Remember Bruce Almighty? And more importantly do you remember God played by Morgan Freeman. Was he not such a cool person to hang out with? Not the typical version of God we have all been brought up on, right?
What if I told you that in Hinduism, there is a god who is anything but conventional? Just check out the facts and decide for yourself.
He stays on top of a Mt. Kailash with his wife, Parvati( Daughter of Himalaya- yup, the personification of the Himalayan mountain range). He has two sons, Ganesh and Kartik and two daughters, Saraswati and Lakshmi. Of course, it goes without saying that his wife is a goddess in her own right as are the 2 sons and 2 daughters. His vahana or vehicle is a bull named Nandi, who also happens to be the gatekeeper to Shiva’s abode.
He spends most of his time meditating but loves to clear his mind by smoking some ganja (marijuana)! He is known to be benevolent but demons who made the mistake of enraging him…well…they are not with us anymore to tell the tale of his rage! For ornaments, he wears five serpents and has a garland of skulls around his neck! Not just that, he has not two but three eyes, and let’s just pray that he never opens the third eye, because if that happens, none of us would be around to read or write blogs!
He is known as Shiva and he is one of the Holy Trinity of Hinduism. The holy trinity comprises Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the preserver and last but not the least, Shiva the Destroyer.
After the description I provided, you would think parents would discourage their children from having a weed-smoking god as role model! Guess what, women actually PRAY to Shiva to give them a husband like him! And on one particular day of the year, women fast for the entire day and night and then pray to Lord Shiva for…yes, you guessed it right, a husband like him! This night is known as Maha- Shiv Ratri or simply Shiv Ratri. Ratri means night, so it is “Night of Lord Shiva”.
There are many stories about why Shiv Ratri is celebrated. Let me narrate one of them.
Long time back, when devas (gods) and asuras (demons) walked on earth, a sage once became enraged with the king of gods, Indra. He cursed all the gods to be bereft of all their strength. Consequently, the demons defeated the gods in battle and gained control of the universe. The way for gods to regain their supremacy was through the nectar of immortality which could be obtained by churning the ocean. To obtain the nectar, the gods and demons formed an alliance to churn the ocean. During the churning, lots of precious stones and herbs were produced. One of them was the poison Halahala which was so lethal that it could wipe out all creation. Lord Shiva was approached as only he could remain un-affected by the poison. He drank the poison, but while he was drinking it, Parvati pressed his neck, so that the poison could not reach his stomach. Because of the potency of the poison, his neck turned blue. That is why Shiva is also called Neelakantha or ‘the blue necked one’. As part of therapy, Dhanwantary, the divine physician advised the gods to keep Shiva awake the whole night. To keep him amused and awake, the gods kept performing various dances and playing music the whole night. Shiva kept awake the whole night, the nectar of immortality was consumed by the gods and the demons defeated and the world was saved.
That is one of the reasons attributed to the custom of devotees fasting and keeping awake all night and singing and meditating in praise of lord Shiva.
I should add here that the ‘Linga’ which symbolizes Shiva is what you will find in any temple of Shiva. People worship the ‘Linga’ as representation of Shiva. Another interesting point to note is that you will find ‘Shiva Lingas’ not only in temples but all across the city- under a tree or even on a small slab of stone.
This year it was celebrated on 10th March which, fortunately for me, was a Sunday. So, along with another photographer friend, I ventured out to capture some moments of this auspicious day.
Footnote: All the mythological stories have been sourced from the internet, primarily wikipedia.org