Today is Shivaratri: the fourteenth day of the month of Maha, in the Krishna (dark) fortnight. Shiv is the Lord of this day, and of destruction. Among the prayers offered to Shiv is the Maha Mrutyunjaya mantra that goes like
ॐ त्र्यम्बकम् यजामहे सुगन्धिम् पुष्टिवर्धनम् ।
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय माम्रतात् ।।
I did not realize the deeper meaning of it until my mother’s uncle recently discussed the translation.
The seeker addresses the Lord in the first, and makes a wish in the second line of the verse.
The wish is, “Free me from death, by slaying my bonds with the same effortlessness with which a ripe pumpkin leaves its stem, never to slip from immortality.” The granter of the wish, the Lord of the death is addressed in the first line of the verse as the one with extraordinary vision, permeated with fragrance and as the nourisher.
How could the destroyer nourish? What fragrance surrounds destruction?
There lies the key to the meaning of death.
One stands nourished, and not killed by the God of death if one can see death as the point where degeneration and stagnation win over regeneration and the creation stops to serve its purpose. Death removes the clutter and makes place for creation of new. So logical! Then why fear the cleansing and clearing?
Because in the mind and heart of the creator, the image of the creation remains frozen in its past glory. Even if the creation is no longer adding anything new, even if the time has come to move on, there is reluctance and refusal. Probably fear. That is death. And hence the prayer for safe passage away from the attachment to the rotten (or inability to recognize what is stagnant or rotting). Ignore the passage, and one sleeps in the still waters that stink. The transit could be frightening, just as the Tandava dance of the Shiva is thought to be. But viewed as a dance – with movement and rhythm, one can learn to do it and even stand in its awe, and perhaps enjoy it – and keep doing it until it comes effortlessly. The stench of stillness lifts. The prayer is for the life force that takes one forward never to go back, just like the ripe pumpkin, once separated from the plant never goes back to stick to it.
THAT, is actually the essence (fragrance?) of life, obtained by avoiding the stench of stagnation.
No surprise that the prayer for the wife of Lord Shiv labels her as ‘the pace’ (गतिस्त्वं गतिस्त्वं त्वमेका भवानि). Such a perfect pair!
The thoughts of death are a symptom of psychological illness if one misconstrues death.
Being bodily alive but fettered in the past, however glorious, is death.
One needs courage to get out of THAT kind of death resulting out of trappings of past creations. Even thoughts. And so much more.
May THAT courage, Lord Shiv, be mine.