You Can Pick Fights With Our Gods

Suhas MaheshWednesday, February 24, 2016 11:01 am IST
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. . . and it looks like they are as troubled as we are.

“मातर्” “जीव” “किम् एतद् अञ्जलिपुटे तातेन गोपायितं?”
“वत्स, स्वादु फलं” “प्रयच्छति न मे?” “गत्वा गृहाण स्वयम्” |
मात्रैवं प्रहिते गुहे विघटयत्य् आकृष्य संध्याञ्जलिं
शम्भोर् भग्नसमाधिरुद्धरभसो हासोद्गमः पातु वः||

Mother—” “Darling—”
“What is that hidden in father’s hands?”
“A fruit, my child.” “Won’t he give it to me?”
“Yes. Go yourself and take it”

Guha, so spoken to by his mother
pulls wide the hands of Śambhu clasped in evening worship.
His meditation broken, Śambhu stills his wrath and laughs.
May this laughter protect you. 1

All the recent hullabaloo about Akram Hussain’s ‘obscene’ painting of Krishna, would be rather amusing to anyone familiar with Sanskrit literature. Krishna has been eroticised for 2000 years in ways that make Hussain look tame.

Ādi Śankara’s descriptions of the mother Goddess could be mistaken for erotic poetry. A prominent Victorian translator remarked that parts of the Veda are “not reproducible even in the semi-obscurity” of Latin. This is not a malaise; it is a blessing. Our Gods can be praised, loved, pampered, eroticised, questioned, taught, chided or even denounced. The freedom Sanātana Dharma gives in developing an emotional connect with the Gods is remarkable. How much of an emotional connect can you really develop with an all-powerful God in the sky? Fear at worst and awe at best. All other emotions are washed out. But the God of Sanātana Dharma is a pliant, doughy entity who assumes the form the devotee finds most fulfilling.

Centuries of such moulding by devotees has left us with a wonderful cast of Gods and Goddesses; each with complex personalities and idiosyncrasies. This is such fertile raw material for art and literature! Which man, theist or atheist, will not smile at the thought of the forbidding ascetic Shiva bending to the whims of his little child? Our old friend Yogeśvara has done his magic again. The garb of these kinds of verses may be religious, but the soul is verily emotional. There is yet another beautiful verse by Yogeśvara, in which he is painting a picture of Siva and Pārvati as a dancing couple:

एवं स्थापय सुभ्रु बाहुलतिकाम् एवं कुरु स्थानकं
नात्युच्चैर् नम कुञ्चयाग्रचरणौ मां पश्य तावत् क्षणम् |
एवं नर्तयतः स्ववक्त्रमुरजेनाम्भोधरध्वानिना
शम्भोर्वः परिपान्तु नर्तितलयच्छेदाहतास् तालिकाः ||

“Pretty-eyebrows, put your arm like this
and take your posture so.
Stretch not too high, but bend your toes.
See? Just look at me.”

Thus Śambhu teaches Pārvatī
with voice-drum sweet as thunder.
May what he adds for rhythm of her dance,
the clapping of his hands, protect you.1

This is not unlike what you would expect to see in a tango class today! Śiva sure seems to have a nice family. But everything can’t be hunky-dory when you need to juggle two wives…

अम्बा कुप्यति तात मूर्ध्नि विधृता गङ्गेयमुत्सृज्यतां
विद्वन्षण्मुख का गतिर्मम चिरं मूर्ध्नि स्थिताया वद ।
कोपावेशवशादशेषवदनैः प्रत्युत्तरं दत्तवान्
अम्भोधिर्जलधिः पयोधिरुदधिर्वारांनिधिर्वारिधिः ।।

“Mother’s angry, Father, get rid of Gangā”
“Shanmukha, where can I go? I’ve been here forever”
Irritated, each of his six heads shouts out in succession:
ambodhi! jaladhi! payodhi! udadhi! vārāṃnidhi! vāridhi!
Ocean! ocean! ocean! ocean! ocean! ocean!

Trying to pacify his mother, Shanmukha asks his father to send Gangā away. When Gangā protests and says she has no where to go, he gets irritated and shouts out the obvious answer— ocean — six times, in six different words! This theme of the eternal tussle between Gangā and Parvatī is a favourite for poets. Daśarūpaka has a nice take on what happens when Śiva tries to pacify Pārvati—

प्रणयकुपितां दृष्ट्वा देवीं ससम्भ्रमविस्मितस्त्रिभुवनगुरुर्भीत्या सद्यःप्रणामपरोऽभवत् ।
नमितशिरसो गङ्गालोके तया चरणाहताववतु भवतस्त्र्यक्षस्यैतद्विलक्षमवस्थितम् ॥

To pacify his angry wife,
Shiva, the lord of the three worlds,
quickly prostrated at her feet.
But as he bent, seeing Gangā there,
With reignited rage, she kicked him.
May Shiva’s strange dilemma protect you.

Poor Śiva! Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t!

At least Śiva gets censure only from his own wife; Poor Jagannatha gets it even from devotees—

The great 10th century logician Udayanāchārya, a specialist in ontological arguments, once arrived in Puri to visit Lord Jagannatha. But the temple was closing for the day. In anger, he said—

ऐश्वर्यमदमत्तोऽसि मामवज्ञाय वर्तसे।
उपस्थितेषु बौद्धेषु मदधीना तव स्थितिः॥

You’re so drunk on wealth and power
that you ignore my presence
Just wait: when the atheist buddhists come
your whole existence
Depends on me. ²

Imagine telling God he needs a lawyer to defend himself!

As an aside, the Greeks actually had a word for this kind of insolent behaviour: hubris. When hubris was committed, the gods made sure the individual was brought down from his high horse.

In one case, Tantalus, a son of Zeus, took some ambrosia down to the earth to enjoy with his friends. Retribution followed, and Tantalus was condemned to a special torture; he was made to stand in water up to his neck. Everytime he bent to drink it, the water level would drop. Meanwhile, fruit dangled near his face. But when he reached for it, wind would blow it away. Thus, though near food and water, Tantalus was forced to suffer hunger and thirst. Since that day, the word tantalise means to tease someone with something that is unobtainable!

But the story does not end here. In 1814, a new metal was discovered which did not react with strong acids. It could stand in strong acids for long periods of time. Berzelius was reminded of Tantalus standing in water, and he decided to name metal “Tantalum” — and that’s how the element got its name!

1. Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry, D.H.H. Ingalls
2.A Poem at the Right Moment, Shulman and Rao

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