Shiva in the hypostasis in which he awakens the divine love in the sleeping hearts
By yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru
The Sanskrit word bhikshatana comes from the Sanskrit stem bhiksh, which means to share, to desire, to beg, to ask for, to pray. Shiva Bhikshatana is the hypostasis in which Shiva offers directly to the humans beings (after the example of the one who, offering a prayer full of love to God, receives as a result of his sincere begging ) endless spiritual gifts. In this hypostasis, Shiva offers to the human beings the divine knowledge of the desire in a wise manner, through the prayer which is directly addressed to God.
Traditionally speaking, Shiva Bhikshatana is that hypostasis in which the Supreme Shiva begs. The hidden meaning of this hypostasis-of-Shiva’s existence is contained in the following legendary chapter:
Once upon a time, a long time ago, some rishi wise men lived with their wives in the Daruka forest. Rigorously carrying out rituals and sacrifices, they were simultaneously and endlessly praying to Shiva so that they could attain the ultimate state of spiritual achievement, moksha. Noticing that, through practicing rituals, they gained an increasingly greater spiritual power, they were tempted to consider that just the actions, karma, the spiritual practices, the tapas-es or the sacrifices they made were sufficient for achieving the ultimate spiritual aim. In other words, they were tempted into wrongly thinking that the ritual practices are superior to any other spiritual methods and, because of that, it won’t be necessary to pray to Shiva or to adore Him in their hearts anymore. Being thus seized by a deep ignorance, they thought: ”What point is there in adoring and loving Shiva, since we can practice rituals and sacrifices through which our spiritual powers are being increased? This means that our state of spiritual liberation (moksha) - as well - can be obtained the same way, doing more sacrifices and acting according to the known ritual practices.” This deceiving thought which slipped through their minds determined them to stop praying to Shiva any longer. They directed themselves only towards practicing rituals and sacrifices, completely abandoning their love for Shiva. Thus, their loveless practice became formal, superficial, determining the amplification of their self-importance (vainglory) and the exacerbation of their pride.
The loveless spiritual practice doesn’t bring you closer to God
They were not even preoccupied with understanding that, actually, regardless of the good actions that they were doing, it is just The One – God - who provides one with the fruits of his actions, and they didn’t even ask themselves how it is possible for past actions to automatically beget[Footnote] fruits. Who makes all these possible? Without understanding anything of these things, those lost practitioners followed their rigid dogma further, proclaiming the superiority of the ritual actions and of the spiritual offerings over the sincere love for Shiva. Immediately remarking their severe error on the spiritual path, the Supreme Shiva decided to give them a corresponding spiritual lesson, which was meant to awaken them from the ignorance in which they sank. In order to teach them in what lies the superiority of the prayer to God, Shiva himself took the shape of a beggar, Bhikshatana. In the same time, Shiva asked Vishnu as well to take the appearance of a charming young girl, Mohini.
“Take on the shape of a young virgin, full of beauty, Mohini, and go into the Daruka forest, where lies the house of these ignorant poor human beings. Nobody there thinks about Me anymore. They believe that just by doing offerings and ritual actions it is enough to attain the state of supreme spiritual liberation, moksha. But, in reality, they are bitterly wrong and are now following an erroneous path. We’ll have to offer them a spiritual lesson which will awaken them from the darkness in which they are. For this, we shall stimulate in them a passion which they are no longer able to control in their present state, through their desolate ritual practices which they perform with such stubbornness and pride. Now they are animated by egoism and are completely lacking any love for me.”
All the women fell in love with Shiva
Then both Shiva and Mohini appeared in their new looks in the village from the Daruka forest - where those people lived - , without wearing any clothes that might have covered their bodies and emanating an overwhelming, fascinating beauty. Upon seeing Mohini, who was naked and extremely attractive, all the men were instantaneously charmed by her beauty. Even though they practiced their daily rituals with great assiduity, suddenly they all suspended the practices that they were performing. They completely forgot about the discipline of the rituals, karma, which - until that moment - they erroneously believed that it is the supreme way to the supreme spiritual realization. With a lightning speed, they were enslaved by the beauty of the young woman who walked naked, stirring in them a powerful, passionate attraction. For this reason, they all began to follow Mohini. They all lost their superior understanding and their power to discriminate – qualities which they still had and which they have previously gained as fruits of their positive past actions.
In the same time, Shiva set out on the village streets and began to beg as if he were poor and had nothing. He, who is endlessly the source of richness and remains the one who has everything, started to beg as if He had nothing. He was doing this even if He, Shiva, is the One who ensures the supreme prosperity for all the human beings who, full of fervour, venerate Him. Assuming himself the hypostasis of beggar, Bhikshatana, Shiva then started to enchant spiritual hymns with a delightful voice, full of inspiration, wandering from place to place as a person who had nothing, asking for charity. Then all the women who were in that place, the wives of the wise men from the forest, were fascinated and captivated by the extraordinarily beautiful look of the Supreme Shiva, who was passing before them, humbly begging, without any clothes to cover His wonderful body. In an instant, all these women were filled with an enormous love for Shiva and started to follow Him, the nude and incomparably beautiful Divine Master. Being seized by an immense love towards Shiva, all these women persistently and in various ways asked the all-beautiful divine beggar, Shiva Bhikshatana, to satisfy their intense desire of making love with Him.
This frantic desire was born precisely due to the love for Shiva that the women discovered in their hearts. Full of an endless love, Shiva then multiplied his wonderful appearance and simultaneously made love with all those women, with an infinite love, thus making them fall into ecstasy, as they were transfigured and full of love towards Him, Shiva. All of them were then extraordinarily happy and ecstatically found Shiva as being always present in their hearts. Then, they started to enjoy the overwhelming, ecstatic love that also He, Shiva, had awakened in each and everybody’s hearts.
The weapons turned into shining jewels
But they saw their wives being overwhelmed by the ecstasy of adoring Shiva, the wise men got very angry. Until then, their women had been very dedicated practitioners of the rituals, and all the decisions that the wise men took were being entirely respected by their wives. That’s why they became very revolted, in the same time asking themselves full of sorrow how was it possible for their wives to arrive at such a state, following a naked beggar and simultaneously adoring him, offering their hearts and love to him. Blinded by jealousy and poisoned with pride, all those men became very infuriated and, being seized by malice, felt in themselves the foolish impulse to take revenge on Shiva, who humiliated them in front of their wives. Knowing that the ritual practices they performed until then offered them a great occult power, the immediately directed that power, aiming to punish both the beggar who had stolen the hearts of their wives, and the beautiful Mohini as well, who distracted them from the ritual practices which they considered plainly superior. Thus, they directed towards Shiva snakes and mean beings, Asura, tigers, flames and deafening drums, but none of these had any bad effect on the Supreme Shiva, who continued to manifest himself very brightly and full of serenity. In His divine presence, all that was meant to hurt him was being miraculously transformed into a jewel of an indescribable beauty, thus increasing His divine charm even greater. Then those angry men sent upon Shiva an extraordinarily cruel and ferocious tiger, which was instantaneously born from the ritual fire that the men lit. They ordered the tiger to pounce upon[Footnote] Shiva, but Shiva immediately killed the tiger and then wrapped its skin around His waist. Then, they made a very sharp trident with which they meant to defy Shiva. But He easily took the trident in His hands and then instantly transformed it into the victory-symbol of his endless spiritual power. Then, they sent an antelope with very sharp horns to prod[Footnote] Shiva. But he caught it with much delicacy into one of His arms, controlling it with an amazing ease. Irritated, the men sent upon Shiva several poisonous cobras. But in a short time, they became living jewels, submissive to the will of Shiva. Then they created several other weapons, but one by one they were all seized by Shiva’s divine hands, and each became a symbol of the spiritual awakening. Finally, they sent against Shiva a very evil dwarf demon called apasmara, the demon of egoism, believing that he will defeat Shiva. Holding the ritual fire in his hands, the demon approached Shiva. But Shiva immediately took the fire into one of His palms, and instantly knocked down the demon, holding him with his face downwards, then firmly placed his right leg on the demon’s back, thus denying him any possibility to react.
Prayers and sincere love attract the divine gift of supreme liberation
In the face of the Supreme Shiva’s spiritual force, all the malevolent attempts of these ignorant men were destined to fail. While performing these foolish actions, they never for a moment asked themselves what could possibly hurt the Supreme Shiva, who is the ultimate source of all that there is. However, they were able to observe that nothing can hurt Shiva and that all that the things that exist are just his worthy jewels. Seeing all these miraculous manifestations, those men finally realized their immense foolishness and understood that Shiva is invulnerable because He is the Supreme Divine Reality. Thus, their being was again filled with wisdom and in the same time they understood that it’s not the ritual activities, karma, which they erroneously considered as being the source of all the spiritual realizations – but above all, it is the intense love for the Supreme Shiva that can offer them the divine gift of spiritual liberation, moksha. The ritual activities, the spiritual actions or the sacrificial practices are nothing else but methods, because in reality, just the Supreme Absolute, God, is the source from which the divine beatitude and the divine ecstasy come.
Finally realizing that they have been spiritually tested by Shiva, those men came back to their wise state and understood, in the same time, the hidden message of Shiva’s appearance as Bhikshatana. Every spiritual action, every tapas, ritual or sacrifice which is superficially done, without having a heart full of love towards God, is in this way barren and brings no spiritual fruits. By assuming the hypostasis of the beggar, Bhikshatana, Shiva himself illustrated for humans the superiority of praying and of sincere love towards God. This is the divine meaning of this spiritual action by which Shiva, full of an infinite love, brought back those wise men on the spiritual path. Finally, they cried out in unison: “How mysterious and full of charm is the illusion, Maya, which is manifested by Shiva, and how great is the divine, all-governing power of the Supreme Absolute”.
Shiva Bhikshatana is a very popular hypostasis of Shiva. According to the ancient treatise Silparatna, Shiva is completely nude in his hypostasis as Bhikshatana, without even having a belt around his waist, except for a snake which serves as a cover to it. His body is then covered with many adornments; he wears sandals in his feet and has the left foot firmly placed on the ground, while His right foot is slightly raised, as if He is just starting to walk. Shiva Bhikshatana wears His hair knitted and has a cloth band bound to his forehead. The symbol of the rising moon is also visible on His head. He has three eyes, the third one – on the forehead – being Ajna Chakra, and has four arms. With His left front hand He holds the vessel in which He receives the fruits of mercy. The corresponding right hand performs the gesture of feeding the antelope, symbolizing the complete control over the human nature. His upper hands hold the hand-drum, damaru, symbol of the spiritual awakening. His left upper hand holds a bunch of peacock feathers, which is extremely pleasant and smooth when touched. The colour of His naked skin is that of the pure white, but His neck is blue.
Shiva Bhikshatana is usually represented standing on his feet, slightly and supply inclined above a lotus-shaped pedestal. There are many iconographic representations of this hypostasis, in the majority of the important temples from South India. Some of them are bronze-sculptures, hand-made in a very attentive and sensible manner, generating an intense and refined feeling of aesthetic attraction.