Shiva's Story ~
This section will only contain a summarized version of Shiva's story.
The real story is very longwinded.
When the demons and deities churned the Sea of Milk, 14 jewels surfaced. One of them was a poison, which neither the deities nor the demons would accept.
Since the poisonous fumes threatened to devastate the world, Shiva drank the poison.
The poison was so deadly that his throat became blue, which is why Shiva also earned the epithet Nilakantha, the blue-throated.
To relieve Shiva from the burning sensation of the poison, he was given the moon, which had also come out from the ocean, to cool him down.
Thus he wears the crescent moon from then on.
Drinking of this poison wasn't a big deal to Shiva.
He is supposed to have said in the Linga Purana that there is still much poison in this world and those who could drink that poison are the real heroes.
Both poison and nectar reside in the hearts of man and only when human souls are free from poison can they experience the joys of nectar.
Shiva's Hair and the Ganges
The river Ganga flows through the expanse of India in the northern plains often called the Gangetic Plains. The river Ganga, it is believed, was actually a Hindu Goddess. She lived on Kailasa (a mountain peak in the Himalayas and believed to be the home of the Gods) and flowed with grace for the sole pleasure of the Gods there.
Had it not been for Bhagiratha (a powerful Hindu king and sage), she would still be in Kailasa.
Bhagiratha had an ancestor who had 60,000 sons. This ancestor soon ruled over the world and invaded the nether regions, including home of the hermit, Kapila.
The army of young men upset the meditation of the hermit-saint who, in a moment of divine rage, burned every one of them to ashes by looking at them.
The 60,000 souls having been denied the purification that only water can give (a Hindu belief), struggled for peace, haunting Bhagiratha's every waking and resting hour, chasing away his peaceful rest.
By sheerly devoted prayer, meditation and penance, the king soon gained the favor of the Gods, who then granted him a blessing. He asked for Ganga to descend upon the earth from Kailasa, because only her waters could replenish and pacify the souls of his ancestors and bridge the passage from the present to the future.
The Gods pleaded Bhagiratha's cause to Ganga, but Ganga was adamant. She had no desire to leave the heavens and if compelled, she would only destroy the earth by flooding it with her angry waters. The Gods were helpless and advised Bhagiratha to go to Lord Shiva, who, if he wished, could prevent the impending doom. As the matter was of grave consequence, Bhagiratha asked Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva's wife, for her help. Parvati then convinced Shiva to receive the violent currents unleashed by Ganga upon his head and divided the falling waters into many harmless streams through the locks of his hair.
This having been accomplished, made it easy for the river to travel to the center of the earth, pacify the 60,000 and lead Ganga to the ocean.
Filtered through Shiva's hair, the Ganga emerged from the heavens bearing all the reviving powers of the universe. Temple cities dot its meandering course, the most important being Varanasi
(considered India's holiest city and also known as Benaras or Kashi). Here, at the break of dawn, hundreds of devout Hindus flock together and await that special eternal moment when Indra, the king of the Gods and source of life, unites with the sacred, purifying, reviving waters of Ganga.
Water from the Ganges has the recursive property that any water mixed with even the minutest quantity of Ganges water becomes Ganga water and inherits its healing and other holy properties. Also, despite its many impurities, Ganges water does not rot or stink if stored for several days (This is true, though it may have alternate explanations).
Shiva does not always appear as the perfection of beauty and grace. In his Bhairava
manifestation, Shiva himself suffered from having committed the crime of beheading his own father, Brama. This
patricide forms an essential part of Shaivite creation mythology.
Shiva's sin required many years of
atonement during which he wandered about as a guilt-crazed beggar, pursued by a Fury, while his father's skull clung to
his hand to become his begging bowl. Only upon reaching the holy city of Benares did he receive absolution and the
begging bowl drop from his hand.
Bhairava's guilt drove him to insanity and Indian artists
and sculptors portrayed his horrible madness more
frequently than his pathos. Such a frightening image should be
regarded with awe and respect, especially by the devotee who, while recognising the sin of
Shiva, is at the same time assured of the god's mastery of and transcendence over all apparent
evil and suffering.
Ultimately Shiva offers a resolution to all paradoxes of existence through his mythic roles
and actions which contrast, combine, and transcend life's dualities.