Today marks the start of the Shaivite holy month of Shravan Maas [at least, according to my Mandir’s Gujarati derived calendar. In various other parts of India it’s already been going for two weeks].
I say ‘Shaivite holy month’, but it is not only Shiva-oriented observances that take place during this time. Other prominent occasions include Raksha Bandhan and Naga Panchami – and even an ongoing Krishnaite devotion.
The salience of Lord Shiva during this time is due to the belief that this is when He played His role at the Samudra Manthan [‘Churning of the Ocean of Milk’] by sacrificing Himself in a way, to consume the Halahala poison that had been unleashed in the pursuit of Amrit – and which was threatening to extinguish all life that it came into contact with.
Only Lord Shiva was able to withstand the dire hazard of the black toxicant, and so moved to contain the Halahala by drinking it. This then lodged in His Throat – potentially due to semi-strangulation by His Wife to prevent it going any further, or simply being held there by other means … permanently discolouring His throat a dark blue – what we would term in Old Norse ‘bruise-black’; and thus explicating the Shaivite theonym of ‘Neelakantha’ – ‘the Blue Throated’.
I personally believe that there are strong symbolic resonancies between this portion of the myth and Odin’s self-sacrifice by hanging (not least of which, the bruise-coloured markings presumably left upon the neck by such a process) – with the Amrit likely being intriguingly correlate to the Othrörir drunken by Odin following the conclusion to His ordeal.
This would further reaffirm the strong coterminity of Amrit [‘Immortality’ elixir] and Soma [the famed empowering brew which finds its Nordic co-expression as Kvasir, the Meath of Poetry] – as Odrerir is better known as both the main vessel and the key quality [the impartment of ‘Furor’, Odin’s defining characteristic also – indeed what He is, after a sort, just as Manyu is Rudra] of the Nordic divine drink in question.
I also believe that this occurrence finds at least symbolic resonancy in the deliberate self-sacrifice of Brihaspat / Yama recorded in RV X 13 – to quote, but briefly:
“4 He, for God’s sake, chose death to be His portion. He chose not, for men’s good, a life eternal
They sacrificed Bṛhaspati the Ṛṣi. Yama delivered up his own dear body.”
A God, in other words, Who Sacrifices Himself, Dies-But-Does-Not, and thence re-ascends to the station of Lord of the Glorious/Ancestral Dead.
But the degree of coterminity of Shiva and Yama is somewhat controversial, so I shall leave further explication upon that for some other time (and we have already briefly looked at the relevant portion of this RigVedic Hymnal in the course of “Part IV: Romulus And Remus Reconstructed – The Sepulchral Legacy Of The Shadow-King [Section 1]”); I shall also leave for now unexplored the potential resonancy with Nordic concepts of Eitr and Élivágar with what has gone on here.
For now, it is enough to state that we are Grateful to MahaKaal – the greater blackness, the greater death than even the Halahala could hope to endure – for interceding on our, on all of our collective behalf, and removing the dire peril which weighed so heavily upon the universe entire.
In such a manner, via the resonancy of the mythic recurrence, Devotees also carry out pious worship during this time so as to invoke this removal of travails in their own personal lives and communities as well. Hence also, the well-known Shaivite theonyms as ‘The Remover’ of such pains and difficulties.
We remind ourselves of the tremendous Sacrifice of the Great God, the Living Death ; and we carry out sacrifices in turn so as to honour His heroic example. To do our own veer-y small part to support and uphold the life-giving Cosmic Order of the Universe under which we can flourish.
There is a proverb that goes with all of this, as well.
It goes like this: “Amrit paane se pahle Vish peena padta hai” –
“Before one can get Amrit, one must drink poison.”
Jai MahaKaal !
ॐ नमः शिवाय