Story-day is for cultural exploration, puraanas and parables and finding out about leading lights in spiritual philosophy.
For the month of February the focus will be exploring different aspects of Lord Shiva. On the 17th it is Mahaa Shivraatri. Of all the festivals of the followers of Sanaatana Dharma, this is perhaps the most profound due to the focus on meditation. More on that soon. First let us put Shiva into context.
It is important to appreciate that within Sanaatana Dharma, the understanding is that there is but One Unity of Being in the form of Brahman, represented by OM. When that Universal Consciousness moved into its creative phase and the cosmos, including this world, became manifest, the creator part became 'physical' as the Lord Brahma. Having created, there became immediately a need to maintain. Preservation and continuation of the creation is undertaken by Lord Vishnu. Finally, as creation is but a figment of imagination within Universal Consciousness, there is necessarily an ending. All things pass. All things must be tested, assessed, sorted… from the hours of the butterfly to the millennia of the galaxies. All things must ultimately fall away from their created state. The one who governs these processes is Lord Shiva.
This is the Holy Trinity of Sanatana Dharma. Birth, Life, Death. Manifestation, Maintenance and Mortification. The Father creates, The Son maintains, The Holy Ghost draws all back to it.
Quite often, there is tendency to perceive the Shiva figure as something dark, threatening; one has even heard him referred to, by those who would remain locked in their ignorance, as a devilish embodiment. The previous paragraph, it is hoped, makes it clear that Lord Shiva is but the Holy Ghost of the trinity. Another important thing to remember here, is that every single face is a face of 'God', a manifestation from the One Being. That includes every living thing as we know it now, but also all the variety of 'god-figures' which are seen, not just within India, but in many parts of the world.
Within the Sanskrit pantheon, all the manifestations have a role allotted to set an example. Each holds qualities which are meant to demonstrate positives and negatives of certain characteristics and behaviours to the devotees. The Catholic church follows this tradition somewhat with all the saints… saints for mental health, saints for animals, saints for nursing, saints for sailors… It is not that they are simply to be prayed to or all our power surrendered to them - rather that by taking their example, we become empowered.
Due to the common name of 'The Destroyer' Lord Shiva is thought of at times in negative terms. However, within the larger cycles, there is a constant renewal - Shiv-ji is responsible also for the constant resurgence of creation. Therefore, the reproductive cycle is governed by Him. We see in Nature very often, that only through destruction can things flourish; think of what the farmer must do to ensure the next healthy crop, or the forester to ensure healthy trees. Even the making of worlds is at once a destructive and constructive process. Then there is the gardener who must prune to ensure abundant growth in the following season.
Lord Shiva represents all of this.
For symbolism within ourselves, Lord Shiva demonstrates that we must destroy our egoism, our delusions, our ignorance and imperfections. He is the very embodiment of austerity, focus and detachment.
As with all other Gods, he has a thousand names, each relating to an aspect of his physical or mental qualities and therefore acting as tools for us. By using the names in mantras, we can build the qualities we desire. Next week we shall look at specific symbolism relating to Lord Shiva.