The consequences of the destructive fire by Siva’s anger, and the saving grace of Brahma’s fire Mare, and the protection of a great Ocean…
The Mare of Fire
Pp 83 – 85
According to most story-tellers, when Siva burnt Kama to ashes with a blast of fire from his third eye, he soon revived him again, persuaded by his wife Parvati. But in another story, the destruction wasn’t limited to Kama himself. The fire spread through the whole world and universe, and tormented with its smoke and heat not only men and all earthly creatures but the inhabitants of heaven: gods, Gandharvas and celestial sages. Cries of fear and pain rang out through the earth and sky; all creatures clung to their mates and offspring, trying to protect them from the flames, though they themselves were scorched and choking.
Appalled by what was happening to good and evil creatures alike, the sages of heaven went into a body to Brahma. They folded their palms together and did deep obeisance before him and praised his divinity with songs prayers; then one of them stepped forward and said: ‘Kama is a force for life and fertility in the world. Without his arrows, creatures would not procreate and creation would not unfold. Gods too – even the great god Siva – must succumb to his power at times. For Siva to remain locked in meditation and asceticism is not good for the world. Kama was only trying to revive his proper energy, and to remind him not to neglect his wife. But see what damage Siva’s anger has done! Hear the cries of woe from all three worlds, as the fire from his third eye continues to rage and flame! It threatens the future of all, and we beg you to do something about it. Please go to Siva, and persuade him to withdraw his fire – or find some way yourself of calming and containing it.’
Brahma was concerned by what the sages told him, and the fear and distress throughout his Creation could certainly not be ignored. So he agreed to go to Siva.
When Brahma approached the great god, he saw that the fire from his third eye had become a force in itself: it was spreading across the universe through its own energy, consuming everything that lay in its path. It no longer emanated from Siva’s eye, and Siva himself was alarmed by it. It was impossible for Brahma to get close to the god, so thick was the fire and smoke, but Siva’s great voice boomed, ‘If you have come to ask me to stop this blaze, I shall need your help – for it is now beyond my control. It is true I was angry with Kama, and used the fire in my eye to destroy him – at least for a while; but I never intended to set fire to the whole universe. Use your own great power to control the blaze! You are surely more powerful, for it was your own creative fire that brought the universe into existence in the first place.’
There was indeed no other option, and Brahma probed deep into himself and brought up a power so strong that it paralyzed the fire. The yellow-red color and the jagged edges of its flames were still there, but it was fixed and still and Brahma could pick it up in his arms. He lifted it, held it, squeezed and compressed it until it was a small compact ball, then he pushed the ball into the mouth of a heavenly mare, who herself was a breather of fire, and would therefore not be burnt by it.
Brahma then led the mare to the Ocean – not a particular ocean, but the Ocean that lies beyond all oceans – who when he saw Brahma approach, leading a mare with flames coming out of her mouth, assumed the form of a man, and received the god reverently. He folded his palms, and bowed his head, and said, ‘Grandfather of all, I am honored by your presence, and am at your command. Please tell me what you want.’
Brahma said, ‘this mare has in her mouth not just the fire of her own out breathing, but an intense ball of fire into which I have compressed a conflagration that threatened the entire universe. That conflagration was started by Siva, when he burnt Kama to ashes with a blast of fire from his third eye; but the fire got out of hand. It took on an anger and energy of its own, and started to spread through all three worlds. Siva had withdrawn his own fire, but he could not control this general fire, and I had to use my own power to paralyze it. Now I ask you, O Ocean, to take this mare, and keep her tethered in your depths. You must keep her there until the final flood with which the world will end; for if you let her free and she leaps out of the waters and gallops through heaven and earth again, and the ball of fire within her is pushed out of her mouth by the force of her own fiery out breathing, then the raging anger of Siva will be let loose again, to destroy the universe with its flames and smoke. Keep her there, and let your waters enter the throat of the mare as food for the ball of fire – for so intense is its heat that even water can be burnt by it. Let your waters enter the throat of the mare little by little; do not on any account let the ball of fire escape from her mouth; for if it does, all your waters will be consumed by it, and the world will be parched and destroyed by drought.
The Ocean bowed even more reverently when he received this command, and promised to do what Brahma commanded. ‘I shall hold the mare in my depths till the end of time,’ he said, ‘and I shall never cease to watch her carefully, to make sure that my waters only enter her mouth little by little, so that the ball of fire within her can be fed – can remain contained and content from its daily intake of food. I shall never let the ball of fire grow hungry, for then it may try to escape, to consume all my waters. Siva’s anger will be kept inside the mare in my depths, for when the universe ends it will be needed again; but I promise I shall not let it out prematurely. You can have perfect trust in me.’
Brahma was pleased by the Ocean’s reverence and by his promise, and gave him the mare, who was led down to the depths, to be tethered till the end of time. And the creatures of the three worlds who had been so afflicted and threatened were restored to safety again; could breathe pure air again, free of smoke; could bare their skin, without it being burnt; could release their offspring again from their desperate, scorched embrace.