The river Kaveri was in spate. Dark clouds covered the sky. The sound of thunder was deafening. The rains were incessant. No boatman was willing to risk his life or his boat. A mother realised she would not be able to reach her daughter’s house in time for the delivery of her grandchild. “What should I do now?” she wailed. “What can we do but pray to Shiva who is Mahadeva, greater than all the gods? Only he can help,” said her husband. The prayers reached Mount Kailasa and so moved was Shiva by the plight of his devotees that he decided to deliver the child himself. “But she will be frightened when you approach her as you are,” said Shiva’s wife, Gauri. “Look at yourself. You are smeared with ash, your hair is matted and you have a garland of skulls around your neck.“ So Shiva took the form of the old mother and went to the daughter’s house. He comforted her with songs and held her hands and wiped her sweat until the baby slipped out. He then placed the baby on the mother’s breast and cleaned the room and lit the lamps as a midwife is supposed to. When the mother finally arrived, the daughter saw two mothers and wondered who was the real one and who was the imposter. The imposter smiled and disappeared and the daughter realised she was none other than Shiva. Devdutt Pattanaik, Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You The shrine of Lord Shiva who served as a midwife is found at the Rockfort temple in Tamil Nadu, constructed in the 6th century AD. The deity is called Thayumanaswami, “the lord who took the form of a mother.” In some versions of the story Shiva is assisted by Gauri and Ganga, his two wives in the southern tradition. Even though his wives are women, quite capable of handling the delivery, he insists on becoming ‘woman’ for his devotee. In devotional literature, gods take female forms all the time. Sometimes to serve as ‘go-betweens’ to bring lovers together, sometimes to stand in for a missing wife and do the household chores, sometimes to nurse a sick devotee. These stories are not sexual but they do challenge notions of gender. This “queering” is unique to India’s devotional tradition.