It’s the last Monday night of the Shaivite Holy Month of Shravan Maas tonight, and I’ve had this image upon my mind.
The sage Manasataramgini captioned it thusly: “Rudra’s clan all huddled in an elephant hide for the cold Himalayan night”.
I think that’s a pretty touching description. And most definitely apt.
Yet in truth I also see something else here, also.
That elephant-hide. It once belonged to an immensely powerful demon – Gajasura [‘Elephant-Demon’]. There are several stories as to his origination; one of which, effectively, has him congealed as the result of black magic unleashed by certain sages who bore a grudge against Mahadev, and correspondingly sought to lay Him low.
This demon, Gajasura, was seemingly invulnerable thanks to his thick hide and was imbued to be the very bane of Bholenath Himself. And yet …
Shiva defeats him. Shiva flays him. Shiva manages to turn this exterior hide, the source of so much difficulty to all others and intractability for the problem at issue … into something most useful indeed. Not just, as we can se here, for Himself – but also for His Family as well.
Now this, I feel is a much more interesting, empowering, and dare I say it – necessary – message for the final Somvar [‘Soma-Day’] Night of Shravan Maas than me ranting on about that Elephant-Hide garment in relation to the Aegis of Pallas Athena, etc.
Because it speaks quite directly to that most remarkable quality to Mahadev. An ‘Alchemy’, we may say. Wherein He so consistently can take seemingly anything, no matter how dark nor dangerous nor dire … and yet somehow extract its near-exact opposite therefrom.
An immense and deadly demon comes storming toward His Household ? He turns it from cataclysm to comforting protection.
A similar thing viz. young Ganesha – in some tellings, the recipient of the head from another Gajasura : again, something demonic, transmuted into something divine.
It isn’t just elephants, either.
Consider that Cobra about Mahadev’s Neck. It is often said to represent ‘Ego’ – and to symbolize something most definitely perilous … that one would be decidedly ill-advised to have on one’s person, let alone coiled about one’s neck. And yet … as it is under His control – it is not a threat. A glittering adornment – and one that may, in fact, leap out to strike at one’s foes.
A similar story, perhaps, when we come to consider the reasoning for His Neelakantha epithet – The Blue Throated. We all know the story. The Churning of the Sea of Milk, the emergence of various things from out of same … and yet, before Amrit [the elixir of immortality – ‘immortality’ being exactly what ‘amrit’ means … ‘mort’ and ‘mrit’, ‘im-‘ and ‘a-‘, you see?] can be congealed, a most deadly poison, the Halahala emerges.
In this case, it is not so much that the Halahala itself is transmuted into something glorious, something wondrous. But rather, instead, that the acts of the churning of the Sea of Milk are turned from unleashing disaster into ensuring something else entirely.
Because of Mahadev. Because He Alone is capable of assuming the burden – taking the pain, taking the negative, taking the death, so that we (the entire rest of creation) don’t have to.
I am sure there are numerous other exemplars that could be drawn from herein. Perhaps I may return to this mytheme in the near future. Perhaps I shall have due cause to, once again. We shall see.
Yet the ‘essence’, I feel, is quite clear.
Mahadev is not miraculous simply because with the wave of His Eyebrows, He can cause wondrous occurrences and the instantaneous bestowal of amazing things. He can do that, of course … but, then, that is straightforward, that is … I shall not dare suggest ‘easy’. But it is almost ‘expected’, I suppose, when dealing with sufficiently powerful Divinity – or, for that matter, even certain non-divine metaphysically-empowered entities out there.
No, Mahadev is Miraculous – precisely because in those circumstances wherein something cannot simply be dispelled so easily with the snap of the proverbial fingers (ours or even, sometimes, seemingly, His) … there He is, able to nevertheless transform peril, worry, and poison into its decided opposite.
Often without having to resort to the seeming ‘easy way’ (at least, from the perspective of the audience and ‘conservation of screen-time’) of direct “magic” … and instead almost deliberately going about things the ‘long way’, the ‘harder way’, the seeming even ‘challenging way’.
The really much more creative way – that sees within every trenchant problem its potential positive use if ‘reworked a bit’ whether with Trident or keen Ultimate Mind (or, most irresistibly, Both in synergistic co-expression).
Yet I have drawn away your attention from this marvelous painting for well long enough.
He is truly remarkable.
And not least in the fact that there is almost always some ‘human-scalable’ lesson for us to learn via a close (and occasionally a bit ‘unorthodox’) study to His Conduct.
Hara Hara Mahadeva !
ॐ नमः शिवाय !