Shivarati Vrata Shivaratri is the tithi (lunar day) on which Brahma and Vishnu had worshipped Shiva. A vrata is a special religious rite that is performed. A vrata observed on shivaratri (the night dedicated to Shiva) is particularly important. It brings undying punya. One stays up at night and prays to a linga. One also has to observe a fast.There used to be a hunter named Rurudruha. He was not at all righteous. In fact, he was quite evil and cruel. He killed many deer and he was also a robber and thief. Naturally, Rurudruha knew nothing about shivaratri vrata.But it happened to be shivaratri when the hunter's parents, wife and children felt very hungry. They asked Rurudruha to go and get some meat so that they might eat. The hunter went to the forest to kill deer, but could not find any. It was already evening and no game was to be seen. Rurdruha found a water-hole and decided that he would keep a vigil there. Sooner or later, some animal was bound to turn up. He climbed up onto a bilva tree that was by the side of the water-hole. And in case he should feel thirsty, he kept a pot full of water next to him. There he waited.Soon a doe turned up to drink water. The hunter picked up his bow and arrow. When he did so, the tree shock and a few bilva leaves fell on a linga that was right under the tree. Bilva leaves are sacred to Shiva. Some water spilled from the pot and also fell on the linga. Rurudruha did not of course know this.But the doe saw the hunter. Don'tkill me right now, said the does. My children and husband are at home. Let me go and bid them farewell. When I return, you are welcome to kill me.The hunter was in no mood to let the doe go. Does an animal return to be killed? But the doe took an oath and Rurdruha let her go.After a short while, another doe turned up to drink water. The two does were sisters and both of them married to the same deer. As before, the tree shook and bilva leaves and some water fell on the linga.The doe saw the hunter and said, Wait for sometime before you kill me. Let me say goodbye to my husband and children.The hunter was reluctant to let the doe go. But the second doe also took an oath that she would return. So Rurudruha decided to wait.After the doe had gone, the deer turned up to drink water. And when the hunter picked up his bow and arrow, bilva leaves and water again fell on the linga.The deer said, Hunter, let me go now. I will come back and you can kill then. I wish to bid adieu to my two wives and children.The deer also took on oath that he would return and Rurudruha let him go.After some time had passed, the two does and the deer came to where Rurdruha was. Each said, Kill me and spare the others. They need to stay alive to look after the children. The baby deer had also accompanied their parents. They said,Kill us. We don't wish to stay alive when our parents are gone. The hunter was so surprised at these developments that the tree shook again. Bilva leaves and water fell on the linga.Shiva now took pity on Rurdruha and removed all evil thoughts from his mind. The hunter spared the deer. Shiva himself appeared before Rurudruha and said, From now on your name will be Guha. You will be so blessed that Rama will become your guest. This story demonstrates that even if shivaratrivrata is performed unconsciously, great punya is obtained. Vedanidhi In the city of Avanti there used to be a righteous brahmana. He had two sons, Sunidhi and Vedanidhi. Vedanidhi was wicked.The king of Avanti was so pleased with the brahmana that he gave him a golden bangle as a present. The brahmana took it home and gave it to his wife to store safely. There it was discovered by Vedanidhi. Vedanidhi stole the ornament and gave it to a dancing-girl.It so happened that the king was watching a dance performed by the dancing-girl and he noticed the bangle on the girl's hand. He found out from the girl that the bangle had been given to her by Vedanidhi. He retrieved the bangle and called the brahmana. Do you remember the golden bangle that I had give you? said the king. Can you please return it to me? I need it.The brahmana hurried home and asked his wife for the bangle. But it could not be found and they realized that it was Vedanidhi who had stolen it. Vedanidhi was banished from his parent's house.He wandered around here and there and begged food so that he might eat. One day, he did not get any food at all. That day happened to be shivaratri. But Vedanidhi didn'tknow this. He saw several people going to Shiva's temple with all sorts of offerings, including food, in their hands. The evil brahmana thought that he might be able to steal and eat this food. He followed the devotees to the temple and waited till they should fall asleep.When they did so, Vedanidhi crept up to the place where the offerings had been placed. This was right in front of the linga. It was very dark there and Vedanidhi could not see very well. A lamp was burning and the shadow of the lamp fell on the linga. Vedanidhi tore off a piece of cloth from his clothing and stuffed it into the lamp so that it might burn better. The flame rose and the shadow on the linga was removed. But when Vedanidhi was about to steal the food, the devotees awoke. They gave chase to the thief and shot at him with arrows. These arrow struck Vedanidhi and he died.Yama's messengers arrived and wanted to take the evil brahmana to hell. But Shiva's companions also arrived and they would not permit Vedanidhi to be taken to hell. The brahmana had fasted on shivaratri day, he stay awake at night and he had removed the shadow from the linga. These were acts of the faithful, even if they had been performed unconsciously. Vedanidhi's sins were all forgiven. Chandrashekhara Parvati once asked Shiva, Lord, tell me, why do you wear a crescent moon on your forehead? What is the story behind this?Shiva told her the story.Earlier, Parvati had been born as Sati, the daughter of Daksha. As Sati, she had been married to Shiva. Since Daksha insulted her husband Shiva, Sati gave up her life.When Sati died, Shiva no longer found pleasure in anything. He began to live in the forest and started to perform tapasya. Such was the power of the tapasya that any trees or mountains that were near the place where Shiva was meditating used to be burnt into ashes. As Shiva moved from place to place, the earth started to burn and wither away . The gods were greatly alarmed at these developments. They went to Brahma to seek advice as to how the earth might be saved.Brahma, said, Let us take the moon god Chandra with us and make a present of him to Shiva. Chandra's visage is so pleasing that Shiva may feel happy and pacified.The gods placed Chandra in a pot of amrita (a life-giving drink). They also had another pot that was full of poison. With these two pots they went to Shiva and offered him the pots.Brahma said, The gods have brought you two pots. Please accept them.Shiva first accepted the pot that contained the amrita. As soon as he did this, the crescent moon came out and got fixed to Shiva's forehead. Next Shiva accept the pot of poison and touched it with his middle finger. He touched his throat with the finger and the throat became blue. That is the reason why Shiva is known as Nilakantha, blue of throat. And because the moon is like a crown to Shiva. Shiva is called Chandrashekhara.At the sight of the moon, Shiva was pacified. The Ashes Parvati said, I understand about the moon now. But why do you always smear ashes on your body? What is the reason for that?Shiva told her the story.There used to be a brahmana who was descended from the great sage Bhrigu. This brahmana began a very difficult tapasya. The tremendous heat of the summer made no difference to him. Nor was he disturbed by the downpour of the monsoon. He was only interested in meditating. When he felt hungry, he used to ask the bears, the deer, the lions and the jackals to fetch him some fruits. The wild beasts had lost all fear of him, they served him instead. Later on, the brahmana gave up eating fruits also. He ate only green leaves. And because leaves are called parna, the brahmana came to be known as Parnada. He performed tapasya for many years. One day, Parnada was cutting some grass and his scythe slipped and sliced off his middle finger. Parnada was amazed to find that no blood issued from the severed joint. Instead, a sap like that which issues from plants came out. Parnada's vanity knew no bounds. He realized that his was due to the fact that he had been living on green leaves for such long time. Parnada began to jump with delight.Shiva decided that Parnada needed to be taught a lesson. He disguised himself as a brahmana and arrived before Parnada.Why are you so happy? asked Shiva.Can'tyou see? replied Parnada. My tapasya has been so successful that my blood has become like the sap of plants.This sort of vantiy destroys the fruits of all tapasya, said Shiva. What have you got to be so proud about? Your blood has only turned into the sap of plants. What happens when you burn plants? They become ashes. I myself have performed so much tapasya that my blood has becomes ashes.Shiva sliced off his middle finger and ashes came out of it. Parnada was impressed. He realized that there was nothing that he could be proud about; here was a far greater hermit than he. He asked Shiva who he was and Shiva then displayed his true form to Parnada.Ever since that day, there have always been ashes on Shiva's body. Nandi There was a sage named Shilada. He once saw that his ancestors were being tortured in hell. When he tried to find out why this was so, he was told that htis was because Shilada did not yet have a son.To obtain a son, Shilada began to pray to Shiva. He prayed for a thousand years. At the end of the tapasya, Shiva appeared and offered to grant Shilada a boon. Shilada wanted the boon that he might have a virtuous son.A few days later, when Shilada was ploughing the land, he discovered a baby boy on the blade of theplough. The boy was as bright as the sun and the fire. Shilada was frightened and started to run away. But the boy called after him, Father, stop. Father, stop, A voice was then heard from the sky. This voice told Shilada that this was the son he had wanted. Since this son would make everyone happy, he was to be named Nandi.Shilada brought nandi home to his mermitage. He taught his son the Vedas, the arts of the medicine and fighting, dancing and singing and several other sacred texts. All this Nandi mastered within fifteen days.When nandi was seven years old, two powerful sages arrived in Shilada's hermitage. Their names were Mitra and Varuna. Shilada worshipped them and presented Nandi before them. The sages blessed Nandi with the words, Be learned, be faithful to your teacher.Shilada said, Sages, why didn'tyou bless my son with a long life?We couldn’t, replied the sages. Your son is going to die when he is eight years old. That is written in his stars.Shilada was crestfallen to hear this, but Nandi consoled his father. He promised his father that he would do something so tha this fate would have to be rewritten. He would pray to Shiva. And when he met Shiva, he would ask of him a boon.Meeting Shiva, exclaimed Shilada. I had to meditate for a thousand years before I could get to meet Shiva. How do you expect to meet Shiva in the one year tha tis left to you?’Wait and see, father, replied Nandi. Shiva is difficult to meet if you only perform tapasya or thirst for knowledge. The secret lies in faith and devotion. I will manage.There is a river named Bhuvana. Nandi entered this river and began underwater prayers to Shiva . His efforts pleased Shiva so much that Shiva appeared before him. What boon do you want? asked Shiva.Please grant me the boon that I may be devote to you, replied Nandi. I don'twant to be born become old and die.Shiva granted Nandi the boon tha the and his father would get to live in Shiva's residence in Shivaloka. Shiva's companions are known as ?ganas. Shiva made Nandi ganapati, the chief of the ganas and retained him as a perpetu ? companion. Shiva also gave Nandi a wonderful garland to wear. As soon as he put this garland on, Nandi became resplendent with three eyes and ten hands. Time The smallest unit of time is nimesha. This is the amount of time it takes to blink. Fifteen nimeshas make one kashtha and thirty kashthas are one kala. Thirty kalas make one muhurta and thirty muhurtas are one day. Thirty days are one month. Each month is divided into two lunar fortnights, shukapaksha and krishnapaksha. Six months are called an ayana. There are thus two ayanas in a year. Three hundred and sixty human years are equivalent to one year for the gods.The lengths of the four yugas (eras) are defined in terms of years of the gods, not in terms of human years. There are four eras and their names are kritayuga or satyayuga, tretayuga, dvaparayuga and kaliyuga. Satyayuga lasts for four thousand divine years, tretayuga for three thousand, dvaparayuga for two thousand and kaliyuga for one thousand. This adds up to ten thousand divine years. The sandhyas and sandhyamshas are the intervening periods between the yugas and these add up to two thousand divine years. Thus, the four yugas taken together last for twelve thouand divine years.In a kalpa (cycle), each of the four yugas occurs a thousand times. A kalpa has fourteen manvantaras (eras). In a manvantara, each of the four yugas thus occurs seventy one times. One kalpa corresponds to one day for Brahma. One thousand kalpas are one of Brahma's years and eight thousand of Brahma's years make one of Brahma's yugas. One thousand such yugas make up one savana and Brahma lives for three thousand savanas. This period is known as a trivrita.During each of Vishnu's days, one Brahma is born and dies. And during each of Shiva's days, one Vishnu is born and dies. Daksha Yajna The sages aid, Romaharshana, you have not told us the story of the quarrel between Daksha and Shiva which led to Sati's death. You have only mentioned it in passing. Tell us the story now.Romaharshana related the following story. Daksha's daughter Sati was married to Shiva. One day, the gods, the demons and the sages went to visit Shiva and Sati in the Himalyas. Daksha accompanied the other gods on this visit. When the gods arrived, Shiva was seated and did not get up. He showed no special honour to Daksha because Daksha happened to be his father-in-law. Daksha interpreted this as a sign of disrespect. He felt insulted.Subsequently, Daksha arranged for a yajna and sent invitations to all his other sons-in-law and their wives. He did not invite Shiva or Sati. But Sati heard about the sacrifice and resolved that she would attend it, invitiation or no invitation. In a beautiful vimana, Sati travelled to her father's house.Daksha was not at all pleased to see Sati. In fact, he ignored her completely and devoted all his attention to his other daughters. When Sati wished to know the reason for this, Daksha told her that this was because of her husband, who happened to be a worthless fellow and did not deserve any respect. Hearing this, Sati gave up her life.The mountain Himalaya had prayed that Sati might be born as his daughter. Sati was born as his daughter Parvati and married Shiva again. This story you already know. Several years later, Daksha resolved to hold an ashvamedha yajna (horse sacrifice) in the Himalayas. The gods and the sages were all invited to this sacrifices, although Shiva was not amongst the invites. The sage Dadhichi did not like this slight to Shiva and he boycotted the yajna in protest.Parvati heard about this sacrifice and she began to incite Shiva to do something. Shiva created a being named Virabhadhra. Virabhadhra shone with energy and he had thousands of mouths and eyes. His hair glistened like lighting and his hands were full of all sorts of weapons. When he spoke, it was like thunder. From his body, Virabhadra created a female demon named Bhadrakali. What are our orders?, asked Virabhadra and Bhadrakali of Shiva.Go and destroy Daksha's yajna, was the order. To help them in their endeavour, Virabhadra created several other demons from parts of his body. All of them had a thousand arms and carried weapons. Virabhadra, Bhadrakali and these other demons headed for Daksha's sacrifice. When they got there, they found that the sacrifice had already started and the sacred fire was burning. The sages were reciting hymns and the gods were watching. Musical instruments were being played. Virabhadra roared and the sound of the roar was so terrible that several of the gods began to run away. The earth shook with the sound of the roar. There were tidal waves in the ocean.Daksha was frightened. But he summoned up courage and asked, Who are you and why have you come here?We are Shiva's servants and we have come to take part in the sacrifice, replied Virabhadra.Virabhadra and the other demons then proceeded to burn down the structure where the sacrifice was being held. They tied up the priests and threw all the offerings away. With their weapons, they attacked the gods. Whatever resistance the gods tried to put up was taken care of by Virabhadra's trident and Bhadrakali's spear. The goddess Sarasvati lost her nose and the god Agni lost his arms. The sage Bhaga had his eyes gouged out and the sage Pusha lost all his teeth. Virabhadra sliced off Daksha's head and gave it to Bhadrakali, who proceeded to kick it around as one kicks a football. Thousand and thousands of gods died and the sacrifice became a battlefield. Vishu tried to fight it out and he and Virabhadra shot arrows at each other. But one of Virabhadra's arrows struck Vishnu on the chest and he fell down unconscious.Spurred on by Brahma, the gods began to pray to Shiva. These prayers pacified Shiva and he asked Virbhadra and Bhadrakali to refrain from causing any further damage. Brahma asked, What about the gods who have been killed? Please bring them back to life,Since Shiva's anger had been appeased, he restored life to the dead gods. Those who had lost parts of their anatomy got themb ack again. But what was to be done about Daksha? His head could not be found. A goat's head was therefore stuck onto Daksha's body. Thus restored to life. Daksha begged forgiveness of Shiva.