On Wednesday, Ishaan had a school holiday. It was for ‘Mahashivratri’, loosely translated as ‘The Night of the Great Lord Shiva‘. On the day, all over India, people celebrate the festival by fasting, performing ‘Pujas’ and praying for the well-being of loved ones. Like everything in Hinduism, there are several legends about Mahashivratri. Some believe it is the wedding day of Shiva & his wife Parvati; others, that this was the night he danced the ‘Tandava’ – a divine dance symbolizing creation, preservation & destruction; still others that this was the night he manifested in the form of the ‘Lingam’ (the phallic form, in which he is most commonly worshipped to this day). Whatever one chooses to believe or disbelieve, it’s a day of worship, piety and celebration all rolled into one, like most Hindu festivals!
Shiva is one of the super Gods, part of the Holy Hindu Trinity of Gods, Brahma – the Creator, Vishnu – The Protector & Shiva – the Destroyer. They’re the big guns…like the Godfather, the ones that all the thousands of little Gods go running to in times of trouble (and believe me that’s more often than you think!). They grant boons, kill villains and reward devotees much like their juniors, but they just do it better, and bigger! He’s always been my favorite. I like his no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude and although he’s not the best looker (what with the deadly ‘Eye’ in the center of his blue forehead, the deadly Trident in his hand, the matted locks of hair that hold the mighty river Ganges, the ash-smeared blue-skinned body and the snakes he uses for jewelry!), his charisma & the divine aura that surrounds him, attracts every kind of life-force. And he welcomes them all…the good, the bad and the ugly; offering them all his love, his advice, his protection. What’s not to like?
He’s wise and simple, often granting terrible boons to his devotees that help them become monsters! And when he gets angry…the ‘Eye’ opens and burns whoever has pissed him off to a crisp! Now that’s a power I could do with some days 😉 He once burned the God of Love, Kama (Cupid’s Hindu avatar), to a crisp, in a moment of rage, because the poor dear had shot a love-arrow at him, at the request of the other Gods, when they were trying to get him hitched again after the death of his beloved first wife, Sati. However in a typical God-like display of forgiveness, he later revived Kama at the request of Kama’s wife Rati (Goddess of the Moon), and his own second wife – The Goddess Parvati (she is the Mother Goddess incarnate and also a reincarnation of his first wife Sati! Confused? Don’t be…just go with the flow :P). I identify with this guy…he’s quick to anger, quick to forgive and bears no malice, rather like me 😛
Did I mention he’s big in Goa? Well he is and my family worship him at the Mangeshi Temple. I’m not big on rituals, but I’m surrounded by them and there is no escape. There’s an interesting story that I would like to share that happened a long time ago…when I was newly married. It’s a tradition for newly married couples on Hubby’s side of the family, to worship at the Mangeshi Temple. This involves getting up at the crack of dawn, bathing, dressing in traditional garb (a 9-yard sari for women & the ‘dhotar’ for men), and entering the innermost sanctum of the Temple, where the ‘Lingam’ is located, to worship. Inside there’s a well and at the end of the ritual, the couple draws water from the well to bathe the holy ‘Lingam’! Hubby & I for one reason or another hadn’t gone through with this ritual in the first year of marriage and frankly were completely unaware that it even existed! One day, we found ourselves at his ancestral house and were about to enter to pray to the family deity, when we were stopped in our tracks by a pair of black snakes allegedly cobras but I can’t prove it), that seemed to be involved in their mating dance! They were on the front porch and were in no mood to let us pass. We tried to go around the back (Yes we were silly! Young and silly, wanting to enter a house with snakes dancing on the porch!), but they appeared again at the back door, rather miraculously, and we couldn’t enter. Finally chastised, we headed home and narrated the incident to our in-laws as nothing more than an interesting anecdote. Should have known better (but we were silly & young!). My in-laws took a rather serious view of the whole event and my father-in-law set off immediately for the Mangeshi temple to discuss with the family priest and interpret the significance, of what to them was clearly a divine sign of some sort! The priest duly informed him that we had failed to perform the ritual ‘puja’ at the temple, and this was Shiva’s way of reminding us that we had forgotten! Snakes are Shiva’s pets so to speak! And so, off we went, obediently, into the inner sanctum, duly purified and properly attired to ask forgiveness for our oversight and blessings for a happy marriage. In true God fashion – He forgave & blessed!
There’s another great story that I like, about how he got his blue-skin. The Gods & their cousins the evil ‘Asuras’ (demons) were once involved in a quest for ‘Amrut’ (The nectar of immortality, Ambrosia), and were told that the last jar of the stuff was at the bottom of the ocean bed. They were also told that the only way to get it, was to churn the ocean and drain it, to reveal the hidden treasure. So off they went to the Holy Trinity and on their advice, used a giant snake tied around a mountain as the churner (don’t you just love these stories ;-)), and had a sage drink up the ocean (child’s play to a great sage that!). Still they churned, but instead of the Nectar, poison spurted up which would have killed them. Again, they asked the Holy Trinity for help and Shiva offered to drink the poison so they could get to the Nectar. And so he drank up and as he did the poison turned his neck & skin blue…and so he’s also called ‘Neelkanth’ (neel = blue, kanth = throat), in many parts of India, especially the south. He rides a bull…his faithful mount Nandi (an idol is found in every temple dedicated to Shiva), drinks ‘Somras’ (alcohol to me & you!) and is God to ghouls and humans alike! He is father to my favorite ‘Ganesha’, the Elephant God, and a great dancer! In his dancing form, he is worshipped as ‘Nataraja’, Lord of Dance.
He is Timeless – wisest of sages, granter of wishes, destroyer of ignorance, master of destiny, and keeper of the balance of the universe – in His name is hidden the secret of Nirvana.
He is, to me, the epitome of Cool 🙂
p. s. ‘Om Namah Shivay’…this simple chant is used to invoke his name and may be loosely translated to mean ‘Holy Is Thy Name Shiva’.
p. p. s. I’m no Sanskrit nor religious scholar however, so don’t take my word for Gospel 😛 Google Him for more info 😉