As the curtain is pulled back to reveal the inner sanctum, one is drawn into the world of Nirakara Shiva, beyond even the physical symbolism of a Linga, where the vast expanse of the sky above and the ether zone are mirrored in the `Akasha Linga’ of Chidambaram. Shiva takes his devotees into an interiorised world of consciousness, mapping out the Akasha or sky-ether of the mind, beyond the noumenal world of names and forms.
But is it as abstract as it seems, I wonder, for the Thillai (mangrove) forest ground of the Chidambaram temple is witness to the ananda tandava dance of Shiva, in one of his most beautiful forms as Nataraja, the fountainhead of the creative impulse. Traditional lore views Chidambaram as the site of the original Cosmic Linga, an ellipsoid around which the rest of the universe rotates. This dance of creative bliss is said to have been performed by Shiva for the two sages, Vyghrapada and Patanjali, who had asked for the boon to witness the dance.
Which one is the more seminal attribute of Shiva, I wonder is it the ascetic yogic aspect of Shiva characterised by dispassionate withdrawal and penance, or is it the creatively pulsating energy of Shiva, which calls for an active engagement with the world, in the realisation that the outer embodied universe reflects the disembodied One, that the materiality is also actually spiritual only? As I move into the main dance hall of the Chidambaram complex, I marvel at the persona of Shiva, where different attributes complement each other, not contradict. His all-encompassing compassion and love for devas and asuras alike, without discriminating between the two, reveals a Being in love with creation, not a destroyer. Perhaps what he seeks to destroy is the negativity and the baser elements of our nature.
John Marshall saw a Proto-Shiva in the famous Pashupati seal of Mohenjodaro where four wild animals tiger, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros surround the yogi-God sitting in the meditation pose, the three faces representing Time in its past, present and future dimensions.
The Mahakal, Controller of Time, the Rudra, God of wild beasts and Yogeswara, the Supreme Yogi aspects of Shiva appear to coalesce in this Indus seal. Other traditions like the Tevaram hymns and the Tirumurai compendium of songs in Tamil eulogise the Ashutosh svarupa of Shiva the God who melts at the call of a sincere prayer.
The Tirumurai tradition maps out the philosophy of Shaiva Siddhanta , with its formulation of three eternal entities of God, soul and bondage Pati, pasu and pasam. The Shaiva Siddhanta states that God is One, souls are many and bondage happens because of the three impurities of anava which causes the negativity of soul karma, the law of action-reaction and Maya the cause of all materiality . Maya is real in Shaiva Siddhanta and not an illusion as in Vedanta. Shiva’s Grace alone can help in breaking this bondage and evolution of the Soul to an understanding of the relationship between the Nirakara aspect of the Self and the dynamic aspect of the Self ‘s energy as it manifests .
They say that Shiva is finally within only . But the inscrutable and beautiful outer form of Shiva gives as much solace.
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