Shiva The Sensuous Yogi
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Shiva The Sensuous Yogi
There once dwelt in a dense forest a group of hermits engaged in
the most difficult of austerities. The hermitage had a large
number of knowledgeable and mighty sages, but they were for the
most part ritualists, more involved in the actual process rather
than appreciating the symbolic significance behind the liturgies
Lord Shiva in his role of an ascetic mendicant once approached
this group of recluses to beg for alms. The force of Shiva's
tapas or meditations glowed forth form his auric body. Combined
with the spectacular flicker in his eyes, it presented him as
extraordinarily handsome. This comely young ascetic, his naked
body smeared with ashes, exerted a powerful influence upon the
womenfolk of the hermitage. The wives and daughters of the sages
rushed out to greet the naked yogi. The hermits were utterly
shocked at the sight of this unclad monk who drove their
well-born wives and mothers to a demented level of desire. The
women came with offerings of fruits and flowers. When they
approached Shiva the sensuous yogi, they shed all restraint,
taking hold of his hands, pleading for his attentions. They shed
away their inhibitions, their ornaments, their clothes, and
embraced the naked stranger with the skull in his hands.
The saints were left speechless. Their years of solitude and
penance and the hard monastic life were all repudiated by the
inexplicable aberrations of their noble wives. Confused, pained,
bewildered and also very angry, the sages asked the stranger for
his name and identity. Shiva greeted their queries with a
silence. Driven to a level of frenzy the same as their chaste
women, these sages in their uncontrolled outrage tore off Shiva's
organ of generation from his body. But Shiva, the first amongst
yogis, remained supremely unaffected both by the women's
adoration and the sages' anger.
As soon as Shiva's organ fell to the ground it assumed a gigantic
proportion, making everyone aware of the divine status of this
handsome ascetic. Thus is said to have originated the emblematic
worship of Shiva's organ, popularly known as the Shiva linga.
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The rapture of love, the moment of euphoria in which we forget
everything else (reason, wisdom, prudence, social rules, human
interests etc), is but an image of the mystical bliss. The lover
ceases to be himself and becomes one with the object of his/her
desire. Indeed, for an instant, he/she ceases to exist as an
individual, merging with the other being in totality. The sole
reality at that defining moment is the voluptuousness of desire
that unites them: "Just as in the embrace of his beloved, a man
forgets the entire world, all that exists within himself and
without, so in union with the Being of knowledge, he no longer
knows anything, either within or without" (Brihadaranyaka
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For an instant, one achieves one's true goal, forgets one's own
interests, ambitions, problems, and duties, and participates in
that feeling of bliss that is one's true and immortal nature.
Mystical rapture is a marvelous feeling of pleasure, similar to
the effect produced by bhang, the Indian hemp and favorite drink
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In order to be genuine, love and rapture of pleasure must be
absolutely irrational. They must not be "useful," "normal," or
according to law." They must not be a mere procreative act used
to beget children for the continuance of our house, to look after
us and defend our property. They must not be the outcome of
marriage, which stabilizes our social position and represents a
communion of interests. True love must be wholly useless and
disinterested, far from any idea of family, progeny, or social
order. Only then it is pure, true love. This is why the mystical
poets sing of illicit love, the love of what does not belong to
you (parakiya) and not of what you already possess (svakiya).
Loving a wife, or someone who belongs to us, is part of what
binds us to the world of forms and not of what can free us from
it. According to Alain Danielou, only adulterous, abnormal love
can be considered pure and truly free from all ties, and only it
can give us some idea of the mystic experience - it is absurd,
disinterested, and destructive of all that is human.
Thus we should not wonder at the fact that representations of
human love - the search for voluptuous pleasure - recognize none
of the limits that social ethics wish to impose.
Hence the conduct of the virtuous ladies in the hermitage though
shocking at first sight, is perfectly understandable from the
above viewpoint. In fact the story also brings our attention to
the fact that these women were more spiritually advanced than
their men folk, who were engaged in endless itineraries of
rituals whose symbolic significance they were unable to fathom
and were thus far away from the true import of these spiritual
practices. The ladies on the other hand were more intuitively
fine tuned to appreciate the true nature of physical desire,
sprung naturally from their archetypal inner being and in harmony
with their primordial nature uncontaminated by man made
constructs, including both social and moral.
The canonical iconography of Shiva further shows him with certain
characteristic attributes which emphasize his sensuous nature,
while retaining his essentially yogic profile. Some of these
traits making up the character and personality of Shiva are:
The Dance of Shiva
It is said that man danced before he spoke. He certainly danced
before he painted and sculpted reliefs on his walls. All cultures
of the world have given dance a ritual status before any formal
ritual or liturgy was codified in texts, or recreated through
relief or paint.
Yoga, like dance, is much more than a mere physical exercise. It
is a holistic way of relating to the body that involves an
increasing awareness on all levels: the physical, the mental, and
the spiritual. Yoga unites the functions of each of these aspects
of our personality. This is true for dance also. Certainly any
successful dance performance is characterized by a balanced
harmony between the body and spirit. What is suggested here is
that dance, like yoga, is a conscious attempt at integrating all
the tiers of our existence. It does not negate but on the
contrary affirms the sensual nature of our objective physical
being, and treats it as fundamental to any attempt at spiritual
awareness as our subjective intangible soul.
Dance is thus a spiritual channel, an opening of both
metaphysical and sensuous doorways.
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Whirling his limbs, gracefully carved as if a woman's, Shiva as
Nataraja gyrates to the rhythms of his essentially fleshy dance-
an outpouring of sensual stimulation in free and unrestrained
exuberance. His dance is both supremely sexual and sublimely
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He is the god of destruction, his dance too is thus essentially
of a similar nature. A ring of flames encircles him.
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These are the cremation fires which are ultimately going to
consume our mortal bodies. But on the other hand dance is also an
act of creation. It brings about a new situation and transforms
the perpetrator into a higher realm of reality and personality.
Thus the forces gathered and projected in his frantic,
ever-enduring gyration are both of creation and annihilation.
According to Clarissa Estes, in her book 'Women Who Run With the
"To make love. we dance with Death. There will be flowing, there
will be draining, there will be live birth and still birth and
yet born-again birth of something new. To love is to learn the
steps. To make love is to dance the dance".
Applying the same criterion, we observe that Shiva's dance of
death and regeneration is nothing but the recreation of the
sexual act itself, which is composed of an interplay of desire,
sensuality, highs and lows, and of course an overriding sensation
of ecstasy, all an integral part of Shiva's dance.
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A poet has beautifully described dance as "nature struggling to
express itself, in terms of the joy of the dance." Hence by
extension, in the frenzy of the actual physical act of mating can
be discerned the ultimate truth of all manifested existence. This
truth is that of birth and inevitable death. These are the
defining qualities of Shiva's dance, as also of the sexual act,
both of which communicate through an exhilarated appreciation of
the body, for its own sake.
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The Hair of Shiva
Shiva's tresses are long and flowing, and dark as the night is.
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Supra-normal energy, amounting to the power of magic, resides in
such a wildness of hair untouched by the scissors. The celebrated
strength of Samson, who with naked hands tore asunder the jaws of
a lion and shook down the roof of a pagan temple, was similarly
said to reside in his uncut hair.
Shiva's hair also supports a crescent moon, a symbol of the
female reproductive cycle.
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Indeed much of womanly charm, the sensual appeal of the Eternal
feminine, is also in the fragrance, the flow and luster of
beautiful hair. On the other hand, anyone renouncing the
generative forces of the vegetable-animal realm, revolting
against the procreative principle of life, sex, earth, and
nature, to enter upon the spiritual path of absolute asceticism,
has first to be shaved.
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He must simulate the sterility of an old man whose hairs have
fallen and who no longer constitutes a link in the chain of
generation. He must coldly sacrifice the foliage of the head.
This is most significantly evidenced in the first act carried out
by the Buddha when he renounced the royal palace. He severed his
long and beautiful hair with his princely blade.
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But though the spiritual and even earthly rewards of this ascetic
attitude are high, Shiva does not shave or shear his hair, said
to be "sweet with many a pleasant scent." Refusing to take
advantage of the symbolical and potent devices of
self-curtailment and deprivation, the arch-yogi is forever the
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Shiva thus accepts the essentially sensual nature of the
manifested world. He makes us aware that we can free ourselves
from our attachments through the very attachments themselves and
not otherwise. According to the Kama Sutra "those that seek
liberation achieve it thanks to detachment, which cannot occur
except after attachment, since the spirit of humankind is by
nature attracted by the objects of the senses."
Nandi the Bull of Shiva
The vehicle of Shiva is a bull (vrishabh or vrisha in Sanskrit).
He is the great sprinkler of the seed, and represents the
fecundating energy of Kama the God of love.
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The bull which wanders about, anxious to find a mate, is taken as
the embodiment of the sex impulse. Most living creatures are
governed by their instincts; they are ridden over by the bull.
They are merely the appendage of their reproductive powers.
But Shiva is the master of lust. He rides on the bull. Only those
who are masters of their own impulses can ride on the bull. Thus
the image of Shiva atop his bull represents the sexual drive
brought under control, though not weakened, through asceticism.
As Mahayogi, the god is master of the bull. This is true even
when he is with his shakti, and his images therefore often
represent him sitting upon its back, poised gracefully and full
"Among those who have mastered the bull you are the bull keeper.
O Lord! Riding on the bull, you protect the worlds."
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A primary aim of yoga is to transform our mighty sexual potency
into spiritual power. Yogis believe that sex energy is the very
energy that man can utilize for the conquest of his own self. The
sexually powerful man, if he controls himself, can attain any
form of power, even conquer the celestial worlds. On the other
hand, men of weak temperament are unqualified for great
adventures, physical or mental. The sex impulse must therefore
never be denied or weakened. Yoga thus opposes exaggerated
austerities. According to Zimmer, noted Indologist, a deity's
animal mount is the manifestation of the god's divine essence.
Indeed the man of strong powers is the vehicle of Shiva, through
whom the deity reveals his own virile nature and powers. The bull
of Shiva is hence also called the joyful (Nandi), correspondingly
Shiva himself is known as the lord of joy (Nandikeshvara).
Kundalini and the Marriage of Shiva
The metabolic energy called Kundalini is symbolized as Parvati.
She is conceived as the serpent power which lies coiled in the
lowest chambers of the human body. Kundalini when properly
quickened, unfolds her vibrating hoods and by an upward sweep
enters the spinal cord and then the brain, and finally unites
above the head with Shiva. In mythology, Shiva's wedding with
Parvati is the entrance of this serpent power into the Higher
Mind which is compared to the snowy mountains of Kailash. Kailash
is the symbol of the highest mind and Shiva has his abode on this
mountain where silence reigns eternally.
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The analogy is between a human wedding which releases the highest
ecstasies of the flesh, and the wedding of Kundalini with Shiva,
which is a symbol of the highest bliss attainable by an
Our body is the instrument of our destiny. Our intellectual
mechanism and spiritual being are not independent of the body
that shelters and nourishes them. If we wish for success in
anything whatever, we must take care of our body: cherish,
satisfy, and content it. Yogis condemn abstinence, just as they
condemn excess, since both cause imbalance in the physical and
intellectual being. A healthy, vigorous, satisfied body, one that
is pleasant to inhabit, is the best vehicle and instrument for
human and spiritual accomplishment. Eroticism and pleasure in all
its forms are vital for man's intellectual and physical balance.
Life is transmitted through the sexual act, and the giving of
life is a duty, a debt to be discharged by whoever has received
it. Besides its practical utility, however, physical pleasure
plays an essential role in our inner development. It is the image
of divine bliss and prepares us and aids us to attain it. A man
who strives to be chaste and who fears, condemns, and thwarts
physical love can never free himself from the prison of the
senses. He weaves around himself a web of obscure frustrations,
which will hinder him from realizing his transcendental destiny.
On the other hand, the man who has tasted all kinds of sensual
pleasure can gradually turn aside from them, finding greater
sensual pleasure in union with the divine. This is no longer
renunciation, but liberation. In discovering the divine, the
realized man gradually loses interest in earthly things, virtue,
honor, vice, and pleasure. He considers the human act of love in
the same way that he breathes the perfume of flowers or listens
to the song of birds.
Indeed the remark of the saint who said "I have never renounced
any vice: it is they who have left me" summarizes the message of
In the Puranas, which collect the most ancient mythological and
historical legends, Shiva appears as a mysterious and lascivious
deity of the primeval forest. He is naked, and his beauty seduces
all beings. The sages practicing austere asceticism are disturbed
by the charms of this unconventional god. His virile power is
described as limitless. Wandering through the forest, the symbol
of the cosmos, always ithyphallic, he scatters his seed. From his
seed are born plants, metals, and precious stones.
God of eroticism, Shiva is also the master of Yoga, which is
described as the method used to sublimate virile power and
transform it into mental and intellectual power. He is therefore
the "great Yogi." Fittingly therefore, the Kama Sutra designates
the various positions adopted in the act of love as asanas, the
same term used to describe the postures of Hathayoga.
Although both Shiva and his goddess Shakti are creator deities,
the true scope of their union is not procreation, but pleasure
and voluptuousness (ananda). A whole world of legend and myth
narrates their love. The two opposites, the positive and the
negative pole, acquire reality only in their relations with each
other. They exist solely in what unites them, in the spark of
pleasure that jumps from one to the other. In other words, the
immanent cause of the universe, substance, and creation, is
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The spermatozoid substance placed in the female has a fecundating
action, but the same substance, when reabsorbed through sexual
abstinence, nourishes the cerebral matter. Rising, according to
yogic formula, through the subtle channels flanking the backbone,
it renders the intellectual faculties more acute. The Yogi
perceives sexual energy as though it were coiled up at the base
of the spine, which is why it is called kundalini (coiled) and
likened to a sleeping snake. When, by means of mental
concentration, it awakens and unwinds its coils, it rises like a
column of fire toward the zenith, toward the top of the skull -
the image of the heavenly vault - and pierces it to reach the
transcendent worlds inhabited by Shiva. Shiva's liberated phallus
represents this illuminating power rising heavenward beyond the
material world. Thus is the linga likened to a pillar of light,
guiding us to true knowledge.
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References and Further Reading:
Agrawala, Vasudeva S. Siva Mahadeva: Varanasi, 1984.
Danielou, Alain. The Hindu Temple: Vermont, 2001.
Danielou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India: Vermont, 1991.
Danielou, Alain. Virtue, Success, Pleasure, Liberation; The Four
Aims of Life in the Tradition of Ancient India: Vermont, 1993.
Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run With the Wolves: London,
Gokhale, Namita. The Book of Shiva: New Delhi, 2001.
Gupta, Roxanne Kamayani, Ph.D. A Yoga of Indian Classical Dance:
Gupta, Shakti M. Shiva: Bombay, 1993.
Tucci, Giuseppe. Rati-Lila An Interpretation of the Tantric
Imagery of the Temples of Nepal: Geneva, 1969.
Maxwell, T.S. The Gods of Asia: New Delhi, 1997.
Meister, Michael W (Ed). Discourses on Shiva: Bombay, 1984.
Morningstar, Sally. Moon Wisdom: 2000.
Zimmer, Heinrich. The Art of Indian Asia; Its Mythology and
Transformation (two vols.): Delhi, 2001
Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and
Civilization: Delhi, 1990.
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