Way up in the Himalayas, where the snow never melts, there once sat a Rakshasa performing severe penance. He was a devotee of Lord Shiva and had spent many, many hundreds of years, with no thought for food or clothe, heat or cold, sun or snow, sitting there, his mind fixed on Lord Shiva. "Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva." His name was Bhasmasura.
After ages had passed thus, Shiva decided to bless him. So, one day, as Bhasmasura was meditating, the Lord appeared before him. He was shining like the morning sun. He was the supreme ascetic, dressed in deer skin, body smeared with ashes, locks matted, the snakes dangling around his neck and arms, his hand holding aloft the divine Trishul. Ah, what a magnificent sight he made in all his ascetic glory! Bhasmasura's eyes were dazzled. He was speechless with wonder at the Lord's beautiful form: "Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva."
Gently Shiva spoke to the awe-struck Bhasmasura. He said, "I am pleased with the severe penance you have performed. Ask of me any boon you desire." And Bhasmasura thought, "I must indeed be a great Tapasvi, as Lord Shiva has granted me a boon." Aloud he said, "Lord, grant that whatever object I touch with my right hand will be immediately reduced to ashes." "Shiva-Shiva." Bhasmasura, even after going through such rigorous penance, yet, had an asuric mind. "Shiva-Shiva." What a boon to ask for! Lord Shiva said, "Tathaastu! - so be it."
Then at once Bhasmasura said, "Lord, you have granted me the boon alright, but how will I know it is true? Once you disappear now, I will not be able to get you for the next few hundred years perhaps. I would like to test your boon. This is a mountainous, snowy area. For miles around there is no object that can be touched. Therefore, come forward. I will touch your head and see if what you say is true."
"Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva."
The wicked Rakshasa thought that once I burn up Lord Shiva's head there will be nobody greater than I.
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Panic arose in Shiva's heart. He knew that if he complied with Bhasmasura's request he would surely turn to ashes. And if he was no more, the world would come to a chaotic end. Yet, once having granted a boon, how could he take it back? There was only one way out of his sticky situation - he would have to run!
And run he did. Clutching his trident, he ran as fast as his legs would carry him. He ran over mountain and down valleys, he crossed rivers and lakes, he ran across vast plains and fields, he passed peaceful ashramas and huts, he ran through dark, dense forests and light, cheerful woods-with Bhasmasura never far behind! "Shiva-Shiva."
What a strange sight it was! The Lord of the Universe running for his life! Pursued by an evil-minded Rakshasa! The hearts of the birds fluttered as they twittered away from tree-tops. The animals stared with huge startled eyes as they scampered away out of the way. And the chase went on - Shiva, panic stricken, panting ahead; Bhasmasura, thirsting to test his unintelligent boon, close on his heels!
Shiva was now getting out of breath. The chase had been long and tiring. Yet, what could he do? He had to press on. But he was beginning to feel that unless something happened soon, Bhasmasura would have his way.
At this time Vishnu was in Vaikuntha watching this unusual occurence with amused interest. He thought that Shiva had been sufficiently punished for carelessly granting such a boon. It was time now to go and help him. After all, were they not the very best of friends? " "Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva."
Shiva had just turned round the shoulder of a mountain and Bhasmasura had not yet reached the bend. Vishnu transformed himself into a delightful maiden, soft, shy and beautiful and stood at the bend. As Bhasmasura came panting up, hot in Shiva's pursuit, this girl Mohini, gently caught his hand and said, "Maharaj! You look very tired indeed. Why are you running so fast? Come, my father's ashrama is not far away. Come and rest there a bit. Take some refreshment. Then you will feel fresh enough to start with renewed vigour."
Bhasmasura shook off her hand impatiently and said, "O, let me go. That wretched Shiva will get away. I want to touch his head with my right hand so he will be burnt to ashes and I can then become Lord of the three worlds."
He was about to run ahead when he saw, really saw, Mohini for the first time. The image soon filled his eyes. Her lovely black tresses, her smooth fair brow, her large, soft, doe-like eyes and her small delicate mouth-he looked at the shapely wrist and fingers resting lightly on his arm, her lissom body, her fair feet with tinkling anklets and he forgot all about Shiva and his boon. He looked Mohini up and down, not twice, but over and over again. Desire was planted in his heart. "Shiva-Shiva."
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He lunged forward to catch her, but Mohini quickly stepped back. Then Bhasmasura said, "You are so very beautiful, Mohini. I want you to be my bride. Will you marry me?"
Mohini gave a rippling little laugh. She said, "Maharaj, how can I trust you? The man I marry must never have another wife. Once he marries me, he should never marry again. But you Rakshasas have so many, many wives. No, it cannot be." Saying this, she let out a long, wistful sigh.
Bhasmasura, now crazy with desire, said, "Mohini, I cross my heart I shall not marry again. I promise you that if you become my wife I will not so much as look at another woman. Please, please give your consent to marry me."
Mohini looked at Bhasmasura and then looked modestly away. "O, you men. I know you are all the same. "Shiva-Shiva." None of you are to be trusted. Promises! Promises!! But you never stick to them. No, I shall not be satisfied till you place your hand on your head and swear that you will not marry again if I become your wife."
Bhasmasura now thoroughly caught up in this net of Maya, quickly touched his head with his right hand. "Mohini, I swear - " he began. But he never lived even to complete his sentence. For, the moment he placed his hand on his head, he burnt into a heap of ashes. "Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva."
Shiva was still heaving and panting as he ran along. He looked nervously over his shoulder to see how close Bhasmasura was to him. But for quite a distance behind he saw no Bhasmasura. Strange! What could have happened? He could not have sat down to rest. He had tremendous energy and did not tire easily. For some time Shiva waited where he was. But still there was no sign of Bhasmasura.
So, he retraced his steps and reached that very bend. He saw there a huge heap of ashes and the most beautiful girl standing there next to it. He asked her if she knew what had happened to Bhasmasura. Very modestly, she narrated all that had happened.
Shiva was very pleased with her timely assistance. Above all he was pleased the way she praised him-"Lord, I saw you running and sensed your distress. I saw you were in need of help. Had Bhasmasura caught up with you and placed his hand on your head, where would have been the poor creatures of this earth? Therefore, I tricked him into placing his hand on his own head by asking him to swear that he would never marry anyone else if I agreed to marry him. I did this all for your sake, my Lord," Thus saying she folded her hands and bowed her head.
Shiva beamed. He made to embrace her. But she slipped from his arms. Bewildered he looked. There was no sign of Mohini anywhere. Instead, there stood the beautiful resplendent form of the Four-armed Lord Vishnu. The corners of His mouth lifted in a slow smile.
Shiva smiled too, as he realized that once again the Supreme Protector of the Universe had run to the aid of the good and maneuvered the destruction of the evil.
"Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva, Shiva-Shiva."