2nd Century: Like every woman in the world, Ratnavati wanted her mother by her side, when she went into labor. She wanted her mother as a pillar of support and strength, as a source of courage and reassurance. Ratnavati was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, who she worshiped by the name, Sevandhinadhar. She had inherited the faith from her father Ratnaguptan, who was a famous merchant and a noble man. Throughout her pregnancy, Ratnavati worshiped Lord Shiva, chanting slokas, doing poojas and offering him flowers and milk. She had complete confidence in the Lord and his mercy and believed Lord Shiva would take care of her at every step. Still, Ratnavati wanted her mother by her side during the childbirth. Even the almighty couldn’t replace the mother.
Ratnavati lived in Tiruchirappalli (Tirchy), a city in TamilNadu, and her mother was in a different town, that was miles apart and was on the other side of the Kaveri river. Hearing the news that her daughter would be delivering a baby soon, Ratnavati’s mother and her two attendants set out to Tirchy. The commute between cities took weeks in those days. Just as they got close to Tirchy, River Kaveri flooded badly and obstructed their journey.
Meanwhile, Ratnavati went into labor and started panicking. She had no idea what was taking her mother so long. A nervous and worried Ratnavati prayed to Lord Shiva. “Oh my almighty, the three-eyed savior! You are not a woman, you don’t have parents, but I do hope you understand what I am going through. Right now, more than anything else, I need my mother by my side. Please help me!”
Moments after her prayer, Ratnavati’s mother showed up at the door. Ratnavati was so relieved to see her. With her mother’s help Ratnavati delivered a beautiful baby. Her mother took care of her for the next few days, assisting her every need and also nurturing the new born. Ratnavati was at complete ease and was happy and relaxed.
Days later, Ratnavati heard someone at the door. She opened the door and was shocked to see her mother and the two attendants. “Oh my dear child! I am so sorry. River Kaveri broke into a huge flood and we had to stop. I was so worried. I was horrified that I couldn’t be with you during your labor. I was praying to Lord Shiva every second, pleading with him to be with you and take care of you. I am so relieved to see you are doing okay.” Her mother broke into tears as Ratnavati stood there in disbelief. Ratnavati rushed inside the house to see the other mother who came few days ago and took care of her and the baby. That mother was no where to be found.
It was Lord Shiva, who had taken the form of Ratnavati’s mother and nurtured her the past few days. It was the three-eyed Lord, who is known for his masculinity, that played the role of the mother, the midwife and the nanny to the new born and looked after the two in need. Ratnavati’s faith and her mother’s prayers had earned them the maternal compassion of Lord Shiva himself. From that day, Lord Shiva was also called Thaayumanavar (The lord, who is also the mother).
The temple of Thaayumanavar is situated in Tirchy at the foothills of the “Rockfort”. During the annual Chithirai festival, Lord Shiva, is dressed as a mother and the divine drama is performed commemorating the motherly mercy of Thaayumanavar. During this festival, a sanctified oil used during childbirth is given away as Prasad (holy blessing) to the devotes.
When Ratnavati cried for help, Lord Shiva could have asked his wife, Goddess Parvati to play the mother, as he did in the case of Sammanthar*, but Shiva chose not to. By this gesture, Lord Shiva showed to the world, that a man could be a mother. (Sammanthar*- Another story from Hindu mythology. Sammanthar as a baby, was left hungry by his mother and Goddess Parvati nursed him on Shiva’s request)
A man can care for, attend to, nurture and thereby play the role of the mother to a child in need. Similarly, a woman can provide and protect a child, which is traditionally considered the role of a father. We are so used to seeing “Mother” and “Father” as nouns that we tend to forget that parenting transcends gender (to mother, to father a child – verb).
This Mother’s day, let us recognize and celebrate, not just biological mothers and mothers from traditional families but all types of parents. From gay fathers to lesbian mothers, from transgender parents to single dads and single moms, all over the world.
Happy Mother’s Day!