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A time to fast with faith

AMONG THE hallowed trinity of the Hindu pantheon, Lord Siva evokes equal devotion but more fear than Vishnu and Brahma. This is because, when provoked Siva opens his third eye (the Sun, the Moon and Agni are the three eyes) thereby causing widespread devastation. Hence the concern of the devotees to convert the God's fierce temperament into graceful benediction.

Mahasivaratri, which falls on Magha Krishna Chaturti (March 1, this year), is the grand night of Siva's marriage to Parvati. The festival is popular throughout India, especially among Saivites who celebrate it with faith and fervour. People fast the whole day and spend the night keeping awake (gambling which goes on in some places is a misconceived aberration) singing bhajans, playing drums and dancing, thus creating a holy ambience all around. Unmarried girls fast the whole day propitiating Lord Siva (Ardhanareeswarar) for granting them an ideal husband.

The number five has special significance for Lord Siva; while Panchakshari ("Om Namasivayah") is his core mantra, the five Siva lingams corresponding to Panchabhutas (five divine elements) are considered most sacred. They are Kanchi Ekambareswara temple Prithvi (Earth), Thiruvanaikoil (near Tiruchirapalli) Apa (water), Thiruvannamalai (North Arcot District) Tejas (Fire), Chidambaram (South Arcot), Akas (Ether) and Kalahasti (Andhra Pradesh) Vayu (Air). Siva is always worshipped with Panchamruta a mix of milk, butter, curd, honey and sugar.

While the sitting and dancing Siva (Nataraja) is the deity in some places, worship of the Lingam is common throughout the country.

Kedarnath, Kasi Viswanath, Sri Saila Mallikarjuna, Draksharama Bhimeswara and Rameswaram are the most popular pilgrim centres.

For Chennai, the Kapaleeswarar temple is a landmark, while the ancient Dandiswarar (Velachery) and Marundiswarar (Tiruvanmiyur) temples also draw huge crowds, especially during Sivaratri.

A German scholar, Gustav Oppert argued that while Saligram represents the feminine aspect, the Sivalingam is symbiotic of masculine energy.

Swami Vivekananda rebutted this explanation and traced the reference to the Atharva Veda: "The worship of the Siva Lingam originated from the famous hymn in the "Atharva Veda Samhita", sung in praise of the Yupastambha, the sacrificial post which gave place in time to the Siva Lingam and was deified to the high Devahood of Sri Sankara".

This stambha represents the Vedic concept of the brightness of Siva's body, his matted hair and blue throat and His riding on the Nandi, the bull.

Along with celebrations, worship and fasting, is bhang, the favourite drink of Lord Siva, which is a `must' for many Saivites.

According to a legend, Lord Siva although married to Parvati, is an ascetic living in the forest. It is interesting to know that at one time Kashmir Muslims took part in the Sivaratri celebrations of pandits.

The festival would begin three weeks in advance and culminate on Sivaratri day. Unfortunately, this major manifestation of communal harmony no more exists.

One can only hope for the revival of this healthy practice not only in Kashmir but throughout the country, highlighting that all festivals are meant to promote brotherhood and harmony and not hatred between religions.






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