Shiva is never invited to the party. His dirty dreadlocks and lack of manners — along with a dreadful habit of cutting people’s heads off — have made him quite the outcast. Not that he could care less. He’d rather much be meditating, or dancing with his friend Kali, said to be the last figure we see before we die (given that she’s the Hindu goddess of time, doomsday, and death). Shiva and Kali have a great friendship based on their similar interests: she is the dissolver of all things, and he is the destroyer of all things. Neither Shiva nor Kali hesitate to raise their sword. Ever.
Reading old Hindu myths, I am fascinated by how little we must have changed through the centuries. Consider the extremity of cutting people’s heads off as a metaphor, and perhaps you also feel like you already know Shiva. Or maybe you don’t know him, you know of him, as he is usually around but never really involved.
Anyhow, let’s continue the story. Similarly to many Miami bachelors, Shiva was never expected to get married. He was non-committal (yes, even by South Beach standards). Meanwhile, a young goddess had fallen deeply, absolutely hopelessly, in love with him. Her name was Sati, and she eventually threw herself into the fire, committing suicide in exasperation over not being able to catch Shiva’s attention.
Meanwhile, the socially inappropriate Shiva was chillin’ in the shade of a banyan tree (yep, they had them in India too), smoking narcotic herbs, or practicing yoga on tiger skin, or if he’s really like that guy I was thinking of, he might as well have been drinking Cuban coffee in his underwear, when the dreadful news was delivered: Sati the sweet goddess was dead and he had done absolutely nothing to prevent it. Shiva lost it. For the first time, Shiva the destroyer could not accept what had been destroyed.
The outcast, crazy-pants Shiva, who never really seemed to have cared about anybody, suddenly cared.
He ran into the ashes and dug out Sati’s dead body and screamed until the whole universe felt his agony. He vowed to never love, and isolated himself more than ever. In Hindu poster art, there’s ice and snowcapped mountaintops all around him, showing just how immovably still and frozen in time he is.
He could have stayed like that forever, absorbed in an internal meditation with no connection to the outside world. All of the other gods’ attempts to bring him back — not because they missed him, but because there were demons that only he could slay —miserably failed.
Until one day Sati is reincarnated as Parvati, the goddess of love, fertility, and devotion — and yes, still in love with the hermit Shiva. The perseverance of this woman! Well, she seeks him out and her patience pays off, as this time Shiva is eager not to lose her and asks to marry her. Wonderful news indeed. How often does this happen in real life, when slightly unhinged or lost-and-found romantic relationships become real unions? Would this be applicable to contemporary situations? If you’re trying to date the Shivas of today, try declaring your love and devotion, but if they give you nothing in return, leave and watch their reaction. Unless they tear up heaven-and-earth, you may want to move on.
On the other hand, if it does work out and you’re one of those rare goddesses who actually marries a Shiva, keep this in mind: he’s going to need some training. The goddess Parvati, representing the material world of things we can see, hear, feel, and smell, needs endless patience while showing Shiva how to relate to the world around him. There are so many social customs that Shiva just doesn’t know anything about. After the marriage, Parvati looks for a house and he wonders, why would they need a house? She cooks and he wonders, why would they need food? She wants a child and again he wonders — why? He needs some training in marital life, to say the least.
But Parvati slowly transforms Shiva into a better husband. Pure consciousness, with all its eternal truths, needs some grounding. In return, he tells her everything he knows, or at least he tries to until she falls asleep when he talks for too long. Still, he extends to her the theoretical world of ideas, with equal love and patience. Somehow they make it work, and until this day they remain together.
Upset over the gender dynamic in this story? Then try to grasp this: you are both Shiva and Parvati. This story is not about a man and a woman — it’s about mind and body. The union of a theoretically-inclined, perfectionist mind and a far-from-perfect, ever-manifesting, making-stuff-happen kind of body. Are you living in your head but ignoring your body’s needs? Feeding your mind good literature, yet eating crappy food? Or are you treating your body like a Ferrari, yet drowning in morose thinking? Can you commit to this unlikely marriage and make it work?
A great myth is not just an amusing story; it also explains human behavior. It’s not about distant gods. I know it’s tempting to ignore one and live only with the other, to become mind over matter, or to be a body without substance. But if you can truly embrace both aspects of being human — that is quite divine.
Ewa Josefsson pens the “Goodness” column for SG. She writes from the intersection of ancient wisdom and modern ignorance.
Photography by Jeffrey Delannoy. Shot at The Corner in downtown Miami.