Hindus around the world just celebrated Shivaratri, a night dedicated to the worship and celebration of Lord Shiva. The festivities and worship go on all night, as this is the night – according to some – that Lord Shiva performed the Tandava, the dance of primal creation, preservation, and destruction.
As a child, my mother told me fascinating stories of Lord Shiva, who simultaneously embodies the qualities of being short-tempered, yet quickly pacified and pleased. Hindu epics and stories make countless references to devotees praying to Lord Shiva, above all other manifestations of the Divine, in order to be granted a specific boon. From Ravana, who abducted Sita in the Ramayana, to the famous Queen Draupadi in the Mahabharata, worshippers have for millenia turned to Lord Shiva.
The story of Draupadi and Lord Shiva is my favorite, and perhaps explains that while for many, He represents destruction and death (both which are integral to the workings of our universe), to me, he is the embodiment of pure love that cannot turn away a true devotee. Draupadi was married to the five Pandava brothers, and the reason for that unusual arrangement was the result of a boon from Lord Shiva. According to one version of the Mahabharata, in Draupadi’s past life, she prayed devoutly to Lord Shiva to grant her a husband with five qualities: the wisdom of dharma, strength, amazing archery skills, patience, and exceedingly good looks. Lord Shiva told her that it was impossible for any one man to have all five qualities, but Draupadi insisted, saying that nothing is impossible for God. Never one to turn down a devotee, Lord Shiva granted her the boon. And so, Draupadi ended up marrying the wise Yudhishthira, the strong Bhima, the best archer Arjuna, the handsome Nakul, and the ever patient Sahadeva. It was in this way, Lord Shiva’s fulfilled his promise to Draupadi.