Shiva restored the world after his grief-stricken taandav; we mortals can’t revive what we destroy in rage

Madhuri Maitra

Shiva’s response to grief was to go berserk in a taandav

The air was festive. It was a grand yagna, performed by Daksha, son of Brahma and father of Sati, Shiva’s beloved consort. The palace resounded with gaiety and laughter. But for one discordant note. Sati’s and Shiva’s presence!

Daksha loved his daughter, but had practically disowned her when she married the blue-throated, ash-smeared ascetic. Their presence would mar the grandeur of his display of might. Although hurt by the insult, Sati attended, out of filial love and out of a desire to reunite with the father she adored. She was sure her father would soften when he saw how happy she was with Shiva. But Daksha ignored her, and was openly derisive of Shiva. Shiva bore it stoically, but Sati could not. That her beloved husband was seared by such unwarranted vituperation was more than she could take. Distraught, she immolated herself.

Shiva was crazed with grief. He went on a killing spree. And when the blood of those responsible for his beloved’s death failed to satiate the fire of his rage, he danced! Shiva danced the taandav and the three worlds trembled under his wrath. Not until the anger, commingled with grief, had completely dissipated in that unrestrained choreography, did he stop. He stopped, and then he calmed down. He restored to life all those he had unjustly killed and set them on the path of retribution. Shiva was a divine being and he knew he had to enact this charade perfectly in order to bring about order out of chaos.

Related reading: When Shiva lost Sati

We cannot all dance in a frenzy after bereavement

We, mere humans, know no such thing. Carried away by emotion, we dance our version of the taandav and then live with its repercussions for the rest of our life, because we can’t revive what we destroy. To add to our woes, Shiva’s expression of his love for Sati is a highly idealistic and unrealistic template for us humans to adopt. That we all grieve the death of our beloved is a given. How we express ourselves may be completely disparate.

That we all grieve the death of our beloved is a given. How we express ourselves may be completely disparate.

A young war widow may enshrine the few happy years of her married life in a little space in her mind, and then move on to make a new life for herself, and perhaps for a child she has. A middle-aged widower may drown himself in golf; a widow, on the other hand, may immerse herself in social work. Some people shed tears and some don’t. Some, who know that their terminally sick spouses will now no longer suffer, take it on the chin. Some are angry at being left alone, others make their peace with it and move on. Some are rational enough to understand the larger scheme of things, and the place of death in it.

But woe betide a widow/widower who does not express their grief in the ‘proper manner’. They are looked at strangely if their voice doesn’t quaver or the eyes don’t well up. I know of a lady, recently widowed, who wondered if it was ‘proper’ for her to visit a salon ‘so soon’. My response is that if it has occurred to you that you need to visit the salon…do so.

Related reading: Widows are human, too, and have needs

Do not give into survivor’s guilt

Exacerbating this situation is survivor’s guilt. We are conditioned to believe in marriage as a physical, emotional and spiritual union and some of us are actually fortunate enough to experience it. Once widowed, we castigate ourselves for enjoying anything at all, simply because our spouse is no longer there to enjoy it with us. My question is – if we have been left alone, is it not for a purpose? After the death of my husband, I had a series of dreams, and these clearly showed me what my purpose was to be. One has to continue to live, and live well. Your purpose will reveal itself.

Grief is natural; that there are varying degrees and expressions of it is just as natural. So, we are all good and natural. We are also left with balancing emotions/finances/professions all by ourselves. A taandav of grief and anger would be less useful than a series of pragmatic actions.

Besides, we are not divine. We cannot revoke the wrongs we unleash on others: for example, I will kill my wife’s killer. Nor can we retreat to Kailash. We will continue to inhabit the real world, so let our actions be carefully considered, keeping in view all repercussions. Let our expressions of grief be what they are.

Work at a new equilibrium with yourself – that’s the taandav, that’s the Kailash.

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1 comment

Siddhartha Shankar Mishra
Siddhartha Shankar Mishra October 4, 2018 - 7:45 pm

I cannot really teach anyone anything I think. I cannot really save anyone. Especially those close to me. My feelings of disgust at their blindness and frustration with their seeming unwillingness to get my message. And so often, I help because I feel so much survivor’s guilt.

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