MOST PEOPLE KNOW a fair bit about Shiva. But I think many do not know that much about the details and nuances of worshipping Shiva and about the specifics given in the Shiva Purana. That is why I have been quoting from the conversation between Krishna and Upamanyu from Shiva Purana. If one wants to understand the dharma of worshipping Shiva, this is probably the best text, read in its entirety and not in dumbed-down versions that only retell the stories. For instance, this dharma is heavily overlaid with concepts of tantra and, therefore, sometimes, gives the impression of being esoteric, mysterious, and difficult to understand.
Krishna said, “O illustrious one! I wish to hear what Shiva said, to free those who seek refuge with him, on jnana about Shiva, the essence of the Vedas. It cannot be grasped by those who are not devotees, those who lack intelligence, and those who are not engaged with him. It is secret and has many kinds of meanings. It is criticised by those who lack wisdom. It is not against the dharma of varnas and ashramas, and in some cases, it is the same. It has been adapted from Vedas and Vedangas and all of samkhya and yoga. The innumerable and extensive texts have a hundred crores of shlokas. O lord! What is said about how Paramesha should be worshipped? Who has a right to perform this worship? What about jnana, yoga, and other things? O one excellent in vows! You should tell me about all this in detail.”
Upamanyu replied, “Shiva himself spoke about what the Vedas have said. I will briefly speak about Shiva’s dharma, without praising it, or criticising it. It will instantly be evident that he is the cause. This dharma is divine and confers emancipation. With a guru’s favours, it can be obtained easily. I will speak about it briefly. It is impossible to narrate it in detail. The lord Sthanu Maheshvara Shiva has both cause and effect within him. Desiring to create, he manifested himself from the unmanifest. The lord, superior to all the rishis in the universe, created the first among the devas, the Lord Brahma. When he was born, Brahma looked towards his father, the divinity. While Brahma was being born, his father, the divinity, looked towards him and commanded him. Thus glanced at by Ishvara Rudra, the Deva created the universe. He made separate arrangements for the different varnas and ashramas. For the sake of sacrifices, he created Soma. Heaven, earth, fire, the sun, the sacrifice, Vishnu, and Shachi’s lord originated from Soma. They and other gods praised Rudra, with hymns dedicated to the latter. With a pleasing face, the lord stood in front of the devas. In his own pastimes, Maheshvara robbed them of their jnana. Thus deluded, the devas asked him, ‘Who are you?’ Bhagavan Rudra replied, ‘I am the only ancient being. O best among gods! I was and will be, the first. There will never be anyone who surpasses me. There will never be an entity that exceeds me. I alone satisfy the universe with my own energy. There is no one who is superior to me, or equal to me. A person who knows me is emancipated.’ Saying this, Bhagavan Rudra vanished from the spot.’”
“Unable to see Ishana, they used hymns from the Sama Veda to praise him. They based themselves on Atharvashiras Upanishad and observed Pashupata vrata. The immortals smeared bhasma all over their limbs. To show favours to the pashus, the lord Ishvara Pashupati arrived in their presence, along with Uma and his ganas. There are yogis who have destroyed their sins. They have conquered sleep and have conquered their breathing. They see the divinity within their hearts. Like that, the bulls among the devas saw him. There is the one who is known as the supreme shakti. She follows Ishvara’s will. They saw her, possessing beautiful eyes, to Mahesha’s left. They also saw the lords among the ganas and other siddhas. They have freed themselves of samsara and have obtained a constant and supreme destination with Shiva. The devas praised Maheshvara, along with Devi. They used Maheshvara’s divine stotrams, from the shruti texts and from the Puranas. Full of compassion, the divinity Vrishadhvaja (the one with the bull on his banner, Shiva) glanced towards the devas. Pleased, he spoke in a naturally sweet voice. ‘I am pleased with you.’ Pleased in their minds, they prostrated themselves before Vrishadhvaja.”
If a person worships Shiva, if he offers an excellent arghya, and if he reads from the Upanishads, there is nothing that is impossible for him to obtain
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“Lovingly, the devas asked him a question that has deep meaning. The devas asked, ‘O Bhagavan! What path should be followed to worship you on earth? Who has the right to undertake this worship? You should tell us the truth about this.’ Hara, the supreme divinity, smiled and glanced at Devi. He displayed his terrible and supreme form, which resembles the sun. It was supreme, full of every kind of prosperity and every kind of energy. It was surrounded by shaktis, images, accompaniments, planets, and the devas. He possessed eight arms and four faces. Half of that wonderful form was female. Beholding that wonderful form, the devas, with Vishnu at the forefront, understood that Deva was the sun and Devi was the moon. The five elements and all mobile and immobile objects were in him. They prostrated themselves, offered arghya (a gift), and said, ‘O one with the complexion of sindura! O one with an excellent disc! O one with ornaments golden in complexion! O one with eyes like the petals of a lotus! O one who holds a lotus! O cause behind Brahma, Indra, and Narayana! The arghya in this vessel is praised. It has been filled with excellent jewels and a golden water, mixed with kumkuma. There is kusha grass. There are flowers. We are offering it to you. O Bhagavan! Be pleased. I prostrate myself before Shiva, the serene one, along with his ganas. You are the original cause. You are Rudra and Vishnu. You are Brahma and you have a form as Surya.” If a person controls himself and worships Shiva in the solar disc in the morning, at mid-day, and in the evening, if he offers an excellent arghya, if he prostrates himself and if he reads shlokas from the Upanishads, there is nothing that is impossible for him to obtain. If his devotion is firm, he is emancipated. Therefore, for the sake of dharma, artha, kama, and moksha, in thoughts, words, and deeds, Shiva must constantly be worshipped in the form of the sun. Located in the disc, Maheshvara looked at the devas. Hara gave them the sacred text, the sequel to all Agama texts, and vanished. [The Agama texts are linked to tantra. They are broadly divided into Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti segments. Usually, 28 Shiva Agama texts are listed, divided into four groups.) They understood that Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas have a right to worship. The devas prostrated themselves before the lord of the devas and left for wherever they had come from.”
“After a long period of time, that sacred text was forgotten. Seated on her husband’s lap, Maheshvari asked him about it. Urged by Devi, Deva, with the moon as his ornament, narrated to her the sacred text that is a sequel to all the Agama texts. Urged by Parameshthi [Brahma], this was propagated in the worlds by my guru, Agastya, and maharshi Dadhicha. For the sake of emancipating those who seek refuge in him and imparting jnana to their descendants, in the cycle of yugas, the wielder of the trident himself takes avatars. Depending on the kalpa, in the due order, hear about the lords of yoga who were the avatars of Vyasa. They were Ribhu, Satya, Bhargava, Angiras, the Brahmana Savita, Mrityu, the intelligent Shatakratu, Vasishtha, bull among sages, Sarasvata, Tridhama, Trivrita, bull among sages, Shatateja, Dharma, who is heard to have been Narayana, Svaraksha, the intelligent Aruni, Kritanjaya, Kritanjaya [a second Kritanjaya], Bharadvaja, the wise and excellent Goutama, the sage Vachahshrava, Sukshmayani, Shuchi, the sage Trinabindu, Krishna, Shakti, Shakti’s son, Uttara, Jatukarnya, Hari and the sage Krishna Dvaipayana himself. O ones excellent in vows! These are the forms of Vyasa’s avatars till the end of Dvapara Yuga. These were avatars of the wielder of the trident, who were teachers of yoga, and their disciples. At different points in time, the immensely energetic lord had four shishyas. Those shishyas had hundreds and thousands of disciples. They were born and carried out Shiva’s command in the world. Those extremely fortunate ones were supreme in their devotion and were liberated.”
Unlike Vishnu’s avatars, there is probably not that much familiarity with Shiva’s avatars. Krishna said, “O illustrious one! In the cycle of yugas, please tell me about the avatars Sharva, the wielder of the trident, had as Yogacharya [preceptor of yoga], and about their disciples.” Upamanyu’s answer will have to wait till the next column, where I will tell you about the 28 Vedavyasas (one for each Dvapara Yuga that has passed in this kalpa) and Shiva’s avatars.