Shivratri Observed in NYC
Indo-Caribbean Hindus in greater New York observed the annual auspicious festival of Maha Shivratri, worshipping Lord Shiva, last Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning at temples and in their homes. Shivratri is one of the most important festivals of Hinduism glorifying Lord Shiva, who is known as the Destroyer in the Hindu Trinity with the others being Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector and Preserver). It is the custom in Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam, etc. for Hindus to trek to temples or their home mandirs in the morning to pay obeisance to the Lord.
The festival obtains its name from the word rath which means night; so Shivraatri is observed in the evening but puja is also performed the following morning. During Shivratri, devotees keep vigil all night singing praises and offering supplications to Lord Shiva who is propitiated through the medium of a lingham in which devotees offer jaal (specially prepared milk and or water) at midnight and in the morning. Shiva is worshipped to ward off dangers and evils assailing mankind. Several temples hosted religious discourses from the Ramayana or the Shiv Puranas in the evenings preceding the celebration of Shivraatri. At temples, devotees prayed with utmost reverence (bhakti).
The significance of Shivratri is a deliverance of all from death. It is observed every year on the 13th day (Triodasi) of the dark half (Krishna Paksh or vad) of the month of Phalgun or magh (February). This is not to suggest that Shiva is worshipped only on this day. Shiva is worshipped any day but an auspicious day has been set aside annually for the exclusive worshipping of Shiva, the fountain of all cosmic energy and power and the consort of Goddess Parvati (Mother of the Universe) and father of Lord Ganesh (who showers knowledge upon devotees). Shiva's abode is on Mount Kailash in north India bordering China with his consort Parvati and his children Ganesh and Skanda and his vehicle the bull, called nandi.
Shiva is the lord of all things in the universe, including its originator. He is usually seated on full blown lotus and dressed with a piece of tiger skin (projecting power) around his waist. He has five mouths and three eyes and is decorated with various jewels with each having a symbolic meaning. The three eyes represent the sun, moon and fire. There lies a crescent moon in his jatah or hair; the holy Ganges river flow from the top knot of the jatah. Shiva's body is smeared with bhasma or ash and his neck is blue after he drank the ocean of poison to save the universe from extinction with his tremendous act of self-abnegation consuming an ocean of poison destined to destroy the world.
On Shivratri, people attempt to reach the pinnacle of divinity through meditation and concentration in their prayers on Shiva chanting OM NAMAH SHIVAAYA. The lord bestows auspicious blessings in abundance on devotees who pray and chant the mantra with sincerity. Shiva makes the devotees immortal through their genuine prayers. According to Hindu scriptures, anyone who fasts on Shivratri prostrating to the Lord would gain salvation. Thus, many Hindus fast (avoiding meat, sex, alcohol, and other world things) and visited the temple to perform pooja. The day is so auspicious that Shiva sheds grace on anyone who even accidentally and unintentionally utters or listens to his name. Just attending temple is rewarded with blessings. Worshippers of Shiva gain longevity of life, success, and prosperity in all fields. And through bhakti, one learn to conquer evil qualities such as laziness, restlessness and lust which hinder human progress.
Thousands visited the temples Tuesday night to propitiate the Lord in the form of the lingham or the murthis. There were ritualistic poojas, meditation, singing, and chanting of verses from the scriptures. Bliss, piousness and peace pervaded the mandir as the pandit read the holy scriptures and worshippers paid obeisance the lord. Devotion commenced with recitals of special mantras (verses), bhajans (songs) and praises of Shiva. Many parents brought along their children in an effort to inculcate good values in them. There was a feeling of togetherness amongst the congregation. Kirtan groups led the worshippers with devotional songs accompanied with music from harmonium, dantaal, jaal and drums throughout the service and everyone joined in chorus.
Devotees conducted oblations (purification rituals and ceremonies) during the night and at sunrise the following morning. They meditated and offered flowers and prasad (mahamboog, fruits, sugar cane, anar, among others) to the lotus feet of the Lord. They offered jaal including water from the Holy Ganges on the Shiva Lingam. The Lingham, which literally means an emblem through which the lord is propitiated, was bathed with dhar (mixture of curd, milk, honey, sugar, cloves, tills, and other sweet spices) and smeared with all kinds of paraphernalia (sandal paste, sendur, and chandan). Incenses (agarbati, gugul, cloves, camphor, Kasturi, samagri) were burnt as offerings and havan was performed. There were long lines of devotees at the Mandirs to make offerings in the kund. Devotional songs were sung. I recall in my boyhood days in Guyana worshipping at the Port Mourant Shivala, the oldest temple in Guyana through various offerings, in the morning following Shivaratri.
While worshippers felt fulfilled and blessed during this religious festival, they must not see Shivratri as a once in a year event. Every moment of peoples’ lives should be spent prostrating to the lotus feet of God and serving humanity