The word myth literally means the stories that a particular culture believes to be true and that uses supernatural events or characters to explain the nature of the universe and humanity.
Ancients scriptures such as Vedas and Puranas has permeated into the lives of the common man, educated and literate alike through the wide spread of stories and tales. These take the essence from the reservoir of knowledge and get the fine philosophy across all irrespective of their education.
Between the multi dimensional journeys of the story telling, the myth also uses various visual imageries such as appearances, colors etc. Each of these has something much higher to signify. They are symbols of sort within which lie a profound significance. Let me dwell upon one such imagery – the vagabond like image of Shiva, with river Ganges flowing into his locks and the crescent Moon on his head (Jatadhari), poison in his neck (Neelkantha), snakes on his chest, and his consort, Parvati on his left side. This depiction of Lord Shiva is there in the Shiva Purana as
“ VAMANGE CHAVIBHATI BHUDHARASUTADEVAYAGAMASTAKE |
BHALE BALA VIDHURGALE CHA GARALAM YASYORASIVYALARATA||
SOAYAMAM BHUTI VIBHUSHANAH SURA
SHARVAH SAVAGATAH SHIVAM SHASHINIMAH
SHRI SHANKARH SHATUMAM ||”
If we look at his image, it is not myth that has created this image. The image has only been conveyed to the common man through the medium of myth. This image has something to convey.
Lord Shiva is the destroyer among the Hindu Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara. Upon his head is the beautiful Moon. The Moon is symbolic of mental balance. Lord Shiva wears it on His head; disasters can be averted with balance and emotional stability. If a decision is taken with cool peaceful mind and far sightedness, all the tasks can be and will be completed successfully.
The force of Ganges flow gets calm once it disperses within His locks. Ganges signifies Divine Grace. Ganges, the most sacred river in India, is symbolic and shows holiness that absolve all sins. Lord Shiva holds her on his head, thus encouraging all to take the route of righteousness. Ganges water is like the blood in human body. If the blood is pure, the body is healthy. Similarly if we try to be perfect, if there is penance for our wrong deeds, we can also reach the highest level of evolution.
His neck is blue with the poison that came up during ‘Samudra Manthan' the churning of the ocean. When the Gods and Demons united in churned the sea, it was the poison that came up first. All were terrified and seeing the fear, Shiva drank the lethal poison to keep it from destroying all. It is Shiva who brings death and destruction, yet it is he who is appealed to remove all fears; hence the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra – is an appeal to Lord Shiva for the removal of fear of death.
It is not unusual that mortals fear snakes because they are poisonous creatures. In scriptures snake is given a name Kaala i.e. the death. It is also the wheel of eternal time, relating us continuously with our Karma. If there is reverence to our own deed as it directly connects us to the omnipotent, there is nothing to fear.
Why is Parvati on his left side? Scriptures mention that the left side of male energy is inauspicious. He keeps the power of Parvati to his left side making it auspicious as well. This concept of power of the Mother or female energy is the basis of Hindu philosophy. The greatest devotee is the ‘Matri Bhakta' soul, one who worships his or her mother.
The destruction element of Shiva is neutralized by the presence of Mother Parvati at his left side. By the concept of ‘tridevas' Lord Shiva is inauspicious, but a giver of all kinds of auspiciousness. Demons also turn to asceticism in order to gain His boon. He is the giver of all kinds of auspiciousness and boons for those who remember him. Our desires and wishes are also auspicious as they are the obstacles that have to be won and enjoyed in order to find detachment from them. This virtue is because of Parvati's presence with him. It is the power of Jagadamba or Parvati that makes Him powerful and he is the destroyer who brings the mortal to the ultimate path of evolution overcoming all fears and desires.
Shiva is a difficult concept, as I write His glories, His symbolic guidance brought to me/us through various imagery, I realize that perhaps I have not even reached the shore of the ocean, leave alone take a swim in it.