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Shiva: Lord of Yoga
2007, acrylic on canvas, 72' X 48' in.

The Theory of Yoga

Shiva sought a way to control his mind, make it see the truth beyond the veils of illusion. Only that would make samsara (cycle of birth & death) bearable. Finally he found the way. It was yoga: the means to yoke the individual’s mind to the way of the cosmos.

All the sages, gods and wise men, all who felt the frustrations of life, sought a release called moksha (liberation), from samsara and rushed to learn the secret of yoga from Shiva.

Under a great banyan tree, seated on a tiger skin, facing south, Shiva revealed it all. “Know this,” he said to his students, “there are two realities of existence, both eternal, both distinct. One is the purusha, the serene cosmic spirit that stands still, beyond the reach of time and space. Then there is prakriti, matter, the cosmic substance, source of time and space, always in a state of flux.”

What is born and reborn, what feels the pain and the pleasure is not the purusha, it is your body and your mind, your prakriti.

You are reborn because you are attached to the world by your actions, your karma. Actions generate reactions that you are obliged to experience, if not in this lifetime then in the next.

You cannot escape the material world as you are enchanted by the eternal transformations of prakriti. It makes you act, react. You do not see its true nature. You have lost touch with your purusha.

Yoga helps you see the world for what it is, clearly, wisely, dispassionately, uncoloured by opinions, emotions and perceptions. It raises your level of consciousness and gives you a more panoramic perspective. It gets rid of all delusion, ignorance, attachments and fear, kleshas, that trap you within relative truths. Having done that, yoga stills the mind. It makes you serene, aware, undisturbed by the turbulence of the world around.

Only then will you transcend the joys and sorrows, attractions and rejections, birth and death. Only then will you move towards perfect bliss, kaivalya, and find mukti, liberation, from the cycle of life.”

Ascetic traits: Shiva covers himself with ash from dead bodies, this rejecting symbolically the material world and expressing his disdain for its transience. He prefers being identified with the permanent soul that lies untainted within the body.

Shiva is always seen depicted wearing venomous serpents as if they were jewellery. Snakes, especially cobras can be seen around Shiva’s neck, slithering down this body, reflecting his absolute renunciation, his refusal to react or respond to any threat or temptation. He is Nageshvar, lord of serpents. The serpent also represents the coiled energy of Kundalini, the power that enables seeds to germinate and animals to conceive. Shiva as lord of herbs and master of beasts, the primordial ‘shaman’ in touch with nature’s mysteries, has a close relationship with serpents. The serpent is also said to be ananta sesha, the great serpent of eternity, within whose coils rests the universe.

Shiva usually carries a human skull in his hand to confront the world with its mortality. Sometimes he uses the skull-cap as a drinking bowl. Shiva always carries a trident, trishul, whose three prongs are said to represent the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshvar (shiva). A crescent moon crowns Shiva’s head earning him the title of Chandrachuda. Like the waxing and waning of the moon, Shiva is in tune with the activity and passivity of the cosmos. On this moon grows the herb soma whose sap is the favorite drink of the gods. As Trimbaka, the three-eyes god, he uses his cosmic inner eye to distinguish truth from illusion and to destroy lust that seduces man into samsara. His third eye endorses his position as lord of yoga.

Shiva the transcendent: Shiva means the auspicious one. Yet, everything about him seems inauspicious: he dwells in isolated hills, dark caves and dense jungles. He dances amidst funeral pyres, rattling bells and drums, wearing animal hide, if anything at all; he stinks like a goat, smears himself with ash, carries skulls, drinks poison, smokes narcotics, enjoys intoxicants, hangs out with ghosts, ghouls and goblins, demands worship during the dark half of the lunar month. Shiva thus transcends the duality of good-bad, right-wrong, holy-unholy, auspicious-inauspicious. Shiva stands above it all, accepting, loving all.

Shiva the teacher: Shiva is the fountainhead of all wisdom. The Knowledge he imparts helps man to live a richer and fuller life. He is the lord of the performing arts, fine arts, martial arts, literature, science, mysticism and philosophy. He taught man the secrets of herbs along with the cycles of nature and the cosmos.

Shiva the outsider: Shiva, is the rebel who challenges orthodoxy. He is a nonconformist, the refuge of all outsiders, individuals who feel alienated in a traditional society. He is the lord of the demons, of yakshas, asuras, danavas, rakshasas, all creatures deemed evil by society simply because their nature is not in accordance with the needs of civilization.

Shiva the man: Shiva symbolizes cosmic virility. He is the cosmic man in eternal union with the cosmic women. He is thus the father-god, who complements the mother-goddess. If he is the seed, she is the field; he is the sky, she is the earth; if he is stillness, she is movement; if he is the axle she is the wheel; if he is the linga, she is the yoni. Together they are fused, two halves of the whole.

Shiva the destroyer: Brahma creates the world, Vishnu sustains it, Shiva destroys it. Together this holy trinity ensures the rotation of the cycle of life. Shiva accepts all that us foul, unclean, dirty, rejected; he destroys the corruptions within them all and prepares them for rebirth. He is thus the renewer, the regenerator, the transformer.

Shiva the soul: Shiva is the cosmic spirit untouched by material transformations. He stands beyond gender, space and time, yet permeates the entire cosmos. He is the vitality of life, the source of all things and their final destination. He is the sad-chitta-ananda: absolute truth, pure consciousness, eternal bliss. Union with him is the ultimate aim of all creatures.

Shiva the godhead: Shiva is the supreme being. He has five aspects representing creation, preservation, destruction, oblivion and grace. He has eight forms representing the soul, the sun, the moon, and the elements: earth, fire, water, wind and ether. He is the totality of all manifestation, the meaning of all existence. He is a mystery waiting to be unfathomed, just like life. To understand him is to understand the ultimate reality the governs the cosmos: the eternal absolute truth, sanatan dharma.