Mahashivratree – A time to impart the stories of Shiva

By Ravina Ramlugun

During the festival of Mahashivratree, millions of Hindus flock to temples and sacred rivers. Numerous Shaivite temples are to be found across Asia,from Pashupatinath (Nepal) to Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu). These temples open their doors all night long during Mahashivratree for all devotees, some walking hundreds of kilometres to arrive. There is a similarambiance in Mauritius – thousands of pilgrims walk to Ganga Talao, pray, sing bhajans and chant mantras in the Shivalayas.

Another indispensable part of Hindu festivals is indisputablythekatha, which is listening to the glorious acts of the Divine Beings likeShiva, Shakti, Vishnu andothers as well. No holy day is complete without spiritual tales. Mahashivratree is dedicated entirely to Shiva and his parivaar– we can hear various meaningful stories of Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha in temples. There may be some new unknown stories while some may already be known but the joy of listening to them again never fades.

What is the importance of kathas?

Storytelling is as old as humanity.In Satyuga, Prahlad used to tell stories of Lord Vishnu to his friends. Stories of noble men were told to Rama by Rishi Vishwamitra in the Tretayuga. King Yudhistira was all ears to the moral stories of Bhishma in the Dwaparyuga. Often,we would fallasleep listening to stories from our parents and grandparents. Even during adulthood, stories are still very much part of our lives- we read them in newspapers, magazines, and social media or hear them through conversations with our friends.

A nice story captures the heart and lingers in the mind for long. Not just children but even adults are fascinated by stories.In Hindu literature (especially the Puranas), there are innumerable mystical stories. Although they date from very long back, we can gather a lot of knowledge from them to inspire us in our modern life. Lord Shiva has multiple such stories to his name. One of the many is that of a devotee who was blessed with three boons by Shiva. Along with being interesting, this narrative has a deep spiritual implication.

The story of the man with three boons

Once there lived a man who performed great tapasya to please Lord Shiva. For years and years, he engaged in rigorous prayers.One day his determination bore success: the all-powerful Shiva appeared before him. “I am touchedby your ardent devotion. Ask for any three gifts or boons that you wish to possess,” Shiva declared. Withthe smile gone from his face, the man became thoughtful…

He did not know what to ask for. It dawned on him that he had forgotten the reason why he had started calling out to Shiva- such a long time had passed by. He tried his best to remember but in vain. He frowned his face in frustration and requested Lord Shiva, “Kindly wait for a moment. Let me think.”

He brooded over the matter for a while. But now it seemed to him that although he still could not remember his first craving, it did not make any difference. The Lord of Gods, Shiva, stood before him- obviously, he could ask for anything in the whole world! But without realising, he blurted out, “Kill my wife!” His wife had been irritating him so much that he no longer wanted her in his life or at least at that t time. But the second she dropped dead, he realised that he had asked for something wrong. Arguments are common in every couple andthis did not mean that he genuinely wished for her to die. He still loved her very much.

“O Lord Shiva, what a blunder I have committed! I pray to you- make her alive once more,” the man pleaded. Two wishes were wasted, leaving only one, for which man needed enough time to think. There would be no fourth wish if any mistake was made this time. So, he requested Lord Shiva to come back later. Surely, he would have made up his mind by then.

“Ask for your third boon now.” Every year was the same. Lord Shiva would utter those words and the man would not know what to answer. Beautiful, precious and bewitching things had come to his mind. But he knew that all of them would wither away sooner or later.He definitely did not want to misuse this last opportunity to ask for something transient.

So he went out to consult friends, neighbours, and even revered seers. Every one of them urged him to seek different things,each more tempting than the other. But none of these suggestions could please the man. Now tired and bereft of any idea of what to ask for, the man humbly requested:

 “You are the wisest of all, Shiva. So, I think that there would be none better than You to tell me which gift would be the most worthwhile to a man!”

Finally, he got a reply which settled the issue, “Absence of any desire. Is there anything else of better value? As soon as you would have asked me for something, the next moment you might have regretted it. You would go on thinking about all the possibilities that were available to you and, yet choose that which would no longer seem pleasing to you. So, what canbe better for you than to ask for a state where you are no longer driven by a turbulent mind but where you are all calm and composed?”   

* * *

What does Lord Shiva mean by “absence of any desire”?

A desireless state to most people would indicate a zero-motivation attitudeor laziness, whereas seekingthe most pleasurable outcomes out of everything is more common.However,if we take a look at the prominent seers of the past who gave up their desires, they were far from being slack. Instead, they were very focused and had a clear vision of their life path and purpose. Unlike us, they were not constantly disturbed by what life threw at them.

So, what exactly is a desireless state then? Is it actually about adopting a life of renunciation and inaction?

Most of usdesire to look for greener horizons, to be someone else, to own something more, in short to make life somehow better. Desires control us in a way nothing else does- we pine, we cry, and we are not at peace until we get what we want. If we ever try to tame these innumerable wishes floating around in our minds, will we not be freed from needless painful yearning? Being desire-free is a state of mind where our thoughts no longer control us. There is no way it prevents us from continuing to live our lives. It does change our perspective of life but not our duty and purpose. When we are freed from any tension about what to acquire next, we just focus on being.

Not another hour, not another place- we cherish the gift of here and now.We live in the present moment,flowing as freely as a river. We are open to growth and happiness aswe learn from daily life lessons. We feel grateful for the ones in our lives, andcontented with how merciful and beautiful life has been so far. But more than anything else, it is the doorway to our spiritual journey. It is only when the ceaseless murmur inside our heads is silenced that we can listen to our soul’s voice. Our pathway to Lord Shiva, thus, starts from within.

* * *

There are several other stories of Lord Shiva narrated in the Puranas (Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Skanda Purana,etc.) that carry with them powerful lessons. To delve into them during the Mahashivratree period is considered most auspicious along with eight other devotional deeds mentioned in the Shiva Purana namely:

  • Singing devotional songs in His praise
  • Remembering His glory and deeds
  • Serving others
  • Living in humility
  • Worship with proper customs
  • Offering obeisance
  • Friendliness to all
  • Surrendering to Shiva

Om NamahaShivaya

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 February 2023

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