Why would a God be so contradictory? Because that is what we need. He attracts us. And then He balances us.
Om Namah Shivaya.
Whenever I am down, whenever I am depressed or tired, whenever I feel as if I don't have the energy to carry on, these three powerful words rejuvenate me: Om Namah Shivaya. They give me the strength to carry on. But, I am forty-two years old. My family's hometown is Kashi (called Varanasi in modern times). You would expect me to be religious, right?
However, am I the only one so powerfully impacted by Lord Shiva? Of course, not. There are much older than me who are even more devoted to him than I am. And, what intrigues many the most, there are many youngsters who are enamoured by the Mahadev.
One of my younger readers described Lord Shiva as the Dude of the Gods. One may wonder, what makes him so popular with the modern man and woman? He is, after all, an ascetic in a tiger-skin skirt, who smears himself with ash, drinks bhang with his ghoulish friends in his free time, and dances in cremation ghats. Does this sound like a 'cool' God? It appears contradictory, right? But being contradictory is his way. And therein lies the secret behind the immense devotion He generates.
Allow me to digress a bit and bring to your notice a long-dead English author, Charles Dickens; actually, a line from his book, A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It might well have been written to concisely describe our present world. We live in times of complex contradictions, which, furthermore, are wrapped with conundrums! In some sense, once again, it can be said that these are the best and worst of times. Women have far greater rights today than they have had in millennia, and yet crimes against women are also growing. Religious liberalism is being forcefully championed in a world that is connected as never before; technology and curiosity have resulted in a healthy dialogue between different faiths, and yet, religious fundamentalism is tearing the world apart.
Globalisation and its tools, like cheap travel, the internet, and reliable instant communication, have truly created a global village. But even then, nationalism remains a strong driver of people's emotions. Perhaps for the first time in history, the human race has the ability to end poverty completely, and the poor can legitimately dream of a lifestyle that was previously unthinkable and yet, our breakneck speed of economic growth is threatening environmental collapse. Social media has brought the whole world closer, and our life is seemingly cluttered by people, and yet, too many feel desperately alone. Sex seems to pervade the media and public space, and yet, people are ridden with a terrible sense of guilt regarding sensuality and desire. We are surrounded by massive public displays and celebrations of love, but the emotional succour that simple but deep, unheralded love brings seems to be missing.
Yes, these are times of intense change and contradictions.
Is it any wonder then that the God who can shepherd us in such times would also be the Lord of contradictions? Of course, he wears clothes that none would don in polite society, but he's also the originator of many art forms that are beloved to the elite. He is the Nataraj, the Lord of Dance. Our traditions hold that the Neelkanth revealed the secrets of Indian classical music to Maharishi Narad. He drinks bhang, an intoxicant that reveals to the mind an ethereal world but harms the physical body. At the same time, he is also Adi Yogi, the originator of Yoga, the path to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance. He prefers coarse, unpolished and even macabre companions and yet, the respect and love with which he treats his wife is a lesson in nobility. He's an ascetic, the ultimate guru of renunciation who'd rather keep the material world at bay. But at the same time, he is the definitive householder, a devoted husband and a very good father. He is an anti-elitist God who's always on the side of the disempowered, dispossessed, those who're on the fringe, the poor and the weak. But the most powerful kings have built massive temples dedicated to him. As the originator of the Vedas, he has the intelligence of the ages and yet, his childish innocence makes his devotees lovingly call him Bholenath. While one may fear his 'Rudraroop', the proprietary love of His devotees remains undiminished.
Why would a God be so contradictory? Because that is what we need. He attracts us. And then he balances us.
The aristocrat is attracted to Lord Shiva as he is the Lord of the arts. And if the aristocrat is a true devotee, he will learn sensitivity toward the dispossessed and the poor from the Mahadev. A commoner is attracted to Lord Shiva as he behaves as if he is one of them. But the commoner would, over time, learn from Lord Shiva that he too can aspire and achieve, like the legendary Kannappa Nayanar. The Mahadev may attract the marijuana-smoking man, but if he is a true devotee, he will delve deeper into the philosophy of the Neelkanth and learn that Yoga and spirituality can give him a greater high. And an ex-atheist like me gets pulled back into the world of Lord Shiva because he wishes it. He treats his devotees with respect, and as I developed a deeper understanding of the stories of the Mahadev, I learnt that the Lord wants us to respect all religions and gods.
Many times, in order to balance our frenetic lives and find peace, we have to embrace contradictions. I have found my balance and peace through my devotion to Lord Shiva. I hope you find it as well.
Om Namah Shivaya.
(From Organiser Archives)