They Are Wrong Again, This Time About Shiva

Aravindan Neelakandan

Jul 31, 2017, 06:19 PM | Updated 06:19 PM IST

  • Recently, an article on a Leftist website tried to peddle a distorted narrative regarding the evolution of Shiva as a deity in Hinduism.

    Here is how the piece got it all wrong, and by a great distance at that. 
  • A few days ago, a Left-leaning website published an article attacking Lord Shiva. According to the article, Shiva was originally Rudra, a minor Vedic deity. Then when he became associated with a non-Aryan deity, he became malicious and created trouble. Besides, this he was a non-vegetarian and was later ‘tamed’ by the Brahminical tradition.

    The reason for this diatribe against Shiva was a brief ban on non-vegetarian food in the small town of Haridwar for a brief period during the Kanwar Yatra, an annual march to the Ganga. So, the occasion was used to launch a colonial missionary-like diatribe against Shiva by presenting a carefully constructed narrative of the deity’s evolution through Vedic literature. Ironically, it ends with a superficial quoting of Appar – one of the three primary mystic seers of Tamil Saivism, about which we will deal later.

    The data, presented in the article, is itself made of half-truths marshalled typically in the fashion of ‘suggestio falsi; suppressio veri’.

    For example, in the article, the importance of Rudra in Vedic literature is dismissed and he is considered a minor deity “with only two and a half hymns dedicated to him”. This is symbolic of a bygone colonial, Indological approach.

    The Indian philosopher, yogi and guru, Sri Aurobindo had once pointed out in detail:

    The importance of the Vedic gods has not to be measured by the number of hymns devoted to them or by the extent to which they are invoked in the thoughts of the Rishis, but by the functions which they perform. Agni and Indra to whom the majority of the Vedic hymns are addressed, are not greater than Vishnu and Rudra, but the functions which they fulfil in the internal and external world were the most active, dominant and directly effective for the psychological discipline of the ancient Mystics; this alone is the reason of their predominance. The Maruts, children of Rudra, are not divinities superior to their fierce and mighty Father; but they have many hymns addressed to them and are far more constantly mentioned in connection with other gods, because the function they fulfilled was of a constant and immediate importance in the Vedic discipline. On the other hand, Vishnu, Rudra, Brahmanaspati, the Vedic originals of the later Puranic Triad, Vishnu-Shiva-Brahma, provide the conditions of the Vedic work and assist it from behind the more present and active gods, but are less close to it and in appearance less continually concerned in its daily movements.

    That Sri Aurobindo is correct in his approach, than the Indologists who labour under the frameworks of colonialism and Marxism, is evident from the way in which these ‘scholars’ have to distort, hide and overplay data so that they can cling on to their binaries of major-minor, Aryan-non-Aryan Deities in Vedic literature.

    What Sri Aurobindo says is reinforced by another eminent scholar, Stella Kramrisch, who too exhibits an ability to penetrate the language of symbolism employed in Vedic literature and see the rich, organic interconnectedness between various planes of consciousness. However, only a few scholars of non-Indic persuasion have been able to go beyond the mundane and outdated psychological frameworks to look into what is conveyed in the truest sense by the poets who composed the Vedic hymns. Kramrisch, who was invited by none other than the poet and literary genius Rabindranath Tagore to teach at the Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, was one such scholar. In her in-depth study of Shiva, she points out:

    A hymn to Agni, the Fire (RV 1.71) shed light on His nature whose name the raudra brahman withholds. … The mystery of the raudra brahman embraces the cosmic creative act together with the form-engendering creation of the poem. The brahman tells of the mystery and at the same time tells of its mode of telling. It shrouds and at the same time conveys His name in the form it gives to him by calling itself raudra brahman, a wild creation or Rudraic creation, for the poem and the creation are of Rudra, the Wild God, Raudra, an adjective from Rudra, means wild, of Rudra nature.
    (Stella Kramrisch, Presence of Shiva, Princeton University Press, 1981, p.4 and 5)

    A collection of half-truths and distortions

    The unscholarly negative tone integral to the Left discourse on Indic themes pervades the entire article of the left-leaning website. The result is that honesty becomes economical.

    For example, consider what the article says: “His role as a destroyer becomes more prominent in Puranic literature. The supreme being of fierce wrath, Rudra-Shiva now holds a trident, is dressed in tiger skin and sits next to his powerful consort, Shakti (known variously as Parvati and Uma). His macabre traits are heightened in the Mahabharata, with references to him being “extremely violent in temper, fully armed…greedy of cooked meat and rice…quarrel maker…hungry for foetus-flesh like a jackal”.”

    The ‘references’ are hyperlinked to 'Rudra from the Vedas to the Mahabharata’, a paper by Sukumari Bhattacharji from the 'Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute', (Vol. 41, No. 1/4 (1960), pp. 85-128), made available online by JSTOR. Even the discovery that Rudra was “a minor god, with only two-and-a-half hymns dedicated to him” originates from this paper.

    What is interesting is that the factoids from the same paper, which the author of the article on the website chose to hide, are very relevant to the discussion. Consider the following from the same paper, which gets edited out in the article:

    From all this emerges a powerful and benevolent god, like most of the gods in the earliest pantheon in the RV. He has a minor position, but in essence is not different from the major gods. He is attractive, not repulsive; fierce and powerful, yet with no dark or evil associations about him.
    (Sukumari Bhattacharji, 1960, p.86)

    Now consider this in the article:

    His macabre traits are heightened in the Mahabharata, with references to him being “extremely violent in temper, fully armed…greedy of cooked meat and rice…quarrel maker…hungry for foetus-flesh like a jackal”

    Now read below the passage which describes all these ‘macabre traits’ from the original paper. This pararaph lists many benevolent qualities, but they are carefully edited out to show him as ‘macabre’:

    …all-hearing, all-pervading, with pointed ears, the lord of elephants (12-283 ), greedy of cooked meat and rice, fond of lutes and lyres, having fine raiments and garlands, quarrel-maker, a Pāncāla, greedy of foetus-flesh like a jackal, with a thousand pointed pike, preserver of children and their keeper, a toy to the youngsters, pleased with the six rites, engaged in the three activities, the subject and discourser of talks centring round Dharma, Karna, Artha and Moksha.
    (Sukumari Bhattacharji, 1960, p.109)

    When only selected attributes are highlighted — like “greedy of fetus flesh like a jackal” — it is definitely ‘macabre’ but when Shiva also becomes “a preserver of children and their keeper, a toy to the youngsters”, the verse attains a deeper meaning, which a Hindu can understand instinctively. It is no more ‘macabre’. But to create a feeling of such grisliness, the author of the article edits out the unsuitable information.

    In Hindu symbolism and puranic tradition, it is a natural process to harmonise two seemingly opposite qualities. So, when a deity eats meat that does not mean it will not be worshipped in certain modes as a purely vegetarian deity. And a deity worshipped as a bachelor through one puranic tradition, can also be worshipped with the most amorous of hymns, as in the case of Skanda-Muruga.

    In fact, as Kramrisch rightly points out, even as Rudra appears in Rig Veda, he also carried with him the basic mystery of creation and existence and as such was, in a way, fully formed. He has in him all the attributes which would be elaborated further and further by his devotees throughout the spiritual history of India. Note how refreshing and profound are the following observations of Kramrsich, which combine the spiritual, psychological, historical, and cosmological dimensions of the Rudra and the Pashupathi imagery of Shiva:

    Rudra the guardian of the Uncreate, an indefinable transcendental plenum, avenged the infringement of the wholeness. He became the avenger of the descent of its substance, the semen, the ‘heavenly Soma’ into the cosmos. … Rudra, the fierce god, is an avenger whose arrow never misses its target. Creation as procreation destroys the integrity, the wholeness, that was before the beginning of life. The Wild Archer stalks his prey. As the Great Yogi, he is the consciousness and conscience of the Uncreate whole. Thus he is cruel and wild – the Rudra: at peace within himself and kind Shiva. … While he is the Hunter and Avenger, he is also the Great Yogi and Lord of the animals. The animals, the wild creatures in the forest of life, are at his mercy. Within man the microcosom, the animals are the passions. Rudra, the archer aims at Father Heaven, and in as much as the Father embracing the daughter acts according to his passionate nature, the Father is Rudra’s prey. Shiva the Great Yogi tames and subdues the animals that are the passions. On the Mohenjo-daro seal the Lord of Yoga is enthroned. Peacefully and calmly the forest animals are stationed around him.
    (Kriamrisch, 1981, p.21)

    If one compares this passage with the way Rudra is described in the article in question, then one will realise the inadequacy of scholarship and the utter inability of Marxist tools to comprehend the Indic spiritual literature even in their historical plane and temporally related dimensions. It is perfectly understandable that the Western mind of the colonial era Indologists could not comprehend such harmonising of extremely diverse qualities in a divinity. But it is unfortunate that even after Independence, such scholarship of narrow colonial inabilities, which fails to understand the grandeur of harmonising diverse elements in the Indian culture, masquerades as academic scholarship and is perpetuated by vested political interests.

    Vegetarianism As Part Of Saivite Spiritual Tradition

    The article again postulates the unscientific Marxist thesis that the production relations in the society solely decide its spiritual dimensions.

    Regarding why deities became ‘vegetarian’?, the article contends:

    Yet, the author is still confused regarding the vegetarian nature of Shiva.

    The author, who asked the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to study the Tamil Saivite texts, should have done it herself. Had she done it, she would have found that in the Sangam literature itself (300 BCE to 300 CE) Shiva appears as a great god with all the characteristics with which he is venerated today.

    If one is to make a compilation of all the attributes of Shiva as presented in Sangam literature, then this is the picture we get: he sits under the banyan tree imparting Vedic wisdom; from his mouth emanates the four Vedas; he has three eyes and a blue throat; he lives in the Himalayas with his consort Uma and tamed Ravana when the demon tried lifting the Himalayas; he is an archer with fiery arrows who destroyed the three demonic worlds with the Himalayas as the bow and the cosmic serpent as his bow string; he has five heads and from him came Muruga of six heads; He is both a consummate lover and also a great yogi. He has three eyes and eight hands. (Prof M Shanmugam Pillai, International Institute of Tamil Studies, 1996, pp.87-95)

    The interesting thing is that his worship is so ingrained in the Tamil society that his features are used as similes and metaphors when referring to the ‘secular’ aspects of life. For example, when a specific king among the three Tamil kings was to be praised, he is compared to the third eye of Shiva. All these show how much the Rudra-Shiva imagery is integrated into the Tamil cultural matrix. Tamil literature also shows that the worship of varied types – from shamanic to ascetic to yogic and tantric – were all practised in the devotion of not only Shiva but also his son, Skanda-Muruga.

    While in the Sangam literature we see the Vedic system itself having varied worshipping modes, gradually, we see vegetarianism becoming a venerated social norm. Contrary to the Hindu-phobic, where the Jain-Buddhists are hailed as egalitarian, rebellious, heterodox systems against the Vedic system of social hierarchy and stratification, in Tamil society we are able to see diametrically different dynamics. The Jains insisted that vegetarianism be the most venerated of all social norms and regarded communities involved in hunting and fishing as of inferior birth.

    Classic Sangam literature, Thirukkural, which refers explicitly to Vedic deities like the avatars of Vishnu and Sree, has a separate chapter on abstaining from meat. Saivism by the fifth century had produced canonical scriptures which necessitate vegetarianism. Thirumoolar’s Thirumantiram, a yogic text of Tamil Saivism, says that those who indulge in meat-eating would be tied and thrown into hell fire. (199).

    Yet, the greatness of Hindu pluralism insists throughout that both vegetarian and non-vegetarian worships of Shiva are recognised as equally pleasing to Him. Gnana Sambandar (seventh century) says that Shiva is common to those who consider meat eating as abhorrent and who offer him meat with love. (Thirumurai.3.53.9)

    Interestingly, in Tamil Nadu, those who spearheaded the reform movement to stop the ritual killing of animals in temples were mostly non-Brahmin seers like Ramalinga Vallalar and Thiru Muruga Kirupananda Vaariyar. The dogmatic association of vegetarianism with ‘high religion of Brahmins’ is just that - historically false, untenable dogma.

    So, when for a specific ritual of Shiva abstinence from meat is required, the devotees of Shiva can understand that as natural and not imposed vegetarianism.

    But then, what value do a few truths of a pagan religion like Hinduism hold to Marxist vested interests? Just like human beings fall prey to the murderous lust of Marxist storm troopers in the Stalinist killing fields of Kerala, facts, truths and the high poetry of pagan Hinduism fall prey to academic storm troopers of Marxist variety.

    Ultimately, the hatchet job on Shiva by a scholar on religion shows how degraded the academic standards of present Indic studies are because of Marxist stranglehold. It also shows that now it is the Hindutvaites who carry on their shoulders the responsibility of reviving Indic studies and push it to the standards of excellence which it had under scholars like Ananda Coomarasamy, Stella Kramrisch and Kapila Vatsyayan. We need to create such schools of holistic Indology throughout India, in all educational institutions, at all levels, on a war footing. We do not have the luxury to indulge in false pride and pseudoscientific claims.

    Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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