SUKKUR / KARACHI: Amid the hustle bustle of rickshaws and cars weaving their way through New MA Jinnah Road, there is a small alley that leads to Shri Swaminarayan temple, where a large number of Hindus are gathered to celebrate the festival of Shivaratri.
The festival is held every year on the 13th night and 14th day of the Hindu month of Phalguna or Maagh and marks the wedding anniversary of Hindu god Lord Shiv and goddess Parvati.
On Monday afternoon, the temple in Saddar is sparsely decorated for the special prayers but there is a steady stream of worshippers making their way in. Several of them had stayed up late the night before, when the Shivaratri celebrations officially started. A group of young men are sitting on the floor making garlands out of yellow and orange marigolds. The sound of hymns praising Lord Shiv, the god who fulfils all desires of steadfast believers, does not make its way out of the temple grounds. The melodies become clearer the closer you get to the puja, the scent of incense guiding the way.
Devotees ring the temple’s bell, one by one, before entering the temple. They bow down in front of Shiv’s idol, many choosing to pour milk over the idol and crack open a coconut. Several men and women fast on the day as well.
Pooja, who was praying at the temple on Monday, recalls her aunt’s experience. Her aunt’s desire to find a loving partner was granted by Lord Shiv, she says, adding that her aunt has complete faith in the god and that is why she fasts on Shivaratri.
Celebrations at Sadhu Bala
“Today is the day when Bhagwan Shankar [another name for Lord Shiv] tied the knot with Mata Parvati,” says Geeta, who has come to Sadhu Bala temple in Sukkur all the way from Shikarpur along with her husband and children. For the Hindu community, Shivaratri is one of the biggest festivals, she says.
Since Sadhu Bala is located in the middle of River Indus, men and women take boats to reach the temple. They throw food, flowers and coins in the river as make their way across the waters. A teenage girl explains that they make a wish when they throw these items. “If it is fulfilled, I will distribute food among the pilgrims next year,” she says. Another girl, Asha, says she wants to become a doctor so she threw coins in the river.
A woman threw cooked rice and piece of dough in the river for the riverine species. She says she is trying to appease god. Meanwhile, Ratan Kumar showered the river with rose metals, saying he wants the river to always flow like this.
When they disembark from the boats, the worshippers are greeted by walkthrough metal detectors followed by several vendors selling snacks, cold drinks and ice cream, the most popular one being the one for gol gappay.
Shivaratri attracts more pilgrims than the annual urs of Baba Bankhandi Maharaj, says Sukkur Hindu Panchayat president Mukhi Eshwar Lal Makehja. He explains that the day starts with the pilgrims taking a bath in the river at around 5am in an attempt to wash away all impurities. After that, the pilgrims gather for agni pooja [fire prayers], followed by a recitation of their holy book, Geeta.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2016.