7 Secrets of Shiva

Genre: Mythology

Publisher: Westland

Price: Rs.250

Pages: 219 (half the pages include pictures)

Smeared with ash

Draped in animal hide

He sits atop the snow capped mountain

Skull in hand

Withdrawn, with dogs for company

Destroying the world with his indifference

He is the God who the Goddess shall awaken

His name is Shiva

He is a God who has always inspired awe and fear. Sitting atop the frozen mount Kailasa this semi naked, ash-covered mendicant is a significant part of the Hindu folklore. His dance is powerful and enlightening.  His third eye can destroy the world.  His followers include demons, ghosts and goblins. Call him what you may- Shiva, Shankar, Bholenath or Nataraj.

As an ardent follower of the Hindu mythology my grandmother narrated stories about our Gods and Goddesses each night when I was a child. I listened to her with excitement and rapt attention. “Oh! How powerful our Gods are!”, I used to think. However, as I grew up this excitement waned away. I started questioning their existence but never did I deny it completely. “What is Their origin? How did They become such an integral part of our culture?”, I began to wonder.

 The title of this book, “7 Secrets of Shiva”, caught my attention immediately. I started wondering about the secrets this book claimed to unlock. Would this book contradict all the stories which my grandmother had narrated? Would the author reveal some startling facts about Shiva which would present Him in a whole new light. I decided to delve into this book to find answers to all the questions which started lingering in my mind.

The author’s note, however, talked about the western scholars viewing Hinduism through an “archaic Victorian lens” and the wide gap which exists between these scholars and the staunch devotees. Through this book the author has attempted to bridge this gap.

Sprawling across the seven chapters of this book dealing with Lingeshwara, Bhairava, Shankara, Bholenath, Ganesha, Murugan and Nataraj are short stories and anecdotes, many of which we all have heard time and again. Each chapter of this book explains one of the aforementioned Gods in details. We get to know about the different forms of Shiva- the withdrawn mendicant, the attached householder, the wise teacher and many more. The role which the Goddess ( Sati and Parvati) play in Shiva’s life has been well explained. She domesticates Shiva and introduces him to the ways of the world.

In Shiva temples, Shiva cannot be worshipped without acknowledging the Goddess. The linga rises from a leaf shaped trough that points north towards the Pole Star. This is the yoni, the entrance to the womb of the Goddess.

The author has also shed light on Shiva’s two sons Ganesha and Karthikeya, their birth and their role in connecting Shiva to humanity. While the former “provides for and comforts those trapped in maya” the latter protects “those trapped in maya”.

Personally I liked the first and fifth chapters the best which deal with the Shiv Linga and Ganesha respectively. In the first chapter the meaning of the Shiva linga has been explained. Linga, the erect phallus which is worshipped  throughout India by Shiva devotees, represents an alert mind, a mind aroused by internal stimulus instead of an external one. Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, epitomises Shiva’s empathy for humanity. His pot-belly represents affluence. The stories explaining the birth and significance are fascinating.

Pictures printed on every alternate page accompanied with comments and explanations keeps the readers engrossed. The book is well structured with each chapter focusing on either one Hindu God or one form of Shiva.

This book draws our attention to details which might have gone unnoticed- significance of Shiva’s trident, his bull Nandi, the idea  which Ganesha’s broken tusk represents. However, in my opinion, not many “secrets” about Shiva have been unraveled. A book titled “7 Secrets of Shiva” is expected to divulge startling facts about Shiva which might take the reader by surprise. This book merely publishes the author’s interpretation and incidences which are known to most of us. Also, the absence of a glossary and footnotes can be felt throughout the book. Any book which deals with mythology as its subject matter and contains Sanskrit words should definitely include a glossary.

To sum up this book definitely makes for an interesting read. I was transported to my childhood days when “Om Namah Shivaya” was watched in the Kapoor household with utmost attention. But did the book really unlock seven secrets about this Hindu deity? I am not sure.

To know more about the author, Devdutt Pattanaik visit his website www.devdutt.com

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