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The man from the egg, p.2
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       The Man from the Egg, p.2

           Sudha Murty
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  ‘I want to live forever,’ replied Taraka.

  ‘My dearest devotee, you know that such a boon is not possible. Why don’t you ask me for something else?’

  Taraka thought for some time. ‘I don’t want to die at the hands of just any man or god. If I must perish, I would rather it happened at the hands of the son of Shiva,’ he said, knowing full well that Shiva, grief-stricken by the loss of Dakshayani, was far from even the thought of marrying again. So the boon would actually make Taraka invincible and keep him safe from Yama, the god of death.

  Brahma understood Taraka’s intention. Nevertheless, he said, ‘So may it be.’

  His penance now complete, Taraka descended from the mountain and returned to his abode. Over time, he created a powerful army headed by ten cruel generals. And then he went on a rampage, conquering kingdoms, abusing living beings on earth as well as the gods above. He terrorized them all so much that everyone began praying to Lord Vishnu.

  Vishnu heard their pleas. ‘Shiva and Parvati’s son will be the cause of Taraka’s doom,’ he declared.

  Himavat or Parvatraj, the king of the Himalayas, had a wife named Menaka. The queen really wanted a daughter who would grow up to become Shiva’s consort. When Menaka heard about Dakshayani, she instinctively knew that Shiva’s wife would be reborn as her daughter. She thus decided to go into deep meditation, convinced that destiny would soon take its course.

  Menaka gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom she named Uma. As Uma was the daughter of Parvatraj, she was also known as Parvati, or Himani (from her father’s other name, Himavat), or Girija (meaning the daughter of the king of mountains), or Shailaja (meaning the daughter of the mountains).1

  Parvati was a charming child and unusually devoted to Shiva right from her birth. Even as an adult, she was always found either praying to Shiva or just talking about him. News of her beauty and intelligence spread far and wide. Though suitors came in hordes with the hope of winning her heart, Parvati could only think of Shiva and refused to entertain the idea of marrying anyone else.

  The devas were watching all this with great interest. They eagerly awaited the arrival of Parvati and Shiva’s son—the harbinger of Taraka’s death.

  Shiva, on the other hand, deep in meditation atop the cold Mount Kailash, remained unaware of what was going on. Much to the concern of her parents, a determined Parvati made the arduous journey to Kailash and began serving Shiva. She took care of his surroundings, brought him fruits and made garlands for him every day. She wanted to be there the moment he opened his eyes so they could marry as soon as possible.

  The gods sighed with relief and hoped that Shiva would soon awaken from his penance.

  Days, months and years passed but Shiva showed no signs of emerging from his meditation. If he did not open his eyes, he would never see Parvati, which meant that he wouldn’t marry her or have a son. And if the current state of affairs continued, Taraka’s cruel reign would be the end of everybody.

  Frustrated, the gods decided to take matters into their own hands. All the realms were in grave danger. They had to intervene and force Shiva to awaken, but who would take the risk? No one dared offer to be the one to disturb Shiva’s penance and become the target of his infamous temper. Everyone knew that when he was extremely angry, his third eye would open and immediately spew a great fire that destroyed everything in its path.

  And yet the task needed to be done.

  The gods decided to approach the diplomatic Lord Vishnu and beseech him to find a way to guarantee Shiva and Parvati’s marriage.

  ‘All right, let’s see how things turn out,’ Vishnu said with a mysterious smile.

  The Indian Cupid

  The god and goddess of eternal love, Manmatha and Rati, were a lovely couple. Their affection for each other blossomed visibly during the spring season, and their companions included flowers, buds, cuckoos, parrots, honeybees and lush green trees.

  One day, Manmatha’s father,2 Vishnu, summoned him to his abode and said, ‘I have a difficult task for you. You are the only god with the ability to wake Shiva from his stupor. Once you do that, he will open his eyes and see the beautiful Parvati. As you are the god of love, you must use the power of your gentle arrows to make him fall in love with her.’

  An alarmed Manmatha replied, ‘Dear Father, you are asking me to play with fire. Shiva is no ordinary god! He is the lord of destruction! His temper is fearsome . . . and you know what will happen if he opens his fiery third eye. Didn’t you see his Tandav Nritya after Dakshayani jumped into fire? Even you couldn’t pacify him. And Lord Brahma just about managed to calm him down before he destroyed the whole world. So how do you think I can withstand his wrath? I fear this will be the end of me. Please let me go.’

  Vishnu then said sternly, ‘Manmatha, there’s no denying that Shiva can be ferocious, but don’t forget that he is also exceptionally kind. He forgave his father-in-law and brought him back to life. He is the only god who grants boons to his devotees irrespective of the cost to himself—that’s how much his followers mean to him. Even if something unfortunate were to happen, trust me, he’ll be the first to save you. This is no ordinary task—the fate of the world rests on it.’

  But Manmatha and Rati were still hesitant.

  ‘It is your duty!’ insisted Vishnu. ‘Taraka has become such a huge menace that nobody wants to challenge him. The world is suffering, Manmatha, and if you don’t make Shiva fall in love with Parvati, he will neither marry her nor produce the son fated to bring about Taraka’s death. The asura will continue to torment every living being, and you will be the only one responsible for it!’

  Manmatha understood that he had no choice in the matter.

  He reluctantly made his way to Mount Kailash with Rati. There they saw Parvati gazing lovingly at Shiva, who was deep in meditation, unaware of her presence.

  Manmatha got to work. He called upon all of his companions for help, which included his vehicle (a parrot), a swarm of humming honeybees and Vasantha, the god of spring. Within minutes, the cold and harsh Mount Kailash was transformed into a magical land in springtime. The ice melted and streams of cool blue water began to flow melodically. The frost-covered leaves changed to a brilliant reddish green that shone in the light of the sun as the birds started chirping and singing. The air was filled with a heady fragrance as buds bloomed into brightly coloured flowers. The whole scene was perfect for some romance.

  But nothing happened. Shiva remained oblivious to his surroundings.

  Rati and Manmatha didn’t give up that easily. Being accomplished dancers, they put up an enthralling performance in front of the motionless Shiva.

  He still didn’t stir.

  Parvati, on the other hand, was enchanted by the beauty of the setting. She prayed fervently to Shiva to open his eyes.

  Days went by with no luck.

  Manmatha became increasingly restless. None of his schemes were working. As a last resort, he picked up his bow of sugar cane and five flowered arrows. Each arrow was tipped with a different kind of flower—white lotus, blue lotus, jasmine, mango blossom and a flower from the ashoka tree. These arrows were so potent that the slightest contact with any of them was enough for most to immediately fall madly in love with the nearest person.

  Manmatha shot Shiva with all five arrows at once, which gently touched the god and fell to the ground. Shiva’s eyes fluttered open. He stared ahead without blinking, his eyes burning with incandescent rage. ‘Who dares disturb my penance?’ he thought.

  And then he saw Manmatha, who smiled at him in the hope of a friendly response. As Shiva was silent, Manmatha assumed that his arrows had begun to work their magic. However, the smile on Manmatha’s face only incensed Shiva further, and so his third eye opened. It is said to be the only instance of Shiva opening his third eye.

  Manmatha was reduced to a heap of ashes within seconds. The sight of the steaming mound calmed Shiva down and he closed his third eye. Then he simply stood up and walked away, noticing ne
ither Parvati nor Rati. He was frustrated by his inability to concentrate and return to his meditation. His penance was over. And poor Manmatha, the handsome god of love, had sacrificed his life for nothing.

  Rati fell to the ground, almost faint with grief. Sobbing, she cried out, ‘O my dear husband, we are meant to be inseparable. How can I go on without you? Why didn’t Shiva turn me to ashes too?’

  Parvati ran to Rati to console her the best she could. She was filled with intense mixed emotions herself. She was distressed and pained by Manmatha’s fate, for he had died trying to help her! She was also insulted by the fact that Shiva had not even noticed her presence despite her devotion!

  She made up her mind. ‘I am not going to chase Shiva any more. One day, he will come to me on his own. And until then, I will perform penance.’ Having decided her course of action, she left Mount Kailash.

  Devastated and helpless, Rati prayed to Vishnu, ‘Father, you said that you would support and guide us. We need you now.’

  Vishnu immediately appeared in front of Rati, shocked and dejected by the turn of events. ‘Don’t worry, my daughter,’ he said. ‘I will revive Manmatha, though he will no longer possess the human form. He will arise in the thoughts of people, and you will remain inseparable. Whoever thinks about love will inevitably invoke you and Manmatha. He will henceforth be known as Manoj, “the one who emerges from the mind”, or Ananga, “the one without a body”. The whole world will remember both your sacrifices.’

  This incident, the burning of Manmatha, is associated with Holi,3 which is usually followed by a light drizzle the next day. The rain is believed to be made up of the tears that Rati shed on the loss of her husband.

  A Match Made in Heaven

  A determined Parvati began her penance, abstaining from food and only focusing on her chanting, which earned her the name Aparna, or ‘the girl who refuses to eat even a leaf’. With each passing day, her tapasya became more and more severe, until the entire world was aware of her meditation. Years passed, and Parvati grew powerful with the strength she obtained from her intense penance.

  In the meantime, Shiva came to learn about everything that had transpired—her devotion to him and his failure to notice her. He realized that she wasn’t a mere mortal, and decided to test her faith.

  Shiva approached Parvati disguised as a sanyasi begging for food. Though she was deep in meditation, she sensed the sanyasi’s presence and opened her eyes. A wave of peace and calm swept over Shiva.

  Parvati stared at him without realizing who he was, and then offered him all she had. While receiving the alms, the ascetic asked, ‘Why are you performing this penance?’

  ‘It is for Shiva. I wish to marry him,’ she said simply.

  ‘But he is not worthy of you, my lady,’ said the ascetic. ‘Shiva’s dwelling is atop the cold and bleak Mount Kailash, and sometimes he’s even found in cremation grounds. You are exquisite and refined while his appearance is ghoulish. He smears ash on his body and uses skulls for garlands. You are delicate while he is slovenly. You are sweet-tempered while Shiva is known for his wrath. He is no match for you. You should marry someone kind, handsome and gentle, who can treat you the way you deserve to be treated. Take my sincere advice and end your penance. Go back to the life that you were meant to live.’

  Parvati was furious at the sanyasi’s words. ‘You came to me for food and I have given you all that I can. It is time for you to be on your way. I know Shiva’s soul. He does not care for fine clothes and ornaments. Why, he doesn’t even care for grand rituals performed in his name! A devotee can offer him a leaf from a bael tree and some water, and he would be satisfied. He is the kindest of all the gods, and he always stands by the promises he makes to his followers, regardless of who they are. I am sorry, but I do not need your guidance in this matter.’

  The ascetic, however, paid no heed to her words. He continued, ‘But, my lady, what about the way he reduced poor Manmatha to a heap of ashes . . . surely you can’t approve of that—’

  ‘I cannot listen to you any more! And if you won’t leave, I will,’ Parvati retorted.

  Just as she turned to go, there was a flash of white light and Shiva appeared in his true form.

  ‘My dear Parvati,’ he said. ‘Please forgive me for my harsh words. It is my loss that I was unaware of your presence earlier. But I can see you clearly now. You are Dakshayani, my beloved consort, and we belong together. We always have. Will you marry me and agree to be my companion for eternity?’

  Parvati smiled and nodded in assent.

  The whole world rejoiced when they heard the news, and the wedding, which was known as Girija Kalyana, was celebrated with much pomp and show.

  In time, a child was born to the couple, whom they named Karthikeya. He was also called Shanmukha because he had six faces, which meant that he could see problems approaching from anywhere.

  Karthikeya knew the purpose of his birth. While he was still a child, he fought the mighty Taraka with the support of the gods and eventually slew him using his most deadly weapon—Shakti. He also killed Taraka’s two brothers: Simhamukhan, who later became Parvati’s mount, and Suradpadman, who was reborn as the peacock that became Karthikeya’s vehicle.

  News of his valour spread far and wide, and the gods eventually appointed him as commander of the heavenly army.

  Thus, Karthikeya’s birth ended Taraka’s cruel reign and saved the world.

  The Moon and the Leaf

  The Origin of the Crescent Moon

  According to legend, the moon god, Chandra, was born three times, which is why he also came to be known as Trijanmi. The first time, he was created by Brahma, and the second time, he emerged from the eyes of Sage Atri. Chandra’s radiance became so powerful and intolerable that he was immersed in an ocean of milk to ensure the world’s survival. During another event, which involved the churning of the ocean by the asuras and the devas, Chandra was reborn and released, along with Goddess Lakshmi. Thus, Chandra came to be known as Lakshmi’s brother.

  Among his twenty-seven wives, Daksha’s daughters, Chandra was especially fond of his fourth wife, Rohini, and spent most of his time with her. The other wives resented his indifference to them and complained about it to their father. Daksha immediately cursed Chandra. ‘May your powers decline with the passing of each day,’ he said, losing his temper as usual.

  Now the daughters regretted telling Daksha what they had. Their intention was not to punish Chandra—all they wanted was his attention. What if their husband simply disappeared one day along with his powers?

  Chandra begged Daksha to take the curse back. But once a curse is uttered, no one can revoke it. ‘I am sorry, son,’ Daksha said. ‘There is nothing that I can do now. Perhaps if you pray to Shiva, he may help you.’

  Holding on to this slim ray of hope, Chandra went to the famed holy ground Prabhas Patan, established a linga and prayed earnestly to Shiva. Pleased with Chandra’s devotion, Shiva appeared and said, ‘Chandra, I empathize with your plight and, though I cannot reverse Daksha’s curse, I can soften it to some extent. From this day onward, you will increase in brightness for fifteen days in Shukla Paksha4 and then wane for fifteen days in Krishna Paksha.5 You will fill the world with your radiance on full moon days and disappear on new moon days.’

  Chandra was disappointed at the thought of waxing and waning. His crescent shape would just be a constant reminder of the curse and his reduced strength! Shiva consoled him by saying, ‘My dear child, the crescent indicates that you will still retain some of your powers. I will wear your crescent in my hair to show my devotees that they are dear to me even in their lowest moments. That way you will be my constant companion.’

  Thus Shiva came to be known as Chandrasekhar, or ‘the one with Chandra mounted on his head’.

  The moon came to be known as Soma and one day of the week—Somavar or Monday—was dedicated to him. The linga that Chandra worshipped became famous as the pilgrimage site of Somnath in Gujarat. Generous donations were ma
de to this site, which was later plundered seventeen times. This linga is considered to be the first jyotirlinga6 in our country.

  These twenty-seven wives of Chandra are the constellations surrounding the moon’s orbit, and are frequently referred to as nakshatras or stars. The names of these nakshatras—for example, Kritika, Rohini and Ashwini—are still an important part of the Hindu calendar.

  The Origin of Bilva

  Mandara the mountain was a great devotee of Parvati because of her kindness and the fact that she was the daughter of the king of mountains. Parvati lived with her husband, Shiva, on Mount Kailash but Mandara longed for her presence on his mountain.

  One day, Shiva and Parvati danced for many hours on end. Finally tired, Parvati stopped to rest, wiping the sweat off her forehead with her hand. The droplets fell on Mandara and a sapling sprang up there, growing taller and stronger until it became a beautiful tree within a few months. Nobody had ever seen this tree before. Each of its twigs sprouted three leaves and it also bore fruit.

  Mandara took some twigs to Parvati. When he met her, he asked, ‘This tree was born of your sweat. What must I do with it?’

  Parvati looked at the twigs and the leaves thoughtfully. ‘What a wonderful tree!’ she exclaimed. ‘The three leaves indicate the three eyes of Lord Shiva and the three stages of all existence—birth, the journey of life and death. They also represent the three realms—heaven, earth and the world below. So three is an auspicious number.’

  She beamed at Mandara and continued, ‘Your faith and devotion pleases me. This tree will be called the Bilva tree and the leaves, Bilva patra. Everyone must pray to Shiva with these leaves. And since we are inseparable, worshipping Shiva in this manner also means worshipping me. You will always have the Bilva tree on your mountain.’

  Mandara couldn’t contain his happiness and prostrated himself before the beautiful goddess. His prayers had been answered.

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