Sunday, September 11, 2011


Associated with: Hinduism
Also known as: Rudra, Nataraja, Mahādeva, Maheśhvara, Parameśhvara; 10,000 additional names
Earliest recorded mention: c. 1700 BCE
Major texts: the Upanishads, the Mahabharata (including the Bhagavad Gita)

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
Bhagavad Gita, ch. 11, v. 32

Shiva is one of the major gods of Hinduism — depending on the sect, the major god, one of the top three, or one of the top five. Eternal and omniscient, Shiva is the god of destruction but also lord of the dance. He is always depicted as a handsome and smiling young man, but he covers himself with ashes. One of his names, Rudra, means "terrible," while another, Śaṇkara, means "beneficent." He is ascetic and celibate, but also married to the goddesses Sati and Parvati, and father of Ganesha and Kartikeya. With his many hands he gives, and he takes away.

To call Shiva the god of death, as my 9th grade World Cultures textbook did, is telling only half the story, and missing the point in a major way. A belief in reincarnation is central to Hinduism, and Shiva is a god not so much of death but of transformation. Everything dies, but everything is reborn. Shiva, who is eternal, expands rather than reincarnates, and symbolizes the constant balancing and renewal of the universe.

This idea of transformation is powerful and feels like a fundamental truth. We see it in the change of seasons and in the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians: "I will tell you something that has been secret: that we are not all going to die, but shall all be changed."

I don't remember much about September 11, 2001. I was living in Los Angeles, and in the habit of getting up very early, as most of my clients were on the East Coast. I took Dizzy for a walk around the block, then booted up my computer. The headline on my web browser announced that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. At 6:30, the phone rang. It was my friend Meredith, who shared an apartment with my cousin Moira in West Hollywood. She told me to turn on the television, that it was terrible.

Within the hour several of us had gathered at Meredith and Moira's. We spent the day there, watching the television and calling everyone we knew in New York and Washington, as the telephone lines jammed and we waited for the next attack. When I eventually drove home, the streets of Los Angeles were as empty as if a neutron bomb had hit it.

We were all transformed that day, and the transformation continues. Shiva reminds us that joy comes from sorrow, that life comes from death, and that even the gods dance.


Jeff K said...

Lovely and thoughtful.

Anonymous said...

Living in central D.C. on Sept. 11 and working literally across the street from the State Department, I probably should have been scared that day. But then, as now, I was just bewildered and sad that anyone could have hated the very idea of America enough to perpetrate the attacks.

The African, South American, Middle Eastern and European first-generation immigrants I spent the day drinking with at my local bar shared my sentiments.


Kaye Barley said...

this is lovely.
Thank you.

Sue Lin said...

Your thoughts are a must-read. Thank you for your eloquence and sharing your own memories from 10 years ago. I will always remember being with co-workers in DC at Vermont & K Sts, NW, getting call from someone in the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. and seeing smoke billowing from the Pentagon across the river. A long line of silent walkers leaving the downtown area, miles to get home that morning.

TienDream said...

another nicely written post. I have much to learn.