It is said, through the physical body (shareera madhyam), indeed (khalu) we perform the activities required for discharging our responsibilities (dharma sadhanam). Thus, the physical body is the instrument of our conduct. This is both a statement and also a caution phrase used by the wise. It means over-exerting beyond one means in terms of work or penance is not desirable, as the intent should be to preserve the body to carry out duties.
Lord Shiva himself offered this counsel to Parvati when she intensely starved to marry him. Shiva was performing his deep dhyana and Parvati, born as the daughter of Himavanta and Menaka, served him by providing the necessary ingredients required for his puja. This was silently done without distracting him. However, the “churner of the mind” (ManMatha) or Kamadeva attempts to distract Shiva and earned the anger which reduced him to ashes. Shiva again enters his deeper realms.
To gain the attention of Shiva and earn the ultimate boon of becoming his consort, Parvati wished to take up deep penance. She wanted to quit home and enter the forests to pursue the difficult act of tapas. Appreciating her “aspire high” condition father encourages but her mother tries to stop her. Mother’s cry of “U + Maa” (meaning, dear don’t go) earned Parvati the name of Uma. However, the will of Parvati was stronger than the persuading power of her mother. Also progressing beyond a point, Parvati stops eating altogether intensifying her sadhana. As she was not (“A”) even taking leaves (“Parna”), she came to be known as “A+Parna”.
Debilitated and shrunk was the state of Parvati when she turned Aparna. Shiva appears disguised before her and counsels her on the utility of the physical body which serves as the instrument, and hence the need for preserving it. Finally, he tests her resolve and the strength of her desire for Shiva. She passes the test successfully and he accepts her. Thus, she becomes Shiva’s Shakti.
Finally, Lord Shiva’s advice of “shareera madhyam khalu dharma sadhanam” is for us too. By respecting and preserving the physical body, we can serve a larger purpose, the purpose of helping the needy and making the world a better place. That’s the real dharma.
Dr S Ainavolu is a professor at VPSoM, Navi Mumbai. Views are personal. You can read more at https://www.ainavolu.in/blog