According to legend, the moon god, Chandra, was born three times, which is why he also came to be known as Trijanmi. The first time, he was created by Brahma, and the second time, he emerged from the eyes of Sage Atri. Chandra’s radiance became so powerful and intolerable that he was immersed in an ocean of milk to ensure the world’s survival. During another event, which involved the churning of the ocean by the asuras and the devas, Chandra was reborn and released, along with Goddess Lakshmi. Chandra came to be known as Lakshmi’s brother.
Among his 27 wives, Daksha’s daughters, Chandra was especially fond of his fourth wife, Rohini, and spent most of his time with her. The other wives resented his indifference to them and complained about it to their father. Daksha immediately cursed Chandra. ‘May your powers decline with the passing of each day,’ he said, losing his temper as usual.
Now the daughters regretted telling Daksha what they had. Their intention was not to punish Chandra—all they wanted was his attention. What if their husband simply disappeared one day along with his powers?
Chandra begged Daksha to take the curse back. But once a curse is uttered, no one can revoke it. ‘I am sorry, son,’ Daksha said. ‘There is nothing that I can do now. Perhaps if you pray to Shiva, he may help you.’
Holding on to this slim ray of hope, Chandra went to the famed holy ground Prabhas Patan, established a linga and prayed earnestly to Shiva. Pleased with Chandra’s devotion, Shiva appeared and said, ‘Chandra, I empathise with your plight and, though I cannot reverse Daksha’s curse, I can soften it to some extent. From this day onward, you will increase in brightness for 15 days in Shukla Paksha and then wane for 15 days in Krishna Paksha. You will fill the world with your radiance on full moon days and disappear on new moon days.’
Chandra was disappointed at the thought of waxing and waning. His crescent shape would just be a constant reminder of the curse and his reduced strength! Shiva consoled him by saying, ‘My dear child, the crescent indicates that you will still retain some of your powers. I will wear your crescent in
my hair to show my devotees that they are dear to me even in their lowest moments. That way you will be my constant companion.’
Thus Shiva came to be known as Chandrasekhar, or ‘the one with Chandra mounted on his head’.
The moon came to be known as Soma and one day of the week—Somvar or Monday—was dedicated to him. The linga that Chandra worshipped became famous as the pilgrimage site of Somnath in Gujarat. Generous donations were made to this site, which was later plundered 17 times. This linga is considered to be the first jyotirlinga in our country.
Those 27 wives of Chandra are the constellations surrounding the moon’s orbit, and are frequently referred to as nakshatras or stars. The names of these nakshatras—for example, Kritika, Rohini and Ashwinin—are still an important part of the Hindu calendar.
Mandara the mountain was a great devotee of Parvati because of her kindness and the fact that she was the daughter of the king of mountains. Parvati lived with her husband, Shiva, on Mount Kailash but Mandara longed for her presence on his mountain.
One day, Shiva and Parvati danced for many hours on end. Finally tired, Parvati stopped to rest, wiping the sweat off her forehead with her hand. The droplets fell on Mandara and a sapling sprang up there, growing taller and stronger until it became a beautiful tree within a few months. Nobody had ever seen this tree before. Each of its twigs sprouted three leaves and it also bore fruit.
Mandara took some twigs to Parvati. When he met her, he asked, ‘This tree was born of your sweat. What must I do with it?’Parvati looked at the twigs and the leaves thoughtfully. ‘What a wonderful tree!’ she exclaimed. ‘The three leaves indicate the three eyes of Lord Shiva and the three stages of all existence—birth, the journey of life and death. They also represent the three realms—heaven, earth and the world below. So three is an auspicious number.’
She beamed at Mandara and continued, ‘Your faith and devotion pleases me. This tree will be called the
Bilva tree and the leaves, Bilva patra. Everyone must pray to Shiva with these leaves. And since we are inseparable, worshipping in this manner also means worshipping me. You will always have the Bilva tree on your mountain.’
Mandara couldn’t contain his happiness and prostrated himself before the beautiful goddess. His prayers had been answered. This is why Bilva leaves are used as an offering to Shiva even today. Extracted from The Man from the Egg, Unusual Tales About the Trinity by Sudha Murty, published by Puffin Books (Penguin Random House, India), MRP: `250