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There was a sage named Shilada. He performed very difficult tapasya so that he might have a son. After many years had passed, Indra appeared before Shilada and told him, "I am pleased with your meditation. Ask for the boon that you desire.
"Please grant me the boon that I may have a son who is not normally born and who will be immortal," answered Shilada.
"That is impossible," said Indra. "It is beyond my powers to grant you such a boon. I can at best give you a mortal son. An immortal son? I fear that not even Brahma can grant you such a boon. The only person who may be able to grant you such a boon is Shiva. Why don’t you try to please him?"
Shilada started to pray to Shiva. For a thousand year of the gods he prayed ceaselessly. He was completely immobile, so that the termites built a nest on his body. His body could no longer be seen. The termites ate up all Shilada’s flesh and drunk up all his blood. But Shilada continued to pray. When only bones were left in Shilada’s body, Shiva appeared before him.
"Enough of this meditation," said Shiva. "I know what you desire and I will grant you the son you want. I myself will be born as your son and be known as Nandi."
Having said this, Shiva vanished. But not before he had revived Shilada with his touch.
Shilada now started a yajna (sacrifice) so that the son might be born. And Nandi emerged from the fire that had been lit on the occasion of the sacrifice. Nandi had three eyes and four arms. He held a trident and a mace in two of his hands. And his body was clad in armour made out of diamonds. The gandharvas (singers of heaven) sang songs to celebrate the occasion, the apsaras (dancers of heaven) danced. The gods showered down flowers from above.
The word ananda means joy. Since the boy’s birth brought everyone joy, he was named Nandi.
But as soon as Nandi was taken home by Shilada. Nandi’s divine appearance vanished and he assumed the form of an ordinary human child. Moreover, he forgot all about his divine origin. Shilada was greatly disappointed at this happening, but there was nothing that could be done. He devoted himself to his son’s education. By the time Nandi was seven years old, he had become well-versed in the Vedas and other shastras (sacred texts).
One day, the two gods Mitra and Varuna came to visit Shilada. They took one look at Nandi and said, "Strange indeed are the ways of the world. Nandi bears all the auspicious signs on his body. And yet, he is not going to live for long. He is going to die before he is eight years old.
Shilada was mortified to hear this and started to weep. Nandi could not bear to see his father weep thus and started to pray to Shiva.
Shiva appeared and said, "What is all this talk of your dying? Stuff and nonsense. You are going to be immortal and you will always be by my side."
Shiva took off the necklace that he was wearing and hung it around Nandi’s neck. Immediately, Nandi assumed a divine form with ten arms and three eyes. Nandi was adopted as a son by Parvati.
Shiva’s companions are known as the ganas. And their leaders are known as ganeshvaras or gananpatis. It was resolved that Nandi should be made a ganapati. This was formally done at an august ceremony. The gods and the sages all came to attend this ceremony.
In satya yuga, people were always happy. There were no inferiors or superiors. All individuals were equal. The climate was neither hot nor cold. Hatred and jealousy were unknown. Hunger and thirst were not felt. The earth yielded an abundant supply of juices and mankind lived happily on this. There was no need to build houses. People lived on the shores of the oceans and in the mountains. There was no concept of sin (papa) and store of merit (punya), no need of heaven or hell. People were naturally righteous.
In treta yuga, things changed somewhat. Clouds formed in the sky and it started to rain heavily. The earth no longer yield a plentiful supply of juices. But because it rained so much, trees began to grow and people lived on the sap of these trees. But individuals slowly turned evil and started to fight over the possession of these trees. The trees no longer provided sap. But they did provide fruits that humans could live on. They used the barks of the trees for clothing. But when people continued to fight over the possession of the trees, the trees started to wither away and disappear. Heat and cold became manifest. Houses now had to be built so that one might protect oneself from the heat and the cold. Earlier, there had been no need to build houses. When all the trees completely disappeared, people learnt to practice agriculture so that they might live. The first practice of agriculture and animal husbandry goes back to treta yuga. But irrigation was not needed. The land irriaged itself. Artificial irrigation became required much later, when people grew even more evil.
Mankind really started to suffer from the time of dvapara yuga. Most evil traits like hatred, jealousy, quarrels and fraudulence can be traced back to that time. Famine and drought were first felt on earth in dvapara yuga.
Kali yuga is the worst period of all. This is a time when holy men are not revered. No one pays any attention to the shastras and it is evil that prevails. People are habitually liars. The shudras are the last of the four classes. As such, their duties are to serve the other three classes of brahmanas, kshatriyas and vaishyas. But in kali yuga, the shudras lord over everything. Even the kings are shudras and oppress the brahmanas. Kings are thieves and thieves become kings.
Kali yuga is such an evil period that people will start to lend money so as to earn interest. The evil has its effects in terms of reducing the productivity of the land. Life expectancy is reduced to only sixteen years. The only redeeming feature of kali yuga is the fact that a minor righteous deed in kali yuga brings undying punya.
But kali yuga will not last for ever. When its duration is over, Pramiti (more usually referred to as Kali) will be born so to re-establish righteousness one earth. For twenty years he will travel around the world, killing the evil and protecting the good. He will destroy the shudra kings and bring back the religion prescribed by the Vedas.