Most of you must have heard of the dancing form of Lord Shiva, Lord Nataraja. Usually, artists and dancers worship this form of the dancing Lord Shiva, standing on one leg in a dance position with the other leg in the air and arms in dance mudras. You will notice that he is standing on someone, a small dwarf-like being, sometimes looks like a child, this is the demon Apasmara and today we will touch upon his story and how Lord Shiva managed to control him and why. I felt like touching upon this particular story as the current world affairs, fake news, controversies, mudslinging by people at power, blame games, people saying whatever they feel like under the blanket of free speech, believe me, this story will resonate and resonate loud. Most of you may know this story, yet I urge you to read along, maybe something new might strike you.
Apasmara is a demon, yes he still exists and will continue to exist as he is crucial for the balance of the world. Darkness is required to make the light shine brighter, so he was not killed by Lord Shiva he was subdued. Apasmara is the demon who brings ignorance, especially spiritual ignorance, and tempts people to say things that add no value and do more harm, he leads people away from spiritual practices and makes them question core values without any intention of a healthy debate, the questioning is just to hurt, and injure basic structure of society and corrode the fabric of values. He makes it seem cool, makes it seem logical, and makes it seem necessary so much so that people are blinded to the actual purpose in life. In Ayurveda, Epilepsy is also known as Apasmara where the person cannot control his actions when fits take over. It also indicates symptoms of dementia, amnesia, gibberish or slurring speech.
Just log onto social media or watch news for 20 mins, and all you see is Apasmara smeared on the screen. The “he said, she said” mudslinging without any solid proof, the blame games without anyone taking responsibility, people questioning why they should stand when the National Anthem is played, people questioning fundamental value systems, fake news with altered images and edited videos causing rift in society and actually making enemies out of friends who otherwise have no issues with each other. We have let Apasmara run loose and some people even seem to have embodied him. I was amazed at the way the media can gaslight major issues and just turn the debate into something else, recently with the war on drugs, where being caught red-handed doing drugs is being diluted to seem normal and the police are being targeted for taking action. Creating illusion and misguiding people from real issues and normalizing terrorism, I was shocked when some political figure in another country praised the Taliban and said they are normal citizens. He actually called them regular citizens, this group that beheads people for singing, dancing, cracking jokes, or even for not having a beard is now being turned into normal citizens, this is Apasmara in action. They say a lie repeated a thousand times starts being accepted as the truth and allows slow corrosion of human values. I will write more about this in my article on the power of words.
Coming back to our story, Goddess Parvati(wife of Lord Shiva) is upset with Lord Shiva and in her anger, she vows to forget everything, her family, her husband, and go back to her parent’s house with memories of never being married. With her own will, she forgets her children and husband and goes back to live with her parents. She is unhappy and she feels really sad but since she has no memory she is unable to understand why. Lord Shiva then through various means tries to bring her memory back, she forgets that she is a goddess, the mother of this universe, she forgets her roles and responsibilities towards creation, and all her powers disappear, this affects the entire cosmos as Adishakti is the vital force running this world. Lord Shiva disguises himself as a sanyasi and approaches her, since she is restless, she seeks his guidance to find the cause of her state and she becomes his disciple. He trains her in Ashtanga Yoga a yogic practice of self-realization. She progresses well but there is still illusion, darkness, and confusion in her mind. She is unable to remember her true self and who she really is. Sounds familiar? Does this remind you of your own internal struggle, to know who you really are? Because no matter the titles we acquire, the relations we create, the question of our true identity beyond this body always persists. Intellectually we seek answers in books, interviews, sermons, etc but each situation in life shows us a part of ourselves we never knew. At times we look back and are shocked at how much we have overcome in life and how strong we really are internally. For the Goddess too this internal struggle goes on and the main obstacle in bringing her back to her true nature is her memory. Apasmara the demon is delighted when the Goddess forgets everything as he becomes more powerful and he ensures that he keeps the Goddess in that state. He wants to rule the world and control the world on his whim.
Lord Shiva calls out Apasmara and warns him to stop creating confusion and illusion. But Apasmara in his arrogance and power becomes cocky. He knows that no one can kill him, if he is killed the balance in the world will be affected, so he mocks Lord Shiva and he claims that no one can catch him as he is too fast and can escape through illusion and falsehood, he claims that he is a fantastic actor and can fool anyone. Lord Shiva then tells him that no matter how dark the illusion and falsehood, the rays of yoga and sadhana i.e. spiritual penance and practice, can cut through it all. Lord Shiva is the Adiyogi, the first-ever yogi and he is always in his spiritual sadhana and penance, he takes the form of Lord Nataraja, the king of actors and artists, and starts performing the Tandava dance, the sound from his drum and the dance is so powerful that eventually, Apasmara collapses and Lord Shiva’s Nataraja avatar stands on him, subduing him for eternity. The Goddess then is able to complete her Ashtang yoga learning from Lord Shiva and returns to her Goddess state, the world is saved once again. The leela of the gods or the play of the gods to teach us valuable life hacks.
Stories are ways to communicate deep philosophies and teachings of life, they may seem too simple or at times ridiculous to imagine but the point is not the aesthetics, it is the message.We need to integrate our thoughts and focus on a higher power every day even for a few minutes in the form of prayer or meditation or kriya or pranayama because only these practices can help us conquer the Apasmara in and around us. Our brains have been known to create false memories, hence Apasmara is still alive and lives within all of us, but Lord Shiva shows us that conquering this demon is possible and necessary for any growth individually as well as a collective.
Knowledge dismisses ignorance and that is true but knowledge is limited and worldly knowledge can be twisted and turned and a horrifying version emerges. The current world affairs are like the “Dyut Sabha” in Mahabharata where laws were twisted and debated and loopholes found just to subdue and conquer property. What we need, to not only survive but flourish in the world is this mindfulness, integration of thoughts that are scattered throughout the day, bringing back focus to things that matter, and holding on tightly to value systems that seem to be eroding. Not just by armchair activism, but by being living examples, by being the models we want our children to follow, by bringing in some semblance of discipline in our lives when it comes to grounding our thoughts. Bringing integrity in our lives where actions and speech go hand in hand and we practice what we preach.
Next time the demon Apasmara clouds your brain, sit down, take a deep breath, and do any of the spiritual or mindfulness practices for a few minutes, ground yourself, integrate your scattered thoughts, and focus, you will definitely find your path ahead.
“To rise above the modifications of your mind,
when you cease your mind,
when you cease to be a part of your mind,
that is yoga”Sadhguru