‘His name is not uttered. It must not be mentioned ; only indirectly is He to be referred to.’ [Aitareya Brahmana, 3:34; Circa 1,000 BCE].
Shivam is the abstraction; Shiva, the personification in Myth and Metaphor and Poetic spree. The Rig Vedic guardian-deity of the truth of Rta.
Shiva the ‘Pacific, Waveless’, is also as Raudra, the ‘Howler’, the darkly fierce god of storms. He bestrides the contradiction, rides the conflict, raids the verses of the Rig Veda in unpeakable acts.
Sundarar [8th Century] in his poems routinely addresses Him as Pitha, literally ‘[You] Delirious Madman’. The Sthapathis [Sculptors] of Swamimalai ever struggle to make respectable this untamed ‘Wild God’, tame him for his entreating, obeisant devotees.
Shiva is both the ascetic and the erotic, and representation radiates outwards. Absent to aniconic to iconic to the unabashedly anthropomorphic. The familiar Mandala sequence, cryptic to coherent, from center to perimeter. And back again.
At the great temple of Arunachala, Shiva is Lingabhava, a shaft of light without beginning or end. As Nataraja at Thillai, he strides the shrine at Chidambaram as the deity of the Dance. He bears on his right, the ear-ring of a man; on his left ear, that of a woman. His foot is a-step on the body of a dwarf [Apasmayapurusha: Metaphoric ‘Ignorance’].
If you can get a fix on Shivam, if you can place Him, grasp Her, corral It, what you have placed, grasped, corraled, by that very fact, is not Shivam.
As the Gudimallam Linga, the earliest excavated version [300 BCE; South Eastern India], Shiva stands astride a Linga, the two united in one mingled rendering.
The Shiva–Linga-Yoni [the minimalist rendering, encircled, below] is the original symbol of division and union. The Phallus, primal, primeval and universal in its symbolism, and the receptive Feminine, the fount of all that is Create.
It is the principal representation in the temple-shrines of both the Vishwanatha in Kashi and the Brihadeashwara in Thanjavur, an hours drive from my maternal ancestral home, now long demolished.
The pious wince, elevating instead the Spatika Linga, a mild-mannered quartz-crytstal which reflects but is itself untouched, in analogue to the ‘Immaculate Pure Self’ of Vedantha.
A carnal coitus, a unification, a repair of a prior desecration, has always been dissimulated in mythic texts in ever more creative ways. Thus Krishna is born of Vishnu entering the womb of Devaki; the Buddha from the side of Maya Devi; Jesus, born of an inviolate Virgin-Mary, in uncanny resemblance to early Egyptian legends of Isis. And so on.
The sacral act of the Yajna was dismembering and reunification in the consuming flames of the altar, itself placed atop an earthen base, the original Mother, rendered fecund by the Mantras. The symbolism is transparent and meant to be so.
And the sacred-ash [now available in a choice of scents] is smeared over one’s forehead in cosmetic precision in a parallel of three lines as a mark of public piety [see the image].
The Shiva–Linga-Yoni as the original symbol of creation, of cardinal numbering, is now long forgotten replaced instead by imputed magical powers, divine flutter and superstitious cant. And the smeared ash today merely marks sectoral affiliation and ostensible piety.
I walk into a Śaṅkara Ashram 1,500 years after its founding and watch the travesty of bright, earnest Brahmin boys, whose calling it is to articulate Brahman, perfecting instead the rounding of the rolled rice-ball.
The now common rendering in India of Shiva as ‘Lord Shiva‘ [from the Hebrew Adonai, ‘Of Ownership’] has its roots ironically in the ‘Lord’ of Anglican Liturgy compliantly picked up in the days of the Missionary-Raj. Happily for the Anglican-Hindu, Yahweh [Hebrew Hawah] the original ‘Lord’ is Himself a Storm-Deity.
[None of this is unique to the Hindu Tradition, my principal focus. You will find many more Virgin Mary’s and ‘Infant Jesus” shrines in Latin America and Southern Europe than the elderly male authority figure of the Northern Europian and Missionary cultures of Asia and Africa. Or the symbolic abstractions of the Eastern Orthodox Church.]
The entire enterprise stalls unless there is insight intto further movement, a deeper thrust. The Sacrificium demanded in the full rounding of the Circle, the complete self-scuttle with no remainder. The flame irretrievably quelled in scattered ash.
The word Nirvāṇa, literally ‘Flared-Out’, an Exhaustion, has its origins in the metaphor of a fire that has ‘Come to Rest’. A denouement in the uncontained, expressible only in the most elemental articulation of containment, the completed circle.