Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Shiva the Fisherman

Do you know what Lord Shiva does most of the time? Believe it or not, much of it is spent sitting in the Himalayan mountains on his tigerskin, teaching the Vedas to his wife, Parvati. Now do you see? What does it show? It shows that from the very beginnings of Indian culture, women had the same right to sacred knowledge that men had. It was only much later, in the so-called civilized times, that gender and other restrictions were put on the study of the Vedas.

At any rate, one day Shiva was explaining a complicated point to Parvati, when her mind got distracted. He noticed it right away. He asked her to repeat what he had just said, and of course she couldn't do it. Shiva got very angry and told her that she was not worthy of being the wife of the greatest yogi in the world. Now that is not a nice thing to tell one's wife. But Shiva went even further: he said, "You must do some penance. You will have to be born on earth, as a fisherman's wife, where you will have no opportunity at all to hear sacred books.

" Parvati, faithful wife that she was, wished to fulfill at once her husband's words! She disappeared then and there, and Shiva went back to his solitary meditation.

He attempted to meditate, but his conscience began to bother him. Was that any way to treat a woman, much less his own wife?Now Shiva has a servant named Nandi, who looks after his bull, and who can miraculously transform his own body. Shiva said to Nandi, "Make yourself into a shark, and annoy that band of fishermen; tangle their nets and poke holes in their boats."

You need to know what had happened to Parvati in the meantime. She had appeared on earth, on the seashore as a baby girl. Found there by a fisherman, she was adopted as his daughter. She grew into a lovely young woman, the idol of all the young fishermen. By that time the shark had made havoc with the livelihood of the fishermen. Their nets were torn, they were forever patching their boats; they were becoming desperate. So their headman (who had adopted the girl) promised her as wife to the fisherman who could catch the shark.

(You see in those days, and in some places even now, the girls had little to say about whom they would marry.) "Ha!" said Shiva, "this is my opportunity to get back my wife," and taking on the form of a handsome fisher-lad he came down to earth. Going to that band of fishermen he gave it out that he was the latest visitor in the village, and bragged that he could catch that shark. Many of them had tried to catch it, to win the hand of young Parvati. None had succeeded, and so they laughed. But fisherman-Shiva, waiting till Nandi came in sight, threw out the net and bagged that big fish in one scoop. Now the game was up, and Shiva, Parvati and Nandi resumed their own forms. Shiva gave praise and gifts to the foster-father, along with his blessings, and, taking Parvati with him, rose up to the heights of Mount Kailash to resume their lessons.

You may think that this is a long, round-about way to discipline an inattentive student, and you would be right: but otherwise there would have been no story!

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