King Trisanku

Viswamitra the Magician

By his spells and incantations,

Up to Indra’s realms elysian

Raised Trisanku, king of nations. 

Indra and the gods offended

Hurled him downward, and descending

In the air he hung suspended,

With these equal powers contending.

Thus by aspirations lifted,

By misgivings downward driven,

Human hearts are tossed and drifted

Midway between earth and heaven.

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Working parents figuring out the secret to having it all, take heart.

Ancient sages have expended much energy on reconciling the irreconcilable, be it Trishanku’s desire to ascend to heaven in his earthly body or the conflict between an individual’s needs and his obligations to society. One answer to this eternal question may be found in this 12th century Chola bronze of the Hindu god Shiva, with his wife, the goddess Parvati, and his son, Skanda.

Long before the modern marketplace popularized the language of individualism and work as self-fulfillment, virile young Indian men turned their backs on society to seek self-actualization through meditation. They would pray to Shiva, the lord of the ascetics.

Shiva, who typically appeared with the matted hair and animal skins of a wandering beggar, lived in the mountains, far away from civilization. So, it must have been startling to behold Shiva as householder, weighted down by quotidian obligations, as shown in this image.1 Could it have been to remind those young men of their obligations to house and hearth?

But short of being Lord of the Universe, how was a young person to balance the call of the family against the call of the spirit? The image holds the answer: notice that Shiva has more than two arms to portray his divinity, while his wife, the goddess Parvati, has only two arms, to emphasize her non-divinity.2

Every superstar needs a supporting actor and Sheryl Sandberg was right: who you marry might be the most important career decision you make.