Of Saavan, Shaivism and Sahitya

Brij Nath Betab
India is the land of festivals and festivities. For us, here, Nilamata Purana describes in detail the legends of different festivals, and explains how they should be (and are) celebrated in this part of Bharat Desha. Going by the description it is evident that every day, each month and all seasons have some festivity attached to them.
We are in the year 2020 and it is the month of Saavan (Shraavana). The significance of this month can be gauged by the fact that Lord Shiva himself is the presiding deity of this month. It is here that worshiping the lord and fasting in adoration to Him grants one salvation (Moksha). 14th night of the month, night before the new moon, in the dark fortnight of each month of the lunar calendar, particularly during the month of Phalgun, is dedicated to Shiva and is also called Shivaratri. It is believed that during this period Lord Shiva descends on to Prithvi (Earth) and stays at Mount Kailasha. It was during this month that Devi Sati, the daughter of Himalaya worshiped Shiva to attain Him.
Young Vedic scholar Acharya Rajesh Prashar tells me that during this month a devotee shall not consume Tamasic (static) foods and instead serve non sedative food to Brahmans and the needy. With regard to worshiping Shiva, he says ‘worship using white color flowers or white colored offerings like rice, milk etc. One must do Rudrabhishek and recite the Shavite Mantras to attain knowledge, to get rid of the animal instincts (Pashu tatvas) and seek Moksha.
During this month of Saavan, devotees of Lord Shiva, local as well as from other parts of the land throng to the holy cave of Lord Shiva Amarnath, for darshan of the ice Lingam, formed naturally. Worshiping Shiva Lingam made of ice dates backs to antiquity, but Rajatarangani, (Book second. Shloka138), in an apparent reference to Holy Amarnath tells us that king Samdimat (Aryaraja) (34 Bc-17AD) ‘worshiped a lingam above the forests that was made of snow’.
The Shiva worship has been so prevalent in Kashmir that worshiping a thousand Shiv Lingams daily was a routine. M.A Stein who translated Rajatarangani explains that these Sahasra Shiva lingams were made of clay and would be immersed in the river waters in the evening after pooja. He says for worshiping Sahasra Shiva lings, Banalingas (linga shaped pebbles) were taken even from Narmada.
When the whole life is encompassed with spirituality, it is but natural that literature also imbibes the influence. With regard to Kashmir Shavite thought, the earlier influence that we find is evident in Kalidasa’s writings. Kalidasa like almost all the Sanskrit scholars of Kashmir was a Shavite. According to his translator Prof. Arthur W.S Ryder, this is also evident from the dedicatory Shiva prayers in his writings. For any Sanskrit scholar Shiva is not only the fountain head of all knowledge but also the ‘Patron of literature’. It is here that Shaivism has influenced literature since early times.
The famous drama of Kalidasa, Abhijnan shakuntalam is, without any doubt, the outcome of the influence of Kashmir Shavite philosophy of Pratyabhijna darshan, (Recognition and realization of one’s self). Dr Laxmidhar Kalla mentions in his book ‘Birth place of Kalidasa’ that ‘Abhijnan Shakuntalam is the allegorical representation of the philosophy of Pratyabhijna’. He argues and establishes that Kalidasa was born in Kashmir and then moved southward.
The influence of Shavite thought is clearly visible in the writings of local dramatists and poets. In her famous book ‘Kashmir ka Sanskrit sahitya ko yogdaan’ (Contribution of Kashmir to Sanskrit literature), Dr. Ved Kumari Ghai notes that ‘It seems that some couplets in Subashitawali of Srivara have been taken from dramas of Candaka. Three couplets seem to be ‘Nandi Padya’ of some dramas and they are hymns to Shiva and Parvati. Rajatarangani (ii-16/iii-386), while mentioning second century Kashmir King Ranaditya, ‘whom the people forthwith called by another name Tunjina ‘ tells us that ‘at that time there lived a great Kavi Candaka who was a descendant or (incarnation) of the Muni Dvaipayana (Vyasa), and who composed a play worthy of the attention of all people’.
Here we have reference of Bhakti to Shiva in Sanskrit dramas of second century. Dr. Ghai is also categorical in saying that the influence of Kalidasa is clearly visible on the drama Karnasundari of Bilhana. This is significant in our context as the influence on the writings has always been mutual. If Kalidasa has been influenced by Kashmiri theological thought, Kashmiri literature has also imbibed ‘outside’ influence. This is quite natural as culturally Kashmiri society adheres to the social patterns of Vedic life and the writers specifically derive their themes from the Vedas, Puranas, Vedic seers and Puranic tales.
The influence of Kashmir Shaivism on Indian writing continues and other than Kalidasa another best example could be given by referring to the influence of Pratyabhijna school of Shaiva thought on the most famous poem in Hindi, Kamayini by Jaishanker Prasad as propounded by Utpaldevacharya. Dr. Pankaj Misra, a Sanskrit Scholar says the epic poem Kamayini of Jaishanker Prasad is a poetic form of the Pratyabhijna Darshan as explained in the Abhinavagupta’s Ishvara Pratyabhijna Vivrti Vimarshini. “The crux of poem is based on the Anandvad (Theory of Blissfulness) of Shaiva philosophy. The basic subject matter of Kamayini is as to how to travel from a state of worry to the state of bliss”. (Translated from Hindi). This is what Trika philosophy teaches us.
Talking about Shavite poetry we can neither ignore Adi Shankara, who we believe was influenced by Shakti tatva in Trika, nor Acharya Abhinav Gupta or poets like Anandvardhana or Pt Kalhana. While Pandit Kalhana is generally remembered for his historical poem Rajatarangani, his devotional poetry like the Ardhnareshwar stotra is forgotten. However, despite all the upheavals Adi Shankar’s stotras and Abhinavagupta’s Shavite poetry like the Bhairav Stotra are still recited in every household to worship the Lord. Vasugupta’s Shiv Stotras and Utpaldevacharya’s Shivstotravali could be put in a different category, as the purpose there is dissemination and propagation of Shavite philosophy. That is a different genre.
With regard to Shaivism and literature in Kashmiri, the poetry created by Paramananda and Krishna joo Razdan, has been inspiring generations and no one has surpassed them till date. Paramananda’s Poems Shiv Lagan and Amar Nath Yatra and Krishna joo Razdan’s Shiv Lagan poetry in particular, surpass all others. Poem Amarnath is mesmerizing not only due to expressiveness but also in mystical deft. ‘Describing the outwardly pilgrimage to the holy cave, he describes the awakening of the Kundalini energy’. This is a unique poetic experiment. Adoration to Shiva by Razdan is also exceptional in the sense that it encompasses all Shavite lore.
In Kashmiri Bhakti poetry we generally find Shavite or Vaishnavite themes, but the way the life sketch of Lord Shiva and the epic tales associated with him have been superbly put to musical poetry by all the prominent Kashmiri Bhakti Poets from Paramananda to Krishna joo Razdan and from Bulbul Nagami to Prakashram Kurigami and modern day devotional poets like Badri Nath Abhilaash, makes one realize the impact of Shaivism on literature.
Poets of yore, called Rishis, have not only demonstrated versatility in expression but also used themes from Shaivism to Vaishnavism and to me that seems to be a trend of spiritual thought as also propounded by most illustrious, the greatest of all poets, Laleshwari, fondly called Lal Ded who said ‘May He rid me of the worldly sufferings/ be He Shiva, Keshva or Jinva’ (Buddha).
While Lal Ded is credited with propounding Shavite philosophy in the colloquial lingo, Jagaddhar Bhatt sticks to Dev Bhasha Sanskrit. While Lalla- Vakyani or the Vaks of Lalded, other than worshiping Shiva also propagate Shavite thought and teaches us some lessons, Jagaddhar Bhat prays to Lord to seek his mercy (Due to political upheaval in Kashmir during his times). His expression is so intense that Goswami Tulsidasa is said to have been impressed and influenced by him. Dr Baldevananda who wrote a thesis on Stutikusmanjali told me once that Tulsi Dasa always kept a copy of Stutikusmanjali in his possession.
The tradition continues, though, with no equal measure. What is heartening is that we have female devotional poetesses like Santosh Shah Nadan continuing the tradition of Roop Bhavani and Riche Ded and that keeps not only the tradition but also the hope alive. Nadan is a poet worshiper of Lord Krishna though.
Almost entire Kashmiri Bhakti poetry is based on devotion to Gods, Goddesses and Deities, and only a small portion is dedicated to local deities and places of worship like the one devoted to Karkota Naga.
Hemyo bartal zagay
Manh myani Karkut nagai
Here the poet says that he shall wait at the door of Karkota Naga, who resides in his heart. This tirtha is in village Utrsu, some distance away from Kapteshwara (Kothyer) in Anantnag district.
Poet Abhilaash does not only worship Shiva but this Universe also which he believes is the expansion of Shiva, as propounded by Trika philosophy. He says, Yeth bhramands sadshiv chu mooladaar/thath bhrmands chu myony jai jaikar. (I hail in reverence the Universe, whose creator is Sadashiva).
Saavan is the month of Shiva’s bliss and it is with His Anugraha that literature is created. Anugraha according to Jagaddhar Bhatt comes only through Bhakti (devotion) to Lord and Bhakti comes only through His bliss. This month of Saavan gives us an opportunity to surrender to Shiva and seek his (Anugraha) blessings.
(The author is a senior fellow, Ministry of Culture, Government of India)