Artists often find that after a certain point their creations overwhelm them. Whether it is a writer, dancer, singer, painter, sculptor or theatre artist, what they regard as their best work happens when a “supernatural” entity seems to possess them. This is when even an audience, largely uneducated in the finer points of artistry, spontaneously bursts into applause, wordlessly aware that they are indeed witnessing a manifestation of divinity through human creativity. The urgent inner need to create is a trait of every true artist. It is a teaching that comes from the ancients of our land.
God is said to be perfect. Complete. Yet, there are millions of creations of the very same god, irrespective of the labels slapped on the divine by different groups of believers. Hindus say that our whole universe is nothing but a “Leela”, or a plaything of the divine. A true artist creates because the divinity in him compels him to do so. Denying an artist the space for creativity is tantamount to stopping breathing, so the ancients believed.
Interestingly, more often than not, such creations take a life of their own, sometimes in ways not envisaged by the creators themselves! The ancients pointed out that this principle of unforeseen consequences is applicable even to the devas. Shri Maha Vishnu, to illustrate, is the God of Preservation in the Hindu Trinity consisting of Him, Brahma (Creation) and Shiva (Destruction). The root of the word “Vishnu” is: that which spreads. In His ten avatars or incarnations, Maha Vishnu has taken one form or the other to protect Creation. He has the older spouse Bhoodevi or Earth and Shridevi, the dispenser of Wealth. Vishnu is thus aptly equipped to carry on His job of Preservation.
Bhoodevi has taken on various shapes like the cow. Possession of cows was (and still is) a mark of wealth in India. To consume and serve ghee, butter and other dairy products, from “pure cow’s milk” was very much a cut above the rest! Krishna, the last avatar of Maha Vishnu (before Kalki, whose advent is foretold to arrive in the future) was very much beloved by women. Krishna is husband to no fewer than sixteen thousand and eight women. Rukmini is the most favoured one, with Sathyabhama, a close second. Yet, it is Shri Radha, an older kinswoman, with whom Krishna has his most enduring and passionate affair. Nobody can hold a candle to her, the way nobody can surpass Yashoda in her motherly love for Krishna.
Long after the youthful Krishna left his foster parents (who loved him more than any blood parent), Yashoda met him again in Prabhasa. Krishna had promised her especially, as well as all his family and friends, that he would attend to his maternal uncle Kamsa’s summons and return back. Krishna was not going to be bound by the palace and its environs. He preferred the simple, pastoral life in Vrindavan! However, as we know, Yashoda had to wait for ages to see Krishna again. As soon as she set eyes on him, despite being well past menopause, her breasts became full of milk in the memory of the times she had suckled him. Love in any form brings about wonders.
Sita, the beleaguered wife of Rama, had the distinction of being Rama’s only love. He does not take another wife ever. He is immune to the blandishments of Shoorpanakha, Ravana’s beautiful sister. When he has Lakshmana abandon Sita back in the forest because some subject of his questioned her chastity, he does not accept marriage to anyone else. At that time, his sons are not born to complicate the issue. Even when Sita disappeared into the earth for good, Rama chose to live as a bachelor. Those days, it was commonplace for kings to marry more than one woman, as was the case with Rama’s own father, Dasharatha.
For Parvathi, the mountain Himavaan’s daughter, her steadfast love for Shiva lasted for two lifetimes, from her earlier incarnation as Sati, the daughter of Daksha Prajapathi. Shiva was her chosen One, whether Daksha approved of her choice or whether Mena, Himavaan’s wife, was aghast at Shiva’s appearance as a wild ascetic. Parvathi would have as her spouse none other than Shiva, whether He was presentable or not. Vishnu and Chandra, the Moon God, were the ones who dressed up Shiva as a bridegroom for Parvathi’s wedding and He surpassed both of these extremely handsome divinities as Soma Shekhara or He who wore the Moon as an ornament in His hair. As soon as the blissfully wedded couple left Himavaan’s city, Parvathi urged Shiva to go back to His wild way of dressing. She was in love with Shiva and cared not about His attire.
Yet another great love of Maha Vishnu was the poet-saint Aandaal. She was the daughter of the priest at Maha Vishnu’s shrine wherein He slept on a leaf, and hence was known as Vada Pathra Shayi. Her father used to send garlands and other articles of worship through Aandaal to be placed in the temple, where her father would later adorn the deity with them. There is a saying in Malayalam that goes: “Vaadiya Poo Choodiyaalum, Choodiya Poo Choodaruthu (Even if you wear faded flowers, do not wear flowers which are already worn by someone else).”
Aandaal was doing the exact opposite of this dictum. She used to dress herself up in garments and ornaments meant for Maha Vishnu’s pure and pristine worship and admire her own reflection in the well in the temple premises. She thought of herself to be Maha Vishnu’s own and saw nothing wrong in her behaviour. What was His was hers! This went on for a long while until, one day, her father caught her at this. He was aghast! His own beloved daughter has sullied the offerings that he himself had unwillingly served up to his Lord many times. Both he and his daughter were grave sinners. The father started beating Aandaal in anger.
This was when a disembodied voice came from within the sanctum sanctorum, instructing the father to dress up Aandaal as a bride and present her to the deity. The richly adorned Aandaal was absorbed as Maha Vishnu’s wife. What human beings could not stomach was fully and joyfully accepted by God. Almost every Vaishnavite shrine, especially in Tamil Nadu, has Aandaal prominently worshipped. Aandaal’s composition, the Thirupaavai, is considered to be as good as the Vedas in many parts of Tamil Nadu even today. She merits equal worship as does Bhoodevi and Shridevi. Radha, eternal lover of Krishna, gets precedence in the chanting of Radhey Govinda.
Incarnations are said to be gods taking on forms and walking the earth. Many times, it could also be said that the divinities were attracted to this earth for all too human love, divine in its intensity. Hence, the ancient belief that every true gift of the creative impulse springs from divine inspiration.