In Varanasi, they say Shiv ji apne bhakton ke bhakt hain. This statement makes me wonder.
Whenever we try to picture gods, we always see them as supreme beings clad in royal costumes overpowering demons. However, of all the gods of the Hindu pantheon, there is one god who sets apart from all the others. Away from all worldly pleasures and materialistic possessions, Shiva is an unconventional god - one whose body is smeared in ash with a snake around his neck; one who is not a sucker for rules and certainly breaks all stereotypes of being a god. Simple yet fascinating!
Long before we got acquainted with words like 'equality' and 'feminism', Shiva introduced us to his androgynous form, Ardhanarishvara, that depicts one-half of him as a woman.
In its true glory, it celebrates gender equality and symbolises that the male and female principles are inseparable.
While most of us are advised to fix our so-called bad habits, Shiva gives us the possibility that one can remain calm and still be in an extreme sense of pleasure all the time.
How can anyone be represented as a pothead and an ascetic at the same time? Every stoner these days tries to associate ganja with Shiva, however, we all need to understand that he used it to meditate and not to intoxicate himself. He had a completely different opinion about cannabis and it's not the same as we think it is.
When Shiva got married, not just the gods, animals, birds and insects came but even demons, demented beings, devils and ghosts attended his marriage ceremony. To him, there is no difference between low-born and high-born, privileged and underprivileged.
Whether you are a meat eater or a womaniser, Shiva has no class or character barrier for any of his bhakhts, while other gods have a number of procedures to follow in order to worship them.
For the same reason, he is also called Bholenath, the one who can be appeased very easily. He hung out with everybody and doesn't have any problem with people offering him weed and alcohol. You probably know about the Kaal Bhairav temple in Madhya Pradesh where liquor is one of the ritual offerings.
I do not speak as a Shiva bhakht but as someone who is genuinely fascinated by Shiva's lifestyle, which is anything but conservative. And it's interesting to ponder over the possibility that Shiva's popularity among people has little to do with religion and more to do with his layered personality.