Maha Shivrathri: An invitation to an inner journey

By Suresh Gunputrao

Maha Shivrathri — the great night of Shiva — is celebrated on the darkest night of the lunar month known to Hindus as Magh. The festival is dedicated to Lord Shiva who, together with Brahma and Vishnu, forms the trilogy.

Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the sustainer and Shiva is the destroyer. Lord Shiva destroys so that Brahma can recreate. Together they form the Shivalinga. The base of the Shivalinga is known as Brahmabhaga representing the Creator, the middle and octagonal section is called Vishnubhaga representing the preserver or sustainer and the projecting flame-like cylindrical part is called Rudrabhaga. The Shivalinga is the most powerful symbol of creation.

According to one of the Purannas when “kshir sagar”, the milky ocean was being churned by the gods and demons with the hope of producing the nectar of immortality the snake used as a rope in the process brought up a deadly poison. Neither the gods nor the demons wanted the poison. Lord Shiva took the poison, drank it but kept it in his throat. The poison so absorbed caused Lord Shiva’s throat to turn blue. Hence, He is also known as Nilkanth — the one with the blue throat. This act earned Him the status of protector and benefactor.

The 14th shloka of Shivmahimma stotra says: “O three eyed Lord, when the poison came up through the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons, they were all aghast with fear as if the untimely end of all creation was imminent. In your kindness, you drank all the poison that still makes your throat blue. O, Lord, even that blue mark does but increase your glory. What is apparently a blemish becomes an ornament in one intent on ridding the world of fear, “

Lord Shiva, it is believed, has a very hot temper. Simply pouring cold water on the linga is meant to keep Him cool. More affluent devotees started to offer milk, honey and ghee to demonstrate their selflessness. In preparation for Maha Shivrathri, Hindus observe a period of abstinence, the length of which is optional. Devout Hindus may fast for days. Others may give up meat and other pleasurable items for a short period. In India devotees go on pilgrimage to River Ganga. In Mauritius the pilgrims go to Grand Basin, known to Hindus as Ganga Taloa since 1972 when water from River Ganga was ceremoniously poured into the lake. Maha Shivrathri is the time for the pilgrim to do penance and reflect with piety, humility and serenity in reverence of Lord Shiva. The night is spent meditating, reciting kirtans and singing bhajans The pilgrimage to the sacred lake should be an invitation to an inner journey and not a display of imagination, artistic talent and endurance.

The Marathi-speaking Hindus of Vacoas and surrounding areas walk to Grand Basin in well organised and disciplined groups carrying very basic kanwars — an example that ought to be emulated to give to the devotion its essentially non-ostentatious character.

Suresh Gunputrao

* Published in print edition on 17 Feburary 2012

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