The vedic god, Shiva, is the god of creation and destruction.
I was once told (by my spirit mentor, the Rajadeva) that I am like Uma, who was Shiva’s second wife, (better known as Parvati), so I have made a special place for Shiva in my mind.
Most people in western society who aren’t familiar with the vedic gods tend to know the image of Shiva dancing the tandava or Nataraj (as shown in the picture, above), but even then may not fully understand what this image means.
Shiva is one of a triune of upper echelon gods and his cosmic task is to dance the cosmos into being, or into destruction.
In the Hindu view, Shiva is the god of yoga, who is able to transcend the human condition and the woes of the world, and it is believed that those who can meditate in the deepest trance-like states that Shiva attains can also achieve self-discipline and detachment, and therefore purity.
Shiva is one of the vedic gods who has had many worldly incarnations. During one of his incarnations, he married a lovely demi-goddess named Sati.
Sati ended up by killing herself in a fire after attending a family gathering that her husband, Shiva, had not been invited to.
(This is where the ‘ sati ‘ ritual comes from, where a widow immolates herself in a fire at the funeral of her husband – though the theme is not really related because Shiva was still alive when Sati killed herself).
She did so because she was ashamed of her family (who snubbed her when she came because she was married to someone they did not approve of) and distraught that despite her best efforts to prove Shiva’s worth to them, they continued to reject him just because he did not live his life according to their ways.
Sati mistakenly felt that she brought shame upon her husband because they were her relatives, so she killed herself in a gesture to honor him. When Shiva found out what had happened, his rage and distress bubbled over.
Now, when you are a god and that happens, powerful forces come into play. Shiva began to dance the tandava and under his stomping feet the whole universe began to disintegrate.
It wasn’t until the other gods came together in great force to plead with him that he finally saw sense and stopped dancing, allowing his grief and anger to settle.
Now, hearing this story, on one hand, you might commiserate with Shiva’s grief at losing his beloved wife in such a senseless way.
On the other hand, you might question how and why a god might lose his sense of responsibility and presence to such a degree that he would almost blindly bring the universe to its knees under his tantrum – especially when that god is one who is capable of extreme asceticism and detachment from events.
So you need to know that Shiva didn’t get to such a position lightly, or even under some unhappy instant trigger.
Before Sati killed herself in shame, Shiva had counseled her many times about her family’s attitudes toward him. He told her that he wasn’t really upset, that it had more to do with their character than it did with who he really was, and that she shouldn’t worry about it because it wasn’t affecting him at all.
Shiva was very wise and very cosmic in this attitude, and showed great generosity of spirit, as many do who follow spiritual paths and who do great deeds. But despite his best efforts and intentions, and the wisdom he gave to others, he could not contain himself when pushed too far.
Even gods have a limit to how much they can take. And even gods sometimes need a helping hand in realigning themselves to their inner truths once that ‘button‘ has been pushed.
Now, we humans tend to forget that when we aspire to be ‘perfect’ or ‘better‘ than we suspect we are. We rarely forgive others or even ourselves for throwing similar whammies or tantrums, no matter how relevant or with what justification they have.
People are often extremely judgmental about such things, possibly because, as Shiva’s tandava can be, such whammies can be dangerous.
When people feel threatened, they are extremely unlikely to put up with such modes, even if they are sympathetic to the reasons behind them. No one likes menace.
You’d think that these modes of rejection of inappropriate or menacing behavior would be par for the course in the realm of responsibility inhabited by the gods, too, wouldn’t you? But the fact is that gods and goddesses, whether multiple or singular, have far different agendas and viewpoints to the often ‘black and white‘ assumptions of human beings.
Read just about any story on the modes of a god or goddess, in any religion, modern or ancient, and at some stage you will find that they pretty well do as they please a lot of the time, even if that does hurt the humans they are apparently there to protect.
I’m not saying that they are completely fallible or that they don’t aspire to do better or to serve those under their care – but let’s face it, Gods do have disagreements that lead to wars. Gods do fight wars. Life on planet Earth often suffers under collateral damage caused by the modes of the gods. Not even the christian god is exempt from causing suffering, or from sending plagues or destruction. Gods and goddesses are often more ‘human’ than humans !
Why then are we humans so bent on raising ourselves up to become like gods ? Why do we aspire to be so perfect when not even the gods are perfect, or even pretend to be ?
Gods believe they are perfect as they are. Their family and friends also believe they are perfect as they are. Or if they don’t, the same troubles can be inflicted on them in much the same way they are inflicted upon us (like in Shiva and Sati’s story of being outcast by her relatives simply because they didn’t really like who she married).
What does stand out when it comes to godhood is that gods are forgiving. So Shiva nearly destroyed the whole universe? Did it matter in the long run? No, not so long as he got ‘back on track’ and entered into creative and nurturing modes again.
Maybe being nigh on immortal helps them to maintain those modes. Let’s face it, they don’t die as often as we humans do, and they’re not so fragile. Perhaps they can feel more forgiving simply because they feel less under threat, and more able to accept the destruction of the universe because they know inside themselves that they are capable of reinventing it at any time…
I think there is much to be learned in the stories about the gods and goddesses for we human beings, though.
No one needs to be perfect to be acceptable. If we do break down under a load of stress and pressure, and do ‘wrong’ things for a time, that does not mean we are ‘bad’ people, necessarily.
Trying to live up to extreme standards set by ourselves or others is a mode prone to breakdown at some stage, because these are part of the basic themes of the universe – creation and destruction are cycles that alternate in the cosmos.
This may seem bad to those who build their lives on the illusion of security and permanence, but the fact is that nothing in life is ever truly secure or permanent. Change is a constant in the universe, on every level. Sometimes, it processes slowly, and sometimes rapidly, but change is inevitable.
As human beings, we rail against anything that threatens our welfare. It’s part of the law of survival that we protect our welfare, so we spend a heck of a lot of our lives trying to do just that, and despite the obstacles and challenges that often get in the way of truly establishing its security.
As elements of the mind of god, we, too, have a sense of power inside ourselves, including the power of destruction and creation. Perhaps we fear that power when we or others ‘go off the rails’, and thus imagine that more destruction than we can class as an acceptable loss may occur if such behavior is not curtailed?
In the image of Shiva dancing the tandava, you can see that he is atop a crouching demon. In Vedism, demons are not so much evil, as such, but are people who express extremes, where expressing extremes sets the cosmos to imbalance and chaos.
Under those modes, Shiva, himself, could be said to have temporarily become demon-like, when his tandava ‘span out of control‘, yet the other gods remained true to him. They trusted all they knew of him and did not frame their reference on one incident, even if that incident was extreme.
In the view of the universe, chaos is a necessary element of creation, and most things need to go through some degree of breaking down before they can be reconstructed in new and creative ways. So destruction is necessary for new forms of life to begin. Chaos is just the intermediary states that happen between the modes of integration – destruction – creation.
In the icon of the tandava, the demon beneath Shiva’s feet is saying that yes, deconstruction needs to occur before reconstruction or creation can happen, but ‘keep a hat on it‘ and don’t let things ‘get out of control‘.
It’s a warning – a reminder that the power of creation naturally holds the power of destruction, of which we must always be mindful lest the unleashing of that power becomes ‘blind and senseless’.
I don’t know many people who set out to be deliberately destructive. (I do know there are some in the world, but that’s another story). I do know, however, many brilliant, sensitive, kind and generous souls who were doing okay and were well received by others, until the moment when they ‘lost the plot’ momentarily (as Shiva did), and thereafter found their actions examined with a persistent element of caution, just in case they ever did it again.
Maybe that wariness goes with having ‘danced the tandava’ but for a human being, who does not have the generous mercy of the gods to uphold their spirit as Shiva did, that sort of wariness is undermining and degrades and disrespects the structure of all they built before the breakdown occurred.
I am in awe of the forgiveness and acceptance of gods when it comes to being merciful and kind to those who are, and have been, in all other ways magnificent beings. Gods know where their priorities lie.
Why should we keep kicking ourselves over an occasional or rare ‘whammy’ that has happened under extreme duress, when we have been pretty good human beings until then?
I had my own tandava, recently. It didn’t last long but it was a ‘sky rocket’. I’m over it now. Life goes on.