The Immortals of Meluha: The Journey of Shiva from Tribal Tradition to the Postmodern Fiction
The present paper is an attempt to study various legends associated with Shiva in Indian mythology vis-à-vis Amish Tripathi’s The Immortals of Meluha (2010). It also takes into account various archetypes associated with Shiva, tracing its journey from ancient tribal traditions to Postmodern fiction. The Immortals of Meluha is the first novel of the Shiva Trilogy. It presents Shiva as a real human being in flesh and blood, a Tibetan immigrant to the Indus Valley and not the fabulous deity of popular consciousness. Tripathi’s “Shiva is not God-become-man, but man-become-God.” It subscribes to the existential philosophy that: “A man becomes a Mahadev when he fights for good. A Mahadev is not born as one from his mother’s womb. He is forged in the heat of battle, when he wages a war to destroy evil” (344).
The Immortals of Meluha is set in 1900 BC; in the geographical area that we call the Indus Valley Civilization. The Suryavanshi tribe of Meluha had a legend that a Neelkanth would arrive and destroy the evil and thus they presumed that the Neelkanth would destroy the Chandravanshis, their rival tribe, who for them were synonymous with evil. Shiva, in the novel, is an ordinary man, belonging to the Guna tribe of Tibet. The Suryavanshis test their healing potion called somras, on his tribe and everyone except Shiva, falls ill. Shiva’s throat turns blue after consuming that somras and the Suryavanshis rejoice at finding their saviour, the Neelkanth. However, the legend doesn’t exactly say that the Neelkanth will save the Suryavanshis. The legend says two things. First, that the Neelkanth will not be from the Sapt-Sindhu and second, the Neelkanth will be the “destroyer of evil.” The Meluhans believe that this implies that the Neelkanth will destroy the Chandravanshis, since they are obviously evil. But destroying the Chandravanshis doesn’t mean that the Suryavanshis will be saved!
Shiva is an ordinary man who falls in love with Sati, the daughter of Meluhan King, Daksha, who initially refuses her advances. He later comes to know that Sati is a Vikarma, an untouchable in this life due to sins committed in her previous births. In order to marry Sati, Shiva declares himself the Neelkanth and dissolves the obsolete law of Vikarma, which prohibits him from getting married to her. This marks a beginning of the journey of Shiva from being a common man to becoming a God. After an attack on Brahaspati, the chief scientist of Meluhans and a friend of Shiva, Shiva declares a war on the Chandravanshis and leads the Suryavanshis to victory. After the war, the Chandravanshi King is captured and his daughter Anandmayi tells Shiva that a similar legend existed amongst the Chandravanshis also. They also awaited the arrival of their saviour, the Neelkanth. The discovery that Chandravanshis were not bad, they were only different from the Suryavanshis fills Shiva’s heart with a sense of remorse and guilt. Shiva is left wondering, “What is evil?” as for Suryavanshis, Channdravanshis were evil, and for Chandravanshis, Suryavanshis were evil. And I want to extend the interrogation to “what is Shiva?” Since time immemorial, many saints, scholars, researchers, scientists have tried to unravel this enigma about the most mysterious God of Hindu mythology, but all their researches have left them even more confused about this lord of all lords.
Undoubtedly, Shiva is one of the most ancient Gods in Hindu mythology. In the Indian mythology Shiva is presented as “Shiva! The Mahadev, The God of Gods, Destroyer of Evil, Passionate lover, Fierce warrior, Consummate dancer, Charismatic leader, All-powerful, yet incorruptible, Quick wit, accompanied by an equally quick and fearsome temper.” (Tripathi “The Shiva Trilogy”) The Vedic people feared and revered Shiva, which is well evident in the early descriptions found in the Vedas. They called him Rudra, the howler and weeper, the fierce God of storms and winds. However, the worship of Shiva is rooted in prehistoric beliefs and precedes the advent of Vedic religion in northwestern India. Many new researches1 on Lord Shiva have theorised that during the Vedic periods Shiva was worshipped mostly by non-Vedic tribes. Even today, we find Lord Shiva being exceptionally popular among many ancient tribes of India. In fact, prevalent practices and available literature indicate that Lord Shiva has been worshipped by all the tribal groups everywhere in India. Tribes, such as the Chenchus and the Malavans, who live in the remote areas of South India, consider Shiva as the ancestor of their tribes. It was much later, with the coming together of diverse groups, that Lord Shiva was integrated into the Vedic religion.
Shiva is the archetypal God of Hindu mythology. Carl Gustav Jung has called Shiva a unique image of the Eurasian collective unconscious. Wolf – Dieter Storl, in his book, Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy writes that:
At the beginning of time, the image appeared as in a flash of lightening, by which a surprised primate saw himself for the first time and, in that instant, was torn from the dream consciousness of his animal state. This image of light, stunning that first human soul, has remained engraved in the human memory ever since. Undefinable and inapprehensible, the image was, nonetheless, given thousands of names, decorated with endless attributes, and honored in myriad rites and rituals. This first image became the king of all other archetypes, powers, and dominions-the Lord of Gods.
(quoted in Dieter Storl n d: 4)
In this context one can easily correlate the seals of Pashupati found in Indus Valley Civilisation with the image of Shiva. (See image on top).
As seen in the image Pashupati is surrounded by animals. The God is in the yogic posture. Shiva also defines that precise moment when the human being found itself distinct from the other animals; but, nevertheless, he remained part of the animal kingdom. Hence, we can also see the pantheistic traditions in tribes who worship many animals like snake, tiger, panther, peepal and banyan trees, especially the images that were closely associated with Pashupati. The female counterpart of Shiva was the mother goddess. One can also trace a close tie that exists between the cult of Shiva and mother goddess. Shiva is not only a link between the animal world and the human world, but also a link between the feminine and the masculine world. Thus, there is a traceable pattern of ling and ring worship common to the tribal, rural and urban cultures. These worships often involved other art forms like singing and dancing. Their origin can also be traced back to Shiv/Shakti who turns out to be the dancers and singers, to an extent they are able to create the universe out of this dance and even destroy it through dance.
India is a witness to all the stages that humanity has traversed2. Each era and each culture has had a part in forming the current cult and iconography of this archetypal image of Shiva. Though Shiva, in the novel, The Immortals of Meluha, is an ordinary man who, under certain circumstances, is forced to become God, he shares many attributes with the archetypal image of Lord Shiva. As a basic principle, archetypes are not realised in static form but present in dynamic form, expressing transformations in consciousness. Archetypal images transform as awareness transforms and appear in various forms as consciousness shifts.
In the beginning of the history of mankind, there were thirty to sixty million hunters and gatherers called adivasis3. The Shamanistic hunters provided the base in Shiva who trance dances, who has horns and is the lord of the animals and the guardian of the soul. He was the Pashupati. In the novel, The Immortals of Meluha, Shiva is seen as a guardian of souls of the Meluhans. He is also a great dancer in the novel, when he finds Sati learning dance, he couldn’t stop himself from interrupting her to tell her:
“You were being far too methodical. As they say in the land that I come from, the mudras and the kriyas were all technically correct. But the bhav or emotion was missing. And a dance without bhav is like a body without a soul. When the emotions of the dancer participate, she would not even need to remember the steps. The steps come on their own. The bhav is something that you cannot learn. It comes to you if you can create the space in your heart for it.”
(Tripathi 2010: 57)
He offers to dance and when he dances:
Shiva’s eyes were open. But the audience realised that he was oblivious to them. Shiva was in his own world. He did not dance for the audience. He did not dance for appreciation. He did not dance for the music. He danced only for himself. Rather, it almost seemed like his dance was guided by a celestial force. Sati realised that Shiva was right. He had opened himself and the dance had come to him.
(Tripathi 2010: 59)
Shiva is known as the King of Dancers, the Natraj. Dancing is regarded in India as an ancient form of magic. The dancer becomes a being that has supernatural powers, whose personality is transformed. Like yoga, the dance induces trance, ecstasy, the experience of the divine, the realisation of one's own secret nature, and, finally, merger with the divine essence. And to work magic, to put enchantment upon others, one has first to put enchantments upon oneself.
The tribal people called him Pashupati, Shiva in the human form, sitting with wild beasts. While the Dravidian people devised Pashupatinatha, their contemporaries, the Khashas, who had spread in Himalayan interiors, personified the fluxion of elemental ferocity as Rudra. These two archetypal deities belonging to pre- and proto- historic periods were inter-fused to form a deity possessing both benevolent and malevolent characteristics. That is why the archetypal image of Shiva is both of the destroyer and of the healer.
Next in history, came farmers who worshipped the Great Mother of fertility and gave bloody animal sacrifices to the earth to create fertility. They made the Great Goddess Shiva’s companion who represented magical powers. She was called Shakti. Since the Hindus have no problem worshiping God in female form, Shiva can be worshiped as a female, or as male and female at the same time. Shaivites and Sadhus generally see Shiva in male form. They do however recognise that he exists only through the grace of Shakti a female ground of being. The matriarchal planters also connected Shiva to the fertility symbol, the phallus, serpents and bulls. The plants, animals, object, our bodies, everything carries and transmits energy. But the biggest carrier of energy that we are physically in touch with is Mother Earth herself – the ground that we walk on. Shiva linga resting on yonipitha is a grand composite symbol of cosmos and creation.
The Meluhan people also had a belief that everything in the world is a carrier of shakti or energy. In the novel Sati is Shakti. It is through Sati, Shiva realises his powers as a God. Shiva falls in love with Sati who is the daughter of the Meluhan King, Daksha. Shiva believes that he is incomplete without Sati; therefore, he wants to marry her at any cost. Sati, in the novel, is a Vikarma, a secluded section of the society, because she gave birth to an unborn child and is also a widow. Shiva realises that he can use his position as the Mahadeva to abolish such a practice and thus can marry Sati. Sati, in the novel, also emerges as a great warrior who very valiantly fights in the war against the Chandravanshis and also survives the attacks on her by the Nagas, another tribe at war with the Suryavanshis.
The dominant culture of India has evolved from Indo-European tribes of cattle herders who conquered India five thousand years ago. These Aryans were patriarchal warriors. They brought horses, horse sacrifice, worship of fire, sun and holy cows and a language kin to the European tongues with them. The wisdom of this tradition was eventually recorded in the Vedic scriptures. In the Vedic period Shiva emerged as an ambivalent deity symbolising creation, preservation and destruction. The Aryans turned him into a fire god, Agni and introduced soma (an intoxicating drink), into the worship. The people of Meluha, also value Somras which has made them immortal. This Somras is manufactured on the Mount Mandar by using the water of the river Sarswati which is on the verge of extinction. The same somrasa is used by the Meluhans to discover their saviour.
Aryan domination lasted without major threat until the twelfth century. At that point Muslim rulers attempted to invade India. Wandering Shiva Sadhus still performed their rituals outdoors; however after the invasion of Alexander the Great rectangular stone temples were built.
The Zarathustrian concept of one God of Gods brought in the idea of the Great God Mahadev. Later, Jews came to India when the Romans destroyed the temple at Jerusalem. The Portuguese brought Christianity to Goa. The British dominated India for two hundred years and left well-trained officials, cricket, teatime, Hindu English. All these emigrations and invasions left a trace on India and have contributed to the evolution of Shiva. The bhakti school preached by Tamil saints depicted Shiva the dancing god and the God of Love, similar to Christ because Shiva drank the world's poison created by the other gods churning the primal ocean. To these worshipers, Shiva is both a caring mother and a good shepherd.
Throughout the evolutionary process of Shiva from tribal stage to highly abstruse and abstract concept, Shiva has remained associated with the two vital and contradictory Universal principles of Preservation and Destruction. In the novel, The Immortals of Meluha, Shiva is the preserver of the people of Meluha and destroyer of the evil. He is also the healer, who heals the wounds of Sati when she gets badly wounded while saving the life of Shiva in an attack by the Nagas.
The Shiva trilogy is based on the premise that Lord Shiva was not a figment of a rich imagination, but a person of flesh and blood, a man who rose to become godlike because of his karma. The novel interprets the rich mythological heritage of ancient India, blending fiction with historical fact. Shiva in Hindu theology is identified with a family having a wife, sons, and surrounded by small, big, species as ferocious creatures like Basaha bull (Nandi bull), snake with its dangerous hood, mice, peacock etc to name a few, but Hindu saints, seers and scholars do not give in to a situation in which Shiva has a mother, father, brother or sister. Such anecdotes or narratives are prevalent among the tribal and non-literate as well as untouchable communities in India where in Shiva has been projected as a loving son of his mother. Amish Tripathi, also following the conventional mode, surrounds his protagonist Shiva with characters like Nandi, Sati, Daksha, Veerbhadra and refrains from showing his father, mother, brother and sister. Tribal traditions and mythology tend to mystify Shiva with all these elements and aspects. Amish Tripathi using these same elements has demystified this primal god. There is a renaissance-like shift from the theocentric to geocentric representation. But at the same time this demystification involves an existentialist and postmodernist position. The postmodern condition declares the “death of the god” (Nietzsche 2006: 211). However, the death of God is added with additional responsibility that a human being has to stand for his own action. Shiva is one who stands for his own actions and for his people. He turns into an icon of “ethics of action and involvement.” Because he saves the world, he consumes the poison, he takes upon a destructive avatar to destroy the evil, he craves for Sati for procreation, he struggles, he fights, he bear the pains, sufferings, deaths and destruction, he heals, he acts, becomes responsible for his actions and pays the price for them. His self extends to include the world around him and thus turning, godly, saintly and divine, which uplifts him to the pedestal of being a deity. This is Amish Tripathi’s contribution in revoking the figure of Shiva that he induces the human aspect in this figure that had long lived and existed in the human psychology. In other words, he reasserts the importance of Shiva as a human archetype that not only needs to be worshipped and praised, but to be followed, an archetype that needs to be restored in human psyche not as an imagined deity, but as a reality to be lived.
1. Refer to Mishra Kailash Kr. 1999. Village Report of Saurath (Prepared under the IGNCA-UNESCO Project on Village India “Identification and Enhancement of India’s Cultural Heritage: An Internal Necessity in the Management of Development.
2. Refer to Dieter Storl ,Wolf. Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy. Rochester Vermont: Inner Tradtitions.
3. They lived in ancient ways in the jungles and mountains and conjured spirits and danced shamanic dances.
Chatterjee, Abhinaba. 2014, “Humanizing Theography through Mystical Mythology: Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy” in Research and Criticism, Journal of the Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, pp 72.
Dewr, Dagonet. 2007, Sacred Paths for Modern Men: A Wake Up Call from Your 12 Archetypes, New York, Llewellyn Publications.
Dieter Storl, Wolf. Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy, Rochester Vermont, Inner Tradtitions.
Nietzsche, Frederich. 2006, The Gay Science, Trans. Thomas Common, New York, Dover Publication.
Tripathi, Amish. 2010, The Immortals of Meluha, New Delhi, Westland ltd.
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