On Writing this Book
Would anyone give a daughter's hand in marriage to a half naked, inebriated mendicant who smears his body with ash, rides a bull and has serpents round his neck?
And if the man happened to be Shiva?
This mythical dilemma experienced by Shiva's father-in-law is a very ordinary human reaction, one that we can all identity with. This essential earthiness, enmeshed with sublime Philosophy, is what inspired me to write this book. The mythology of Shiva expresses divine predicament in human terms: the gods play and act in the language of man, for man. Through words I have tried my best to capture this accessible sacredness without losing sight of the subtle metaphysics.
It is not easy. Myths are not common tales, they are not parables or legends. They are conceived in dreams and expressed through symbols as a reaction to man's inexplicable yet desperate need to validate his presence in the cosmos. They do not teach, they generate experience. And in minds fertilized by curiosity, they turn into seeds of profound thought that enable man to discover his true personality, his svadharma.
The mythology of Shiva has come a long way: from the blazing visions of seers it has been transported by versatile bards over hills, across plains, along beaches, through river-valleys, into villages, towns and temples, all the while evolving, transforming, reverberating with the attitudes of the people, manifesting itself through song, dance, picture, icon, mime, music, even comic-books and TV serials. When it finally came to me, it had over a hundred versions, a thousand interpretations and not one standard source!
It was then that I realized that retelling the mythology of Shiva would not be easy. Popular notions, elitist traditions, ancient caste and gender bias, modern attitudes towards religion and sex hardly made things easier. Difficulties notwithstanding, I was determined to carry on. I relied on my discretion while selecting the tales: some survive only in folk traditions; many were gleaned together into a simple narrative I had to take a few artistic licences; these could not be avoided, considering language. Luckily, through it all I discovered the pulse of a sacred logic. Or visuals I selected art-styles that reflect the myriad ways in which the concept of Shiva has been captured by artists, both ancient and modern.
To me the gods live in the minds of the masses. Religion is not the exalted word written by scholars in erudite texts; it is what is felt, heard, believed and practised by the common man. Hence I have focussed on the simple popular rites that form part of a Shiva bhakta's day-to-day life.
This book is an introduction, the first step in an infinite voyage. I have not attempted to unveil the whole picture, restricting myself to giving the general reader a clear and substantial account of Shiva and Shaivism. I have been earnest and given my best. For those interested in learning more about the subject, kindly refer to the bibliography at the end of the book.
I hope and pray that my words have succeeded in animating the games gods play to amuse and uplift man. And may it make a stern yogi smile, if not dance.
Back of Book
This is an attempt to understand the meaning of Shiva worship in our time exploring various pictorial images of Shiva iconography, taking us through Shaivite philosophy, beliefs, history, folklore and myth. Written in a simple narrative style, and interspersed with familiar and unfamiliar tales retold, the book reaches out to young and old alike.
Highlights include lucid explanations and a pictorial key to numerous symbols associated with Shaivite ritual and festival practices, a map of India showing important Shiva temples including the twelve jyotir-lingas, a list o 108 sacred names of Shiva with their meanings, a bibliography for those interested in learning more, and over 150 illustrations of which many are in colour.
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