Once in Mount Kailash, Parvati invited Shiva to play a game of dice with her. Like a father appeasing his child, Shiva smiled and agreed. Parvati laid down the rules of the game and wanted to have bets. She bet her jewels and Shiva his trident. Shiva lost. The Lord bet his snake. He lost. He bet Ganga, his ashes, rudraksha mala… Shiva kept losing. After a few rounds he did not have anything else to wager. So the game ended, and completely unperturbed, Shiva retired to Samadhi.
Lord Vishnu, Shiva’s dearest friend, who was watching the game, approached Shiva and told him, ‘Ask Parvati to play with you again. This time I will be with you. Let us see what happens!’ Shiva smiled and accepted. Parvati, a little surprised by Shiva’s interest in the game, sat down to play. This time she lost every game. She felt sure that Shiva was cheating and told him so. At this moment Vishnu appeared and told her that it was his energy that had entered and influenced the dice. Shiva was as innocent as ever. So, while Shiva won, Parvati had never lost.
Our lives are like this game of dice. Parvati is the Maya Shakti and Shiva represents the innocent, blissful consciousness. Most people, even if they do get a glimpse of something higher, get caught up in the daily routines of life. With storms of emotions raging within them, more often than not Maya Shakti emerges as the winner.
The spirit of enquiry and spiritual longing takes a back seat. However regular sadhana, practice of yoga and meditation, and listening to knowledge—all this can win over Maya Shakti and help you to be established in the Self. This is Vishnu Shakti. Lord Vishnu is the one who sustains and preserves everything in creation. Having control over the vagaries of the mind does not mean a reduction in enjoyment—on the contrary, we just become stress-free and our life becomes a celebration! Parvati was not so convinced that she had not lost.
So, Shiva explained to her that the entire creation is an illusion. Nature is an illusion. Matter is a mirage. Even food is Maya. The winning or losing of an illusion is meaningless. Parvati did not take this very well. In anger she said, ‘If even food is just an illusion, let us see how creation fares without it!’ and disappeared. There was havoc in the world as droughts and famines struck. The fire of hunger consumed all beings and the pain was unbearable.
Seeing her own children suffer, compassion welled up in the heart of Parvati and she came to the earth, in Kashi, and set up a kitchen where she served all those who came to her for nourishment. Seeing this, Shiva took the form of a mendicant and went to her asking for alms. Parvati recognised Shiva and was happy to see her Lord. Gurudev often says, ‘The dancer and the dance cannot be separated, so also the creator and his creation. Shiva lovingly told Parvati, ‘This world and you are verily a part of me.’ The world is as illusory as the dance, neither real nor unreal. One does not try to understand a dance—you simply rejoice in it.
In the same way, the Brahman and Maya Shakti are beyond the realm of the intellect, yet they can be realised in the finite body.’ Annapoorna, holding a full spoon in her hand, represents nourishment at all levels, gross and subtle. Nourishment is an important aspect of growth. When nourishment is in the mother’s hand, then it can be assured that it is wholesome. The hand of divinity is nourishing all aspects of our life. This ever-giving, ever-sharing aspect results in abundance. When you give or share, the thing that you give multiplies, be it knowledge or material things.
When you are full, only then can you share; and when you share, you become full—they are complementary.
Anna refers to ‘food’, poorna is ‘fullness’. When you eat food, you can immediately experience contentment and fullness at the gross level. Similarly, anna daana, meaning offering of food, brings contentment in the other person who receives the offering. These glimpses of fullness and contentment can be expressed through other actions as well. Whenever you taste that contentment, it takes you to a higher state of consciousness. An unfulfilled person cannot reach the higher states.
Experiencing fullness in the gross layer can lead to fulfillment and contentment in the subtle too.
There is a story that the erstwhile King of Kashi came in the guise of a mendicant to partake of the food that Annapoorna Devi was offering to all. The Devi knew that the king had come and served him the way she would serve any other person who came to her. He felt very blessed. After having had his food, he went up to the Devi and confessed that he was actually the king but wanted an opportunity to have the food served by her.
The Devi told him, ‘O King, you are pure of heart. I am pleased with you. Ask for any boon from me.’ The king instantly requested that the Devi should always stay in Kashi and bless all those who came to her there. The temple for Annapoorna Devi is considered very holy and thousands flock each day to seek her blessings. It is situated right next to the temple of Lord Vishwanatha (Shiva) in Kashi.
There is another temple for Annapoorna in Cherukunnam, Kerala. The tradition is that in the night, after every one is fed, a packet of food is left tied to the branch of a tree so that even the thief who prowls about in the night should not go without food. Another sacred temple for Annapurna is located at Horanadu on the banks of River Bhadra amidst thick forests in the Chikmagalur district in the Western Ghats of Karnataka.