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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 before.

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 up.

And there is Shiva.

"What took you so long?" he asks

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