But Mahashivaratri has other manifestations too
Venkat Raman –
In temples across the world, men, women and children gather at dusk to celebrate a festival which remains the only nocturnal event invoking the blessings of a Hindu God and setting aside the religion’s firm belief of allowing ‘Gods to rest’ at nightfall.
Mahashivaratri-’The Night of the Great Shiva’ as a transliteration would mean, is an event that inspires fear, respect, love, endurance and awe all at once and most Shaivates (followers of Shiva) keep themselves awake from dusk to dawn; the test is not to rest thereafter but to carry on working.
The festival would be observed on March 7, 2016.
The Central Force
In the Hindu Trinity, Shaivates portray Shiva as the central force, the Creator, Protector and Destroyer but He delegates the first two responsibilities respectively to Brahma and Vishnu. Followers of the Vishnavite philosophy would believe otherwise.
But none disputes the theory that Shiva is the Destroyer of all evil and the Supreme Master of Dance. He is considered the epitome of tough penance and the most benevolent examiner of his devotees’ determination. He is also regarded as the most magnanimous Benefactor and the most unforgiving of all Gods over transgressions of his devotees. Woe betides the person who strays away from the conditions that accompany his boons. Hindu mythology and history have ample tales to narrate.
It is to honour such a powerful and often tough God that millions of Hindus keep vigil over a night, praying and hearing the telltales of their favourite Shiva. Each New Moon is dedicated to Him but ardent devotees say Mahashivaratri is more significant because it was during this night that Shiva was believed to have performed the ‘Thandava’ style of dance.
Some say the event also commemorates the marriage of Shiva with Sati.
Legend also has it that Shiva appeared this night to save the world from darkness and ignorance. Men and women fast over a 24-hour period as a form of penance and self-denial.
Most religions believe fasting not only cleanses the human system but also purifies the soul.
Unmarried women also observe fast and worship Shiva in the hope that He would bless them with a good spouse.
Abhishekas, hymns and other forms of worship abound temples. The Shiva Lingam is bathed with milk, water, honey, fruits, vibhuthi (sacred ash), kumkum and turmeric and finally washed and decorated with garlands and anointed with sandalwood paste.
The Legend surrounding the festival of Mahashivaratri has an interesting tale. Lubdhaka, a poor tribal man and a devotee of Shiva, once went into the deep forests to collect firewood. At nightfall, he was lost and could not find his way home. In the darkness, Lubdhaka climbed a bel tree and sought safety and shelter in its branches until dawn.
All night, he could hear the growls of tigers and wild animals and was frightened. In order to keep himself awake, he plucked one leaf at a time from the tree and then dropped it, while chanting the name of Shiva. By sunrise, he had dropped thousands of leaves on to a Shiva Lingam, which he had not seen in the darkness.
Shiva is often depicted either meditating or in the form of a Dancing God; his dance is to the beat and rhythm of creation. He is also shown in sculptures with many hands. One pair of hands, for example, represents the balance between life and death.
Festivities in New Zealand include those of the Brahma Kumari Meditation Centre, the Chinmaya Foundation, religious centres, temples, associations and prayer groups.
Mahashivaratri is also popular among the devotees of the late Satya Sai Baba, who used to ‘extract’ the ‘Shiva Lingam’ from his stomach.
Temples throughout New Zealand and other organisations including the Brahmakumaris, will mark Mahashivaratri with special, all-night prayers.