywhere is God, everywhere is the heart.” Shiva’s dance destroys ego, and achieves a state where the self is free of illusion and impure deeds. Shiva dances in order to destroy, to create and destroy again.

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Shiva’s physical structure and his dance is an evidence of the superior intelligence of the ancient Indian philosophers who created this magnificent metaphor of the perfect man in complete harmony with Nature.

The cultural history of India is full of myths but every myth has logic behind it. All of them relate to a way of living and conducting life. They educate us on the realities of existence and ways of being in amity with our natural surroundings. The irony is that in our efforts to simplify our lives, we manage to complicate it even further. A careful look at our deities would provide simple answers to our complicated questions.

Mesmerising Elephanta Experience

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Ten nautical miles away from the busy city of Mumbai lie the enigmatic Island of Elephanta.  Water bodies tend to have a soothing effect on me and but not this time. The heat and the moisture made the atmosphere in the boat extremely oppressive. I was more troubled by the number of food packets, plastics and coconut shells which went floating past.

Water in sea

However, we reached the island within forty-five minutes and then took a tram which dropped us nearer to the hill that was the famous abode of Lord Shiva. One look at the gigantic proportions of the temple architecture made all my hard work seem worth it.

History

The majestic rock-cut temples whose history remains a mystery to this day, is said to have been built during 450-750 A.D. under the influence of Buddhist architecture. Excavated in the 8th century, this imposing cave shrine added to the glory of the ruling Rashtrakuta dynasty which ruled the coastal area from 757-973A.D.

From the outside of the cave

The term “ilha do elephanta” was coined by the Portuguese several centuries later because they found a monolithic stone elephant in the island. “Gharapuri” or the “City of Caves” as this island was known during the reign of the Konkan Mauryas is not only the serene abode of Lord Shiva but also one of the great examples of Indian art and sculpture displaying the lore of Shiva.

It was a thrill to see some research that I had done prior to going being identifiable. The larger-than-life architecture of Sadashiva or The Eternal Shiva was breathtakingly beautiful and justified the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) using it as their emblem.

Contrary 

Contrary to the popular belief that Brahma is the creator, Vishnu, the preserver and Maheshwar, the destroyer, the Sadashiva statue depicted Shiva as the creator, preserver and destroyer. The three heads had three different expressions on their faces. It was amazing to see that even stones could express emotions. Besides the statues, there were approximately nine stone Shivalingams which were enshrined within the precincts of the cave.

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I was transported to a completely different century altogether. The immensity of the architecture made all the manifestations of Shiva seem mysteriously alive. Was it myth or was it history? I wondered. I knew that every myth had logical base which we failed to recognise in the modern days. I was also aware of the fact that every God in the Hindu religion represented aspects of human nature.

Broken Image

These statues, too, did the same. Shiva as the serene Yogi, as well as the loving Husband, as the supreme Dancer, and the Wrathful God – He is all in one at the same time…and so are we. We, too house paradoxes within ourselves like the concept of Shiva. It was then that I realised the actual essence of pantheism and understood the profundity of our mythical heritage.

Current

The Elephanta Caves was deservedly declared the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1987. A symbol of ancient Indian culture, religion, myth, history, sculpture and architecture – this temple is an exemplification of a confluence of Science and Arts since its very existence proves the brilliant engineering skill which combined with religiosity, artistic temperament and an aesthetic sense in creating this grand emblem of Indian culture.