On the 14th day of the dark half of Magh the great night of Shiva is celebrated. On this day the devotees of Shiva observe fast. Once a hunter set out for a hunt. He came near a pond, and for the purpose of hunting he climbed a “bel” tree (sacred to Shiva). Sitting on a branch he waited for game. But since the leaves obstructed his vision, he began to pluck a few leaves, which by chance fell on a Shiva Linga (“pindi”), which happened to be under that tree. Then a herd of deer came to drink water. The hunter took aim at a hind (female deer). But as she noticed the movement of the hunter, she cried out, “Please, wait a moment, before you shoot let me go home and meet my young ones for the last time. Afterwards you may take my life at your pleasure.”
The hunter gave the hind permission to go home, and re-mained sitting on the tree waiting for her to return. Waiting the whole night he was forced to observe fast. On the Shiva Linga he had inadvertently offered the “bel” leaves. With his mouth he uttered the name of Shiva, thus he fulfilled the conditions needed for the observance of the Maha Shiva Ratra vow. So without knowing how, his heart was changed and he was filled with sentiments of mercy. Before dawn the mother deer came back with the entire herd. “Now you may take my life at your pleasure,” she said. Seeing the hind’s honesty the hunter’s heart was further softened, and he completely gave up his thought of killing the hind. Shankar was so pleased that immediately making all of them sit in a plane he took them to heaven. Both the hind and the hunter can be seen at night in the sky among the stars in the constellation of Orion (“Mrugshirsh nakshatra”).
Shiva the “Great God” : “It is probable that, long before the arrival of the Aryans, the ‘great god’ (‘Mahadeva’ or ‘Maheshvara’) was wor-shipped in India.” Mount Kailas in the Himalayas is the abode of Shiva. “The Ganges came down from the heavens because Shiva bore on the matted locks of his head the forceful impact of her falling torrents. He creates and destroys, he sustains the world, he at times obscures by his power of illusion (maya), or offers grace to the suffering world. These are the fivefold activities of Siva, symbolised by the five faces of the god (Pancanana). He sees the past, the present and the future by means of his three eyes (Trilocana). To save the earth, he drank the poison and his throat became dark-blue (Nilakantha). A moon’s crescent round or above his central eye (Candrasekhara), clad like an ascetic with a tiger-skin, he holds a trident (Pinaka) in his hand; he rides the bull Nandi. Some of his images represent him as a four-armed person-age, two of the hands holding a battle-axe (khadga) and a deer, the two other hands in poses signifying assurance of safety and liberality; in some other representations, he carries a bow, a thunderbolt, an axe, a skull-capped staff, a drum.” Shiva’s family is composed of his wife Uma (Sakti) and their two sons Ganesh and Kartikeya (Subrahmanya). Their respective mounts are the bull, the lion, the mouse and the peacock.
Male and Female : “In the full figure of Siva the male and female principles are united, and he himself is said to be half man and half woman. The emblem under which he particularly delights to be worshipped is the lingam or phallus, which is always erect. Lingam and yoni (the female organ) represent the totality of his nature and the totality of all created exist-ence.”
“Despite the fact that he (Siva) was later to inspire the tender love among his devotees, he remains a mysterium tremendum et fascinosum: he terrifies and he fascinates. Unlike Vishnu and his incarnations there is little that is human about him; he transcends humanity, and the vio-lence of the contradictions that he subsumes into himself gives him a sublimity and a mystery that no purely anthro-pomorphic figure could evoke. The Saktas of a later time sought to realize in themselves the perfect union of the male and female principles in the one by combining the strictest control of the senses with the sexual act itself. A man and a woman, representing Siva and his Sakti, would be in close embrace but with the senses under such perfect control that no seminal discharge took place. Thus, it was claimed, the complete fusion of the male and female principles of Purusha and Prakrti, was realized in the One and indivis-ible Siva who, though ever chaste. In this close embrace which imitates the inseparable unity of Siva and Sakti, there is no distinction between liberation and creativity, between moksha and samsara, because the opposites are felt to have been transcended. The close union of the sexes is thus the most perfect representation in the sansaric world of the divine transcendence of all oppo-sites.”
Shiva Linga : The stone in its spherical form untouched by the sculptor, is the form nearest to the formless. And the sexual union of male and female is the farthest the human mind can reach to express the creative action of God. This action, as God Himself, remains a mystery to man. All that man can do is to look at nature and see how a new being comes into existence. Since nature is the work of God, it is logical to conclude that both the male and the female principles must be found in God Himself, the sexes being only a manifestation of God’s nature. At the level of symbolism, the Shiva Linga or the stone with the semi-spherical top, makes a positive contribution in man’s effort to express the Divine Mystery. Nilakantha. The demons and the celestials agreed to churn the ocean of milk. Mount Sumeru was the churning staff, the snake Vasuki the churning rope. They wanted to get ambrosia. But when they were about to get the desired nectar, poison came from the mouth of the snake. Frightened the gods and the demons ran away. They had recourse to Shiva, the Great God. Shiva out of compassion swal-lowed the deadly poison, which remained as a blue stain on his throat. Hence the name Nilakantha. Saved from the danger the Devas and Asuras resumed churning the ocean and shared the ambrosia that was obtained.
Twelve Jyotirlingas : The Shiva Linga is the most common object of worship all over India. But twelve such stones are considered more important and are known as Jyotirlinga. They are situated in the following places:
- Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh
- Rameshwar in Tamil Nadu
- Bhimashankar in Daminyal near Pune in Maharashtra
- Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh
- Somanath in Saurashtra
- Nageshwar in Dwarka
- Mallika1 in Uttar Pradesh
- Kedarnath in the Himalayas
- Dhushmeshwar in Ellora near Aurangabad
- Trimbakeshwar near Nashik
- Vishvanath in Benares
- Vaidyanath in Parli in Marathvada.