Friday, 13 May 2011

Shiva in Bangalore


Open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for your scalping pleasure. Shiv Mandir, located on old airport road in Bangalore, is the epitome of crass tourist traps. My travel bud and I had a few extra hours to burn before leaving for the airport, we’d already done the city tour and partaken of the sights we were interested in. In a local guide book we found a very well written review for what looked like a historic temple devoted to Lord Shiva. Upon mentioning our interest in this destination, our driver, Raghu, tried to dissuade us. This is a classic case of why you should listen to your driver.

After fighting the cross town traffic for 30 minutes we arrived in front of a rather nondescript entrance. A doorway, steps off the city road, in a newly built neighborhood should have been my first clue this was not in the temple circuit realm of Tamil Nadu.

Signs marking the way to the big statue led us past stalls filled with garish religious trinkets. Sellers yelled out “please have a look”,  “we won’t be here as you exit”.
Finally a ticket booth with a large courtyard beyond. Wait, a ticket booth for a temple? No, a ticket booth for entrance into the attraction. For just Rs 100 per person we could take in all of the events described to us. But, we had to buy the ticket here or else it was Rs 160 inside. Now I was sure this was a trap.

We waved off the attraction tickets explaining we only wanted pictures. Fine, but we did get hit for Rs 29, Rs 4 for our shoes and Rs 25 for my still camera.

Past the booth was a row of brass urns each filled with tokens and labeled with individual names. In my haste to get past this and to the big Shiva statue I didn’t catch the significance. Up a flight of stairs and now the statue was within sight.

Another ticket booth. The kids below were right, now the tickets were Rs 160. I snapped a few pics and then tried to explain we weren’t interested nor going to pay money to see the statue. The attendant waved us on.
We walked to the flight of stairs back down into the courtyard where water was being shuffled around (much like the Golden Temple) in an attempt to keep the floors clean. A fair amount of locals were mulling about but not paying the requested fee so we jumped into line with them. Damn, another checkpoint! This time I asked the attendant directions to the exit but it didn’t matter at this point. We were staring right at the 65 foot high Lord Shiva. Snap! snap! Done…I had what I came for.
We found our way to the shoe rack (no tip since I prepaid). On the walk back to reconnect with Raghu, I was amazed at what appeared to be an even longer parade of stalls selling everything from Buddhist prayer beads to ice cream. In the car I learned the complex was nearly new having been built in 1995. Ugh, another trap fallen for

Shiva literally means “auspiciousness, welfare”. He is the third god of the Hindu Triad and is the destroyer of all evil. He represents darkness (tamas), and is said to be the ‘angry god’. However, according to Hinduism, creation follows destruction. Therefore Shiva is also regarded as a reproductive power, which restores what has been dissolved. As one who restores, he is represented as the linga or phallus (Shivalinga), a symbol of regeneration.

He has a 1,008 names, including Mahadeva (the great god), Mahesh, Rudra, Neelkantha (the blue-throated one), and Ishwar (the supreme god). He is also called Mahayogi, or the great ascetic, who symbolises the highest form of austere penance and abstract meditation, which results in salvation.

Shiva is believed to exist in many forms. His most common depiction is as a dark-skinned ascetic with a blue throat, usually seated cross-legged on a tiger skin.

Shiva’s hair is matted and coiled on his head, adorned with a snake and a crescent moon. Ganga is always depicted flowing out of his topknot. Shiva has four arms and three eyes. The third eye, in the middle of his forehead, is always closed and only opens to annihilate an evil doer. A garland of skulls, rudraksha beads, or a snake hang from his neck. Shiva also wears snakes as armlets and bracelets. The serpent race, despised and feared by all other creatures, found a place of honour on Shiva’s sacred person, simply because he was moved by their plight.

In one hand, Shiva holds his trishul, the Pinaka. The trishul usually has a damaru or waisted drum tied to it. In another hand, he holds a conch shell and in the third, a rudraksha rosary, a club, or a bow. One hand is usually empty, raised in a gesture of blessing and protection. The other points to his feet, where the devotee is assured of salvation. He wears a tiger or leopard skin around his waist, and his upper body is usually bare, but smeared with ashes, as befits an ascetic. His third eye is believed to have appeared when Parvati, in a playful mood, covered his eyes with her hands. Immediately, the universe was plunged into darkness and there was chaos. To restore order, Shiva formed another eye on his forehead, from which emerged fire to restore light.

The light from this eye is believed to be very powerful, and therefore destructive. Shiva opens his third eye only in anger, and the offender is burnt to cinders.

The name Shiva does not appear in the Vedas. However he is identified with the Vedic god Rudra, lord of songs, sacrifices, nourishment, the healer of diseases and provider of property. According to the Shiva Purana, Shiva is said to have five faces, corresponding to his five tasks, the panchakriya: creation, establishment, destruction, oblivion, and grace. His five faces are associated with the creation of the sacred syllable Om.