I could barely believe it. Why did Someshwara (Lord Shiva) want me to accompany Sage Narada to meet queen Mena? I was one of the youngest and the timidest gana in his army. Brother Nandi was, of course, carrying him, so he could not go, but what about brother Dunduba or Kekaraksha? They had been with father forever. Even though it was a few hundred years since I had joined them, I was still the smallest gana of my father’s army.
A million of us were dancing and whirling away in ecstasy when father moved his head a little to the left. Every single gana saw that, and the next scream died in their throats. We could see a bunch of young women running away like the poisonous serpents of Naga Loka were chasing them. They had dropped the ruby-studded gold plates with flowers and sandalwood to welcome father. He was marrying mother Uma today, and we ganas had promised him to make it the biggest party this universe had ever seen.
Father, of course, was Mahakala, so he knew this would happen. His soul brother, the four-armed blue-bodied Lord Vishnu, had warned him. When we started the Barat (marriage procession), father sat facing backward on brother Nandi for half the distance. We loved it because he was facing us, but the fair-skinned, skinny devas kept requesting him to turn around and face them. They did not want him riding with his back toward King Himavan’s kingdom. Father kept brushing them off till the ever-beautiful Sri Hari himself came over to discuss the matter. Father folded his hands and told him that since he was at the end of the procession, father could never sit with his back towards him. The only way to resolve this would be to let Sri Hari lead the wedding party.
The lotus-eyed Sri Hari smiled and said it would cause a lot of confusion later because Ma Uma’s family would automatically assume he was the groom. Father whispered something, and they both smiled widely. We instantly knew something was fishy because father always told us that Sri Hari’s smile meant he was about to unleash a joke of cosmic proportions that would teach the world a lesson.
So as these women ran screaming, father asked me to accompany Devrishi Narada to meet mother’s family. He told me to stay mum and let the Devirishi talk. I nodded meekly. His eyes twinkled because he could read my mind commenting sarcastically that this mischievous wandering menace was the reason half of the world’s problems existed. You may wonder why father did not punish me for having such thoughts about Sri Hari’s favored devotee, but you obviously don’t know father. He gave us only two instructions. Don’t harass the people in forests, and don’t begin a fight. Otherwise, he let us run wild. We even asked him once why he, the king of the universe, liked to listen to stories of Sri Hari. His eyes turned misty when he spoke about Sri Hari. Father said he could only be like this because Sri Hari took on the task of running and preserving the creation. Father’s gratitude to Sri Hari knew no bounds, and that’s why he came as Hanuman when Sri Hari incarnated as Rama.
Per his instructions, I grabbed onto the ever-smiling devotee of Sri Hari. As we rose to the sky, I suddenly remembered the first time I journeyed on the sky path. It was the first time I had seen father.
I was an orphan before he found me—an odd-looking kid chased away from every village and outpost. They did not even let me eat scraps because even my shadow was considered inauspicious. So I hid in cemeteries, where the villagers burnt their dead and left delicious food as offerings. I gulped most of it but always took care to leave some for the ghouls and goblins who came at night. If I was too tired, I would sleep the whole night, or else they would invite me to join their games.
Tonight I could not sleep. It was the night before Holi, and the smell of fried sweets had tortured me throughout the day. I tried to steal some but was caught and trashed with a stick. I was cursing my luck when the clouds parted, and the moon lit up the cemetery. The village was pitch dark, but the cemetery was bathed in milky luminescence. Suddenly father appeared with his Damru and Trishul. He was digambara, but it seemed like the very sky bent around him to cover him up. The moonlight came from his matted locks, and it highlighted his silver locks which were dripping. His booming laugh filled the sky as he picked up hot ash from a pyre and rubbed it over his body.
The entire universe seemed to converge on a single sound. AAAUUUMMMMM… it vibrated till he started dancing and playing his damru. I could not resist anymore. I ran up to him and started dancing. This tiny four-foot urchin that is me continued dancing as the sky split open and millions of ghouls and goblins filled the cemetery. We don’t remember how long we danced and threw ash and mud at each other to celebrate the upcoming festival of Holi. I almost fainted with shock when the black necklace he wore suddenly came to life and started spitting green liquid to soak all of us. It broke my heart when the night started winding up and father prepared to depart. The skies were closing when he looked back and held out his little finger. I grabbed on and never let go. That’s how I became the youngest member of my father’s fearsome Gana army.
I came back to the present moment as the Devrishi chuckled loudly. Seeing my puzzled expression, he explained how Ma Uma’s friends wanted to greet the bridal party and, despite his warnings, proceeded to rush toward them. They mistook Sri Hari for the groom; of course, he corrected them. After passing all the gods, they saw father with his five heads, each with three eyes, drinking Soma from a skull. They stelled their hearts and inched towards him when all the ganas started crooning raucous welcome songs. Father had tied an elephant hide garment with a two-headed snake that suddenly woke up and started swaying vigorously. The flimsy thread of courage of Ma Uma’s Sakhi’s snapped, and they galloped back to the palace.
Sage Narada left my hand as we landed in queen Mena’s palace, and she was throwing the mightiest of fits. She was crying; her hair was disheveled as she moaned her luck that her daughter would choose this Aghori instead of the divine and charming Sri Hari.
Sage Narada consoled her and told her the whole story of how Ma Uma was a reincarnation of Mother Sati. He narrated how the traitorous goat-headed Daksha had insulted father, and Ma Sati had set herself ablaze. He talked about how Bhairava and the ganas had decimated the entire yagna shala. He gave me a wink while describing how some guests still bore the bite marks of a particularly vicious fat imp of a boy who was one of the last ones to stop after father ordered for peace. I wept openly as he described father’s agony and how mother Ganga carried salt water for the next few days because father’s torrential tears overwhelmed Ma Ganga’s flow. He talked about how Ma Uma’s tapas was so pure that Param Shiva himself had come to their household.
Queen Mena was still silent with Sri Hari himself came. A jasmine fragrance filled the room, and his yellow pitambar shone brighter than the sun. He told queen Mina that if it were simply Lord Shiva’s form that bothered her, he would ask father to assume a more pleasing form. He added that father was the lord of all worlds, and she should not mistake his detachment for lack of means.
Sage Narada looked at me meaningfully, and I grabbed his hand. We were in front of father in a jiffy. The sage conveyed Sri Hari’s wishes, and father smiled. As we spoke, father started changing in front of our eyes. Soma, the moon, emerged from his matted locks and formed a silver crown. Mother Ganga gushed forward as father grabbed the wet locks and tied them in a bun with his Trishul acting as the jeweled pin. The serpents turned into jeweled earrings, and elephant hides turned into soft silken clothes. He oozed such radiance and fragrance that a million collective sighs went up.
Sri Hari led queen Mena to the palace balcony and said a single word that was heard for miles. “Soondarmurthy,” he pronounced and flicked a finger to indicate that the ganas could start dancing again. We roared so loudly that the sky cracked open, and flowers began raining down.
Sri Hari returned to lead the procession, and even while being biased, I have to say his dance rivaled even father’s dance as Nataraja. The ceremony commenced, and the Vedic chants filled the sky as we sang and danced for eternity. Brother Nandi came to check on us and shook his horns for a few moves before going back to gaze fondly at father again.
We have almost no memory of the actual wedding because some ganas had smuggled the highest quality Soma from the kitchens. That, united with the divine weed we smoked, sent us back to the heavens. We crashed down and were instantly sober when the message arrived that it was time to return with mother. Father stood impatiently at the gates for mother to emerge. Sri Hari stood next to him as they both exchanged mischievous looks.
Mother stepped out alone without any of her friends, and queen Mina gaped aloud. Brother Nandi could not control his laughter and let out a sonic guffaw. Mother had removed all ornaments and finery and now wore a simple dress. She was no longer the princess of the kingdom. She was the wife of Lord Shiva. Father helped her climb up on brother Nandi and joined her. He was back as the father we had seen forever.
He gazed adoringly at mother and broke into a song. Maharaj Bhavani… Bramha Bhuvan Ki Rani…
He reminded the whole creation that our dearest mother was never to be mistaken as only his wife. She was an emperor in her own right, the mother to all creation, and queen of his heart. As he sang, Natraja emerged from him and started the exquisite dance of creation and destruction. Queen Mina and the entire assembly of guests watched dumbstruck as Pashupati, Rudra, Soonderamurhty, Dakshinamurhty, Adiyogi, Bhairava, and countless other forms joined Nataraja. Father gazed adoringly at mother as if telling her that all this was to show the queen that the Aghora their daughter married just happened to be king of the entire universe who chose to be an ascetic.
After completing a small Sadhana on the Sadhana App, I wrote this story as an offering to my guru Om Swami, Mahadev, Sri Hari, and Devi Ma. The images are generated from the AI-based image generation tool Midjourney. The story is taken from Shiva Purana by Ramesh Menon and the following video. Also, a big thanks to the entire Sadhana team. Doing Sadhana using the app is a sublime experience.