Every culture in the world has a creation myth, implying that the aspect of creation must have been the foremost in the minds of the primordial man. In India we find many creation myths in the Rig Veda, Brahmanas and the Puranas. However, there exists an interesting creation myth, in the folk genre, which till date is sung ceremoniously on the Madesvara Hills, in Karnataka, every year by several bardic groups during a festival which is devoted the saint/god Madesvara. The folk-purana, as it is referred goes as follows.
The Primordial Goddess takes birth three days prior to everything coming into existence. She grows up soon and attains puberty and wants a man to satisfy her. Not finding anybody, she creates Brahma, the eldest of all. Brahma grows up quickly and is soon asked by the goddess to sleep with her. Brahma refuses to do so, saying that since she was his mother, he could not even dream of doing so. The goddess gets angry, and burns him to a heap of ashes with the help of the eye in the palm of her hand. The next day, the goddess created Vishnu, but he too meets with the same fate.
On the third day, she repeated her act and created Shiva. But this time, when she asked the same question, she warned him of the consequences and showed him the two heaps of ashes. Shiva understands the predicament his brothers had faced and so said that he was willing to sleep with her, but on a condition. If she wanted him to sleep with her, that meant, that she wanted him to her husband, and if that be the case, then as a husband, he is not even equal to her and who would want a husband inferior to herself? So keeping that in mind, she ought to teach him all that she knows and share her powers and then they can sleep together.
Hearing this, the goddess was happy and ended up teaching him everything that she knew. Now the grown-up Shiva expressed a desire to dance with the goddess. Soon the dance was of cosmic nature and each tried to copy each other, and in one of the moments, Shiva put his palm on his hand. Seeing this, in the frenzy of the moment, the goddess too put her palm on her hand, which reduced her to ashes. However, before she burnt down to ashes, she cursed Shiva, saying that he had refused a woman, and that is why may one half of her, always be a woman and may he never get rid of her, and thus since then Shiva becomes the ardhanarishwara. When the goddess became a heap of ashes, the eye of her palm came to him and said it had nowhere to go, so Shiva placed it on his forehead, and that is how Shiva got three eyes!
After this, with the newly acquired powers, Shiva revived the two heaps of his brothers back to Brahma and Vishnu. They felt that they had work to do, primarily of creation, but could not bring it to effect without women. Shiva then divided the heap of ashes of the mother goddess into three parts and gave them life, giving rise to Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Parvati. The three gods then married the three goddesses and began the process of creation.
An interesting observation is that in all the major myths it is the father figure who is responsible for creation, but in this myth, it is the goddess who gives power to Shiva to create. Also, the female expresses her sexual desire quite explicitly, but is cheated out of her powers by the male god, who uses her powers to destroy her. Interestingly, the male gods end up marrying portions of their mother, and as A. K. Ramanujan points out, ‘But the male gods marry her only after fragmenting and domesticating her into a nice tame threesome – feminists would be interested in that. This is a way of looking at male/female power relations very different from anything we know from the better-known written texts.’
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Source: The collected essays of A. K. Ramanujan
Image details: Shiva dances 19th C. India (www.pinterest.com)