Indo-Caribbean and other Hindus in New York thronged mandirs to observe the annual auspicious festival of Mahashivratri on Saturday evening. Some mandirs held service from 6:00 AM on Saturday through the day and evening and continuing Sunday. Hindus tend to fast for the day with some also fasting the previous day.
Mahashivratri or Shivaratri is among the most important festivals of Hinduism glorifying Lord Shiva, who is known as the Destroyer in the Hindu Trinity of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector and Preserver), and Shiva (Destroyer of evils). For Hindus, Shiva is the originator and Lord of all things in the universe. Shiva takes the form of a Lingham or Murthi that depicts the Lord, Worshippers performed oblations to the Murthi of Lord Shiva.
There are over fifty West Indian mandirs in New York City. Worshippers streamed into the temples during the day and evening. Thousands crowded mandirs in the evening.
Shivratri is a night festival – of prayer and celebration (of music and rituals). Shivaratri obtains its name from the word rath which means night. It is a night of worshipping Shiva. So Shivaratri is observed in the evening, but puja is also performed during the day and following morning before sunrise. Some devotees kept vigil all night singing praises and offering supplications to the Lord.
Shivratri is observed annually on a day/night as per the darker half moon in the month of February/March just before Holi or Phagwah. This is not to suggest that Shiva is worshipped only on this day as the Lord can be worshipped on any day/night, but an auspicious day has been set aside annually for the exclusive worshipping of Shiva, who Hindus consider as the fountain of all cosmic energy and power. Shivratri is a public holiday in India and a few other countries.
Shivratri worshipping in New York is similar to that in Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, and other parts of the Caribbean with people making offerings to Shiva’s Lingham, an emblem through which the lord is propitiated. Devotees offered jaal (specially prepared milk and/or water with various spices, curd, honey, and other ingredients) and the three pronged bael leaves in the day or at midnight followed by Aartee. Agarbatie is also lit. Prasad (mohanbhog, fruit) is also offered. Worshippers performed non-stop jaal and aartee on the Shiva murthi and the lingham and performed havan (feeding of the fire with small pieces of wood and various spices). Fire glowed eternally in the havan kund.
Pandits presided over service amidst bhajan and kirtan singing. Verses were chanted from the Shiv Purana scripture. Bliss, piousness and peace pervaded as the pandit conducted ceremonies.
The pandits explained that Shiva is worshipped to ward off dangers and evils assailing mankind. Devotees pray with utmost reverence (bhakti) to the lord. Devotees attempt to reach the pinnacle of divinity through meditation and concentration in their prayers on Shiva chanting Om Namah Shivaaya.
The scripture says that anyone who fasts on Shivratri prostrating to Shiva would gain salvation or moksha. Just by attending temple or thinking of the Lord, devotees are rewarded with blessings.
At the conclusion of rituals and ceremonies, attendees were treated to sumptuous dinner and prasad.