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The man from the egg, p.3
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       The Man from the Egg, p.3

           Sudha Murty
 
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  This is why Bilva leaves are used as an offering to Shiva even today.

  The Legends of the Elephant God

  The God of Knowledge

  One day, Parvati happened to observe all the followers around Shiva from their abode on Mount Kailash. She remarked, ‘These people are all your devotees, my lord. They listen only to you and not to me.’

  ‘That can’t be true, Parvati,’ replied Shiva.

  Parvati did not say anything further, but she was convinced that she was right.

  A few days later, she called for Shiva’s white bull and said to him, ‘Nandi, I am going to take a bath. Please guard the door and make sure no one comes in till I am done.’

  When Shiva came home, he saw Nandi standing guard outside. ‘Where is Parvati?’ he asked.

  ‘She is taking a bath.’

  Shiva nodded and tried to step inside but Nandi stopped him, saying, ‘My lord, the goddess has ordered me not to allow anyone in until she is ready.’

  ‘That may be so, Nandi, but this is my house and I am your lord and her husband. I can go in and out as I please.’

  Convinced, Nandi moved aside and allowed Shiva to enter.

  When Parvati saw Shiva, she realized that Nandi was more loyal to his master than to her. She was overwhelmed by sadness, for she wanted somebody who’d be as faithful to her and follow her instructions without question.

  The next time Parvati wanted to bathe, instead of relying on someone else to guard her door, she decided to create a new person altogether. She sculpted the statue of a young boy with some mud and breathed life into him. She named him Ganesha.

  As soon as Ganesha came to life, he bowed and said, ‘Mother, I am here to do your bidding. Tell me, how may I help you today?’

  Parvati said gently, ‘My child, I am going to take a bath. Please don’t allow anyone inside the house until I am done.’

  Some time passed and Shiva came home. He was surprised to see the little boy standing guard outside his house.

  ‘Little one, who are you? Where are your parents and why are you standing here?’ asked Shiva.

  The boy replied boldly, ‘My name is Ganesha and I am Parvati’s son.’

  Shiva did not believe him. ‘Move aside and let me enter,’ he said.

  ‘No, I cannot do that. I must follow my mother’s orders. Please wait out here with me until she is done.’

  ‘Little boy, don’t you know who I am? I am Shiva and this is my home. You cannot stop me from entering my own home.’

  But Ganesha refused to be intimidated. He repeated,

  ‘I am sorry, but I can’t allow you inside until my mother says it is all right to do so.’

  Ganesha’s response irritated Shiva. He tried to reason with him again and again, but the boy would not budge.

  Finally, Shiva lost his temper and cut off Ganesha’s head with a single swish of his trishul. The sheer force of the blow sent the boy’s head flying out of the Himalayas.

  Hearing the commotion, Parvati rushed outside, but it was too late. Her child’s headless body lay on the white icy ground before her. Parvati cried out in despair and anger, ‘This is my son . . . my beloved child! Who has dared to do this to him?’

  By now Shiva had realized his folly. Feeling extremely remorseful for what he had done, he tried to console Parvati, saying, ‘I have made a huge mistake. I did not know that you had created him—I thought he was lying about being your son. Please forgive me—I will do everything I can to revive him.’

  Though her face remained streaked with tears, Parvati looked at Ganesha’s body and nodded silently.

  Shiva then instructed Nandi to go north and find the boy’s head.

  Nandi looked for the head everywhere, but in vain. He returned to Shiva and said, ‘My lord, the head is nowhere to be found. What should I do?’

  ‘Try again, Nandi,’ insisted Shiva. ‘Or . . . if you find anyone sleeping with his head towards the north, please remove their head and bring it to me.’

  Nandi rushed out to follow his master’s orders. He finally saw an elephant sleeping with its head towards the north. Without a moment’s hesitation, Nandi cut it off and brought it back.

  Shiva was pleased. He attached the head to Ganesha’s body, restoring his life, and accepted the boy as his own. Thus, Ganesha and Karthikeya became brothers.7

  Ganesha was now devoted to both his parents. One day, Shiva and Parvati called their two sons and said, ‘Let’s have a friendly contest. We will give the fruit of knowledge to whoever goes around the world in the least amount of time.’

  Karthikeya instantly mounted his peacock and began his journey around the world. Ganesha, on the other hand, did not hurry at all. He simply walked around his parents and then bowed before them.

  Parvati said affectionately, ‘My dear child, what are you doing? Your brother must be halfway across the world by now—you will surely lose this race!’

  Ganesha smiled at his parents with such warmth that it touched Parvati’s heart. ‘It does not matter, Mother. The two of you are my world and I have already encircled you. My journey is complete.’

  Shiva and Parvati smiled and handed him the fruit.

  ‘You are such a smart child, Ganesha,’ said Shiva. ‘You will always have my blessing. From this day on, you will be known as the god of knowledge.’

  The Mighty Mouse

  Krauncha was a celestial musician in Indra’s court. One day, he was running late for a performance and was walking rather hurriedly. Unfortunately, in his haste, he stepped on an old sage’s foot. The sage, whose name was Vamadeva, cursed Krauncha in a fit of fury and pain. ‘May you turn into a rodent that frantically scampers everywhere!’

  Poor Krauncha was immediately transformed into a huge mountain rat.

  As a rat he troubled many people, often creeping into farmers’ homes and eating their carefully stored grains or entering ashrams and destroying their food. When the people had had enough of his troublemaking, they called upon Ganesha to help them.

  Ganesha heard their pleas and threw his pasha, a noose, at the rat. But Krauncha managed to scamper away somehow.

  ‘I know you are quick and can creep into any place you want to because of your size and agility, but I am going to tie you up with this pasha so that you can’t trouble anyone,’ said Ganesha, determined. Adjusting the rope, he carefully aimed it at the rat and, this time, caught him. The noose was tightened and Krauncha could not escape.

  Krauncha pleaded with Ganesha, ‘Lord, I understand my mistake and I will never trouble anyone again. Please allow me to be your vehicle so that whenever you are worshipped, I will also be revered.’

  ‘But will you be able to bear my weight?’ asked the pot-bellied god in amusement.

  ‘That will not be a problem. I will adjust my size according to yours.’

  Ganesha agreed.

  And that is how Krauncha the rat became Ganesha’s primary vehicle, enabling him to move quickly and get rid of obstacles for his devotees.

  Durva

  A long, long time ago, there lived a fire-emitting asura named Analasura. Wherever he walked, fire burst forth, and Analasura took advantage of this great power, using it to torment people and cause widespread destruction. When he became uncontrollable, the people turned to Ganesha for help.

  ‘Don’t worry. I will take care of him,’ said Ganesha and went looking for Analasura.

  When Analasura saw Ganesha, he tried to swallow him. But Ganesha grew and grew, and kept growing until he was large enough to swallow the demon. The asura then promptly disappeared down Ganesha’s throat and into his stomach. Everyone celebrated the end of Analasura.

  Unfortunately, Ganesha soon began to suffer from excruciating pain. Analasura was using fire to wreak havoc inside his stomach!

  Seeing his son’s condition, Shiva released a serpent on Ganesha’s stomach. The serpent’s special powers were meant to have a cooling effect on Ganesha, but it was of no use. The pain persisted.

  Then Vishnu
came and placed a lotus on the stomach. Still, nothing happened.

  Next, the river Ganga arrived and began flowing down Ganesha’s torso. Brahma gave him the nectar of immortality and Vayu, the lord of the winds, blew cool air on Ganesha’s tummy. Then it was the turn of the king of the Himalayas, who laid his icy hand on poor Ganesha’s stomach.

  Nothing helped. Everybody was baffled.

  Sages from far and wide came with the hope of helping Ganesha. With their collective knowledge and wisdom, they pondered over the matter for a long time until they arrived at a potential solution.

  The sages travelled to the Himalayas and brought back twenty-one blades of durva, a kind of grass. They asked Ganesha to consume them, who was only too happy to try anything that would relieve him from the ghastly pain. Once he ate the powerful durva, it killed Analasura, ending Ganesha’s discomfort and misery.

  From that day onwards, Ganesha loved durva grass, and people began using it as an offering to him.

  The Slaying of the Asuras

  A Tale of Three Cities

  Taraka, the evil asura who had terrorized the world, had left behind three sons named Tarakaksha, Viryavana and Vidyunmali. Still enraged by the death of their father, they prayed to Brahma for many years in the hope of attaining immortality.

  Brahma finally appeared, but he refused to give them what they wanted.

  The three brothers then asked for an alternate boon.

  ‘O Brahma, if you can’t give us immortality, then please grant us the strength to build three indestructible, extraordinary cities. The fort of each city will be located in a different realm and will align once every thousand years. We will accept death only if a single arrow destroys all three forts during the alignment.’

  Brahma smiled. ‘So be it.’

  With the help of the asura architect Maya, Taraka’s sons built the three forts. Each was made of a different metal—gold, silver and iron.

  Tarakaksha took ownership of the gold fort, located in the heavens; Viryavana got the silver fort, in the sky; and Vidyunmali took possession of the iron fort, located on earth. Together, the three cities came to be known as Tripura, and the three asuras were referred to as Tripurasuras.

  Once the cities were complete, the asura brothers became powerful and, as a result, arrogant. Their rule gradually became unbearable and the people turned to the gods for help.

  Hearing the people’s pleas, Shiva decided to intervene. He knew that the time of alignment was imminent, and all he needed was one potent arrow. So he called upon Vishwakarma, the architect of the heavens, and, explaining the problem, asked him, ‘Will you make a special chariot and a powerful bow and arrow for me?’

  Vishwakarma agreed immediately. He created a strong gold chariot with the energy of the sun, two bows named Pinaka and Sharanga and one arrow guaranteed to destroy any target. Vishwakarma gave the chariot, Pinaka and the arrow to Shiva while he presented Sharanga to Vishnu.

  Armed and ready, Shiva requested Brahma to be the charioteer, and together, they sped to Tripura. The time of alignment was upon them.

  With the formidable arrow, Shiva easily destroyed the three cities the moment they came together, along with the three asuras who resided in the forts.8

  The world congratulated Shiva on a job well done. Shiva earned the title of Pinaki while Vishnu gained the moniker Sharangadeva. People decorated their homes with lights to signify the defeat of evil, a tradition that is followed even today. Lamps are lit every day after Diwali, in the Hindu month of Karthik.

  Much later, Shiva decided to give the bow Pinaka to Nimi, one of his great devotees. King Nimi preserved the bow with reverence and named it Shivadhanush, or ‘the bow of Shiva’. Generations went by and King Janaka was born in the same lineage. The bow’s uniqueness inspired Janaka to declare that his beautiful daughter Sita would marry the man who could pick up Shivadhanush. That man turned out to be none other than Rama, of course!

  The Elephant Demon

  The asura Mahishasura had a son who was named Gajasura because he had the strength of multiple elephants and could use his weapon, Gajastra, to shoot arrows that transformed into elephants on the battlefield. Gajasura could not be killed by any being that held desire in its heart.

  When his father died at the hands of Parvati, Gajasura became obsessed with taking revenge on all the gods. The frightened gods asked Shiva for help. Shiva, who did not desire anything, consoled them and said, ‘Don’t worry, my children. I will defeat him.’

  Shiva and Karthikeya, commander of the heavenly army, prepared for war.

  When Gajasura heard about this, he sat with his advisers to figure out a way to defeat Shiva and protect himself. Finally he realized that if he prayed to Ganesha before the war, the latter would be compelled to help him. So with great devotion, Gajasura called upon Ganesha for a blessing that would ensure his victory.

  Ganesha soon appeared in front of him and said, ‘My father has decided to defeat you and no one can protect you from death. I can help you in only one way. The moment his arrow touches your body, all your ignorance will disappear and you will realize eternal knowledge within yourself. I cannot stop your downfall, Gajasura, but I promise you this boon. Rest assured that you will die secure in your knowledge of the lord.’

  The battle between Gajasura and Shiva began. It was a fierce clash and Gajasura was forced to use all his different weapons. When he used the varuna astra, the water weapon, on Shiva’s head, River Ganga—residing in the lord’s hair—flowed down to wash the god’s feet. When Gajasura used the agni astra, the fire weapon, Ganga doused the flames. Even the shool astra, the axe, met its match in Shiva’s trishul and was reduced to ashes. The trident, on the other hand, remained unharmed. Vayu disseminated the ashes everywhere.

  As a last resort, Gajasura used the Gajastra. Thousands of elephants appeared on the battlefield, but the moment they saw Ganesha with Shiva, they bowed to him and surrendered willingly.

  Now Shiva decided that it was time to end the fight. He used the varuna astra, and it pierced Gajasura’s body as he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he saw Shiva in his actual form—not as his enemy but as his true and only god. He saw his beautiful blue skin, the crescent moon adorning his head and the goddess Ganga in his hair. Gajasura saw the rudraksh (Shiva’s prayer-bead necklace), the third eye in the middle of his forehead, the trishul in one hand and the damru in the other. He saw Parvati standing next to Shiva, smiling at him. Gajasura finally realized that he had made a grave mistake, but he was glad he could see the god so clearly before he died. He knew that his end was near and began chanting the Panchakshari mantra, ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, over and over.

  Shiva approached him and said, ‘Gajasura, I had no choice but to kill you. Is there something you desire?’

  ‘Now that I see the truth, I am happy to die by your hands. I wish to pass in the form of an elephant, and I entreat you to use my elephant skin as a part of your body after I am gone. Then I can be with you forever.’

  Shiva smiled and agreed.

  This is why sometimes Shiva wears the skin of an elephant.

  The great battle with Gajasura, during which Ganga came down from Shiva’s head and washed his feet, was fought in Kashi. Thus Kashi became famous and Shiva earned the names Vishwanatha and Gangadhara.

  A Lesson to the Tigers

  Dundubhi and Souhardya were cousins of the two powerful asura brothers Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu. They were shape-shifters—they had the power to transform into any animal at will.

  When Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu were slain by the avatars of Vishnu for the havoc that they had wreaked in the world, Dundubhi and Souhardya swore to take revenge by targeting the god’s followers. After careful planning, they figured out the most efficient way to stop all yagnas and holy rituals. All they needed to do was kill the priests and learned men who performed the yagnas.

  The brothers went on a rampage, brutally slaughtering many priests. The people prayed to Shiva for protection.<
br />
  Now it so happened that Shivratri was just around the corner. Dundubhi and Souhardya were aware that thousands of devotees would gather at Vishwanatha Temple in Kashi to worship Shiva in the form of a shivalinga. This was a great opportunity to slay many devotees at once and upset the gods.

  On the night of the ceremony, the two asuras marched to where the Shivratri celebrations were taking place, along with a large army behind them. Using their powers to transform into tigers, they attacked everyone in the temple. People screamed out in fear. Shiva, who had been watching the events unfold, had no choice but to emerge from the shivalinga and kill the two asuras and their army instantly.

  Shiva wanted to comfort his devotees and remind them that he would always guard them against any kind of assault. Thus, he decided to use tiger skin whenever he could to make sure that the slaying of Dundubhi and Souhardya would never be forgotten. This is why Shiva is often seen seated on a tiger skin.

  It is believed that some lingas once had a bright light, or jyoti, around them because Shiva had emerged from those lingas to protect his devotees. These came to be known as jyotirlingas and are considered to be extremely sacred. There are twelve of them in India, and a person is thought to be truly blessed if they are able to visit all of them in a lifetime.

  The Half-Man, Half-Woman

  Sage Bhringi was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. In fact, he did not pray to anyone but the blue-necked god, who wanted the sage to include Parvati in his worship as she was a part of him. But Bhringi would not listen.

  Shiva, however, did not give up. One day, he said to Bhringi, ‘My beloved devotee, I’d like you to circumambulate me three times. It will bring you good fortune.’

  So Bhringi transformed himself into a honeybee and flew around the lord once.

  Shiva, of course, knew that Bhringi had taken the form of a bee, so he asked Parvati to sit on his lap. This way, the sage would be forced to go around Parvati as well, thus worshipping her. But to his surprise, Bhringi somehow managed to find a tiny gap between Shiva and Parvati and made sure to circle only the former on his second circuit.

 
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