SUNDAY, MARCH 10: The night is moonless and bael leaves are abundant, as Hindus revere Lord Shiva on Maha Shivaratri. From India to Nepal, Hindus fast and meditate while recalling several legends that involve the marriage and sacrifices of Lord Shiva. Most regard Lord Shiva as an example of the ultimate husband, and thus unmarried women pray for a spouse who may emulate Shiva on this sacred day; married women pray for their husbands and sons. The most devoted Hindus will accept the true meaning of Sivaratri—the night of Lord Shiva—and hold a sleepless vigil all night.
Starting before sunrise, devotees take to the streets to bathe in holy waters—preferably the Ganges—before visiting a Shiva temple, where they perform customary worship of Shivalinga (a symbol of Lord Shiva) by circumambulating it three or seven times. Pots of milk or water that the devotees have brought to the temple are tilted over the Shivalinga, bathing it in liquids. (Wikipedia has details.) Some offer flowers and bael leaves to the Shiva symbol, all the while shouting: “Hail Shiva!” Bells ring from the temples and resound across the land.
Vedic literature points to an event involving gods and demons as cause for Maha Shivaratri. Legend has it that gods and demons were churning the ocean, in the hopes of recovering the nectar of immortality, when a pot of poison emerged. Withholding the power to destroy the universe, the poison couldn’t be allowed to exist; still, it couldn’t be discarded and needed to be consumed. When no others would, Lord Shiva offered to drink it and, as a result, had his neck turn blue from the potency.
Another legend states that the world was facing destruction—when the Goddess Parvati worshipped her husband, Shiva, to save it; her prayer was granted, and Hindus today continue this practice by holding nightlong devotions to Lord Shiva.
LORD SHIVA FROM NEPAL TO THE UK
With expected attendance by 1.2 million devotees, the Pashupati Area Development Trust of Nepal recently announced its preparedness for the influx of Hindu pilgrims to the Pashupatinath Temple today. Meanwhile, in India, the Siddharootdha mutt trust is offering helicopter rides over the mutt so that—for an extensive fee—devotees can float flowers down to the mutt’s arch, temple and chariot. Art students in the United Kingdom have been creating “innovative” artwork based on Maha Shivaratri, and the West Suffolk College students’ portraits, films and sculptures reportedly exposed links between Hindu philosophy and modern science.