It is Monday – Lord Shiva’s Day ;
Therefore, in a bit of a different spin to usual, a hail to an under-acknowledged figure – Nandi Puja.
Nandi means “Happiness”, and is also a way to refer to an inceptor – an opening prayer, particularly in a dramatic context.
He is the Vahana of Shiva, the Bull; as well as several forms of Devi. But he is more than a Vahana – not that there is anything ‘lesser’ about such an august station amidst the Cosmos; and is presented in myth and scripture as being Shiva’s Seneschal – hence, for instance, the famed instance with Ravana wherein He is responsible for warding off the latter who in his hubris had sought to move a mountain out of the way rather than taking a less direct route … and He who then sets down the curse upon Ravana that Ravana’s kingdom shall be destroyed by Monkeys [which, of course, as we know … happens – Lord Hanuman, specifically, along with an army of Vanaras later on; this acquires additional *interest* when we consider earlier citations for Nandi occasionally appearing with an ape-face].
There are a number of reasons for this; and speaking exigetically, it is building upon the previous scriptural presentation of Nandi as a Lord of the Gana – the Company of Heroes, Ghosts, and Guardians who accompany Lord Shiva, are also presided over by Ganesha [Gana-Esha – Lord of the Gana], and stand sentinel watch over His sacred sites and retreats here in the ‘mortal’ world.
And while some might suggest that there is to be a distinction between the early NandiJi figure [often depicted as bull-faced], and the Vrsabha [Bull] Vahana of Rudra … in more contemporary Hindu views, such a difference is rarely articulated.
Whatever the truth of the matter, there can be no question that Nandi is amidst the foremost of Lord Shiva’s devoted servants; indeed, according to some accountings, Nandi even attempts to do as His Lord does and consume some of the Halahala Poison at the Churning of the Ocean of Milk [although I have not done full due diligence upon the scriptural sources for this].
It is also clear that the Bull has become one of the most prominent symbols of Lord Shiva – Vrishanka [which can also, interestingly enough, mean a Pious Man]; and in addition to its current saliency upon the saffron-and-white flags of the Shaivites, may perhaps also recall the *Red Bull* that is emblematic of both Dyaus Pitar in amidst the most archaic layers of the RigVeda, as well as Lord Agni in other contexts [Piety, Prayer, therefore Happiness, you see?].
So therefore, while we of course give praise to Mahadev; it is also good to render respect and acknowledgement to His Seneschal – NandiJi.
And not least for it is the appropriately ‘archaic’ [‘feudal’] thing to do – to approach first the ‘gatekeeper’ [more literally, to be sure, this is Ganesha – and we can observe the coterminity of roles when considering the placement of Ganesha at the entrances to Temples and related sites] before seeking audience with the God-Emperor [Ishvara] of the Worlds.
Coming from a Western context, we also occasionally ‘look down upon’ – subconsciously or otherwise – the notion of service. And you can see that in the number of people who apparently unironically cite out of context the Miltonian quote that “tis better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” [ignorant, within our context, of the fact that YamaRaja *also* serves, *and* reigns!], or related maxims.
Yet if religious conduct by the individual – and this was not necessarily the point of properly archaic piety, wherein it is *for the world, the community, the Gods*, rather than for the man, much of the time – has as its prime purpose these days, the desire to “get closer” to God … well, who is closer? You, as the ordinary devotee, standing there looking confused? Or the well-renowned and eminently respected, closely loved comrade and companion of Chandrasekhara [the crescent-shape of the brow-adornment potentially *also* recalling the horns of the bull, and vice versa], Who is HIS foremost retainer – a leader, the house-captain of the Hird of Huskarlar of Hiranyapataye, Hiranyavaha, Hiranyakavacha.
If Nandi is ‘service’ – then ‘Nandi’ is how one approaches God [as seen, for example, with the white bull Vahana of Devi as ShailaPutri, at the start of the questing journeys of the NavRatri Cycle – which we’ll be re-beginning again shortly].
If Nandi is ‘piety’ – then ‘Nandi’ is closer to God [as seen also via the white bull Vahana of Devi as MahaGauri – the penultimate form of Devi to SiddhiDhatri in the NavRatri prcessional of the NavaDurgas].
If Nandi is ‘happiness’ – then ‘Nandi’ is what *comes* from God, via service, and is the greater the closer one is to the Source, attained through piety.
Therefore, one should *always* remember Nandi, and His heroic example to us all !
And, of course, Hail to His Lord – The One Whose Emblem Is The Bull!