Known as the divine destroyer, the scary image of Shiva is anything to go by. With his animal skin dress, serpent ornaments and ashen makeup, he paints a petrifying picture, yet devotees know him to be the simplest of all Lords, who needs very less to be pleased and loves all. Maybe that’s why devas and asuras alike worship him and want to fall into his good graces.
While his simplicity and anger both have a fair share of stories to be told, let us focus on four of Lord Shiva’s tale which highlights his greatness.
The tale of Lord Shiva Fight with Narasimha avatar
Lord Shiva in his Sharabha form had a fight with Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu. One version says he killed Narasimha! Another says Vishnu in his Gandaberunda form to fight Sharabha.
The mythical creature Sharabha shown here is part-bird and part-lion. Shiva Purana describes Sharabha as thousand-armed, lion-faced and with matted hair, wings and eight feet. In his clutches is Lord Narasimha, whom Sharabha slays!
First, Vishnu assumed the form of Narasimha to slay Hiranyakashipu, an asura king, who was terrorizing the universe and devotee of Shiva. The Shiva Purana mentions: After slaying Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha’s wrath was not appeased. The world trembled, fearing what he might do. The Devas (the gods) requested Shiva to tackle Narasimha. Initially, Shiva brings forth Virabhadra, one of his terrifying forms, in order to calm Narasimha. When that failed, Shiva manifested as the human-lion-bird Sharabha.
Shiva then assumed the Sharabha form. Sharabha then attacked Narasimha and seized him up until he was immobilized. He thus quelled Narasimha’s terrifying rage. Narasimha became a devotee of Shiva after being bound by Sharabha. Sharabha then decapitated and de-skinned Narasimha so Shiva could wear the hide and lion-head as a garment. The Linga Purana and Sharabha Upanishad also mention this mutilation and murder of Narasimha. After the mutilation, Vishnu assumed his normal form and retired to his abode, after duly praising Shiva. It was from here on that Shiva came to be known as “Sharabeshamurti” or “Simhagnamurti”.
The Tale of Samudra Manthan
When the Devas lost their powers as Sage Durvasa cursed Lord Indra, the Asuras took this as the great opportunity to attack Swarga Loka (Planetary System). The Devas were powerless and thus lost the war, and fled away from heaven to save their lives. They went to lord Brahma to seek help, who in turn sent them to Lord Vishnu.
Shri Vishnu forged diplomatic allegiance between them in order to churn the ocean and get Amrita, to make them immortal. Mount Mandara was used as churning rod and Vasuki, the King of Serpents, became the churning rope. Lord Vishnu himself had to intercede in so many ways to aid the Devas. All kinds of herbs were cast into the ocean and many great beings and objects were produced from the ocean and were divided between asuras and gods. It is said that following things emerged from the Samudra Manthan.
Sura or Varuni – Goddess and creator of wine, Apsaras – various divine nymphs, Kaustubha – a rare diamond said to be the most valuable jewel in the world, Uchhaishravas – the divine white horse, Kalpavriksha – the wish-granting tree, Kamadhenu – the wish-fulfilling cow, Airavata – the white elephant.
Even Goddess Lakshmi – the Goddess of Fortune and Wealth. Lord Vishnu and Her were reunited after having been separated for many ages.
Haalaa-Hala – the Poison
During the Sagar Manthan by the gods and demons, haalaa-hala, a pot of poison also came out of the ocean. This terrified the Gods and demons as the poison was so toxic that it effects would have wiped out the entire creation. On the advice of Lord Vishnu, Gods approached Lord Shiva for help and protection as only he could swallow it without being affected.
On the request of gods and out of compassion for living beings, Lord Shiva drank the poison. However, Parvati – Lord Shiva’s consort pressed his neck so that the poison does not reach his stomach. Thus, it stayed in his throat neither going up nor going down and Shiva remained unharmed.
The poison was so potent that it changed the colour of Lord Mahadeva’s neck to blue. For this reason, Lord Shiva is also called Neelakantha (the blue-necked one) where ‘Neela’ means blue and ‘Kantha’ means neck or throat.
Lord Shiva was supposed to be awake during the night to counteract the poison’s effects. Thus, Gods kept a vigil in contemplation of Lord Shiva. To amuse Shiva and to keep him awake, the gods took turn performing various dances and playing music. As the day broke out, Lord Shiva, pleased with their devotion blessed them all. Maha Shivaratri is the celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world. Since then, on this day and night – devotees fast, keep vigil, sing glories of Lord Shiva and meditate.
The Tale of Kalantaka
Kalantaka, the ender of time and death, is an aspect of Lord Shiva which Lord Yama has personified itself. Worshipped more in the southern part of India, Shiva is often depicted as dancing on death. He is seen killing Yama when he comes to take the life of Shiva’s devotee Markandeya.
Rishi Mrikandu in the urge of getting blessed with a son prayed to Lord Shiva at Vilvavanam. Delighted by his efforts God offered him a choice between a virtuous son who would live for 16 years or 100 foolish sons with long lives. He chose the former and named him Markandeya. Years later when Markandeya was at the end of his 15th year, Lord Brahma taught him Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, the great death-conquering mantra. Following Brahma’s advice, Markandeya worshipped Shiva’s linga.
As per his old destiny, the messengers of Yama arrived to take away his soul, but his continuous chanting of Shiva’s name saved him as they couldn’t even reach near him. Afterwards, Yama came all by himself to stop him from worshipping so that he could follow death according to his assigned fate. The wrathful Yama proclaimed that nobody could stop him and hence threw his nose towards Markandeya to capture him while the latter stood to hold the Linga with all his strength. As the noose touched the Linga, Shiva appeared, smacked Yama with his Trishula kicking his chest and killing the Lord of Death.
Lord Shiva then bestowed Markandeya with a blessing to remain a youth of 16 for the next seven Kalpas. As the Lord of death was dead, no one died. Hence earth was being burdened. To this, gods, Markandeya, and earth invoked Shiva so that he could revive Yama. He then touched Yama with his foot which brought him back to life. The shrine legends narrate Yama’s promise of never touching any of the Shiva’s devotees. Therefore, each of the dead Shiva’s devotee is taken to Mount Kailash and not Yama’s hell.
Such was his love for his true devotees.
The Tale of Chandramouli
Prajapathi Daksha had total 62 daughters (according to Matsya Purana), and he married his 27 daughters to Chandra (moon ), But, moon out of his 27 wives, loved only Rohini and neglected the other 26 wives. Not able to bear their husband’s biased love, the 26 sisters approach their Father Daksha and complained about Moon. Furious Dakshya curses moon to fade away forever (waning of moon).
Daksha’s curse starts to work and slowly Moon starts to feel the pain and gradually starts to fade! To appease Shiva, as directed by Narada muni, he performs penance and is soon granted by a wish from Lord Shiva. After hearing about Prajapati Dakhsya curse, Shiva was in a dilemma since he had agreed not to get into the matters of Dakshya, but he was unable to let Chandra suffer. Even Daksha wasn’t able to take his curse back.
As a mediator Lord Vishnu comes up with a proper plan. With Vishnu’s powers, He divided Moon into two equal halves, one half protected by Shiva and the other half, would bear Daksha’s curse and will slowly fade away and again regain His full form. When moon will fade away fully, it would be called no moon day (Amavasya) and slowly he will start to grow to full size, this would be called the full moon day (Purnima). Thus, these will be called as Krishna paksha and Shukla Paksha ( one month will be divided into two halves ).
It is believed that he spent each night with each wife, he waned during nights after spending the night with Rohini, and waxed in anticipation of Rohini, while had no wife during no moon. Only residing in Shiva’s hair could have saved Chandra albeit through the wax and wane.
The Tale of Ashokasundari
According to the myths, one day Shiva and Parvati came across a wish-fulfilling tree known as the Kalpavriksha. Because Lord Shiva frequently went out of Kailash Parvat to fight demons, Parvati used to often feel lonely and so she asked for a daughter from the tree. As her wish was granted, Ashoka Sundari was born.
The word Ashoka means without sorrow and because she got rid of Parvati’s sorrow, she was named Ashoka Sundari. Sundari means beautiful. She was present at the time Ganesha was beheaded. Ashoka Sundari got scared by her father’s act and hid behind a sack of salt. When Parvati got to know about her son’s fate, she becomes extremely angry. Out of anger, she also cursed Ashoka Sundari to become a part of the salt. Later when Ganesha’s head was restored by Shiva, they restored life in their daughter and pacified her. That’s how Ashoka Sundari is associated with salt without which food is tasteless.
The goddess is mostly venerated in South India and worshipped there in the form of Bala Tripurasundari.