Indra can keep his corner office. The penthouse of the pantheon belongs to Shiva. Its decor bears the imprimatur of a Fortune-favoured designer, and yet, it’s unmistakably bohemian. Shiva knows the rules to break them; he’s awesome at shifting the goal posts.
He’s comfortable with it;if you’ve got it, flaunt it; he can swim with the sharks, and still find place in his heart for the littlest minnow. He wears the suit of divinity lightly. Yes, Mahadev is a maha-dude.
We’ve gone through a mind-churning manthan, through asceticism and socialism which have been sucked to the bottom of the centrifuge, and up has surged the cologned freedom to live life on our own terms. In our new consumerist avatar, Ganesha is invoked to bless the triumphal entry of the Indian Elephant carrying the world in its howdah. We’ve shed our hypocrisy. Who other then to iconize than the patron saint of iconoclasts? Lord Shiva.
Hinduism’s original persona of rinam kritva ghritam pivet loosely translated as ‘Njoy’! had for long been suppressed by our pretensions of being an otherworldly, spiritual people who abjured the materialist high rise for the moral high ground.
It cost us dearly on several counts, from delaying the economic miracle to delaying AIDS control. But we’ve woken up and not only smelled the coffee, but learnt to make a Frappuccino.
Shiva is the original free radical.
Today’s zeitgeist is unshackled creativity, thundering-hooves materialism, aggressive hedonism. Unlike the 60’s version, it’s not confined to the elite. Boley to, Middle India, even Mofussil India has abandoned itself to the multiplex of experience. Shiva is the god who segues most seamlessly into this spirit of our times.
He demands no rigid ritual of his bhaktas. He is propitiated even if you make a funny sound or face.
He lives life to the full. The Skanda Purana tells us of his rampant libido, not thinking twice before seducing even the wives of the rishis, and with no great subtlety either.
Yet, he is the paragon of conjugal devotion. When he went to make love to Parvati, the clinch lasted so long that time and the world came to a standstill. Witness his grief when Sati jumped into the yagna vedi; the entire earth trembled in the paroxysm of his rage.
Before the advent of sexist Manu-ists, Hinduism celebrated gender equality. Consider the deep symbolism of Ardhanarishwara, the fusion of Purush (Shiva) and Prakriti (Parvati). They cannot exist without each other, and together they create the most beautiful dance in the cosmos.
If todays liberalism presupposes a tolerance for the other, Shiva is the original free radical. Shivji ki baaraat is a rainbow coalition of the otherwise marginalized, an all-inclusive procession with the groom dressed in next-to-nothing, to the mortification of his would be mother-in-law. Shivratri is the celebration the wedding day of Shiva who defied convention every which way; look at his fondness for bhang and ganja. But it’s really his attitude to boundaries which makes him the ultimate post-millennial god.
The observance of Shivratri says it all. Right up to the present, marriage has remained an alliance of families, not a matter of self-choice.
Unmarried women fast and visit Shiv temples on this night, praying for His intervention to fulfill their dreams even within the circumscribed boundary of parental choice. He is the only deity they can invoke to Thodi si lift kara de.
And married women appeal to Him for a bliss-filled conjugal life. Shiva doesn’t subvert the boundary, he just elasticizes what you can do within it. Metaphorical poisons can be contained.
He drank the cosmic poison to save the world, but he did not swallow it and jeopardize himself. He may have been the untrammeled, even indiscriminate, lover, but he destroyed Kamdev who tried to break his samadhi.
His respect for the boundary is also there in the legend of the Ganga, whose hubris he trapped in his matted locks.
No deity offers quite as much with quite as much attitude. Shiva is cool. Linga over him.