Hindus around the world will celebrate Maha Shivaratri on February 17th. Here in T&T too, the auspicious occasion is celebrated with great pomp. Maha Shivaratri is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and while most festivals are celebrated during the day, this particular one is celebrated at night —the 13th lunar night into the 14th day (one day before the new moon) during the Hindu month of Phagun.
“Lord Shiva is the third God in the Hindu triumvirate (three God heads)” explained Pandit Ramesh Kissoon, spiritual leader of the La Plaisance Road Hindu Mandir, La Romaine. The Hindu triumvirate consists of three gods responsible for upkeep, creation and destruction of the universe. “The other two are Brahma and Vishnu” he explained further. “Brahma is the creator of the universe, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva, the destroyer but he destroys the universe in order to recreate it.”
“It is easy to misunderstand the words ‘creator, preserver and destroyer’” the pandit added. “Brahma brings into manifestation that which already exists, Vishnu sustains all of these creations to ensure that the universe works the way it is designed to work while Shiva reabsorbs everything until such time that manifestation takes place again.”
You are probably asking yourself which god will want to destroy and why would that god destroy. The spiritual leader addressed this: “Hindus believe that Shiva’s powers of destruction and creation are used to destroy the illusions and the imperfections of this world. This is done to pave the way for beneficial change—constructive destruction —so for this reason Lord Shiva is seen as a source of good combining many contradictory elements.”
The powerful Hindu god is depicted as a man with a blue face or throat, ashy white in colour or entirely blue in some images. Kissoon related a popular story which speaks about the god’s colour: “In order to get amrit (nectar of life) from the bottom of the ocean, gods and demons churned the ocean and many things came up—precious gems, animals, gold, silver and poison called Halalal. When this poison came up it threatened to destroy the entire world and everyone had to pray to Lord Shiva to ask him to destroy it. Lord Shiva took the poison and stored it in his neck and because of this he was given the name ‘Neel Kantha’ which means the ‘blue-throated one.’”
The god also has three eyes. “The third eye in the middle of forehead represents the wisdom and foresight Shiva has and is believed to be his untamed, raw energy,” Kissoon explained. The tilak (dot in the middle of the forehead) is placed on the heads of Hindus in an attempt to encourage devotees to focus with their inner spiritual eye. There are three horizontal lines drawn with white ash on Shiva’s forehead (the vibhuti); “These lines represent his superhuman power and wealth” said Kissoon “and the Trishul (trident)—represents the three functions of the Hindu Trinity (Triumvirate).”
The cobra wrapped around Lord Shiva’s neck in its striking position probably scares many but as Kissoon related, “it signifies Lord Shiva’s power over the most dangerous creatures in the world. “From a more philosophical perspective” pointed out the pandit, “the snake represents Kal (time) ever hovering over us. Lord Shiva is always in meditation and is depicted as abstaining from all earthly pleasures. His meditative depiction teaches us that we should always be concentrating on the lord and that we should always be ready for when death strikes because it can strike at any time.”
The great god is also represented by the Linga. “This is a phallic symbol” says Kissoon “and it represents the raw power and masculinity of Shiva. Hindus believe it represents the seed of the universe demonstrating Shiva’s quality of creation.
“You may notice that while many Hindu gods are depicted in lavish surroundings, Lord Shiva is depicted simply on skin. “This shows that he is a Maha Yogi and his attachment to this world is limited.”
Parvati Devi, his consort, whenever present, is always at his side and their relationship is one of equality. “Hinduism does not subscribe to women being inferior to men” insisted Pandit Kissoon. “Our roles and responsibilities may be different but we are in no way superior or inferior to the other.”
He then pointed out that sometimes one may see images where Lord Shiva is depicted as half man, half woman. The pandit disclosed: “Parvati Devi was complaining that Shiva did not have time for her and he split his body showing half of his and half of hers saying you are a part of me; you are always with me.”
While Shiva appears as an ascetic and is detached from worldly things, balance is struck and he shows contradictory behaviour when it comes to the relationship with his consort and his two sons. He is known to be a passionate lover but within the bounds of marriage.
The pandit then reminded us that even though Shiva is seen as peaceful we should remember that “still waters run deep—Shiva really holds great power internally; a power that exists in all of us—a power for greatness.”
So what is Maha Shivaratri all about? On the Hindu calendar there are 12 Shivaratris but Maha Shivaratri is especially important because it is believed that this is the night when Lord Shiva performed the Tandav dance or the dance of creation, preservation and destruction.
“On this night” Kissoon stated, “Hindus perform ling puja while we pray for neutrality of mind, body and soul. We pray that our scales must be balanced and we must not be swayed to any extreme. Married couples also pray to Shiva and Parvati for happiness in marriage since they are upheld as the perfect example of marital bliss.”