Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 14, 2015

Shiva Kashi

Kashi is said to be Lord Shiva’s city.
Shiva destroys to recreate.
Shiva defies categories of pure / impure, auspicious / inauspicious.
Shiva is beautiful and terrifying, anointing his body with fragrant
sandalwood and with the gray ash of the cremated.
Shiva is fearsomely ascetic and boundlessly passionate.
It is said that in passion Shiva’s semen is so hot that it must be
cooled in the Ganges before his consort—whoever she may
be—can bear the divine penetration.
It is fitting that Kashi, Lord Shiva’s city, be called both the Great
Cremation Ground and the Forest of Bliss.

Shiva has no concern for purity, nor love of the auspicious, nor
disdain for the polluted, nor reverence for family and lineage.
Shiva wanders naked or clothed in the bloody skin of a slain tiger.
He makes his home in the cremation grounds.
He anoints his body with ashes of the dead.
He wears snakes about his neck.
He rides a bull and carries a trident.

Lord Shiva has renounced wealth, family, caste.
He presents himself as the epitome of the dreadful and
inauspicious.
Yet he is called Shiva the Auspicious.
He is the merciful wound dresser, deathbed mentor.
When tending to the needy Lord Shiva takes on a personal form.

It is recounted that the goddess Annapurna held in her lap the
corpse of a man, while Shiva knelt to whisper the taraka mantra in
his ear.
Whispered by Lord Shiva, the Taraka mantra permits the dead or
dying to cross over.
Death in Kashi is not terror but joy.

Where then is Kashi?
Kashi is high above earth on Shiva’s trident.
When the inevitable waters of the Kali yuga swell to engulf creation,
they do not touch Kashi.
Kashi alone is exempt from dissolution.

*Much of this text is “treated”; that is, it is paraphrased from Diana L. Eck’s
Banaras: City of Light (Columbia Univ Press, 1999)

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