Happy New Year from the Spiral Staircase! Over here, we ring in the new year with a little chanting to the yogic deity Shiva, who destroys the old to make way for the new. He is the god of yoga, austerity, and the father of Ganesha, the elephant-headed remover of obstacles and patron saint of writers.
In 2014, Shiva has promised to help me write more, party less, and not waste so much time on the Internets.
One great devotee of Shiva - and proof that "well behaved women seldom make history" - was the 12th century saint Mahadevi. Here's a brief bio from the wonderful Penguin Classics compilation Speaking of Shiva:
"At ten, she was initiated into Shiva-worship by an unknown guru. She considered that moment the moment of her real birth.
"The form of Shiva at the Udutadi temple was Mallikarjuna, translated either as 'the Lord White as Jasmine' or as 'Arjuna, Lord of goddess Mallika'. 'Cenna' mans 'lovely, beautiful'. She fell in love with Cennamalikarjuna and took his name for a 'signature' in all her poems.
Image of Mahadevi from a temple constructed at her birthplace
"She betrothed herself to Shiva and none other, but human lovers pressed their suit. The rivalry between the divine lover and all human loves was dramatized by the incidents of her own life. Kausika, the king of the land, saw her one day and fell in love with her...he persuaded her, or rather her parents, partly by show of force, and partly by his protestations of love...
"It must have been a trying marriage for both. Kausika, the worldling, full of desire for her as a mortal, was the archetype of sensual man; Mahadevi, a spirit married already to the Lord White as Jasmine, scorning all human carnal love as corrupt and illegitimate, wife to no man, exile bound to the world's wheeling lives, archetypal sister of all souls...
"Like other bhaktas, her struggle was with her condition, as body, as woman, as social being tyrannized by social roles, as a human confined to a place and time. Through these shackles she bursts, defiant in her quest for ecstasy.
"According to legend, she died into 'oneness with Shiva' when she was hardly in her twenties - a brief, bright burning."
157 by Mahadevi
If one could
draw the fangs of a snake
and charm the snake to play,
it's great to have snakes.
If one can single out
the body's ways
it's great to have bodies.
The body's wrong
is like mother turning vampire.
Don't say they have bodies
who have Your love
white as jasmine.