Indian mythology has some really cool gods; there’s charming Krishna, the very “sanskari” Ram and blissed out Shiva. While Krishna’s charms extend to several women at the same time and Ram can choose duty over his wife, it’s only Shiva, a reluctant householder, who stays the distance with strong-headed Sati, who is later reborn as Parvati.
Dressed in tiger skin, wearing wild flowers, lost in meditation up in the mountains, high on hemp or “bhang”, playing the soulful veena, Shiva is wild, unconventional and unattainable, the very epitome of cool. He can dance up a storm, like when he performed the mighty “tandava”, threatening all of existence when he lost Sati.
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He is never petty and his love for Parvati, who can be temperamental and is credited with the fierce incarnations of Kali and Durga, is unconditional. Parvati gets a free pass even when, as Chandi, she spoils her step-daughter Mansa’s (born when Shiva’s semen accidentally fell on a statue) wedding night, by sending her in wearing snakes and throwing a frog into the chamber for effect, prompting her husband to run for his life! All because she suspected Mansa was Shiva’s secret wife and not daughter!
He is not afraid to be in touch with his feminine side. As Ardhanarishvara, he becomes one-part woman, with Parvati figuratively and literally a part of him. This is a husband totally attuned to his wife’s needs and willing to let her into his heart, body and mind. Theirs is a relationship of equals and true companionship. According to mythology, when Shiva decides to consume the cosmic poison from the gods’ “Samudra Manthan” or ocean’s churning, it’s Parvati who steps in to hold his neck so it doesn’t spread to his body, earning him the title of Neelkantha or blue-throated.
It’s, therefore, not surprising that Indian women across generations have fasted for a husband like Shiva. Ask author of the Meluha trilogy, Amish Tripathi how he views Shiva and he tells us, “I will answer as a devotee of Lord Shiva. If you see even his traditional myths, Lord Shiva treats his wife with immense love and respect. We all know the story of his devastating grief after Lady Sati died. And his respect and love for Lady Parvati, the reincarnation of Lady Sati, is legendary. And yes, their love is erotic too. As one read in the Puranas as well, it is a strong, deep and respectful relationship between the husband and wife.”
He agrees that Shiva is at ease with strong women. “Very clearly, he is. So often, even in the traditional myths, Lady Parvati does what she thinks is right. Even opposing Lord Shiva very often. But he respects her right to do what she thinks is right. He continues to obsessively love her. They have a respectful relationship towards each other. Modern husbands and wives can learn a lot from them.”
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Shiva is also connected with erotica, and Sanskrit poet Kalidasa’s poetry has captured his playful lovemaking with Parvati. It also inspired Monona Wali, Indian-American novelist, short story writer and filmmaker to pen her debut novel My Blue Skin Lover. Says the Benaras-born author, “What drew me to Shiva was the story of Akkamahadevi, the 12th century Virashaiva poet and saint from South India. She wandered all around South India naked, covered only by her hair, and wrote beautiful love poetry to Shiva. (My father, who is from Karnataka, told me about her; he was fond of her poetry.) I was inspired by her story and tried to imagine what would happen if a modern day Indian-American woman fell in love with Shiva.”
For her, and the character in the novel, Shiva represents the possibility of transformation, “to fall in love with him is to transform one’s life, to liberate oneself from societal expectations and to discover one’s true nature. Shiva is both the life force and the death force, so there is great risk in taking him as a lover or husband.” She could relate to stories of Shiva and Parvati, how they quarrel and play just like human lovers.
The Shiva-Parvati romance scales the heights of ecstasy and agony. Remarks Monona, “He is incredibly erotic; that’s what makes him romantic. I love the stories of Shiva and Parvati, how they embrace for eons at a time, but then, as the yogi, he disappears to the mountaintop and she becomes frustrated and longs for him. All the different aspects of Shiva are what make him fascinating.”
It’s also what makes him the ultimate husband, ticking off the most important items on the wishlist—equality and respect. It helps that he is hopelessly devoted!
(The writer is an editorial consultant and co-founder of The Goodwill Project. She tweets @anuvee) Views expressed are personal.