It is no secret that Lord Shiva is one of the most revered and worshipped Hindu Gods. Lord Shiva is the called the destroyer of the entire creation and He is one of the Divine Trinity of Gods in Hinduism. Lord Shiva has always been projected to be calm, peaceful and mostly in the meditative mode with His eyes closed, and yet, He is aware of all that is going on in the Universe, every second.
His serene image with matted hair, wearing His favourite Rudraksha beadmalas, armlets of Rudraksha, Vasuki the King Cobra coiled around His neck, the crescent Moon on His head, Lord Shiva looks eternally at peace. Contradictory to this image is the Lord’s Rudra form, the form which even the Gods fear as it is said that when Lord Shiva is annoyed or angry, His wrath can cause tremors in the Universe and Tsunamis is the seas.
Lord Shiva referred to in multiple names by His devotees, each one is one aspect of His Divinity, like Mahadev, Shambho, Neelkanth and many other names. Among these names Bholenath is one of the names He is often hailed with. Bholenath is a compound of ‘Bhole’ meaning innocent or childlike and ‘nath’ meaning Lord, together the literal meaning is the ‘innocent Lord’. Bholenath is a name more popularly used in the Northern parts of India.
Needless to say, the name has a warm feeling to it. This name has been given to Lord Shiva because He is the ever loving, merciful and most benevolent Lord, who can be easily pleased. Lord Shiva is an ascetic, without any attachments, a simple offering of water, Bilva leaves are enough to please Him. But it is surprizing that Lord Shiva who has been called the destroyer, the one who has ghosts as His company, the one who loves the crematorium and the ashes of the dead, can be called Bholenath.
He embraces everyone, be it a criminal, a priest, a poor person or a King. Anyone who prays to Him with purity of heart is sure to be rewarded with wish fulfilment and even possibly the sins of the devotee being absolved. Mythology has many proofs of His giving nature, showering boons to His devotees.
One such story which justifies the name Bholenath is about an Asura or demon who was in penance for years together, in worship of Lord Shiva. This pleased Lord Shiva and He asked His Asura devotee to ask for a boon. The Asura requested the Lord to bless him with the boon that whatever he would touch, it would turn to ash. The Lord knew that giving a boon to a demon is not a good idea but He is indiscriminate and granted His devotee with the boon. Bholenathis the essence of Life.
As soon as the boon was granted the demon/Asura wanted to test it and his evil mind came up with the idea of putting his hands on Lord Shiva, Himself. The Asura’s name was Bhasmasur/Bhasmasura. His plan was to become the most powerful if Lord Shiva turned to ash.
So Bhasmasur moved forward to touch Lord Shiva, who understood the intension of Bhasmasur and fully aware that the Universe would come to an end if the demon Bhasmasur used the boon granted to him to be tested on Him, Lord Shiva took flight. Bhasmasura chased Him. Seeing this Lord Vishnu, transformed into His only female avatar, Mohini.
In this avatar Vishnujee appeared to lure Bhasmasura and tricked him in the pretext of making him dance, place his hand on his own head as a posture. That finished Bhasmasura. So, this story clearly narrates that Bholenath is really innocent in this way and benevolent. He knew that Bhasmasura was a demon, but because he had done sincere penance in honour of Lord Shiva, the Lord granted the boon to him.
Another legend which clearly shows Bholenath’s innocent attribute is about a demon called Gajasura who had performed severe penance. Lord Shiva urged Gajasura to ask for a boon. What Gajasura asked for was shocking. He asked that Lord Shiva enterhis stomach and stay there. Bholenath said yes to this boon too, not bothering that the cunning Asura had tricked Him. However, once Lord Shiva says ‘yes’ to anything, it means it is done.
So Bholenath entered the Asura’s stomach. On the behest of Goddess Parvati, Lord Vishnu went along with Lord Shiva’s, Nandi(Lord’s mount and gate guard of Mount Kailasha) to King Gajasura’s kingdom where Nandi impressed King Gajasura with the various tricks He performed as a Bull and Lord Vishnu was present there guised as a street-performer with Nandi.
However, once the king was impressed the street performer reminded the King Gajasura of his promise to grant anything that the street performer asked for. Taking this opportunity Lord Vishnu, asked Lord Shiva to be released from Gajasura’s stomach. The promise was kept and Lord Shiva was released from the Asura’s stomach. In this story too it is clear that Bholenath fulfils wishes and grants boon, without caring for the fact that Gajasura was a demo.
The word Bholenath also means someone who is forgetful. It is said Lord Shiva used to forget what His wife Devi Parvati told Him.
Devotees of Bholenath are eager to please Him, especially on Mahashivratri as Bholenath is most magnanimous with devotees who chant His name, perform the fast and worship the Shivling by performing Abhishekham. Though Lord Shiva is detached from material things, but for His devotees Bholenath is ever ready to grant material blessings too.
It is almost impossible to describe Lord Shiva and His Divine ways, so though we look at incidents and try to justify the name Bholenath, there are many aspects we are not aware of as yet.
Bholenath is also called ‘Bhole’, as a shorter version of the name by His devotees, who do not tire chanting “Jai Bhole Ki!” in temples and otherwise.