(As told to Anupama Kondayya)
We are taught to think of Gods as better than us, higher than us, separate from us. But once in a while, we find stories that make them seem more like us, more like the peers or elders that we admire and emulate, less like unattainable ideals. Take the story of Kalyanasundar and Chandraghanta, in which I found practical and valuable relationship advice.
Lord Shiva became an ascetic after losing his beloved wife Sati. He gave up all worldly matters like love, marriage and family, retiring to the mountains to meditate. Sati, meanwhile, was reborn as Parvati, and wanted to marry Shiva. But she had to first draw Shiva out of his asceticism. So Parvati performed penance for thousands of years until Shiva relented and agreed to marry her.
On the day of the wedding, the bride Parvati was beautifully dressed, as were all the guests – gods and demigods. Everyone awaited the arrival of the groom, Shiva. But when Shiva approached the gates, Parvati’s mother, Mena, fainted in terror.
Shiva had arrived smeared in ash from the cremation grounds, and accompanied by demons and ghouls as guests! His hair was dishevelled and he made for a scary sight. Parvati fully understood Shiva’s divine nature, and loved the ash-smeared Shiva just as much. But to calm the guests and Mena, who insisted that Shiva dress fittingly for a wedding, Parvati needed to show Shiva the need to appear divine and beautiful once in a while.
So Parvati transformed herself into a charming, powerful, divine form with three eyes, ten hands, holding different weapons and riding a tiger. This divine form of Parvati, called Chandraghanta, inspired Shiva so much that he transformed himself into a beautiful well-dressed bridegroom known as Kalyanasundar. Once Shiva became Kalyanasundar, the wedding of Shiva and Parvati went ahead.
When I first read this story, I had just started staying at home in the US, except for the weekly trip to the grocery store. Naturally, I dressed in comfort clothing the entire time, like t-shirts and track pants. From someone who had dressed in formal clothes and stepped out every day for years, I suddenly became a homebound pajama-wearing person. Add to that severe winters and dark days, and the whole feeling was that of immense laziness.
The laziness would add up over the days until I found myself unwilling to even move.
One day while I was wistfully looking at the clothes I had bought in India before my wedding but wasn’t getting a chance to wear, I realised how lethargic my comfort clothes made me feel!
And I tried to imagine what it must do to my husband to constantly see me in the same loose bland comfort clothing all day every day!
So I decided to show up well for my husband. So what if I didn’t step out of the house or have a job or college for which to dress up? Our life together was occasion enough to dress up in my best, spray some perfume once in a while, pick a nice watch and feel great about myself. I did not need to depend on some external event or circumstance to honour myself or our life together. We were reason enough.
And so, much like Shiva, I brought out my good clothes and started to wear them at home. Nowadays, within an hour of waking up we’re dressed in good daywear, ready to step out into the neighbourhood at least. Sometimes I even add an accessory. And it has changed the energy in our interaction. We feel fresher, sprightlier, and more enthused about things. Everything gets done a bit quicker, without us dragging our feet. We sit up straighter and show up better for each other. And that energy seeps into the relationship.
You could argue that home is a place to feel comfortable, and relax. But ours is an uncommon situation of working from home all the time. With no demarcation between home and work, rest and rigour, we have to draw the lines all by ourselves.
We spend our entire lives with our partners. But all they get mostly are sloppy old home clothes and bedheads.
We speak of the spark of marriage dulling over the years, without realising that sometimes we might be smothering it ourselves.
Small daily acts like these likely do much more to sustain the relationship than big events, occasions or surprises. To me, one of the best ways to show we love someone is to constantly put our best foot forward just for them, to show the other that you alone are reason enough for me to consider this day special.
(Of course, like Parvati loves the ash-smeared Shiva, we love each other just as much in our loungy loose home clothes as well!)