Shiva in the Ramayana

Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati never learnt how to use a computer properly. Why you may ask? Why could these great divine beings not learn to use a computer? Because their son Ganesha kept running away with the mouse.

Many of the great stories start with once upon a time… and we all get captured by the hero of the tales, the trials and tribulations, the distressed damsels and the evil villains. Rarely is any thought given to the author or narrators. Today I would like to do just that… pay homage to a great narrator, a storyteller, a poet. Renowned as the great lord of austerities, the supreme meditator, the Lord of Dance, the liberator of souls and the destructive aspect of the Hindu trinity, Shankara Shiva is a multifaceted aspect of the divine. Bholanath, Gangadhara, Hara, Kailashnath, Chandrashekara, Lingeshwara, Mahadev, and Umapati are some of the many names associated with Lord Shiva. The Mahabharat contains the Shivasahasranama or the thousand names of Lord Shiva each denoting a different aspect of the Lord.

Lord Shiva is the primary narrator of the Ramayana. The Lord may not use a computer, He may not be blogging or tweeting but the words imparted millennia ago are still with us and are still relevant unlike my facebook status. In the Mahabharata, Sri Krishna spoke to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and gave us the Bhagavad Gita.

Their dialogue provides guidelines to human existence and the various ways to attain God. In the Sri Ramcharitmanas, Shivji narrates the glories of Sri Rama to Mother Parvati. While the Bhagavad Gita serves as a “how to manual”, The Sri Ramacharitmanas offers us examples of dharmic life so that we have role models to emulate.  To quote from the Sri Ramcharitmanas:

It contains the gracious name of the Lord of Raghus, which is exceedingly holy and the very cream of the Purnas and the Vedas. It is the abode of blessings and the remover of evils, and is uttered by Lord Shiva, the enemy of the demon Tripura, along with his consort, Uma.”

 In narrating the story of Sri Rama to Mother Parvati, The Lord of Kailash expresses his devotion and love for Sri Rama. In turn Sri Rama is a bhakt of Lord Shiva. Many may ask how this relationship is possible. How can Shiva, God, be the devotee of one who is a devotee of His? In fact even Mother Parvati is stumped at Shankara’s attitude towards Sri Rama. The relationship between Mahadev and Sri Ramachandra is a beautiful one. While observing the leela of Sri Ram, Shivji smiled. Sri Rama with Mother Sita and his brother Lakshmana were wandering the forest. It so passed that on one occasion while Sri Ram and his brother Lakshmana were away from their dwellings, an evil demon approached. Ravan in deceitful ways abducted Mother Sita. When Sri Rama realised that Mother Sita was missing he searched the forest with desperation and a heavy heart, enacting his role as a mere mortal. Lord Shiva saw him thus and He was filled with joy to see Lord Hari act as a man and proclaimed:

Glory to the Redeemer of the universe, who is all Truth, Consciousness and Bliss!

Not having knowledge of the situation Mother Parvati was concerned with Lord Shiva’s reaction and demeanour.

Sankara is a Lord of the universe Himself, and deserves universal adoration; gods, men and sages all bow their heads to Him. Yet He made obeisance to this prince, referring to him as the Supreme Being. He was enraptured to behold his beauty and felt an upsurge of emotion in His heart, which He is unable to control even to this moment! 

Mother Sati confronted Lord Shiva: My Lord you are Mahadev yet you honour this Prince who cries for his wife? Tell me Lord how can this distraught man be the Great Lord you say he is?

Shankara replied: Devi this prince is Hari Himself, incarnated on Earth to help mankind. He plays the role of a man but I assure you He is Lord Hari.

Unconvinced Sati decided to see for herself if Sri Rama truly is the mighty Lord Narayana. Devi Sati in the guise of Mother Sita went to the forest and waited for Sri Rama. She thought: This Prince being a simple man will take me for his wife and rejoice, proving that he is but a man and not Hari. The disguised Mother Parvati saw the Prince approach and readied herself. Sri Rama saw Sita lookalike and his mood was lifted. Gone was his heartache and his desperation. He approached the Mother and offered obeisances to Her. His then immediately asked, “Mother, why are you alone in the forest? Where is my Lord, Mahadev? Sati was taken aback and realised that this is no ordinary prince.

This act alone proved to Mother Parvati that this prince was indeed Lord Hari incarnated. When she returned to Lord Shiva, after knowing the truth, she confessed her actions to Shankara. Lord Bholanath chanted Sri Rama’s name and voices issued forth from the heavens:

Glory to the great Lord Shiva, You are a devotee of Sri Rama and the all-powerful Lord at the same time.

The Rudrakshakam is a beautiful hymn to Lord Shiva in the Sri Ramacharitmanas. The hymn is chanted by a Brahmin to appease Lord Shiva. A few lines read:

I worship Lord Shiva, who is without desire. I worship the all-pervading consciousness, the One who shines in His own glory.  I bow to the supreme Lord, who is terrible yet gracious, the seed of the mystic syllable OM, the Ruler of Kailash, I adore the all-merciful Shankara, the universal Lord, who is loved by all.

In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrisna – the Master says: The sound OM is Brahman. The rishis and sages practiced austerity to realize that Sound-Brahman. After attaining perfection one hears the sound of this eternal Word rising spontaneously from the navel. “‘What will you gain’, some sages ask, ‘by merely hearing this sound?’ You hear the roar of the ocean from a distance. By following the roar you can reach the ocean. As long as there is the roar, there must also be the ocean. By following the trail of OM you attain Brahman, of which the Word is the symbol. That Brahman has been described by the Vedas as the ultimate goal.”

Sri Rama was also a great devotee of Mahadev. Before entering into battle with Ravan, Sri Rama settled at the shores of Rameshwaram. Here he constructed a Shiva linga and made oblations to Umapati Shambhu. It reads in the Sri Ramcharitmanas:

The monkeys brought huge mountains, which were received like playballs by Nala and Nila. When the All-merciful saw the exceedingly beautiful construction of the bridge, He smiled and observed thus:

This is a most delightful and excellent spot; its glory is immeasurable and cannot be described in words. I will install an emblem of Lord Shambhu here: it is the crowning ambition of My heart. Hearing this the lord of the monkeys despatched a number of messengers, who invited and fetched all the great sages. Having installed an emblem of Lord Shiva and worshipped It with due solemnity, He said, No one else is so dear to Me as Shiva. An enemy of Shiva although he calls himself a devotee of Mine, cannot attain to Me.

Shiva represents the Paramatma the supreme soul, while Sri Rama represents the Jivaatma or individual soul. Both are directly connected to each other; both equally devoted and loving the other.  Similarly the soul that exists in all of us is but a manifestation of that same divinity and when it is realised it will yearn for God. God too never abandons the individual soul for it is a part of God – each aspect moving towards each other in Love and devotion.

Sri Rama was not the only devotee of Lord Shankara. Ravan too was a great devotee of Chandrashekara. Filled with pride and arrogance Ravan was once flying in his aerial car. However his journey was halted when he neared Mount Kailash. For some odd reason he was not able to pass the mountain. Arrogant as he was the King of Lanka endeavoured to lift the mountain and displace it thus clearing his path. He lifted the mountain and disturbed Lord Shiva who resides atop the mountain. To steady the mountain and prevent it’s displacement the lord of austerities simply placed his large toe on the mountain. Ravan was trapped under the pressure of the mountain. Try as he did, Ravan could not free himself. In an attempt to release himself Ravan praised lord Shiva In verse. The Shiva Tandava stotram is a hymn composed by Ravan in honour of Lord Shiva, the destroyer of all, even death. In this hymn we get the inkling that Ravan sought liberation and freedom from his mortal coil. The following explains the concluding lines of the Shiva Tandava stotram.

Lord Siva, whose dance of Tandava is in tune with the series of loud sounds of drum making Dhimid Dhimid sounds. Lord Shiva who has the fire on His great forehead. When will I worship Lord Sadasiva, the eternally auspicious God. Shiva who sees all with equal vision towards the people and an emperor, and a blade of grass and lotus, towards both friends and enemies, towards the valuable gem and some lump of dirt.

When will I be happy, living in the hollow place near the celestial river, Ganga, with folded hands on my head all the time, with negative thoughts, and uttering the mantra of Lord Siva and devoted to Him.

Shiva, pleased by Ravan’s devotion granted him greater strength and in turn Ravan became a great devotee of Shiva.

Now it is widely accepted that Rama and Ravan were polar opposites. Rama represents all that is good and Ravan all that is evil. Both were great devotees of Shiva and both were blessed by Maheshwara. God’s love is infinite and not exclusive. This sentiment is echoed more recently by our Holy Mother. “I am the Mother of the wicked as I am the mother of the virtuous. Do not fear, whenever you are in distress my child just say to yourself. I have a mother.”

 The Ramayan is in essence the story of Sri Rama and his exploits.

The Ramayana of both Saint Valmiki and Goswami Tulsidasji also relate many a tale of Lord Shiva.

The story of Mother Ganga is one of my favourites. As the story goes the world was in drought for years. Mother Ganga was the only hope. For generations mankind prayed to the Mother to descend and quench the parched earth. Mother Ganga was afraid however. She heard the cries of the world and wanted to help but feared that once leashed her power could be uncontrollable on earth. Having prayed to the Mother and heard her concerns Bhagirath an ancient ancestor of King Dasaratha turned to Lord Brahma for advice.

Lord Brahma answered: Dear Bhagirath, your prayer is sincere but the solution to your problem lies with the Lord of Kailash. Go to Him. Seek his assistance for He alone can assist.

Having received Lord Brahma’s counsel. Bhagirath performed austerities for a year in honour of Lord Shiva. Pleased with his offerings, Uma’s lord replied: Sincere Bhagirath I have heard your prayers and shall answer your plea. Call upon Mother Ganga and bid she come down from the skies. None need fear for I shall contain the waters. Mother Ganga thus descended from the heavens and settled upon Lord Shankara’s head Her holy waves washing upon the world down from Kailash where Shankara resides. Mother Ganga thus resides on Shiva’s head, and so Shankara is known as Gangadhara. In this story much like the story of the churning of the ocean we see that Lord Shiva is compassionate and strives to prevent hardships and sufferings and fulfils the earnest prayers of devotees.

Shivji may not be the Hero of the Ramayan but is a pivotal part of it. From its pages we see that Lord Shiva is the Lord of all, despite one’s disposition. Whosoever turns to him sincerely receives his grace. He is the Almighty Lord. To reiterate the words of Sri Rama:

No one else is so dear to Me as Shiva. An enemy of Shiva although he calls himself a devotee of Mine, cannot attain to Me.

Thus whether we chant Hara or Hari in our hearts may our longing for His grace grow ever stronger.

 Hari Om Hari Om Narayana

Hara Om Hara Om Sadashiva

 

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