Ash on Shiva body: Story of Parnada
Parvati once asked to Shiva, why do you always smear ashes on your body? What is the reason for that?
Shiva told her the story.
There used to be a brahmana who was descended from the great sage Bhrigu. This brahmana began a very difficult tapasya. The tremendous heat of the summer made no difference to him. Nor was he disturbed by the downpour of the monsoon. He was only interested in meditating. When he felt hungry, he used to ask the bears, the deer, the lions and the jackals to fetch him some fruits. The wild beasts had lost all fear of him, they served him instead. Later on, the brahmana gave up eating fruits also. He ate only green leaves. And because leaves are called parna, the brahmana came to be known as Parnada. He performed tapasya for many years.
One day, Parnada was cutting some grass and his scythe slipped and sliced off his middle finger. Parnada was amazed to find that no blood issued from the severed joint. Instead, a sap like that which issues from plants came out. Parnada’s vanity knew no bounds. He realized that this was due to the fact that he had been living on green leaves for such a long time. Parnada began to jump with delight.
Shiva decided that Parnada needed to be taught a lesson. He disguised himself as a brahmana and arrived before Parnada.
Why are you so happy? asked Shiva.
Can’t you see? replied Parnada. My tapasya has been so successful that my blood has become like the sap of plants.
This sort of vantiy destroys the fruits of all tapasya, said Shiva. What have you got to be so proud about? Your blood has only turned into the sap of plants. What happens when you burn plants? They become ashes. I myself have performed so much tapasya that my blood has becomes ashes.
Shiva sliced off his middle finger and ashes came out of it. Parnada was impressed. He realized that there was nothing that he could be proud about; here was a far greater hermit than he. He asked Shiva who he was and Shiva then displayed his true form to Parnada.
Ever since that day, there have always been ashes on Shiva’s body.
OM NAMO NARAYANAYA