Shiva, Lord of the Compost Pile
by Peter Rashkin
EVER SINCE I met Shiva, I've
had a fondness for gods of destruction wearing necklaces of skulls.
Well, actually, I didn't really appreciate him the first time we met,
in Pacific Grove around 1978. I didn't really believe it was him...I
thought he was a stray hippy...good-natured, but, well, a syllable
short of a mantra, if you get my meaning. Later I learned that Shiva
is said to wander among men for awhile every 12 years, in the most
improbable forms...so maybe that was really him.
My real discovery of Shiva came
a couple of years later. It was dismal winter in the southern Appalachians.
Everything was dead. It was cold and wet. I wasn't getting along
with my girlfriend. My dad was sick. I was broke. You know...winter.
One morning I was home alone reading
William Buck's masterful version of the Ramayana, which I
had picked up in a little bookstore in a remote southern town. His
description of Shiva made me smile: "The terrible Lord Shiva...Lord
of the destruction preceding creation wore a tiger's skin still
dripping blood, the holy thread over his shoulder was a mottled
serpent; he had in his hair the crescent Moon...and on his brow
was his deadly third eye closed."
Later that winter, on a cross
country trip, I found the Hindu god everywhere: a book I picked
up in San Diego, the great Indian statue collection at the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art, an incredible Shiva exhibit I saw in Seattle
just before it moved on, a trinket I picked up in an Indian shop
on lower Broadway in Manhattan. At the end of a full moon hike in
the Carmel Valley, just before dawn, I had a wonderful hallucination
of Kali, Shiva's female counterpart.
And when I got back to my place
in far western North Carolina and I was telling some people about
the trip, a friend of a friend picked up a guitar and sang The Ballad
of Shiva and the Country Girl, which he had composed some years
Thus it was with particular
pleasure that I discovered the Decapitator--an American Shiva--at
a show on the Mochis at UCLA's Fowler Museum.
The Decapitator--warrior god
of the Mochi of northern coastal Peru, 1st-3rd century a.d.
In a way that I can't fully
explain, these grim gods put me in a good mood. Do I believe in them?
I believe that the forest floor rot nurtures the mighty trees, the
ferns and all living things, and that death is not the enemy of life.
And as my brother said, it's not important if you believe in them...Do
they believe in you? That's what counts.
My favorite Shiva story (Nick
Zonen told it to me some years ago):
There was a devout young
man who, even as a youngster, wanted only to know god. When he was
old enough, he set off for the high Himalyas to find Shiva, the
lord of yogis, and beg for understanding.
He wandered for many years, enduring
all sorts of privations, and finally he found him, the great Hindu
Lord of the Destruction that Precedes Creation. He begged. Sure,
said Shiva, you can be my student, but enlightenment is thirsty
work, so first take this bucket down to the village well and get
us some water.
The boy is happy as he runs down
to the well. So happy. He draws his water. Helps the village girls
draw theirs. So happy. He strikes up a conversation...carries her
water bucket home. Stops in for a drink.. Her pop is the mayor.
One thing leads to another, and soon Shiva is forgotten.
They get married. Pop gets him
a civil service job. They have kids. Happy years pass. Pop dies,
and our boy becomes mayor. Everything is good.
Then one year bad floods come.
As mayor, he finally makes the decision to evacuate the town. Everyone
must leave...the mayor last, after he has seen to everyone else.
Then he grabs his family and runs for higher ground.
But it is too late. The rivers
are swollen. They grab each other's hands, hold on tight, try to
make it across. But the current is too swift, and halfway across
his daughter is swept away. Then his son. And, when he's almost
to the other shore and safety, his wife is lost. He alone makes
it to the other side. He has lost everything. He is in a stupor.
He sits there for hours, days. Then he feels a presence and looks
And there is Shiva.
"What took you so long?"
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