Shiva is the most interesting god in the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh; the three pillars of Hindu religion and mythology. Shiva is the destroyer also known as Shanbhu, Natraj, Yogiraj and many more names. He is always dressed in the skin of a tiger, bare-chested and covered with the holy ash of the shamshaan which he smears on his body. A serpent dangling from his neck with rudraksh beads and malas as his garlands. Shiva dances with a damaru in his hand which is also called the tandava. His escort is Mata Parvati, Ganesha sits on his lap as his son and Nandi the bull is his chariot.
On my spiritual journey across India, I have come across Shiva many times. I met him in Kedarnath as a rock in the middle of the temple. I passed the statue of Nandi and whispered a wish in his ear. I enjoyed talking to the aghoris and the naga babas who surround his temple. It is fascinating to see his splendour in the temples of Yamunotri. The Ganges flow through the mountain passes as the glaciers melt as if Ganga was coming down the heavens through the jata of Shiva, the great cedar he is called. I ventured around the temple, the whole place is full of rocks and boulders with snow peaked mountains all around. I was happy that I finally found the great Bheem Shila, the rock that fell from the mountains in front of the temple and saved it from devastation when floods came to the region and destroyed everything in sight. The Bheem Shila has now become the symbol of divine intervention. Many devotees have started praying to it. Kedarnath is a sight to behold with the Sumeru mountains on one side. The air is chilled, crisp and the oxygen levels are a bit low. We reached there by helicopter which took us in between the valley to the temple. People from all walks of life could be seen here. Even the poor, the sick, the weak and the handicapped had arrived to make this pilgrimage. All intoxicated by the beauty of Shiva and his abode.
I was to meet Bhole Nath (Another name for Shiva) again, this time in Kathmandu, Nepal at the Pashupatinath Temple. Here, the temple is crowded with animals like monkeys, goats, sheep, birds and hen. There was a huge sculpture of Nandi made of brass just inside the temple. The sadhus pray for pujas and hawan. I walked around the temple and found a huge pond right in the middle of the temple. The pond is made out of brick walls and inside is green muddy water. At the interior of the pond, there is a huge statue of Shiva covered with serpents which is a majestic sight. I bought some rudraksh beads from there. Each rudraksh were different from others. One of the notable ones among them is called Do Mukhi Rudraksh, the two-faced rudraksh beads. Another one I found peculiar was the Panch Mukhi, the rudraksh with five heads. I sat down with the pujari of the temple and did my father’s shraaddha. I prayed for his soul to rest in peace and asked for his forgiveness. Doing this in one of the holiest places pleased me and I was happy. I could now move ahead in life without a huge burden on my shoulders.
I danced with Shiva again in the Ghats of the holy city of Banaras which is an abode of Shiva himself. Legends has it that the city rests on Shiva’s trident. Banaras is the town where the journey of every Hindu comes to rest. The Hindus bring their dead to Banaras and burn them on the Ghats of the Ganga. Funeral pyres are lit continuously one after the other. Assi Ghat is one such Ghat where pyres have been lit for thousands of years without a break. This is the land of death, the shamshaans of Shiva. On the Ghats wander the flesh eating aghoris and the nagas who are the children of Shiva. Shiva, the lord of shamshaan, the ultimate destroyer watches upon this holy city of Varanasi. Banaras is also known for Hindutva and its great universities like the Banaras Hindu University. It is the homeland of poets like Nirala and Kaka Hathrasi. Still, Shiva is omnipresent here, making even tourists from Europe and America come to Varanasi in search of nirvana, the ultimate salvation. Seekers come here to gain enlightenment on the banks of the Ganges. Pilgrims bathe to purify their sins and get ready to sin again.
I was surprised to see Shiva in Cambodia during my visit to the Angkor Wat temples. Huge statues of Shiva reside in the galleries of the Angkor Wat temple. A soothsayer sat me down and read my future from old Pali scriptures written on barks and leaves. The ancient culture resides in the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia and Shiva was a part of it. Ever smiling and pleasing, he stands tall and benevolent.