Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Shiva Nataraj is Lord Shiva in a dancing pose. Shiva is one of the trinity in Hinduism- Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva: Brahma being creator, Vishnu being preserver, and Shiva being a destroyer completes the trinity. But at first glance these simple definitions can pose some interesting and prejudicial views of god as different forms of the same. What I mean by that is maybe of the three, could Shiva be ever looked up on as not as favored because of that alias: the destroyer?
I never was faced with thinking about this as I was on a warm, wet day in Kochi on an unassuming visit to Jew town. My husband, Didi (sister in law) and I went to roam around Jew town to find a gift in one of the many stores there to take back to US as a wedding present for a recently married friend we know. Jew town is known for antiques of all kinds- including antique statues of gods of all religions. I learned a little about thoughts about purchasing items from antique dealers to give as gifts on this day. But of all the things I learned on this day, one thing was so thought provoking; I meditated on it later in the day to understand the meaning behind the words I heard.
I picked up a Shiva Nataraj statue and commented this was a beautiful piece, maybe we can give this. My Didi shared that giving Shiva in this pose of all poses was considered not auspicious because he was in his ‘cosmic dance of destruction pose,’ and some believe if you get this for a wedding gift or a gift at all, you are gifting destruction! Wow, suddenly I felt a pang of guilt. I have given Shiva Nataraj for a gift to many people. Would they be doomed? Maybe the energy of that thought could produce bad luck, so I stopped thinking of that.
I commented, “Wow, I am unsure if all people believe this thought because in Chennai many of my friends gifted Shiva Nataraj, it seemed customary. In fact, I have been to the store with many an Indian friend [from Chennai] who has chosen this particular image to present as an auspicious gift.” Maybe it seemed I was arguing, but I wanted to understand how one community in India had one view about it that was bad and the other community, who incidentally are not really that far away in a neighboring state, have a totally different view, in my experience. Didi went on to say that in this pose, Shiva is in the dance of destruction and destruction is not considered good and also that keeping Shiva in the house as an art piece, without worshiping it, was also inauspicious.’ Hmm.. I was so curious about these traditions, being so foreign to me. I decided to meditate on it.
I did meditate on it in my sleep that night and came up with interesting conclusions.
Firstly, I understand how either view on Shiva Nataraj can be arrived at. I had never thought of Shiva Nataraj as inauspicious before this discussion, but after, I could understand why someone may think about it like that. After all, in Christianity, the devil is considered to be destructive and many people don’t want photos or images of the devil or hell in their home. In fact, just the other day, traveling outside Ithaca, New York, I saw a sign for Lucifer Falls, Lucifer being another name for the Devil, and commented, “Why would anyone name a beautiful waterfall after the devil?”
But, then, I wondered, can destruction, which is equated with images of depression and despair, have a positive side? Surely anyone would have a hint of sadness when something is destroyed. However, isn’t it out of destruction life’s transitions happen? And, learning to accept life’s transitions with grace remains one of life’s mysteries. Though I don’t condone purposefully creating destruction in your life, I do wonder if destruction is really something we must deny to live a full, prosperous life?
I hope to explore this in future postings in more detail.
Image in this article, courtesy of Michelelovesart, under creative commons, flickr.
Part 6 in Series: Kerala 2007
Copyright ©2007 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar