There are some questions that we never think of asking until someone points them out! Here is one such. Have you ever wondered why Lord Shiva has two forms? One, an image where he looks magnificent with moon-crested long matted hair, Ganga flowing down his topknot and a snake wound around his neck. Another where he is a Phallus or Linga, a humble looking rounded stone. No other deity in the Hindu pantheon has this dual form, by the way.
Here is one of the legends (from Shiva Purana) that explains how Shiva Linga came to be. Once Brahma and Vishnu got into a severe fight, with Brahma saying, “I am the creator of this universe and so I am greater than you.”
Vishnu refuted Brahma’s claim, “You came out of my naval! How can you be greater than me?”
The argument got heated. Soon a severe war broke out with both the Gods drawing their powerful weapons. Now with the world burning over, Shiva decided to intervene. He took the form of a glowing flame and appeared between the two warring Gods.
The flame which started gobbling up every arrow shot by the mighty Gods soon got their attention. However keenly they examined, they could not see the beginning or the end of the flame.
Then Vishnu came up with a plan. “Brahma, you go up and find where this flame begins. I will go down and find out where it ends. Whoever completes the task first, will be the winner of our argument.”
So Brahma took the form a swan and flew up. Vishnu took the form of a bore and went down. But even after several hundred years, they could not reach the top or the bottom of the flame. Vishnu gave up and returned.
Brahma too almost gave up but then he saw a Ketaki flower waltzing down from above him. “Ketaki!”Brahma called out. “Have you seen where this flame begins?”
“No idea. I was on Shiva’s hair until he shook his head. Now, I here I am.”
Brahma thought of a rather wicked plan, “Will you please come down with me and tell Vishnu that you saw me at the top of this flame?”
Ketaki agreed after an initial reluctance and corroborated Brahma’s claim. When Vishnu was about to accept his defeat, Shiva appeared. “Brahma! You are a God and how can you resort to lying?”
Out of Shiva’s anger sprouted a fierce form called Veerabhadra. “Cut off the head of Brahma who lied,” thundered Shiva. Brahma who had realised his folly accepted the loss of one of his five heads.
Then Shiva decided to take a phallic image, the Linga, that symbolized the flame and he stayed on top of the mountain Arunachala. When Vishnu enquired about the significance of the flame, Shiva explained, “This flame stands for Parashiva, a supreme force out of which we all have emerged. When we are all part of one supreme power, how can one be superior and another inferior? We are all born to perform our duties without egos. Whenever anyone worships me, I want them to cast aside their egos.”
Through this story, are our ancestors hinting us to be free of ego for at least a few minutes when we pray or meditate? An ego-less life is certainly easy and hassle-free – so no harm trying!