“A seat made of precious stones, a bath in delightfully cool water, a splendid apparel bedecked, sandalpaste perfumed with musk, jasmine and champaka flowers arranged upon Bilva leaves, incense as well as a lamp, lit…Clarified butter, milk porridge, the five-fold food, a cooling drink of milk and curds with plantains, a variety of vegetables, aromatic water and scented betel – all these offerings… have I conceived in my mind out of love and devotion; do accept them, my Lord.”
Ancestors of Hindus were very creative and created huge number of Gods, perhaps more than their own total population at that time of history. They continued doing so as their population increased. However, after the Vedic era of Gods representing various manifestations of nature, three of them- Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh or Shiva remained the main.
Today, February 16, 2007 is Shivratri. All the temples are full with devotees. I took my wife Yamuna to the Shakti Mandir in sector 40 of Noida for rituals- milk bath of Shiva and offering of His favourite fruits and flowers. She was on fast till noon too. I don’t go for almost any now. Reason is age and perhaps the lack of mental strength. My religiosity now is limited to reading and writing. Here is a story about Shivaratri.
According to a legend in the Shiva Purana, once Brahma and Vishnu were fighting over who was the superior of the two. Horrified at the intensity of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene. To make them realize the futility of their fight, Shiva assumed the form of a huge column of fire in between Brahma and Vishnu. Awestruck by its magnitude, they decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other.
Brahma assumed the form of a swan and went upwards and Vishnu as Varaha went into the earth. Nevertheless, light has no limit and though they searched for thousands of miles, neither could find the end. On his journey upwards, Brahma came across a ketaki flower wafting down slowly. When asked where she had come from, the ketaki replied that she had been placed at the top of the fiery column as an offering. Unable to find the uppermost limit, Brahma decided to end his search and take the flower as a witness. At this, the angry Shiva revealed his true form. He punished Brahma for telling a lie, and cursed him that no one would ever pray to him.
The ketaki flower too was banned from being used as an offering for any worship, as she had testified falsely. Since it was on the 14th day in the dark half of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a linga, the day is especially auspicious and is celebrated as Maha Shivratri. Worshipping Shiva on this day is believed to bestow one with happiness and prosperity.
Shiva is equally repected in Tamil literature. Shiva is considered the supreme dancer too. He is Natraj.
Tirumular, the author of Tirumantiram describes the dance of Shiva in verse in Tamizh or Tamil.
“He dances through the Vedas,/ He dances through the fire of Kundalini,/ He dances in Bodha, the pure consciousness,/ He dances in all three worlds,/ He dances with gods,/ He dances with celestial beings,/ He dances with rishi-munis,/ He dances with Parashakti,/ He dances with jivas,/ He is the supreme dancer!”
“He performs the dance of Atbudha – the dance of wonder. It is also called the dance of Sadashiva. Shiva is incomplete without Shakti while Shakti is incomplete without Shiva. When Shivashakti dances it is Atbudha or the dance of wonder”.
The story of Tirumular is equally exciting. He was a Siddha Yogi who lived in the Himalayas. Once he travelled to the southern regions to meet Muni Agastyar. At Podigai Hills in Tamizhnadu, he witnessed a herd of cows standing and crying around the dead body of the cowherd, named Mulan. Moved with compassion for the cows, Tirumular left his own body and entered the body of Mulan. Mulan came alive, and then took the cows to their village. When Tirumular turned- Mulan returned to the spot where he had entered Mulan body, he was taken aback to see that his body was missing. He attributed this to the grace of Shiva and accepted his fate. He remained in Thiruvavaduthurai and became a recluse. He meditated under a Peepal tree. In the state of samadhi, he would utter verse in Tamil. His followers wrote and recorded them.. Tirumular during his life span uttered 3,000 verses of high philosophy and came to be known as the Tirumantiram. Tirumular says: “Chanting ‘Shivaya Namaha’, again and again, will make your body red, then gold, and in time, shall behold the golden feet of the Lord and finally witness the fantastic dance of the golden feet too”.
I am happy today that the present generation is pretty religious-minded, if the number of temples in Noida and crowd there can be taken as a measure.