The Lovely Bones: From Trimurti to Tridevi

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Creation

According to Hindu scriptures, the three Gods of the Trimurti – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva – personify the formation, maintenance, and destruction of the world, the fundamental forces necessary for existence. For some, these three Gods represent the three stages of Life whereas their female consorts (embodied in the Tridevi) are merely appendages that symbolize their masculine power. And yet, if we take a closer look at the sacred stories, a different picture begins to emerge, one that focuses on another kind of achievement. Right there in public view, yet hidden from the world of sight.

The first clue that something else might be going on comes at the very beginning: even though Brahma is the almighty Creator, he’s rarely the object of devotion. It’s almost as if his creation means something different from what we normally take to be the beginning of the world …

It’s said that, in the beginning, Brahma created Sarasvati, the first Goddess who would come to be renowned as the patron of speech, learning, culture, and wisdom: the Mother of the Vedas. At the same time, Brahma also created the God of desire (or lust):

Brahma, desiring to create the world, goes into meditation, whereupon his body divides in two, half male and half female. Enraptured by his female half, who is Sarasvati, Brahma desires her, mates with her, and creates the demigod Manu, who subsequently creates the world.

Brahma, himself born from the waters, creates Sarasvati by dividing himself and worshipping the reflection found in his other. And with this conjugation, the Earth itself comes into existence, and the two become as husband and wife … until she insists it’s not right that his child should also become his mate.

Creation (The Big Bang)

In some ways, this story is not so different from the one found in the Kabbalah where God also seeks an other (object) to experience his glory. One remarkable film describes this version of creation in this way:

So, a paradox: God is everything. A perfect, luminous essence. But even God wants more, to experience more, to give. So God creates a vessel, a container, that can receive this gift of God’s pure light. His divine light pours into this vessel. The vessel, of course, cannot contain the magnitude of this light, and it shatters, destroying the vessel and scattering its broken shards in a big bang of creation.
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Now, man’s job is to locate and gather these shards to make the vessel – our world – whole again. The Kabbalists called this fixing, this mending, they called it Tikkun Olam: the fixing of the world.

Either through his loneliness or a sense of possibility, God creates a vessel to hold his divine light. And from this act of creation, falling in love with what emerged from his mind, the world comes into being. According to the Kabbalists: through a Big Bang, followed by the shattering of the vessel itself.

In this way, karma is born, the very nature of conditioned existence. And with it, the sacred task of learning how to mend the world and making it whole again.

Born of Water

Once the world had been made, Brahma’s work was done. The almighty Vishnu, the second figure of the Trimurti, takes over, for it’s he who supports and sustains the world of Creation. He’s the defender of moral order and upholder of the law, a royal King whose power is akin to the Sun. He’s found wherever justice and peace may prevail, or in battles against the forces of evil. Among his many names are: The Unstoppable One, Infallible, and The Self-Born.

Vishnu helps give birth to Lakshmi, his consort and the second figure of the Tridevi, during the Churning of the Oceans, a sacred rite where gods and demons seek the nectar of immortality rumored to be contained within. The primordial waters, when unrefined, remain chaotic and overwhelming – potential without form – but when agitated, growth takes place, enabling creation to proceed according to its design, the creative force activated by another.

Of those in attendance, Vishnu was the most successful at this task, for this is how Lakshmi was born (and with her, the Moon, her brother). Naturally, Lakshmi was attracted to the God who demonstrated his superiority over the others. And with their pairing, his divine rule was consolidated and strengthened, largely because the force for which the gods and demons were divining now belonged to him.

Two Flames

This is the main trait associated with the Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity and courage: each of her consorts is blessed with the gift of abundance. Even demons are transformed into kings should they receive her favor. But when she departs, all that was bountiful soon disappears and the luster of royalty fades.

So, while Sri Lakshmi, by virtue of her association with Vishnu, is worshipped as the Goddess of wealth, her name can be translated to mean to perceive or observe while Sri can be taken to mean one who delights in. It’s almost as if her gaze bestowed the gift of abundance rather than the God she’s with, holding the power to elevate anyone who met with her approval, as well as the power to dethrone him.

Among her consorts, Vishnu reigns supreme, for theirs is a pairing made in heaven. Each time Vishnu descends to earth in a different incarnation, Lakshmi’s there as his partner and his mate. Some of the most enduring and well-known love stories are based on these lovers. Like Rama and Sita who are forced to endure a lengthy separation, brought on by his exile and her capture by a demon, even while fighting to keep the promise of their love alive. Or Krishna who married more than 15,000 wives, each of them an incarnation of none other than Lakshmi herself who he rescues from the demon Narakasura.

The Goddess-Inciter

Representations of the divine pair emphasize their love and affection, often with Lakshmi depicted as a devoted wife: sometimes she’s shown sitting on the ground by his feet, her hand placed upon his right knee; at others, she sits upon his lap with an arm around his neck, while he wraps his around her waist.

And yet, despite the images upholding a certain kind of relation between a God and his wife, there are differing opinions as to where the real power resides. For defenders of Vishnu, he alone reigns supreme, relegating Lakshmi to the role of intermediary between mortals and the divine, much like a certain Mary from a different tradition.

Adherents to Lakshmi tell a different story, citing the following lines from the following Tantra as evidence to the contrary, where the Goddess speaks of the power contained within herself:

Inherent in the Principle of Existence, whether manifested or unmanifested, I am at all times the inciter. I manifest myself as Creation, I occupy Myself with activity when Creation begins functioning, and I ultimately dissolve Myself at the time of destruction. I alone send the Creation forth and again destroy it. I absolve the sins of the good. As Mother Earth to all beings, I pardon them their sins. I am Giver of Everything. I am the thinking process itself and am contained in Everything.

(When two flames separated by a pane are drawn to each other, only one shows evidence of its creative force, and the possibility of transformation.)

In Search of Rebirth

This power of self-manifestation is most evident in the story of Sati who, like Lakshmi, is sometimes said to be the daughter of Vishnu. In marshaling the forces within herself, she submits to her own death so she can be reborn as Parvati, the Goddess of Power (shakti). Her method of self-transformation? Immolation. A self-generated fire that she summons for her own extinguishment.

Sati had decided to marry Shiva (the God of transformation) against her father’s wishes. His disapproval, while harsh, is understandable. After all, the two are polar opposites: Vishnu is the God that sustains while Shiva is the one that destroys, Vishnu possesses the power of the Sun while Shiva is more akin to the Moon, Vishnu is singular in his focus while Shiva waxes and wanes like the rhythms of another world. Despite being a God, Shiva turns his back on civilization and leads the life of an ascetic, often depicted with matted hair and covered with ash.

Sati’s father minced no words in letting her know what he thought of her marriage, not only heaping insults on her new husband but on her, as well, for choosing him as her mate. So incensed was she by this torrent of abuse – coming from her father, no less – that she summoned the totality of her powers, and killed herself.

No longer willing to call herself his daughter, she chose a different set of parents for herself and for the life that was yet to come. Parents that she could respect.

Her Chosen Family

When Shiva discovered what happened, he was stricken with grief, carrying Sita’s lifeless body on his shoulders. Unconsolable and blinded by rage about the fate of his wife, he enacted the Dance of Destruction for which he’s come to be known. No one was spared of the force of his fury; even Sati’s father came to be decapitated. In the process, Sita’s corpse fragmented into more than 50 pieces scattered across the face of the earth.

Some say this resulted from the vigor of Shiva’s dance; others say it was the result of Vishnu’s intervention, summoned by the Gods to soften Shiva’s grief. Only then, with her body’s dispersal, was Shiva able to return to a state of calm. Each place where a portion of her body fell became a holy shrine where pilgrims and devotees can meditate upon the truth of her life and the nature of her death, her body’s dispersal lessening the intensity upon learning of the depth of her experience.

As Shiva withdrew from the world in ascetic retreat, and unbeknownst to him, Sita was reborn as Parvati, daughter of Himavan (king of the mountains) and Mena (queen of the snow). With the passage of time, she slowly began to remember her previous life, and with this memory, she continued the transformation initiated by her previous incarnation. Yes, despite this, her mother, Mena, silently wondered whether Shiva was the best husband for her daughter.

Between Light and Shadow

Both Parvati and Shiva perform "austerities" in pursuit of their respective goals, a process that’s often described as beginning with a widow that languishes between two rivers: the Ganges and the Yamana, sometimes referred to as Ida and Pingala. The objective is to join what has been separated, perhaps even to recuperate what has been disavowed or lost. For when this is accomplished, when the two currents are joined, a new force begins to rise, one that leads to liberation.

(Like Sati, Shiva also had an experience that indicated the nature of what he had to accomplish: Vishnu appeared to him in the form of a beautiful woman, and so enthralled was he that he lost all sense of composure. His wife, as witness to the scene, was none too pleased about his loss of dignity, which also might be why the Goddess counts the ability to forgive as one her many powers.)

According to the sacred texts, practitioners are instructed to sit in a lotus position blocking the downward flow of energy with the heels of their feet, thereby forcing a reversal towards the crown of the head. No distinctions are usually made between the sexes, although a Chinese text instructs women to direct energy from the heart toward the kidneys first, before the upward flow can truly begin.

Facing the Demon

It’s through this practice that Parvati and Shiva find each other and consecrate the marriage previously interrupted by the imperative of death. She will insist on all the elaborate preparations for the wedding, despite Shiva’s lack of concern for such civilities. Once the ceremony is complete, they move to their mountain retreat.

They will have two children. The first – Kartikkeya – was conceived just before the first interruption (some say she was born to Sati, Parvati’s previous incarnation), one destined to defeat the demon king. (It was foretold that only a child born to one with matted hair would have any chance of success). In his absence, Shiva’s seed was incubated in the Ganges and, upon reaching maturity, the child slew the demon let loose upon the earth and wreaking havoc in the heavens.

Their second child – Ganesh – was born to Parvati without Shiva’s contribution, although some say his laughter helped. She created him from the sweat and dirt that had accumulated on her skin: someone to stand guard while Shiva was away, someone to protect her from unwanted intrusions. (In a different movie, "he" might be a girl-warrior going by the unlikely name of Baby Doll.)

Things from which a Garland is made

That this story is filled with demons speaks as much to the nature of Creation as to what is rarely spoken: banished from polite society, a fate against which even the halls of government are unable to defend. Brahma may have created the Goddess but during the course of her life she rises above him, banishing him from heaven. Her powers begin to rival those of the Gods, including the ability to interrupt the path of karma so she can transform herself … and others.

It’s said that after Sati’s death, Shiva retreated to the mountains where he sat in meditation for thousands of years. Later, he climbed down from those distant peaks in search of Sita, as if he were being summoned by the voice of none other than his wife. While visiting the sites where her dismembered body lay, he finds her yoni and, assuming the form of a lingam, plunges himself deep into her.

The children they conceive – the first from Shiva’s seed, the second born only from her sweat mingled with dirt – suggests that this conjunction is about more than sex, particularly since their offspring come to be known as mighty warriors and the slayers of demons. One family portrait shows them seated around a fire: Karttikeya and Parvati help each other create a garland of skulls while Shiva and Ganesh play with one of Shiva’s serpent ornaments.

In luring Shiva from his austerities, the Earth finds a way to renew herself, and a family forms around a single purpose: to mend the world – to make it whole again – through the power of dissolution.

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~ by mistified on August 26, 2011.

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