Destroy, Overcome, Create

“His cadence encapsulates both creation and destruction in their endless exchange and balance…
O teach me how to work and keep me kind.” -Stanley KunitzShiva

Wandering the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC, I took a turn into the South Asian and Himalayan Art section and my eye immediately caught two figures. First, a sculpture of Shiva. During the first weeks of grieving an overwhelming loss, I read two books of poetry obsessively. One was Stephen Cramer’s Shiva’s Drum. It was comforting for many reasons and created for me a personal bond with Shiva. Shiva is a Hindu deity whose attributes include opposing themes: the benefactor and the destroyer. This duality within the single entity was something I recognized both in myself and in the universe. Shiva has my respect for containing and reflecting such a natural truth. Shiva is also commonly referred to as “The Cosmic Dancer.” In this depiction, Shiva performs his divine dance to destroy a weary universe and make preparations for creation. Another duality: creation cannot exist without destruction. When I think of this concept, I feel an embrace from Shiva that lifts me to dance upon the ruins.


Not far from Shiva sat the second figure, Shiva’s daughter Ganesha. Ganesha is worshipped as the remover of obstacles (and, traditionally, also as one who places obstacles in the path of those who need the lesson). There is an interwoven relationship in Shiva and Ganesha’s attributes, so it’s no surprise to me that the two are related. Shiva destroys, Ganesha removes the obstacle through the granted wisdom of overcoming, which paves the way for creation. I smiled with gratitude at Ganesha, for all she had taught and continues to teach me.

The words from the quote that opens Shiva’s Drum kept replaying in my head: “O teach me how to work and keep me kind.” As I reached the end of the gallery, I looked back once more at Shiva and Ganesha. Through the crumbling stone they answered…Destroy, Overcome, Create.


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