Another of Lord Siva’s popular epithet is Shankara or Samkara. Samkara takes the meaning of a doer of good deeds or who is the same or stable in all deeds. It also means the benevolent one; the kind one. Interpretations of the sacred name Sankara would be enriched by the subjective Puranic events.
Shankara may be fragmented as ‘shanka’ and ‘hara’. Shanka means doubt and hara means dispeller or destroyer. It also means Lord. The word Shankara can also mean He who dispels or destroys doubts. Shankara rules over our disbeliefs and hesitations and establishes firm faith in us through his compelling nature. By dispelling our doubts and establishing faith, He destroys all our bondage.
Shankara or Sankara also imply sankata + hara, that is he who destroys or ends all difficulties. Sincere prayers to Shankara can be very effective. The Lord is easily pleased with pure devotion and responds immediately. Siva is known for his boon giving nature, which at times causes trouble because when he is pleased he can be very generous even to the evil characters. Here the Lord displays his forgiving and boon giving nature. Truthful devotion to Shankara can be rewarding, at least for peace of mind. He can also be very generous to evil characters if they pray to him with sincere devotion.
Generally, the terms Siva or Sankara mean Auspicious. Sam means Chitaananda or Blissful Awareness. Kara means the one who causes it. Sankara means the One who causes blissful awareness. Sankara is the One who confers Chitaananda on those who take refuge in Him or adore Him.
Shankara can also refer to the simplicity of offering prayers. The Lord accepts everything and everyone. Something which has been discarded by the whole world finds solace and shelter in Shiva. Shiva appreciates things for their positive characteristics while ignoring the negative attributes. It is said that he can be appeased easily if the devotee has a pure heart. Shiva is offered bilva leaves, dhatura fruit, water and milk. Shiva likes to keep things simple and finds grandeur unnecessary. Indeed he is not ornamentally cosmetic like most gods. Thus Shiva is Shankara, the giver, the one who is easily appeased.
Shankara was born in Kaladi to Sivaguru and Shivataraka Aryamba. They were childless and prayed at Vadakkunathan Temple in Trisur. It is said that Lord Shiva appeared and offered them a choice. They chose the boon of an extraordinary son who would not live long. He was named Shankara in honour of Lord Shiva.
Daksha’s yagna, Sati’s immolation and Veerabhadra’s attack has been repeatedly told.On seeing Daksha, Veerbhadra beheaded him as Daksha was the reason of the self immolation of Sati. When Shiva appeared at Daksha’s yagna he was filled with pity and grief. He then carried Sati’s body and ran with rage. He rolled all over like a crazy person, as if he was dancing the final Tandava of destruction before him. The whole world was terrified because nobody knew what he was going to do. He would not stand in one place. He ran from place to place – the whole creation, as it were – holding Sati’s body, and he looked as if he was inebriated and had lost his sense. He was conscious only of Sati’s dead body, and was moving fiercely like a whirlwind, like a tornado, like a tempest.
Everyone asked for Shiva’s mercy. But all the gods were frightened, and went to Lord Vishnu: “Please do something. Everything is in danger. He is not going to leave this body; and what he will do finally, nobody knows.” Then Sri Vishnu, Narayana, released his sudarshana chakra, which sliced Sati’s body into little pieces; and because of the ravaging movement of Siva, the pieces were scattered and fell in seven different places. It is believed that all the spots where parts of this body fell are sakti sthalas, and even today they are worshipped in various parts in this country.
Then the gods, including Brahma, went to Siva. Vishnu greeted Siva and said, “Calm down. Please pardon this man Daksha. His behaviour was due to ignorance, and you should not punish an ignorant person. Calm down. Bless him. Let him be allowed to continue his yajna. After all, he is a foolish person, and are you going to be so enraged at the foolishness of this man?”
Then Lord Siva calmed down. But how could the yajna continue when Daksha’s head had gone? So a goat’s head was brought and fixed on Daksha, and he was enlivened to the person that he was.
He immediately realised his mistake and prostrated – sashtanga namaskaram – before Lord Siva, and chanted the Rudra mantra, Namakam and Chamakam. Daksha was so overwhelmed by Shiva’s generosity that he gave him the name Shankara, the benevolent one.The yajna was completed. Brahma, Vishnu, Siva blessed the yajna, and everything went on well.
What is to be pointed here is the purport of Daksha calling Lord Shiva as Shankara. The Lord’s vengeance did not overpower his merciful nature. Even though Daksha was the reason of his wife’s death, he restored him back. The all-merciful Shiva is thus known as the giving god, lord of mercy and kindness. He always protects his devotees from evil forces like lust, greed and anger.
The name Shankara also occurs in the Mahabharata. One day, when Arjuna was seated with Sri Krishna at the close of the day’s battle, Arjuna queried Krishna that when he was engaged in battle with Drona and Karna, he saw some vague being moving about, not touching the ground. It was sometimes visible, sometimes not visible. It had ashes on its body, a serpent on the neck, and a trident in hand. Arjuna could not make out what it was. It was an illusion before him. At the time he could not speak about this because he was engaged in war. He remembered the incident and asks Sri Krishna who that could be?
Sri Krishna said, “You are a blessed man to have that vision. It was Lord Shankara himself, invisibly moving in the battlefield to help you. Otherwise, even with all your archery, with all your might and name, knowledge and power, do you believe that you can face people like Bhishma, Drona and Karna? They are all a hundred times stronger than you. Shiva, in is compassion, came uninvited to bless you because of your goodness. He did not engage in battle, and did not come to wage war with the Kurus, but His very presence was enough to paralyse the strength of all the Kurus.
The very odour emanating from His body was enough to cow down everybody and make them lose all their strength. Such is the glory of Siva, the great Shankara and you had the Lord’s darshan. Blessed you are, Arjuna! He is ashutosh – immediately pleased. Ask, and it is given immediately. You did not call him, but he knew that you require help. Unsolicited, the great master, the great god, comes to you.”
Lord Siva is referred as Sankara in this Purana. Sage Narad asks Pulastya- “O revered sage! Why did Shri Hari take the incarnation of Vaaman? Why did Prahlad fight a battle with the deities despite being a devotee of Lord Vishnu? How did Sati, Daksha Prajapati’s daughter become Mahadev’s consort in her next birth? I am eager to know the answers to all these questions.”
Pulastya replied- “O Narad! Once, Sati requested Lord Shankar to make arrangements for a permanent abode. At that time, Lord Shankar had his abode at Mandaar Mountain. Summer season was approaching and Sati quite rightly had apprehensions of living in the open. Lord Shankar told her that as he was a recluse, he never felt a need of a permanent dwelling. Though Sati was not satisfied by his answers yet she kept quiet. This way, both of them continued to live there. The summer season had passed and now it was the turn of rainy season to arrive. Sati made the same request to Lord Shankar. This time, Lord Shankar told her that it was impossible for him to construct a house, as he had no wealth. He also told her that he had only a tiger skin as his clothing, the king cobra- his sacred thread, Padma and Pingal snakes- his ear-rings and Keval and Dhananjay as his armlets.
After hearing this, Sati became worried as to how she would pass the rainy season without a home. Lord Shankar then assured her that this problem would be easily solved if she lived above the clouds. This way, she would remain untouched by the showers. After this, both of them ascended towards the sky and started living above the clouds. From that day onwards, Lord Shankar came to be known as Jeebhootvaahan, one whose vehicle is the cloud.
Hara Hara Mahadeva.
by Yogi Ananda Saraswathi