By Zile Singh
Mythically, over 15,000 years ago, a Being, 9 – feet tall appeared in the upper peaks of the Himalayas. It was a Full Moon Day after the Summer solstice. This Being was Lord Shiva, the Adi-Yogi at Mount Kailash. Kailash is considered the laboratory of human consciousness. Shiva was the first to experiment at Kailash. The others who experimented at Kailash were the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabha, the two great personalities of Buddhism, Manjushree and Avalokiteshwara and some other great figures of Tibetan Bon tradition.
MahaShivratri, the festival of Lord Shiva falls on the New Moonday in the month of Maagha according to the Hindu calendar. In the Christian calendar, the date falls between the third week of February to the first week of March each year. This year the day fell on February 28.
MahaShivratri is a Hindu festival. People fast on the day of Shivratri and sing hymns and praises in the name of Lord Shiva in the well- decorated temples all over the globe. Wood apple leaves, cold water and milk are offered to the Shiva Lingam as these are believed to be Shiva’s favourites.
MahaShivratri literally means “great night of Shiva”. Lord Shiva is one the Hindu Trinity Godheads – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Trinity has been attributed as the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer respectively. The destroyer here carries different meanings. If Shiva were the destroyer, the world would have been no more today. Its inherent meaning, which most of his devotees are unable to perceive and comprehend, is that Shiva does not believe in a stereotypical, boring and monotonous creation. He always believes in change. Lord Shiva is an epitome of newness, coolness as well as a vibrant motion to break the monotony. His above attributes can be substantiated with the fact that Lord Shiva has several forms. He is a pensive thinker, an ascetic, most of the time in deep meditation, a lover, a householder, a veetragi and a thundering dancer known as Natraj (the King of Dancers). He wears the Moon on his head and a Trident in his hand. Both these symbols reflect calm and constructive energy in peacetime and fearful and destructive energy during turbulent times. The snake around Shiva’s neck shows that he was beyond fear. The physical environment in which he lived suggests that his life was of an Adi-Vasi.
In the present day context, Lord Shiva is a symbol of love and feminism. In a unique mystical symbol, he is ‘Ardhanareeshwara’. According to a story, Bhringi Rishi was an ardent devotee of Shiva. Every morning he used to come for Shiva’s circumambulation as a mark of respect. Shiva’s wife Parvati was envious why Bhringiwas not respecting her also. Shiva asked her to come closer. Bhringi turned into a mouse and encircled only Shiva. Parvati was fuming. Shiva took her on his lap. Then Bhiringi became a bird and flew around Shiva only. This was a height of frustration for Parvati. Ultimately Shiva pulled her close and made her a part of him. Thus on the left side Shiva became a female and on the right half he remained as male. He turned into Ardhanareeswara – a composite form of a male and a female. Bhringi finally had to pay obeisance to both, Shiva and Parvati as One.
Hardly anybody would have noticed that the Day falls at a time in the Indian sub-continent when nature is at its best. It is the blooming season, time of ‘Basant’, a much- awaited Summer! From the Indian point of view, this is the most salubrious and enjoyable time of the year. In the North American hemisphere, it is the start of the summer season with fragrance and blossoms all around and love-making Valentine and Family Days.
There are many mythological legends associated with this day. According to one legend, when one hunter could not find anything to kill for his family food in a forest, he climbed a wood apple tree and started throwing the leaves of the tree to attract the deer. The leaves fell on the Shiva Lingam down. He waited for a long time. Pleased with his patience in hunger, Lord Shiva appeared and blessed him with wisdom. From that day onwards, the hunter stopped eating meat and became Shiva’s devotee.
Another legend is that once the Earth was faced with an imminent danger. Goddess Parvati pleaded with Lord Shiva to save the world. Pleased with her prayers he saved the world from destruction and from then onwards people started worshipping Shiva as a saviour.
Lord Shiva did not offer his devotees a belief system. His insistence was to be a seeker rather than a believer. He did not exhort his disciples to worship or pray passively. He invited them to explore and participate in purposeful dialogue. Shiva is an invitation to consciousness and responsibility. He was interested in good actions rather than rigidity of rites, rituals and superstitions. As Natraj, Shiva’s dance is a roaring ecstasy of life instead of a brooding mood. He is both – a temporal and a spiritual incarnation.
Zile Singh can be contacted at [email protected]