The Churning of Oppositions and Extremes in the Mythology of Śiva

Submitted to The University of Auckland for the degree of Master of Fine Arts


The Hindu mythmakers attribute opposing qualities to the god named Śiva. He is the ascetic archetype, but also the god of the phallus. He appears in paradoxical guises incorporating divergent facets of human experience. At once awful and auspicious, effeminate and masculine, intoxicated and sober, he is as an embodiment of death, as well as life.

In this thesis, I examine the problem of oppositions and extremes using the mythology of Śiva as schema. I retell and interpret five myths, then analyse how the god challenges the ordinary ways in which binary phenomena are reconciled: (1) ‘The either/or.’ One side is chosen as right or better over the other. (2) ‘The intermediary.’ A resolution is achieved by figuring a third position through synthesis or by compromise. (3) ‘The equivalence of opposites.’ By asserting the equivalence of both sides, a transcendent category of unity is proposed. (4) ‘The dual significance.’ The contrariness of both sides is equally affirmed and irresolution maintained. (5) ‘Both–and.’ The binary is reframed so that multiple aspects of contrariety are introduced.

This thesis is an invitation to think the problem of duality differently, accounting for the inherent uneasiness and unsettling aspects of the world. By becoming intimate with the god who is composed of fearsome contradictions, my contention is that we can develop a sensitised rigour when dealing with the complexities of oppositions and extremes.

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Balamohan Shingade