By BK Gayatri Naraine
Shiva has a unique place in the Hindu pantheon. Being incorporeal, Shiva alone is usually not represented by a deity, and instead, is depicted by the lingam. The names of Shiva temples in India bear the suffix ‘nath’ or ‘ishwar’ to indicate that he is the preceptor of all beings. One of the many names of Shiva is Sarveshwar, Lord of all. Images of the deity Shankar often show him meditating in front of a Shivalingam.
Hindu mythology speaks of Krishna and Rama as avatars, they were born and they died. They are said to have worshipped Shiva. Other gods also take physical birth, but Shiva neither takes birth, nor dies.
Shiva incarnates himself in a human body, an occurrence that is celebrated during Shivaratri. Shiva’s incarnation is associated with ‘ratri’ or night because he manifests in this world when it is enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and evil. Omniscient Shiva dispels the darkness by giving humans the light of knowledge. The three parallel lines on the Shivalingam are symbolic of Shiva’s knowledge of the three aspects of time. The eye in the middle of the lines indicates the eye of wisdom he gives to human souls.
The Mahabharata refers to the regenerative role of Shiva, saying that when the world had plunged into darkness and vicious proliferation, “an egg-like form of light descended and established a new order”. In the Dharma Samhita part of Shiva Purana, it is said that at the end of Kaliyuga, during the time of destruction, a magnificent light revealed itself, blindingly luminous, radiant and eternal, and the world was created through this light.
Shivaratri is commemoration of the arrival of Divinity in this world to salvage humanity. In the Bhagwad Gita Krishna says that whenever righteousness declines and unrighteousness arises, he manifests for the protection of the good, destruction of the wicked, and reestablishment of a righteous order.
The Gita hints at this role of Shiva when Krishna says: “I am ‘mahakaal’ (God of Death). Death can never approach me.” Such an assertion can be made only by Shiva, the Supreme, Paramatma. Soul, one who never takes birth, is Mrityunjaya, immortal.
There is no room for confusion about the roles of Shiva and Krishna, because there is but one God, though deities may be many. The Supreme of all souls, across different faith traditions, is understood as being incorporeal and omnipotent. The Ocean of Peace, the Saviour and Almighty, is forever beyond the limitations of a physical existence.
He performs his tasks by giving power to his spiritual children, these gods and goddesses, the slayers of demons, who are also embodiments of purity, love and wisdom. They are not supernatural beings, but humans with divine qualities. They foster these qualities in their fellow humans, nurturing a new, elevated consciousness, and thus serve as divine instruments in the task of creating a righteous world order.
This is the secret of Maha Shivaratri, which will be observed on March 4 this year, the night the Supreme comes to liberate his children from suffering and sorrow, as promised in the Gita.