Tawny Boar of the Sky

“Now the real treasure, to end our misery and trials, is never far away…. But there is the odd and persistent fact that it is only after a faithful journey to a distant region, a foreign country, a strange land, that the meaning of the inner voice that is to guide our quest can be revealed to us.”[1]

Satī’s corpse fell heavy on Śiva’s body. Still, he took it up and danced fervently, weeping like a common man. The earth trembled. The tortoise and serpent supporting the earth could not bear it, but the tawny boar kept dancing, all three of his eyes whirling. The gods thought him a necrophiliac, but it was his androgynous form that had split. He was half out of his mind. Satī had killed herself in Dakṣa’s sacrificial fire. “Ever since I killed myself,” Satī thought, “Śiva thinks of me constantly, unable to bear his separation from me, miserable because of me. He has abandoned the highest pleasure born of desire.” Kāma, on hearing this, went to wound Śiva with all five arrows.

Agitated by the arrows of Kāma, Śiva started towards the Forest of Pine in an erotic frenzy. Śiva knew he had to resume his tapas. He assumed the form of a Kāpālika, and begged with the skull of Brahmā’s beheaded fifth head. He wandered naked. His hair thick, black, and matted, looking every inch an ascetic who had always been a part of that forest. The Kāpālika looked so handsome as to destroy Kāma’s pride.

The young wives of the forest sages happened upon the Kāpālika, and asked him the cause of his austerities. He told them, “Satī immolated herself to avenge a slight I suffered at the hands of her father. Now, I intend to resume my tapas until the last day.” The wives were overcome by Kāma’s wounds and became incurably attracted to the ascetic. They reminded this stranger of a Vedic verse, “it is written that fire is a woman, the fuel is her lap. When she entices, that is the smoke, and the flames, her vulva. What is done within is the coals, and pleasure is the sparks. The gods always offer seed as oblation in this fire within the human body. Therefore,” they continued, “let us be your sacrificial altar.”

The sages of the forest became anxious. They were eager to resume their holy rituals, and were expecting their wives before Sandhyā showed herself. “Our sacrifice reaches the world of gods only when our wives are with us, but when they are gone the oblation is destroyed and our sins are upon the family.” The sages searched the forests, and discovered a naked ithyphallic ascetic in a state of profound tapas, surrounded by their young wives. The sages became furious. But if they were liberated-in-life, why then this fury? They insisted they were jealous of the Kāpālika, not out of lust for their wives, but only because of a woman’s place in ritual. “You have turned these women against us! Our companions in the sacrifice.” The sages beat and reviled the Kāpālika. “A shameless evil man, a false ascetic, a phony such as yourself should be castrated! There is no other punishment, ever.” The sages performed a curse, and at once, the Kāpālika’s liṅga fell, as if wiped off.

The liṅga fell in snow, and survived. The gods worried. This was far more than what they had bargained for, and so they begged Śiva to rescue his liṅga. “I abandon my liṅga. I will not take it up from the snow or bear it, for what use is it without Satī? It cannot be taken up. It would not be pure.” And so it lay there, growing black as a lemur’s, frost-bitten, besieged by flies. It became the source of a terrible conflagration, heating the universe, and burning it from within. Meanwhile, the tawny boar of the sky passed over the final ridge of grief. He was lost to the world of tapas on the far side of Mount Kailāsa.

The seven sages despaired in realising they had cursed Śiva himself, unfamiliar to them in his Kāpālika form. All troubled creatures went in desperation to Brahmā and Viṣṇu, who tried in vain to find the top and bottom of the liṅga. “As long as the liṅga is not still,” Brahmā said, “there will be nothing auspicious in the universe. You must propitiate Pārvatī, Satī incarnate and daughter of Himālaya, so that she will take the form of the yoni and hold that liṅga within, subduing this holocaust.” All creatures honoured that terrible ascetic Śiva henceforth, in the form of a liṅga enclosed in Pārvatī’s yoni. The image of harnessed energy momentarily suspended.

[1] Heinrich Zimmer. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1946. pp. 219-221). citing Martin Buber. Die Chassidischen Bücher. (Hellerau: Jakob Hegner, 1928. pp. 532-533)


Brahmā, god of creation
Dakṣa, a primeval creator
Kāma, god of desire
Kāpālika, ‘skull-bearer’, a form of Śiva
Pārvatī, incarnation of Satī
Sāndhya, goddess of twilight
Satī, daughter of Dakṣa
Śiva, the supreme god within Śaivism
Viṣṇu, the supreme god within Vaiṣṇavism

liṅga, symbol of the phallus
tapas, ascetic practices
yoni, symbol of the vulva

Published alongside Tawny Boar of the Sky, an exhibition curated by Balamohan Shingade at the Papakura Art Gallery, Auckland, 20 April – 1 June 2013. Image: Tessa Laird, The Path of Love (installation detail), 2013. Courtesy of the artist.


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