It IS Rudra….the Adi Yogi, a small voice whispered to me, but I did not believe it, not even when I saw his iridescent blue neck, and the fire of destruction glowing in his third eye. Suryashashankavahninayanam……. the voice inside my head intonated one of the many names of Shiva. Still I did not believe it….for how can it be? How can I behold Shiva the auspicious one, the immortal ascetic with my bodily eyes? He, who cannot be seen even by the Gods, or by the ascetics who burn their mortal flesh in the fires of penance; how can he appear here, before me, like an ordinary aghori?
The Adi Yogi climbed up the steps of the ghat, the ghat named after his wife Lalita, and stood before me in full splendor. I felt my legs buckle under me, felt the warm tears roll down my cheeks, as I kneeled down on the ghat, in fear, and excitement, and devotional fervour. As I looked up at the tall figure standing before me, I saw his eyes soften, the anger slowly replaced by karuna, compassion! He was no more Rudra, he was Shiva! He raised his right hand and brought together the thumb and the index finger in a pinching position, the abhaya mudra, the benevolent pose.
For centuries, devout Hindus have believed that if one dies in Kashi, in the last moments of one’s life Rudra whispers the secret to everlasting life, the secret to moksha, in the condemned man’s, or woman’s, ears. This releases the soul of the person who is dying, from the eternal cycle of life and death, and consigns his or her spirit to the abode of Shiva, the Shivaloka. And thus, I was sure, that my end was imminent, for why would Rudra show himself to me otherwise?
I am lucky, I thought, to be eased into the other world with the help of Rudra himself! With this thought, came great peace – I was ready!!!!
I closed my eyes, and prayed. I could see him, even with my mortal eyes closed. I could see him stand there in front of me, then move forward a little, and bend. Leaning on his trident, the Neelkanth, whispered into my ear – ‘Shivoham – I too am Shiva!’
I opened my eyes in surprise, and looked at him, wide eyed. He was smiling, his eyes twinkling mischievously.
Then he stepped back, and resumed his climb up the steps, as I kept kneeling, frozen in my place. After a moment, he paused, looked back, and beckoned me, gesturing with a finger of his right hand, commanding me to follow him……….
Shivoham – I am Shiva!!