Wild locks of hair stream in the breeze. Half-closed eyes stare ahead in an unbreakable trance. His body is poised, executing an inimitable dance move. Nope, it’s not Steven Tyler or Mick Jagger in their heyday, it’s Lord Shiva from the Hindu pantheon of gods. Smoker, drinker, dopehead and wildman, Shiva is the quintessential god who breaks away from the norm. He lives by his own rules in the deep forests and mountains, dancing, meditating and generally doing whatever the hell he wants.
It isn’t much of surprise then that this cool god is in fashion with youth around the world, and especially in India. From celebrity fans to cover stories in hip magazines, Shiva is making a comeback – and he is doing it in style. Top Bollywood action heroes have Shiva tattoos on their bodies, sports stars think he is the coolest of gods, and graphic novels present him like something out of the Marvel or DC Comics universe.
Of course, there is more to Shiva than just the trappings of a rock star. He is as much a wild dancer as he is an ascetic who sits absolutely still. He is a hermit who lives in the icy cold of the Himalayas. Yet, he is an adoring husband and father of two. He is worshiped by the gods themselves as Mahadeva, the Great God, and also beloved by the demons and ghouls. He is the ultimate lover, but he also happened to reduce the god of love to ashes with his fiery third eye!
Is he a good dude or a bad dude? At times he seems to epitomize all things good, at other times he is so frightening you would not want to be anywhere near him. Not for him the relaxed calm of Brahma the Creator, or the easy smile of Vishnu who maintains the universe. Shiva is the Destroyer. In the sacred texts of the Hindus, he destroys creation when its time is up, pounding it to oblivion with the tandava, his dance of destruction.
Looking at the Shiva phenomenon, the editor-in-chief of “India Today,” writes in his preface to the magazine’s cover story on Shiva, “Like in several other spheres, young, urban India is rewriting the conventional wisdom. For them, Shiva is cool, an ancient icon given a contemporary twist, fit for consumption in the 21st century.”
And what a twist it is! Take author Amish Tripathi’s Shiva trilogy of books as an example. They present Shiva as a man in 1900 B.C, in what we today know as the Indus Valley Civilization. Amish’s Shiva is a reluctant hero driven by love for his wife and concern for his fellow human beings. He battles a misguided power elite and rises to godly status in the eyes of his followers. The trilogy is an outright hit among Indian youth and has been picked up for a movie deal by Bollywood and Hollywood production houses.This obsession with Shiva isn’t a new fad. At one time in India, most temples were dedicated to him. However, the ancients prayed to him not for protection or prosperity but for destruction! They wanted him to annihilate their finite existence so they could attain the infinite – mukti, nirvana, liberation.
This spiritual side of Shiva is still alive and well. An Indian blogger writes about Lord Shiva, “What appeals to me about Shiva is the fact that he embodies so many contrasts. A married man who can also be a celibate ascetic; a wild dancer who can sit absolutely still in meditation; his grief knows no bounds when Sati [Shiva’s wife] dies, yet he casually lops of ganesha’s [Shiva’s son’s] head. He embodies every aspect of human nature. If you can make your peace with this bewildering multidimensional individual, you’ve made your peace with the existence and everything in it.”
Indian yogi and mystic Sadhguru, merges the cool with the spiritual when he calls Shiva the ultimate outlaw: “Breaking the laws of physical nature is spiritual process. In this sense, we are outlaws, and Shiva is the ultimate outlaw. You cannot worship Shiva, but you may join the gang.”
Whether you see him as a person, a god or a myth, whether you like him or dislike him, he certainly is hard to ignore and harder still to explain. The more you learn about him, the more your confusion deepens. Maybe that’s what ensures an evergreen interest in this phenomenal entity. He has so many facets that even today’s stimulus-overloaded generation can’t get bored of him. Google Trends seems to concur, showing that interest in Shiva has grown steadily in the last few years. Whatever the reason – the machismo, the wildness or the all-inclusiveness – the movies, TV shows, books and tattoos aren’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon!