AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR
A sudden whiff of cold air startled Parvati out of her meditation. Surprised, she opened her eyes. The tapasya that she had been performing for such a long time had made her immune to the Nature’s moods. She was neither affected by cold- nor by heat.
Her body had overcome hunger and thirst. It was not just a physical transformation- but a mental one too. In the course of her tapasya, she had travelled through several realms- each successively higher than the other- till it all culminated in the highest state- the state where the body, mind and intellect dissolve into the Supreme Brahman.
Seasons had come and gone but Parvati remained undisturbed – not willing to descend to the mundane physical world.
But what was it that had caused her to open her eyes today, she wondered. She did not have long to wait. Footsteps were heard round the corner and Parvati craned her neck to see who it was. She was surprised that someone would actually come that way- the icy treacherous Himalayan slopes were not easy to negotiate. Parvati wondered who could it be.
It turned out to be an old Brahmin- sandals on his feet, hair tied in a tuft and carrying a wooden staff for support. His body was wrinkled but his eyes were bright. He stared at Parvati for a long time and his gaze fell on the Shiva linga in front of her.
Without waiting for an invitation, he seated himself on a boulder. “You must be Himavan’s daughter – Parvati”, he began without preamble.
Parvati nodded – not sure of the old man’s intentions. Evidently he knew who she was and had come all the way to meet her. But why?
“You must be wondering why I am here”, he began in a pompous voice. “The truth is I have come to give you some sound advice. No….don’t give me that look….after you have heard me out, you will accept that my advice was for the best”
Parvati tried to look interested. She knew what was coming. In the early days of her tapsya, she had been inundated with hordes ‘well wishers’ -all of the advising her that the path she had chosen was futile and that she abandon her tapsya and seek domestic felicity. To dissuade such people, Parvati had then moved on to a higher, more isolated place to continue her tapasya.
But apparently even this place was not isolated enough for this old man, determined as he seemed to be.
“Lady- ascetic life does not suit a woman. Your place should be beside a man- proving him with the comforts and pleasures which only a wife can give.”
Parvati rolled her eyes.
The old man continued “Now I have the perfect match for you here.” He fished out an old parchment from a bag tied around his waist and peered at it intently.
“Here, see….Vindhya Raj is looking for a fourth wife for his third son. Or.. wait…” His voice trailed off as he held the parchment closer to his eyes. “No… I think Vindhya Raj wants a third wife for his fourth son…. Either way – as the third or the fourth wife… Vindhya Raj will be most happy to welcome you into his household”.
Parvati gaped at him in amazement . Could he be serious?
“I am serious,” replied the old man, as if reading her mind. “What are you going to achieve with all your devotion to Shiva? Do you even know what kind of life he leads?”
Parvati gritted her teeth and muttered under her breath “Cremation grounds…. ash smeared body…as if I didn’t know….” She wished she could tell him to shut up-but how does one do that without sounding rude?
The prospect of lecturing to such a charming young lady must have appealed to the old man, since, he began to sit more comfortably on the rocky ledge. He leaned back against a boulder and folded one leg over another.
Parvati sighed. It looked like she would have to endure the old man for some time now. She watched him as he began massaging his foot slowly with his palm. Parvati narrowed her eyes and looked the old man’s foot. Something began to stir in depths of her memory.
Then she smiled.
“Venerable Sir, what was it that you were telling me about Shiva?” asked Parvati
“Interested now, eh? replied the old man, in a cocky voice. “Listen- the Shiva that you worship, lives in cremation grounds, carries a skull and has ash smeared on his body. To top it all, he wears a snake around his neck”
“I feel sorry for him” sighed Parvati
“You feel sorry for Shiva?” questioned the old man
“I meant the snake.” clarified Parvati. ‘I feel sorry for the snake”
She continued “Yes, imagine the existence it must be leading- not able to raise its hood, not able to bare its fangs. Poor snake indeed”
The old man gaped at her.
"When I get married to Mahadev” - the old man flinched – “when I get married to Mahadev, the first thing I will do is release it into the wild” finished Parvati self righteously.
“Release it into the wild!” The old man laughed uproariously “ Ha…ha… he won’t last a day.
He has got used to an easy cushy life at Kailash – food, security… No… he won’t ever leave me. “ the old man finished, rubbing his neck.
Seeing Parvati eyeing him curiously, the old man hastily corrected “… Shiva, I mean. The snake won’t ever leave …Shiva”
Parvati then asked “Since you seem to know so much about Mahadev, can you tell me something about the moon that he carries on his head?”
The old man replied “Chandra Dev provides the most illuminating of experiences to Shiva – illuminating in more ways than one.
“How’s that?” asked Parvati, very interested
“With 27 wives, even on the best of days, Chandra Dev’s household cannot be said to be the most peaceful one. Hence Chandra prefers to spend most of his time on Shiva’s head. His wives visit him in turns and he enjoys their conversations- especially their romantic ones.” The old man closed his eyes and his shoulders shook in silent laughter.
Parvati asked pointedly “Er….who enjoys the conversations? It is Chandra, isn’t it?
“Of course, Chandra,….. and …..Shiva too” answered the old man, relapsing into a mirth of silent laughter again.
Parvati was indignant. She stood up and arms on her hips and almost shrieked “Mahadev eavesdrops on the private conversations of Chandra and his wives?”
She began pacing and down and spoke agitatedly “This will not do. When I get married to Mahadev” – the old man flinched again- “I will ensure Chandra dev is released into the sky permanently. Surely, there’s something called privacy”
“Privacy for Chandra Dev?”
No” replied Paravti slyly, “For Mahadev….after we are married.” The old man winced again.
“And there’s another thing” continued Parvati, “the tiger skin that he wears…”
The old man became alarmed and got up in a hurry, clutching the dhoti around his waist. “Lady, give it a break…You have stripped Shiva of his snake, of his moon… at least leave his tiger skin alone….”
Parvati tried to suppress her laughter. The old man seem rattled.
He stuffed the parchment into his bundle and prepared to leave. He said “Princess, It seemed I have failed in my mission. You seem to have set your heart on Shiva. I better leave.”
The old man gripped the ledge with both his hands, and for a moment, sat with his head sunk to his chest.
He thought to himself, “I better leave , Parvati. I am so close to you and yet you have not been able to recognize me. Has your tapasya not been forceful enough?”
The old man sighed, his eyes still closed. He was so close..yet so far. Something wet was tickling his feet. He opened his eyes and looked down.
Parvati was on her knees – her hands clutching his feet. With tears streaming down her face she looked up at the face above her and asked, ”Lord, did you really think I had not recognized you?”