Mahashivratri: In conversation with Amish Tripathi on the Lord of contradictions

On the occasion of Mahashivaratri, author Amish Tripathi speaks about the various aspects of Lord Shiva and the equation of balance he portrays

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Mahashivratri: In conversation with Amish Tripathi on the Lord of contradictions
A sadhu, smeared with ashes is pictured as he sits at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple during the Shivaratri festival in Kathmandu, Nepal February 24, 2017

Whatever work I do, all that is your worship, O Shambho!

This line in the Shiv Maanas puja composed by seer Adi Shankaracharya is enough to guide one through life as a motto. If everything one does is done for Him, how can one do any wrong by anyone?

I think what is most attractive about the original yogi and mystic Shiva is the contradictions in him. At once, bounding with untamed passion, at once temperamental and unpredictable, he can also be the calm ascetic who abstains from all worldly pleasures one moment and hedonism personified, another. Besides him is His eternal consort, Parvati (who can take on the form of Kali, the Goddess of death, or Sati, the Goddess of marital felicity), who brings Him balance by being his equal. While He is cosmic energy, She is the ecosystem it manifests. The ascetic lover and devoted father is both a householder and wandering minstrel. While He can be detached with equanimity, He can also take on the whole world for His consort.

Austere penance, meditation is as much part of Shiva’s mystiqiue as his fondness for cannabis, mairijuana, alcohol, meat, music and dance. His devotees, the Shaivaites, know these are all His creations and hence partake both sides of this persona. Traditional Hindu philosophy lays great emphasis on the contradictions balancing us. In fact, a school of thought says God is in balance, and extremism of any form is not acceptable. For example, extremism of violence is not good but extremism of non-violence is equally bad, since you have to fight and protect the good at times. So here is a God who straddles all these contradictions to protects us.


Every age has its own mood, depending on which different aspects of Shiva become attractive to devotees. Right now, the mood is of rebellion, of anti-elitism. And who can be more of an anti-elite rebel than Shiva? That is why he has such a huge following among the youth.

After all, Shiva is the hero of the manthan, or the symbolic and inevitable churning of change, where the old makes way for the new. In a sense this is what’s happening right now, with the global old elite being challenged and losing power to new elites. The old elite are not bowing out quietly. They often kick, scream and lash out while the newer elite still gropes for articulation to counter that. This leads to dissonance and negativity.

Samurdra Manthan - Wikimedia Commons

But remember that in manthan, the poison of negativity comes out before the nectar of immortality. And they dwell side by side. We will have to find Mahadevs amongst us who will be able to absorb the toxic negativity (like Shiva kept the poison in his throat) and channelise it, calming people by keeping them positive.

Like the manthan, and much of Hindu mythology, the story of Lord Ganesha’s head being transplanted with that of an elephant too has a text, subtext and a context. The ancient Sanskrit word for elephant was hasti ­— an animal which symbolised wisdom. (For example, the ancient city of Hastinapur meant the City of Wisdom).

Amish Tripathi,

Wisdom comes from detachment and a readiness to abandon old set ways. That is the message in the Ganesha story. While the biggest and purest unconditional attachment is the bond between a mother and child, the tale shows how even the pure can keep you from wisdom.

While guarding his mother’s privacy, like she had told him, Ganesha was not willing to apply His mind and let go, allowing detachment (in the form of Shiva) to come in. So the didactic had to be cut and removed to apply hasti or wisdom for him to attain true knowledge. Remember Shiva is not asking you to give up relationships. All He insists on is healthy detachment, because if you get too attached, you get blinded to the truth.

Having said this, Shiva is also the easiest to placate. Men, gods, demons and other beings have all been His devotees and He goes after purity of feeling above all else. Look at the story of hunter Kannan who went on to become a great sage. He worshipped Shiva daily with all his heart. At the end of his daily expedition, he would come bearing bael leaves in one hand, and a cut of the meat of the animal he had hunted, as offering. As his hand would be full, he would carry a mouthful of water from the stream nearby to bathe the Shiv linga.

A Brahmin who followed a regimen prescribed in the scriptures to worship at the same temple, kept warning him of Shiva’s wrath but it was the hunter who Shiva appeared to, and granted a boon because of his purity of approach.

While regulars like us have been prescribed to easier ways of worshipping Shiva through gyaan yog (wisdom), bhakti yog (devotion), karma yog (selfless pursuit of one’s duty), they are by no means the only ones. Some like aghoris live on cremation grounds, pracitice ritual sex and even consume excrements. They really take everything-is-created-by-Shiva to another level by freeing themselves of barriers that ‘polite society’ sets for itself. If Hinduism accommodates outright atheism, then we need to accept this too.


Personally I feel Maharashtra should not have banned aghori practices under the Anti-Superstition Act. And now Karnataka wants to follow suit. Now that is illiberal! Those who feel strongly against aghoris can campaign all they want. But to legally ban someone’s belief is wrong. For instance, Marxmism has not worked in any country. It has only brought poverty and disaster in its wake. Do we then ban Marxism, as superstition?

Let’s find the Shiva within and strike the finer balance of all these beliefs and practices that life has to offer, celebrating both life and Lord Shiva.

Amish Tripathi, who has worked in the financial sector before turning writer, is known for ‘The Immortals of Meluha’, ‘The Secret of the Nagas’, ‘The Oath of the Vayuputras’ and ‘Scion of Ikshvaku’, which have sold over 3.5 million copies since 2010 making over Rs 100 crore. He spoke to Yogesh Pawar

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