Festivals of India - Shivaratri

Tuesday, November 14, 2006 Vishaal 0 Comments

On Shivratri day in Rishikesh the urchins ten deep around the manjira man and dholki will lustily sing all night: “Humre Bhole Baba ko bhikari na samajhiyo. Humre Bhole Baba ke haath mein damru: damru ke sanga se madari na samajhiyo!” (Don’t take our Shiva for a beggar. Don’t mistake him for a bear-trainer by his drum). Further,”Humre Bhole Baba ke haath hai trishula: trishula ke sanga se samhari na samajhiyo!” (Don’t mistake him for a destroyer by the trishul in his hand) and “Humre Bhole Baba ke sanga hai Gauri: Gauri ke sanga se sansaari na samajhiyo! Humre Bhole Baba ko bhikari na samajhiyo.” (Don’t take him for a debauch because Gauri is by him. Don’t take our Shiva for a beggar).

This street song is a pretty neat philosophical text. It says that Shiva is not just a maker of lilas (divine play), a destroyer and a sensualist. He is all three: the mahayogin, bestower of great repose who also stirs things up with his creation, the grhasta or householder of the First Family, who preserves life and also bhairava, the fiery dissolver of creation, who unmakes to remake in time cycles. (So he’s not a ‘destroyer’, which is a finite, linear term). In the final analysis, he is the Supreme One who resolves all contradictions. It is to declare their faith in these three aspects of Shiva: thesis, antithesis, synthesis?

But informing all three activities is what drives the worldview of Shaiva Siddhanta: ‘Anbe Sivan’ (Tamil for ‘Shiva is Love’ or perhaps better, ‘Siva is Love itself’, expressed in Thirumoolar’s ’Thirumandiram’). Shiva stories are rarely cautionary tales that cruelly punish people for small oversights. If anything, Shiva is ‘Asutosh’, easily pleased, as I guess we love to remind ourselves. The least spark of sincerity and Shiva extends his hand to protect you, hence his affectionate name in north India, “Bhole Baba” and “Bhola Nath” (the Simpleton).

Maha Shivratri (the Great Night of Shiva) happens on the thirteenth night and fourteenth day of the dark half of the month of Phalgun (February-March). Shivratri is so highly personal that it’s not a family and neighbourhood tamasha like Holi-Diwali. Instead, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari (truly!) a devotee fasts all day and in the evening keeps an all-night vigil with visits to temples, pujas, aratis and bhajan-mandalis. The Shivling is offered chandan and bilva leaves and ritually bathed. The next day is all feasting.

In the Puranic origin myth, an evil hunter stays awake all night by a Shivling, unintentionally dropping water and bilva leaves on it. He earns great merit for his accidental devotion. And so it is that the thirteenth-fourteenth of each month is a little Shivratri, as a regular detox and build-up for the big one.

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