Shiva Purana and Glimpses of Ancient Wisdom

P C K Prem


Study of literature whether contemporary or ancient gives glimpses of age, its socio-economic, political, religious, philosophic and historical aspects and thus, it is a compound approach to life and existence. Vision, knowledge and wisdom of the ancients attract and teach true art of life and do not hide imperfections and negativity. Subjects of perennial interest – creation, preservation and dissolution form the fundamental substance when they tell through various discourses, tales and legends about creation, destruction, and growth of life in between. They speak of different ages, Solar and lunar dynasties, lineage of rulers with microscopic particulars. Sage Vyasa taught and transmitted ancient wisdom to his devotee Lomaharshana, who passed on the sacred knowledge verbally to holy men at Naimisha forests and later, these wise sages while interpreting the wisdom made additions and alterations and hence, the figure of puranas increased and so it is difficult to tell the exact number of Puranas with conviction and correctness.

One can easily say that Puranas are in truth, encyclopedic in scope and import where one finds essence of life and existence in totality, and where social, economic, political, religious, psychosomatic, and philosophic dimensions become obvious. A judiciously meditative and reflective intellect goes further than the borders of transitory life and wishes to concentrate on life beyond as glimpses of mysteries open up. Treatment of multifaceted subject is heterogeneous, exciting and stimulating for an inquisitive intellect. It teaches art of living in entirety with emphasis on truth and righteousness.

To confine the vastness of Puranas to a definition is fraught with dangers of imperfection, immaturity and meager perception of the subject matter. Mahapuranas and Up-puranas are the two classes. Sage Vyasa wrote Puranas perhaps to convey the essence of the Vedas. Puranas are tales of kings, sages, celestial and semi-celestial beings, gods and goddesses, daityas, human beings – mortals and immortals, and so speak of time and life. These contain the inner world and the worlds beyond, man is still trying to fathom with eagerness. He wishes to know the depth and immensity of what exists next, and tries to comprehend the mind and heart and the immeasurable and manifold dimensions relating to philosophic, psychological, mystical and spiritual yearnings. Objective is to teach man the art of life based on truth and uprightness in simple language and approach and correlate ordinary man’s karmas and desires with the life of created beings wielding super powers with proclivities toward truth and falsehood, piety and injustice, triumph of truth over prejudice and evil. Puranas act as a mirror to men to see truth and glorify life with faith, devotion and truthful karmas. It is a path to freedom from internal and external bondages.

Immensely vast in scope and treatment, scholars put puranas in three categories – Vaishnava Puranas, Brahma Puranas and Shaiva Puranas and these contain profound elucidation of Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic gunas of humankind respectively. Therefore, they speak about the Trinity – Vishnu symbolizes Sattvic virtues, Brahma tells of Rajasic and Shiva speaks about Tamasic nature and tendencies of created beings, which determine destiny.

Shivapurana speaks about the glory, splendor, and rituals before prayer and worship, idealistic and philosophical principles of Shaivism. Through teachings, religious disquisitions, laws of dharma, karmas and virtues, it gradually reveals different aspects of life contained in various samhitas (segments) as they portray sermons and expositions of grandeur, enormity of mysticism and divinity of created beings – mortals or immortals.

Besides the story of creation and birth of Brahma, it tells about the coming up of Lingam, creation of universe, emergence of Rudra, daitya Taraka, Kamadeva and lord’s anger whom Rati saves, Parvati’s tapa, birth of Ganesha and Kartikeya. One learns about the images of Shiva as lingams, various tirthas and emergence of Jyotirlingams and tirthas, Shiva-ratri fast, significance of ashes – bhasma, Shilada’s son Nandi, yagya of Daksa and its devastating consequences, tales of asuras namely: Andhaka, Hirayanakasipu, Hirayanaksa, and of monk Upamanyu. Five incarnations of Shiva, description of eight murities of Shiva and image of Ardhanarishwara and understanding the essence of Shiva-tattva that are for the benefit of humankind find right delineation.  It talks about forty-two incarnations before one knows about Nandi. In the course of even casual look at the holy book, one learns about nature of hells to which sinners ultimately go and suffer for the consequences of karmas.

Purana narrates godly characteristics, manifestations, exploits, origin of phallic image – installing and worship of lingams – the images of lord Shiva at various places and the legends associated with lingams.

 It is good to penetrate into the essence and meaning of purana’s teaching, religious anxiety, man’s future, role of celestial beings and man’s acts and devotee’s zeal to seek merger with the Absolute –the Supreme lord. Meditation on the lord Shiva may seem easy but initial preparation for proper prayer and worship requires fulfillment of certain rituals.

The legends in the Purana convey the essence of ancient wisdom and the eternal message to contemporary man.  

Many ages before, Brahma’s manas putra sage Narada, wanted to know about Shiva. Nothing existed in the beginning of creation not even the cosmos, the universe. Brahma begins to narrate the tale of creation and tells that only He (the divine essence) existed but water was everywhere. Brahma was bereft of any property regarding the extent, range, temperature – hot or cold, a man understands in ordinary language, and further, he was without the beginning or the end and therefore, defied thoughts of limits. Vishnu manifested ‘the self’ in the great form and relaxed on the water. When he slept, a lotus flower (padma) of many petals took birth from the navel. Padam’s stem dazzled as if it were a cluster of a thousand glittering suns and from the core of the lotus, Brahma took birth, wandered around, and witnessed a vast and unfathomable ocean.

Many Questions – ‘Who am I? How and from where did I come? What am I to do? Whose son am I? Who gave birth to me?’ cropped up in the mind of Brahma. He wanted to find conceivable answers, and so, he looked deep into the lotus and wished to find its centre. Out of inquisitiveness, he travelled along padam’s stem and continued to travel for another hundred years but failed to find Padam’s centre and roots, and therefore, after a thought, he returned to the place of birth but failed to find the entity, the little cell from where he had emerged.

Brahma was exhausted and therefore, thought it better to take a break. A voice suddenly woke him up but he was lost in deep tapasya – meditation and intense tapa for twelve years. After austere tapa, Vishnu with four arms appeared before Brahma. Vishnu’s hands held a sankha (conch shell), a chakra (a discus), a gada (mace) and a padma (lotus flower). Brahma was surprised to the see the man he did not know.

Engaged in a serious dialogue, Brahma and Vishnu noticed a luminously elegant lingam (Shiva’s image) appearing before the lord. It had no beginning or end. Vishnu requested Brahma to stop arguing, when they observed materialization of the third unknown being. Linga’s identity raises questions ‘who is he and why did he come and from where?’ They looked at each other and seemed extremely astonished.

Vishnu told Brahma to transform into the figure of a swan (a bird hamsa) and fly high even as Vishnu changes into the form of boar (varaha) and went down into the depths of water. They went with the intent to investigate and find out the farthest points of both sides of linga. Brahma was now a white swan and flew high into the sky. Vishnu as a white boar went down to know the truth of an unknown being linga. The search continued for four thousand years but they failed to locate the limits –the end of linga. After the journey in search of linga’s limits, they returned to the place from where they had begun. It was time to pray and so spent another hundred years in prayers.

After the long prayer, they heard the sound of ‘om’ and soon, an amazing being turned up with five faces and ten arms. It was Mahadeva – Shiva. Vishnu was a bit happy and said, “It is because of the fight we had that you arrived on the scene. It is good I say.”

Shiva said gently, “We are ‘One’ with ‘One Entity’ and here, we are in three components. Brahma is the creator. Vishnu is the preserver and I am the destroyer. Another being would take birth from this body and he would be Rudra. Rudra and I are ‘One’. Let Brahma create now” and he disappeared. After Shiva left, Brahma and Vishnu abandoned forms of ‘the swan’ and ‘the boar’.

Vishnu created a huge egg (anda) in the vast limitless deep-sea and entered the egg, and in the meantime, Brahma began to pray. He gained immense power through tapa and meditation and created many holy men and sages. Thereafter, the process of creation began. Brahma, after initial aura of mystery, decided to create male and female components for an innovative process – a sacred creative act through the union of male and female constituents. The Supreme lord assigned the sacrosanct function to Prajapati Daksa, who encountered many problems in the beginning but later, surmounted all impediments and fulfilled a divine duty.

Purana is a vital treatise on karma, bhakti – devotion, wisdom and knowledge, the three qualities of – sattva, rajas and tamas, and the elucidation of gunas – the qualities through tales make the purana interesting and contemporary as always and emphasizes the path of dharma.

Truth and virtue fill life with happiness but violence and malice cause sufferings. An anguished man seeks refuge at the feet of the god or goddess. He tries to understand the nature of acts (karmas) and therefore, tentatively prays and worships to get rid of bodily and mental afflictions. He explores nature of karmas and learns that every act originates from the quality of three gunas-sattva,  rajas and tamas. The conduct and nature of man depends upon the impact of gunas. When he turns to religious texts, he knows the true meaning of sattva, rajas and tamas. Various holy books urge men to live truthfully and honestly – a life of dharma. Virtuous karma is dharma (a life of truth and righteousness) of man, for karma with a righteous motive serves man and humankind.

Karmas are precursors to human relations, love, passion, anxieties, thirst, uncertainties, jealousy, hatred, greed and attachment, and carry the longings for reward. Social obligations presuppose certainty and thus, liberation from worldly joys or sufferings becomes difficult. However, karmas if understood correctly, guide a man to freedom from earthly shackles. Pleasant and enjoyable’ karmas-preyas (pleasant) do not create obstacles, for such karmas cause attachment to transient material joys, and bring pain, grief and sorrow. Virtuous and humanistic thoughts originating from acts enrich man with inner ecstasy and bliss and at this moment, karmas are bereft of the thoughts of recompense. Impassiveness to fruit of karmas brings inner peace and proves enlightening to man and society and so, karmas attain unique characteristic – shreyas (good). To perform duties rightly, is the real dharma of man irrespective of the status he holds in the social, economic or political hierarchy, otherwise ubiquitous putrefaction stares.

Faith in Shiva, the Supreme not only eliminates sufferings from the life of a man but also grants deliverance. Purana consists of six sub-sections (samhitas) with more than two hundred and fifty chapters. One learns about the birth of Brahma from the navel of Vishnu, Linga, Rudra and then, it speaks of the process of creation, through prajapati Daksa. It tells about the tapa and penance of Parvati and Shiva, of the birth of Uma and the lord of love, of legendary yajnas, of Ganesha and the interaction with other gods and celestial beings, of incarnations and various daityas and of elimination of iniquity, violence, untruth and unrighteousness and establishment of laws of dharma.

In the light of the above one observes that righteous acts determine destiny of man from the social, economic, psychological, philosophic, political and religious aspects. Karmas are integral to the essence of dharma, integrity, truth and uprightness and evaluate man’s acts. Man’s development not only relates to material growth but also growth of inner man. Tales contained in the Purana explain and expound the quintessence of inherent message. Continuity in narrative remains uninterrupted whereas the sacred radiance of texts and subtexts of various inbuilt legends, sages’ anxieties about life and existence on earth and beyond, spreads philosophic and spiritual light and so each facet of purana enlightens, dispels doubts and darkness, and brings light.  


If man serves humankind, performs worldly karmas honestly and pursues path of truth and honesty, it definitely leads to salvation. Atonement absolves a man from the affects of karmas if he abandons wickedness and imprudence and loves virtues and dharma. If a man maintains sanctity of acts and words, life turns meaningful. Human beings possess tremendous power to live as they wish. A life of limpidness, truth and self-respect values devotion and truth and an elevated and godly life, offers real connotation and delight. A man listens to the scriptural teaching and hears religious men but ignores the real substance.

Delusory potency of the lord is unfathomable and teaches lessons to ‘ego and arrogance’ filled created beings.  A man if understands ‘the self’ only then, he comprehends the essence of Param-brahma Paramatma, the Supreme Brahma, who bestows supreme ecstasy – true ananda and is nirguna – beyond virtues, and nirbikara – beyond the limitations of belief and three gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas. He is Supreme Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, the origin of all lords and gods.   

 Devotion in right spirit is the ultimate path to deliverance one learns. Created beings, the three worlds, regions and directions function under an unambiguous plan the lord emphasizes. Without any illusion and delusion, Supreme Brahma, explains the secret outline and design of creation and the divine sanction. For any sacred mission, a man if devoted and genuine attains the highest objective.

If a devoted man genuinely understands heavenly objective of gods behind the creation and life’s mystery, he really makes life evocative. Incarnation carries a purpose the lord tells. To abandon ‘the self’ in devotion purifies ‘the inner self’ and here, a man loves man and humanity – the message of the Supreme.

     Elegance, nobility and virtues, truth and dharma lead a man to fulfillment and ultimate deliverance. If a man of pure heart thinks rationally, he goes near the divine and invisible power. Dharma, righteous conduct and concentration on the tattva – essence of life and existence beautify life. Tapa helps a created being to attain goal. Not only created beings but also the gods of heavens and celestial souls consider Shiva as the origin and source of creation and delusory potency, who bestows power on Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Life of daityas devoted to gods teaches eternal lessons to humankind. Love, devotion and intense bhakti offer essence of life. World is not real and so, a man lives in delusion and illusion. Impiety survives if hatred, violence and sins thrive and so invite miseries and death.  

 One ought to respect privacy and supremacy of one’s region and grant it to others, and nobody should ever think of infringement, tells Shiva Purana.  It further tells that if a man adheres to the path of truth and righteousness, and spends life without prejudice or feelings of injustice for anyone, he makes man and society happy. Man ought to be genuine in what he does. Virtuous Karmas bring joy and prosperity, the tales highlight quite often. 

  If one has faith in one’s karma born of virtuous qualities, one is surely free from sufferings, for evil karmas cause sufferings. A man if knows his limitations and understands delusory powers of the great god that even Brahma does not know it is good. Faith in the invisible frees from sufferings and delusory living, and therefore, for a man, who seeks refuge in gunassattva, rajas and tamas, salvation on apt understanding is certain.  

The world witnesses an eternal struggle between the good and the evil, in the images of gods and the demons and there is no let up. Evil forces look virtuous in the beginning but soon return to original nature and enjoy pleasures. It increases hunger for more, and consequently, revulsion, hostility, brutality, ego and conceit overwhelm. Death is unavoidable, howsoever, strong and mighty a man is. Many undergo tapa and penance for years and seek immortality from the Supreme but face death. If one goes beyond the borders of wisdom and intellect of the creator, he commits a momentous blunder, for the creator assigns each one fixed time, karma, space and location. Even in intensity of bhakti, a man fails to go beyond what the creator designs.

Wickedness enjoys short life. Asuras symbolize insatiability and violence, transgression and brutality whereas gods are harbingers of peace and harmony and evince interest in bhakti and tapa. Gods want happiness of created beings and never disturb the flow of system and so, promote goodwill, tapa, bhakti, wellbeing and prosperity. Whoever works against the dictates of Supreme gets retribution and lives in oblivion. Supreme lord wants eternal continuity of humanity and guides to deliverance if a man lives righteously.

 Lord creates a world where birth, death and rebirth are inevitable. He specifies role of power, pelf, pleasures of the senses and material prosperity. For the growth of population, he defines the role of females. The lord seeks consent of Supreme Brahma the Pitahamaha, undergoes tapa and pleases Mahadeva, who appears in an amazing figure of ardhnarishawara – a figure of a man and a woman in equal proportion.

If Shiva undergoes tapa for a long period, goddess Shiva also undertakes austere tapa for many ages. One understands the sacred function of creation and procreation, a function within the borders of morality and dharma.  For the pleasure and benefit, wellbeing and happiness of the devotees, the Supreme Lord wanders on earth and the three worlds in various guises. He not only purges the three worlds from sins and iniquity but also establishes the rule of dharma. To achieve the objective, even gods and goddesses experience distress and grief. If a man works hard with devotion and faith, he attains objective of life he ought to understand. Contemporary man whatever may be the status, grade and stage in life ought to learn to live with a spirit of tolerance, patience, truth, righteousness, honesty and integrity, which are conducive to peace and harmony.

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