Various Stories of Lord Shiva
The story of Nataraja
Lord Shiva is known as the destructor and is usually depicted in an angry mode but very people know that he was also the patron of song and dance, and was known as King of dance or Nataraja. His Nataraja avatar is a message that ignorance can only be overcome by knowledge, music and dance. The most commonly accepted story of origin of Nataraja is as follows:
There was a demon named ‘Apasmara’, who was a dwarf and who represented ignorance. The world is a balance of knowledge and ignorance and destroying ignorance would disturb the balance. Since Apasmara was aware of this, he grew extremely arrogant of his powers and went on to challenge Lord Shiva. It was then that Lord Shiva took the form of Nataraja and performed the famous Tandava or the dance of destruction, eventually crushing Apasmara under his right foot. Since Apasmara should not die to preserve balance, it is believed that Lord Shiva forever remains in his Nataraja form suppressing Apasmara for all eternity.
1. The Story of Halahala poison
We all know that Shiva is called the “Neelkanth”. The story behind the name is certainly one of the most fascinating ones.
The Devas and Asuras got together to churn the Milky ocean to obtain the Amrita. In the process, they obtained a lot of other products as well, which the Devas and Asuras claimed accordingly. Then, it churned out large quantities of the deadly poion Halahala. The Devas and Asuras turned to Brahma, who pointed his hand at Vishnu. Vishnu advised that only Shiva could consume such large quantities of poison.
As per the request of the Devas and Asuras, the calm and composed Shiva drank all the poison that came out of the ocean, without regard for its aftereffects. Parvati was quick to react and pressed Shiva’s throat tightly. The caused the poison to stay there, giving a blue color to his throat. Hence the name “Neelkanth”.
2. The Infinite Pillar of Fire
The story goes that there was a conflict between Brahma and Vishnu regarding who was the true God. Then, a long pillar of fire appeared in between them. Determined to find the ends of the pillar, Brahma took the form of a swan and went towards the skies, Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug underground.
Vishnu came back and admitted that the pillar was endless. Brahma however lied about the pillar’s limits claiming that he was the true God. Immediately the pillar broke open and Shiva appeared and said to Brahma – “You are a liar. You are not God”; and to Vishnu – “You are humble and accepting the truth. You are in the process of becoming God”, hence revealing that Shiva was indeed the true God.
Parvati once donated Shiva to Brahma’s Sons on Narad’s advice. Ya, literally donated.
This happened when their second child, Ashokasundari, left home (Kailasha) for meditation.
This is the story: When Kartikeya, their first child, was born, he was given to the Kritikas (some women from Kritika place). This was done because Shiva believed that by growing in that place, he would imbibe skills that would help in warfare later. After coming to Kailasha, he immediately went to train to fight Tarakasura, one of the strongest daemons in the Hindu mythology. Shortly after killing him, he was sent to another kingdom for its protection. So Parvati was not given much opportunities to enjoy the company of her son.
Similar things happened with Ashokasundari. She was shortly motivated to go for meditation.
So Parvati was very upset because her family was never together. Menavati, her mother, tells her that in order to take care of this, Shiva himself should spend more time at home. So now the problem was how to make this happen.
Narad to the rescue! He tells Parvati that when Sachi, the wife of Indra, was having similar problem, she donated Indra to Narad. But Narad gave Indra back to her as he couldn’t see any advantage of keeping him. Since then Indra used to spend most of the time at home. So both Menavati and Narad convince Parvati to adopt a similar method. Narad tells Parvati that she could donate Shiv to the 4 Brahma sons – Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana and Sanatkumara.
(Brahma sons taking Shiv along with them)
The donation actually happened, but contrary to their expectation, the Brahma sons did not give Shiv back (who would, eh?).
Then there was a massive uproar everywhere as Shiva was no longer taking care of the worldly affairs – he was now a “property” of the Brahma sons and had to obey their orders. So Parvati assumes a form of an old lady and tries to show them how the world would get devastated if Shiva was not freed. They were convinced and let go of Shiva.
So this was a fascinating, little-known story about Shiva.
There was a sage named Veda. He used to pray to Shiva every day. The prayers lasted till the afternoon and after the prayers were over, Veda used to go to the nearby villages to beg alms.
A hunter named Bhilla used to come to the forest every afternoon to hunt. After the hunt was over, he used to come to Shiva’s linga (image) and offer to Shiva whatever it was that he had hunted. In the process of doing this, he often moved Veda’s offerings out of the way. Strange though it might seem, Shiva was stirred by Bhilla’s offerings and eagerly used to wait for it every day.
Bhilla and Veda never met. But Veda noticed that every day his offerings lay scattered and a little bit of meat lay by the side. Since this always happened when Veda had gone out to beg for alms, Veda did not know who was responsible. One day, he decided to wait in hiding so as to catch the culprit red-handed.
While Veda waited, Bhilla arrived and offered what he had brought to Shiva. Veda was amazed to discover that Shiva himself appeared before Bhilla and asked, “Why are you late today? I have been waiting for you. Did you get very tired?”
Bhilla went away after making his offerings. But Veda came up to Shiva and said, “What is all this? This is a cruel and evil hunter, and yet, you appear before him. I have been performing tapasya for so many years and you never appear before me. I am disgusted at this partiality. I will break your linga with this stone.”
“Do it if you must,” replied Shiva. “But please wait till tomorrow.”
Next day, when Veda came to present his offerings, he found traces of blood on top of the linga. He carefully washed away the traces of blood and completed his prayers.
After some time, Bhilla also came to present his offerings and discovered traces of blood on top of the linga. He thought that he was in some way responsible for this and blamed himself for some unknown transgression. He picked up a sharp arrow and began to pierce his body repeatedly with this arrow as punishment.
Shiva appeared before both of them and said, “Now you see the difference between Veda and Bhilla. Veda has given me his offerings, but Bhilla has given me his whole soul. That is the difference between ritual and true devotion.”
The place where Bhilla used to pray to Shiva is a famous tirtha known as bhillatirtha.
Quite a bit of interesting stories about Lord Shiva by everyone out here. I’d like to share a couple of interesting ones I’ve come across:
The city of Kashi is famous for the shrine of Kaal Bhairav, the kotwal of Kashi or the policeman of Varanasi. His presence evokes fear, no different from some of our policemen. He has a thick moustache, rides a dog, wraps himself in tiger skin, wears a garland of skulls, has a sword in one hand and in another, holds the severed head a criminal.
People go to his shrine to do jhaad: sweeping of hex. Hex means the disruption of one’s aura through witchcraft (jadoo-tona) and malefic gaze (drishti or nazar). Black threads and iron bracelets are sold in shops around the temple, offering Kaal Bhairav’s protection to the devotee.
The story goes that Shiva took the form of Bhairava to behead Brahma who became arrogant after creating the world. Brahma’s head seared into Shiva’s palm and he wandered the earth chased by Brahma-hatya, the infamy of killing the creator.
Shiva finally descended from Kailas southwards along the river Ganga. A point came when the river turned north. At this point, he dipped his hand in the river, and Brahma’s skull became undone and Shiva was thus liberated form Brahma-hatya. This became the site of the famous city of Avimukta (site where one is liberated) which is now called Kashi. It is said that the city stands on Shiva’s trident. Shiva stayed here as the guardian, driving away all those who threaten the city, protecting its inhabitants.
The idea of eight Bhairavs guarding the eight directions (four cardinal and four ordinal) is a common theme in various Purans. In the south, many villages have the shrine of 8 Vairavar (local name for Bhairav) in the eight corners of the village. Bhairava is thus acknowledged as the guardian god.
In many Jain temples, Bhairav stands along with his consort, Bhairavi, as a guardian god. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, one hears of Kala-Bhairav and Gora-Bhairav, the black and white guardians, who watch over shrines of the Goddess. Kala-Bhairav is more popularly known as Kaal, the black (Kala) referring to the black hole of time (Kaal) that consumes everything. Kaal Bhairav is associated with alcohol and wild frenzy. By contrast, Gora Bhairav or Batuk Bhairav (the small Bhairav) is visualized as a child who likes to drink milk, maybe laced with bhang.
The name Bhairav is rooted in the word ‘bhaya’ or fear. Bhairav evokes fear and takes away fear. He reminds us that fear is at the root of all human frailties. It is fear of invalidation that made Brahma cling to his creation and become arrogant. In fear, we cling to our identities like dogs cling to bones and their territories. To reinforce this message, Bhairav is associated with a dog, a symbol of attachment, as the dog wags its tail when the master smiles and whines when the master frowns. It is attachment, hence fear and insecurity, that makes us cast hexes on people and suffer from hexes cast by people. Bhairav liberates us from all.
One day Parvati got bored and begged Shiva to entertain her. So he told her a story, the world’s first story. This story was told in a secret cave somewhere in the middle of the Himalayas. The plot would have been lost in the snow but for a tiny bird that survived in that cold desolate landscape. This bird shared the story with a fish. The fish shared it with a Gandharva who shared it with the Yaksha.
Much may have been lost in translation for, by the time the story reached humanity, it was not one but hundreds of stories with myriad plots and characters, with amazing twists and turns. It was called the Brhadkatha, or the vast story. Later it was called the Katha-sarit-sagar, the ocean of stories. There were stories within stories, like whirpools of thought, sucking everyone in and then spitting them out.
Imagine life without stories. We would have no hero or villain, no comedy or tragedy, no adventure, no heaven or hell, perhaps not even God. Stories are such an integral part of our lives that we forget how critical it is to defining our humanity.
Animals do not tell stories. They do not have the wherewithal one needs to tell a story. They do not have the neo-frontal cortex, the most recently developed part of the brain, located just behind our forehead that allows us to imagine. From imagination come stories.
Animals do not need stories. When hungry, they eat. When thirsty, they drink. Having eaten and drank, they rest or play. But not humans. We want to know why we are hungry and why we are thirsty. It bothers us. We seek explanations. We need a story for that. And there are many stories.
Someone said that hunger and thirst were God’s punishment because humans did not listen to him. God? Who is that? What is that? Was it an idea that came from stories? Or did stories articulate this idea for us? We can argue endlessly. We can even ask if heroes exist in the world before stories, or did the idea of a hero come to us from stories?
Of course, science came along and rejected everything that stories told us.
Today scientists tell us there is no God. And historians will tell you that notions of heroes and villains are not true either. There is no objective criteria, no checklist, for defining a hero. What is hero for one, is villain for another. It all comes from our imagination. We just have to switch on the television and pick up a newspaper to realize this. They reveal how storytellers construct the world for us, twist and turn events to make the same thing look comic and tragic. And we wonder what truth is. Is there a truth out there?
Perhaps , it is to provoke this question that Shiva told Parvati the first story.
Even though Brahma is known to have four heads looking in all the four directions, legend holds it that at one time he had five heads, the fifth looking upwards. But at the beginning he is said to have possessed just one head. At that time the cosmos did not exist and Brahma was self-contained and self-content.
The husband of the RathiDevi, Manmatha was praying for Lord Brahma blessings by performing “tapas”. Lord Brahma got pleased and gave him 3 arrows as boon which when used on anyone will make him addicted to romance. To test the boon’s actual affect, Manmatha tried one of the arrows on Lord Brahma himself.
However Lord Brahma was alone at that time & he eventually started longing for company. So, he split himself to form a female form, called Sathroopa (the one with a hundred beautiful forms). As soon as he gazed Sathroopa, Brahma immediately was attracted towards her. To avoid Brahma’s gaze, Sathroopa tried to slip off in various directions but was unsuccessful as Brahma developed a head in each direction. Finding no other way, Sathroopa start ascending upwards. Again, Brahma developed a head that looked upwards. Lord Shiva noticed the series of events unfolding. Since Sathroopa originated out of Brahma, Shiva felt Sathroopa was a daughter of Brahma and hence it was improper of Brahma to be obsessed with her. Shiva therefore cut off the head of Brahma that looked upwards so that she could escape from him. As an additional punishment for this unholy behavior of Brahma, Shiva cast a curse on him that there will be no proper worship of Brahma in the universe. Ever since, only Vishnu and Shiva out of the three Gods comprising the Trinity are worshiped while Brahma is almost totally ignored. It is also said that since then Brahma has been trying to redeem himself of his sins by continuously reciting the four Vedas.
The head (kapaala) that Shiva had cutoff from Brahma stuck to his hand and had to go around the world for alms due to “Brahma Hatya Dosha” (sin of killing Brahma himself). Lord Shiva had to go from place to place begging for food with that kapaala, which used to promptly swallow whatever people used to put in it. Lord Shiva had to go through a series of difficulties and wander around as a beggar himself with nothing to feed himself. Ultimately he reached KandiyurDivya Desa ( Kantana Puram in Sanskrit).Here, Lord Shiva did penance and offered his worship to Sriman Narayana and took a dip in the PushkariNi (holy lake) and with the Lord’s blessing , the stuck kapaala eased itself from his hand.
It is a belief that reading, enacting, watching this story of “BRAHMA KAPAALA” brings misfortune as the Gods themselves are portrayed to be doing wrong things in the story.
Shiva and Jallandhar:
The story of Shiva and Jallandhar is one of the most spiritually loaded episodes in Hindu mythology. It talks of the relationship between teacher and disciple and those between power and morality pitted against the backdrop of aggrandisement and over arching lust for greatness.
The narrative begins when the spiritual advisors of the Devas, Dev Guru Vrihaspati is found absent from the court of the King of Gods, Lord Indra. Indra sends messengers demanding that Vrishaspati attend court immediately. The messenger finds the Dev Guru deep in meditation in front of a Shiva linga. He tries to interject but fails to break Vrihaspati’s meditation. He reports this to Indra who visits Vrihaspati and with temerity wakes him from his meditation. He asks the reasons for Vrihaspati’s neglect of his court and his explicit commands. Vrihaspati refuses to answer Indra’s impertinence and offers to resign from his post as the spiritual advisor of the Devas. Adamant, Indra forces the question of comparison be addressed to decide which among them was the superior. They mutually decide to let Lord Shiva be the judge of their dispute.
Enroute to Kailash, the abode of lord Shiva, the duo meet the Avdhuteshwar Avatar of Lord Shiva. In this form, they fail to recognize Shiva and Indra attempts to first talk to the incarnation, hoping to convince it to walk out of their way to Kailash. The avatar does not respond except in violent, incomprehensible growls. Interpreting this as disrespect to his authority, Indra first lambastes, then decides to smite the stranger with his mace. At this point Shiva’s third eye opens and a fierce flame envelops Indra. Recognizing the stranger to be Shiva, Vrihaspati beseeches Him to pardon his student. He urges Indra to beg for forgiveness. Frightened out of his wits, Indra begs Shiva for forgiveness. On account of Vrihaspati’s sustained Bhakti towards himself, Shiva chooses to pardon Indra. The energy released by the third eye however cannot be taken back so Shiva redirects it at the ocean. Crashing into the ocean, the energy transforms into a child and begins to torment the God of the Sea. Brahma comes to his rescue but is unable to contain the child with such awesome power. He summons Daityaguru Shukracharya (spiritual leader of the demon clans) and entrusts the child to his care due to the latter’s experience with moulding violent demon children. Shukracharya names the boy Jallandhar- (one who is born of the ocean).
Jallandhar grows up to become a fierce warrior under the tutelage of Shukracharya. He quickly learns and then exceeds his teacher’s skills in warfare. Shukracharya designates him the King of Daityas and sends him off to conquer the three realms of underworld, earth and the heavens. The humans and Gods flee from the might of Jallandhar as he goes about his conquest. Demon kings willingly accept his suzerainty. Jallandhar’s victory march continues unabated. Until one day, Jallandhar spots Goddess Parvati. Her beauty and power astounds him and he resolves to make her his wife. Overcome by lust, he approaches Parvati, who promptly rejects his advances swearing by her marriage to Lord Shiva. Accustomed to winning anything he set his heart to, Jallandhar refuses to take ‘No’ for an answer. He threatens to destroy Lord Shiva and goes to visit his teacher Shukracharya for advice.
Shukracharya was Lord Shiva’s devotee and disciple. He refuses to help Jallandhar in the pursuit of such an act of sacrilege. Jallandhar threatens to dismiss him from the position of Daitya Guru. Without a guru, Shukracharya knew, demon kind would perish. Therefore in the greater interest of demon kind, he decides to accompany Jallandhar in his campaign against Kailash.
Before launching an all out assault against Kailash, Jallandhar audaciously asks Shiva to give up Parvati. She tries to seduce Parvati with the luxuries of his palace and the title of being the Daitya Samraggi (Queen of Daityas) instead of having to lie the life of an ascetic in the cold, unforgiving weather of Kailash. Shiva is angered beyond his ability to contain himself. He unleashes Veerbhadra against Jallandhar. The Shiva Ganas (followers of Shiva) under the leadership of Veerbhadra meet Jallandhar and his forces in a battle that rages on furiously. To the utter astonishment of all lookers on, Jallandhar manages to win over Veerbhadra. Elated, he uses his demon craft and takes on Shiva’s form. He visits Parvati’s abode and tells the attendants, the war was over and He (Shiva) has vanquished Jallandhar. So saying he asks the attendants to leave him alone with Parvati. He requests Parvati to take him by hand and lead him to her chambers. Parvati is surprised to hear such a request, never having heard Shiva make such a request before. She suspects something amiss and uses her divine powers to look closely at Jallandhar and learns of the trickery. Enraged, she repels Jallandhar, who scampers away at the sheer display of power.
Goddess Parvati summons Lord Vishnu and charges him to do whatever was needed t destroy Jallandhar, for having dared to attempt defiling her Satitwa (devotion to her husband). Lord Vishnu finds himself in a double bind. The secret to Jallandhar’s invincibility to most of Shiva’s attack was his wife Vrinda, sister-in-law to Lord Vishnu. Vrinda was one of the incarnations of Goddess Sati. Through her pious Satitwa (devotion to her husband) had earned the ability to protect Jallandhar against all harm, including those that were caused by even Lord Shiva. It had now befallen Lord Vishnu to get Vrinda to give up protecting her husband. It was a difficult task but the failure at which would give Jallandhar the impunity to dishonour other women, which would also set a precedent for others to follow.
Known for his skills at deception, Lord Vishnu, for the greater good and for preservation of morality in all of creation, decides to take up the charge given by Goddess Parvati. He disguises himself as a Brahmin and reaches the outskirts of the city where Vrinda’s castle was located. Word spread that an amazing sage had come, who was a Trikaaldarshi (one able to see the past, present and future simultaneously) and could breathe life back into the dead. Worried about her husband, not having heard of him for a while, Vrinda seeks out the sage for information on Jallandhar. Lord Vishnu tells her that Jallandhar has been slain and magically makes a dead body appear that looked like Jallandhar. Vrinda despairs, convinced that the power of her Satitwa could not be futile. Lord Vishnu temporarily revives the dead body to confuse Vrinda further. Under some further, inscrutable influence of Lord Vishnu, Vrinda feels hurt and inconsolable. Appearing in his true form, the Lord blesses Vrinda that because of her love and devotion to her husband, she would continue to live on in every Tulsi plant and be venerated by other pious, Pativrata wives all through time. Even this boon does not placate Vrinda, reciting the Panchchakshara Stotra, Vrinda gives up her life and consequently attains Moksha(freedom from cycles of rebirths).
With the protection of Vrinda gone and having been tired of fighting Lord Shiva relentlessly, Jallandhar was at the end of his ropes. Lord Shiva finally took the Panchanan form (a terrible five headed avatar) and severed the head of the demon.
One can see therefore that the story of Lord Shiva and Jallandhar covers many aspects of living life. Jallandhar could not see past his desires. In so doing he dishonoured the teacher-disciple relationship, drunk with power and indiscretion, unlike Indra, refused to follow the wise counsel of his teacher- Shukracharya. Shukracharya honoured his commitment to the demon races by accompanying his delusional pupil, risking the wrath of Shiva himself. Lord Vishnu looked beyond the family connections and did what had to be done in the interest of all of creation. The greatest sacrifice of Vrinda earns her Moksha. Upon a close observation, one learns the value of all these qualities necessary for the smooth continuation and evolution of one’s life.
When the Krita-Yuga ended, the celestials planned to conduct a great sacrifice to improve and increase their own powers. Abiding by the rules and laws written in the Vedas, they duly organized the sacrificial altar and collected all the essentials for the Yagna. According the Vedas, a share of the sacrificial offerings has to be allotted to each deity, in proportion to their power and influence.
However, unaware of the significance of God Shiva, the celestials considered him irrelevant, and overlooked him during the sacrifice. No part of the sacrificial offerings were allotted to him. On hearing about this God Shiva became enraged and in anger, he developed a powerful bow that was five cubits long, and whose string was embedded with the essence of a sacred Mantra known as Vashat.
Equipped with this bow, and his infallible arrows, he entered the sacrificial altar. On seeing the enraged God, the immortals fled the scene in fear. As a result of God Shiva’s anger, the Goddess earth trembled. As Vayu was terrified the life-giving wind ceased to move and as a result of Agni’s stupefaction, the sacrificial fire, although fed with clarified butter, did not blaze forth. The planets uncontrollably swerved from their ordained courses and the Sun and the Moon lost their magnificence. The world was filled with gloom and despair.
On witnessing God Shiva and his unstoppable motive for destruction, the deity that was the personification of the sacrifice took the form of a deer and fled away, accompanied by Agni. God Shiva followed them both and constantly perturbed them with his arrows.
With Agni and the sacrificial deity destroyed, the immortals started to lose all their powers. As a result, their luster faded away, and they began to decay rapidly. God Shiva then focused on the celestials and with his bow, he broke the arms of SavitriSurya) and plucked out the eyes of Bhaga. He broke the teeth of Pushan. He then whirled the horn of his bow, and laughed aloud, paralyzing the assembled celestials.
There was chaos everywhere and all the remaining gods fled away from God Shiva’s path of destruction. To counter God Shiva, they made an united stand, and combining all their power, they somehow managed to break the string of Shiva’s bow. In the brief respite that ensued, they sought refuge with him, and by singing his praises, tried to console him.
Pacified, the sympathetic Shiva forgave the immortals and allowed the sacrifice to proceed. He restored the arms of Savitri, the eyes of Bhaga and the teeth of Pushan. Since that day, it has been prescribed that no sacrifice is complete without an offering to the almighty God Shiva.
Sarabeswarar was the avatar God Shiva took to subdue the aggression of God Narasimha the 4th avatar of God Vishnu. Sarabeswarar was God Shiva’s most fierce form, he was a thousand-armed, lion-faced and with matted hair, wings and eight feets creature. Sarabeswarar has such strong features that it could clear a valley in one single jump.
According to legends, God Vishnu assumed the form of Narasimha to slay the demon king Hiranyakashipu, who was terrorizing the universe. But even after slaying Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha’s wrath was not appeased. God Brahma sent Prahalada to pray to God Vishnu and help calm him down, but even Prahalada’s efforts were to no avail. Frightened, all the Devas, humans and Gods went to God Shiva and seeked his help in calming God Vishnu.
God Shiva first sent two of his best earthly men, Bhairav and Veerbhadra to calm down God Narasimha. But Narasimha due to his enraged state did not know what he was doing and pounced on Veerbhadra. Veerbhadra prayed to God Shiva to help him from death, God Shiva took the form Sarabeswarar, a giant, frighening, form with thousands of hands. Sarabeswarar hit Narashima with his wings and carried him off into the distance. The effect of the hit made God Narasimha unconscious, when Narasimha regained his consciousness back, his rage was quelled and became a devotee of God Shiva. Sarabeswarar then decapitated and de-skinned Narasimha so that God Vishnu could assume his normal form and retire to his abode. It was from here on that God Shiva came to be known as “Sarabeshamurti”.
Source: Quora, Ishtadevta
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