The Kashi-Mahakal Express, which will connect the three jyotirlingas at Omkareshwar, Mahakaleshwar and Kashi Vishwanath, has been flagged off by the Prime Minister. On board was a very special passenger — the cosmic destroyer himself, in berth number 64 in coach B5. Deities are legal persons and can perform higher-order human acts like enjoying an income, paying taxes and suffering liabilities, but divinity frees them from ordinary needs. So, news that Shiva had been reserved an upper berth by IRCTC, which will operate the train, has occasioned some to wonder why the deity needed a berth, and displaced some mortal who definitely did. Not so, IRCTC has clarified — the inaugural run had no passengers, and when commercial services begin later this week, the god will not be aboard. So the displacement analysis was unfair, yet trundling Mahakal about in rolling stock can be opposed on technical and aesthetic grounds.
Mahakal has transcended time, as his name suggests. He is deep time, cosmic time, or something similar which is yet to enter the scientific lexicon. Can such an entity be confined by the time tables of the Indian Railways? On the other hand, he would not suffer as mortal passengers do. From his vantage point in infinite time, he would barely notice the interminable delays in trains running through central India. Worryingly, the authorities have resolved to make the train strictly vegetarian and high-minded in tenor, which could alienate one aspect of Shiva, which is worshipped in shrines like Delhi’s Bhairon Mandir, and which is pointedly hedonistic.
Maha Shivratri is on Friday, the day after the Kashi-Mahakal Express starts its first commercial run. There is time yet to reconsider the rash choice of menu. For, though Shiva will not be occupying a berth, he will be on board. Indeed, he is everywhere.