Shiva to Shankara by Devdutt Pattanaik
The image of Lord Shiva has always fascinated me. I grew up watching posters of Shiva all around me – striking various poses but mostly closed eyes – and listening to songs from numerous T-Series albums praising the lord with songs based on tunes copied from top hindi movie numbers. Hence, my knowledge about Shiva was essentially a collection of tid bits learnt over a period of time from movies and TV. A god with Three eyes, the opening of the third one resulting in large scale destruction, father of Ganesha and so on.
To satisfy my increasing curiosity, I headed to Crosswords a few weeks back and with the help of Santhosh managed to find a couple of books that looked like they could answer my questions. Devdutt Pattanaik’s Shiva to Shankara – Decoding the Phallic Symbol is one of them.
The book is essentially a collection of short stories and accompanying observations by the author to understand and make sense of the overtly sexual connotations associated with Shiva. And it succeeds to a great extent in making its point. It also succeeds, partly, in uncovering the ‘censored’ version of Shiva that we are made to see by the powers that be in today’s India that is full of elders and self-proclaimed teachers stubbornly averse to the sexual and erotic side of Hinduism. The short stories and extensive use of illustrations make a book fast read and easy to understand as well. This makes it a good reference book. For example, Shiva’s detachment from the world and the frustration it causes to Parvati is illustrated in a small folklore passed down the generations:
A House for Parvati
Parvati once begged Shiva to build her a house. “Why do we need a house?” Shiva wondered. In summer when it is hot, I sit under the shade of the Banyan tree. In winter, when it is cold I warm myself in the crematorium beside funeral pyres. In the rainy season, I simply fly and sit on the clouds above the rain.
That said, the illustrations and stories mean that the book is rather short in length. It answers a lot of questions but the curiosity does not die down. So, I look forward to read more books on this weed smoking, chilled out, maverick and mystical lord of Hinduism.