Trickster Goddess Story

In Hindu mythology, there was an Asura (a demon) named Bhasmasura who wanted to be the most powerful Asura ever. He thought that immortality would make him the most powerful demon. He prayed and prayed to Shiva. He meditated deeply, prayerfully, and caught the attention of Shiva through his penances. Lord Shiva appeared before any true devotee. Shiva did not care that Bhasmasura was a demon, he only cared that he had prayed and meditated deeply for Shiva. Shiva was pleased with the worship and told Bhasmasura that he could ask for a boon. Bhasmasura asked to be made immortal. Shiva told him that he could not grant that boon, immortality is against the laws of nature. So Bhasmasura did his best to think of something that would make him the most powerful demon, and he cunningly asked for Lord Shiva to give him the power to turn to ash anything that Bhasmasura placed his hand on. Shiva granted this wish, not considering the consequences.

I like that when Bhasmasura could not get abundant life, he asked for abundant death. To some degree, he shows himself to be an inverter – a property of a trickster. Then he foolishly spills his thoughts too quickly. He tells Shiva that he will test out this new power on him, Lord Shiva. Shiva knows that he should not die at this point – I’m assuming that turning to ash would prevent re-birth or the taking of other avatars. Otherwise Bhasmasura could replay Shiva’s “but immortality goes against the laws of nature” back to him.

So Shiva starts running from Bhasmasura. He runs into a grove of trees, but knows that he cannot outrun the Asura forever, so Shiva prays to Vishnu for help. Immediately a beautiful woman appears in front of Bhasmasura. The Asura is smitten by the woman’s beauty and grace and asks her who she is. She replies that he is in her woods and therefore he should give his name first. He does, and then blurts out that he wants to marry her. She laughs and moves further into the woods. He pursues her and asks her name again, she tells him that her name is Mohini. He again asks if she will marry him. She replies that even though he is very handsome, she loves to dance and will only marry an excellent dancer. He is crestfallen since he has never danced. He shares this information with Mohini. She appears to take pity upon him and says that since he is so handsome, she will teach him to dance. He is awkward at first, but becomes better with her help. She has him perform more and more complex steps. With lust supplying his motivation, Bhasmasura keeps improving. Mohini asks him to mimic her movements. He is concentrating so hard upon following her movements that he does not pause to think when she strikes a pose where she places her hand upon her own head. He apes her gesture and turns himself to ash.

Lord Shiva comes out of hiding and thanks Mohini-Vishnu for saving him.

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