“Om Sarva Mangal Manglaye Shivay Sarvaarth Sadhike
Sharanye Trayambake Gauri Narayaani Namostu Te
– Oh the divine couple Shiva Parvati!
O! Thee, the protectors of this universe,
Along with Lords Brahma and Vishnu We pray to You for our well-being, prosperity and the enlightenment of our souls.”
This Tuesday is Maha Shivaratri. Every month there is one day dedicated to worshipping Lord Shiva (“pradosh”) but “Maha Shivaratri” is the yearly, ritual worship in a prescribed manner of this one of the three major ‘personalised’ forms of the ultimate reality or Brahman that Hindus worship.
We are reminded we’re all projected out of Brahman (making us and the rest of the universe part of God) – and we call that aspect “Lord Brahma”; we are all sustained by and within Brahman and we call this power “Lord Vishnu” and finally after billions of years, we all return into Brahman as we call this attribute “Lord Shiva”. We are not ‘destroyed’ as some assert, but subsist in Brahman in ‘prayala’ until the next round of ‘projection’. We do not ever die – but are children of ‘immortal bliss’.
Hindus offer special prayers to Lord Shiva on Shivratri. In Sanskrit, ‘ratri’ means night and thus, Maha Shivaratri literally means ‘The Great Night of Shiva’. There are several traditions associated with the night: Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Nritya (the dance of dissolution); he appeared as the Lingam; or he married Mother Parvati. Maha Shivaratri is observed for one night but the preparations begin the preceding day.
The day before Shivaratri, the house would have been given a thorough cleaning – both inside and out. Hindus literally leave no stone unturned when sprucing up for Shivaratri (and other festivals) because symbolically God is welcomed into our house. Who would want God to enter a grubby house?
Traditionally, this sacred festival is observed by offering Abhishek or Dhar. These are the several types of liquid offerings that we pour over the Shiva Lingam (literally the “sign” of Shiva as the formless Brahman) – milk, honey, ghee, dahee (yoghurt), ganga jal, coconut water, and cane juice. Each of these offerings has a symbolic significance but overall they represent a ‘cooling of the linga’ the desire of our souls to merge with God. So, in observance of Maha Shivaratri, we offer prayers and Abhishek to Lord Shiva.
On Tuesday, thousands will go to the Cove and John Ashram or to their local Mandir or stay home to offer their Dhar and prayers at their Shivala in their yards. My mom is a Shiva bhakta (worshipper of Shiva as her “Isht”) and Shiva Ratri is always a big occasion in our home.
A growing number of Hindus make time for Mandir even though they mightn’t always be regular attendees on Thursday night, or Sunday morning. So many Hindus coming together and praying together, putting aside whatever personal differences they might have, to worship the same deities. They also do not eat meat during the Shivaratri period. Some Hindus, like my mom, even completely give up “salt” foods completely, eating only fruits.
The whole point of Mandirs is for everyone, the entire Hindu community, to get involved: everyone has a part to play. Everyone can sing along God’s praises with the bhajans, everyone prays together with the mantras.
It helps Hindus to solidify their identities as Hindus. It helps us to feel that sense of pride and to share that feeling with fellow Hindus.
So I hope all Hindus will proudly observe Shivaratri on Tuesday, whether they plan on observing the festival at home or at Mandir.