Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Book of Shiva | Namita Gokhale

One of the most surprising and delightful things I discovered when I when to England to do my A levels was that there was an entire A level devoted to Classics. This meant a study of Greek Classical Literature which would include The Illiad, The Odyssey and even the Old Testament. This helps us understand everything from Astrology to Astronomy.

Sadly no such thing exists in the Indian school syllabus. Fuelled by secularism and vote bank politics, neither are taught in school and so we grow up with a basic, and even worse, an altered storyline of our favourite epics and almost no serious knowledge of our mythology. This is a shame because it is perhaps the richest and most complex  in the world. Epics are a way for society to  transcribe our past especially since we have a terrible track record of retracing our civilisation -- the dancing girl does not count. For instance, a study of our Vedas over time will show how our society turned patriarchal and monistic. Our goddesses were pushed aside to make way for gods who had infinite power.

But the funny thing is that our mythology is critical to who we are. As Namitha Gokhale says, "India, with its infamous lack of historical sense of time, with its non-linear approach to ideas and events, has managed to retain a sense of the dynamic and the interactive with reference to its mythology. The gods are still alive in India. "

In my journey to understand Tantra and the gorgeous Kali, it's almost impossible to ignore her aspect of Sati and therefore Shiva, the man she sacrificed her human form for. And for a quick download on Shiva, there's nothing to beat this book. 

Namita Gokhale helps us unravel Shiva, my favourite of all the god aspects. I say 'aspect' because I really don't believe there is a Shiva sitting somewhere, but I do believe there is an energy whose aspect is to create and destroy and it probably loves hurricanes. Shiva fascinates everyone; chiselled face and blue toned abs, what's not to like. The Natraj dances and the earth shakes. 

She begins with a quick introduction and then moves on to summarise various aspects of Shiva in individual chapters, his variety of manifestations, his divine family, an understanding of his erotic and ascetic self. My favourite of course is the Shiva -- Shakti: the reconciliation of Male-Female polarities. Here she clearly talks about a very important conversation between Parvati and Shiva, where Parvati challenges Shiva's misogynistic attitude towards her. Parvati was the first feminist ladies. Namita has a lovely way of recreating philosophical conversations between gods that shaped the thoughts our entire culture rests upon be it the role of Sati, and its warped understanding over the ages, or the role of women in society. 

Her language is technical -- I found myself reaching for a dictionary many times, but its never indulgent. It is tight and refrains from being preachy. It is a classic brief study of Shiva which I will have to read a few more times to understand but I would have been extremely happy if this had been a textbook in senior school.

Buy The Book of Shiva from

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