Friday, February 16, 2007

Happy Maha Shivaratri

I love learning about these holidays! This is a particularly interesting one.

According to my calendar, today is the Hindu holiday Maha Shivaratri.

Maha Shivratri (which means “the night of Shiva”) falls on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna. This festival, which is observed for one day and one night, is held in honor of Lord Shiva on the day he is said to have performed the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction (“Tandava Nritya”).

Lord Shiva (meaning “auspicious”), the Destroyer and Re-Producer of life is one of the Hindu Trinity (the other two are Lord Brahma, the creator, and Lord Vishnu, the preserver). Shiva is the most powerful god of the Hindu pantheon. He is known by many names and is the most sought-after deity amongst the Hindus, who believe he has a magnanimous heart and grants all their wishes.

In temples, Shiva is usually found as a phallic symbol of the linga, which represents the energies necessary for life on both levels. The image of Shiva is distinct: his hair is piled high on the top of his head with a crescent tucked into it and the river Ganges tumbling from his hairs. A coiled serpent is around his neck representing Kundalini, the spiritual energy within life. He holds a trident in his left hand in which is bound the 'damroo' (small leather drum). He sits on a tiger skin and on his right is a water pot. He wears the 'Rudraksha' beads and his whole body is smeared with ash. [Most images I found of him also show him with four arms - see Google image search for Shiva].

Shivratri is considered especially auspicious for women. Married women pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, while unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva, who is the spouse of Kali, Parvati and Durga. Generally it is believed that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

The phallus symbol representing Shiva is called the lingam. It is usually made of granite, soapstone, quartz, marble or metal, and has a yoni or vagina as its base representing the union of the male and female sexual organs. Devotees worship the lingam throughout the night. It is bathed every three hours with the five sacred offerings of a cow (the “panchagavya” - milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung). Then the five foods of immortality (milk, clarified butter, curd, honey and sugar) are placed before the lingam.

Some devotees, especially the men, prepare an intoxicating drink called Thandai (made from cannabis, almonds, and milk), sing songs in praise of the Lord Shiva and dance to the rhythm of the drums. All day devotees keep a severe fast, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya" and make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord Shiva.


No comments:

Post a Comment