Om namah Shivaya!

This is perhaps the best known Hindu chant in the Western world, along side Hare Krishna. Shiva is one of the best known gods, both within and without the Hindu tradition. I first gained familiarity with him through practicing yoga. I must confess that as I write this post on Shiva I fear that I have very little to say. He and I are just getting to know each other. Or, more precisely, since He is the Absolute Ground of Being and is therefore I, my Self, my True Self, that He knows me and I am just getting to know Him.

Statue of Shiva

In my practice and understanding of Hinduism, Shiva is the ultimate source of all. Shiva and Shakti, though separate, are One. All of creation is One. That we believe we are separate individuated beings is but an illusion. And yet we are embodied entities. It’s a giant paradox of unity in diversity. I find this theology beautiful and complex: mystic enough to satisfy my soul, concrete enough to satisfy my brain, reflecting my lived experience in a way that satisfies my heart.

Before I moved to Wales I practiced yoga regularly, mostly Anusara yoga, and this was my main source for discovering Hinduism. There are many criticisms of Western hatha yoga and its portrayals of yoga philosophy and Hindu religion; many of these criticisms are right on in my opinion, but many are unfair, too. I had learned about Hinduism in my undergraduate studies, but only through the practice of yoga did I start to see it as a living tradition that might have relevance to my life.

There are many forms of Shiva, but the most well-known, at least to yoga practitioners, might be Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. In this form, Shiva is dancing the destruction of creation in a ring of flames, preparing it for renewal, crushing the demon of ignorance under his right foot.

Statue of Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance

I’ve only recently begun honoring Shiva in a specific way. Mondays are the day sacred to Shiva. Many devotees might fast, perform a special puja, and do a number of other things. I have chosen to observe Mondays in the following way: as a nursing mother I do not to fast from food, instead I fast from social media and excessive time online; I wear something white; I avoid alcohol; I offer white flowers on my altar; I chant Om namah Shivayah; and I listen to devotional music, as there is a ton of music in a wide array of styles and variations on the Om namah Shivayah chant. The first day I practiced this I noticed a sweet stillness and presence. I look forward to seeing how my understanding of Shiva deepens and our ‘relationship’ unfolds in the Mondays to come.

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