Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world. And, as a result, it has many sects, beliefs and schools of thought, that have been in constant transition through the last three millenniums. One of the very popular sects of Hinduism is Shaivism, which involves the worship of Shiva. And today, is Mahashivaratri, or the Night of Shiva, one of the most popular festivals of India.

Most of Hinduism is very ritualistic and involves the worship of deities with much pomp and splendor. Sometimes, multiple priests are involved and people are not really sure if they are inadvertently committing an act of blasphemy, through unintentional omissions, even if their intents are good. With the worship of Shiva, that is generally not the case, since Shiva, the benevolent one, has very little requirement for stricture in worship. And so, thousands of people congregate in temples all across India on Shivaratri, knowing that as long as they show up with devotion, all sins will be forgiven, for Shiva, is a very forgiving God. In fact, in the worship of Shiva, no priests are necessary and so, it is perhaps the only sect of Hinduism that encourages the direct contact of man with God, with no intermediary in between.

When I first started studying Shaivism many years ago, it was a mere curiosity. I was fascinated by the many symbols that are attributed to Shiva, who at the very least, is considered a part of the holy trinity. And some consider him to be the deity, in which the creative, preserving and destructive forces of the universe reside. So, he is the supreme being of a very large number of the followers of Hinduism. People generally see a lot of contradictions in Him, which, in my opinion, sum up the contradictions of the universe. He is the ultimate ascetic, usually shown in a meditative posture, and yet, a family figure with a loving wife, two sons and two daughters. In Hindu mythology, He has saved the universe on several occasions, when other Gods failed, and yet, had to run for his own life when he gave a boon to the demon Bhasmasura, that he could destroy anyone by keeping his hand on the victims head. Of course, the demon started out by trying to make Shiva the first victim!

Most notably, when the primordial oceans were being churned for nectar, poison came out as the inevitable consequence of good being paired with evil. From the brink of destruction, the world was saved, because Shiva easily drank the poison. The moon resides in his long locks of hair and the holy Ganges flows out from them. He carries a trident and a drum, symbolizing his mastery of the martial arts and the many dance forms, the ultimate one of which is Tandava, or the dance of destruction and re-creation of the universe. He is worshiped as Ardhanarishwara,  or the form of God that is both masculine and feminine, since Hindus believe that God has both elements within. He is considered the ultimate Yogi, and the entire philosophy of Yoga, is attributed to Him. And, he is considered the oldest God in the Indus valley civilization, since the Harrapan seals depict him as Pashupatinath, or the lord of all beasts. He is still worshiped in that form in the beautiful Pashupatinath temple in Nepal, which is a sight for sore eyes.

To me, what is most delightful about Shiva is that when he makes an appearance amongst mere mortals, he is usually disguised as someone very ordinary. Mythology has it that the famous warrior Arjuna, was once on a quest for celestial weapons, and came across Shiva disguised as a tribal man in the foothills of the Himalayas. They fought a pitched battle over a wild boar, and the mighty Arjuna was easily defeated by this ordinary looking tribal. Once Arjuna knew who he was fighting, he came to his senses. In Shaivism, when you worship Shiva, you are supposed to leave your ego at home, since that is what interferes with the idea of the universe being more powerful than the individual. Ego is what makes the self more important than the awareness of it. And, the ultimate Yogi, Shiva, is there in Hindu mythology as a reminder to us all, that humility is the most important virtue.

Mahashivaratri is the day when Hindus count their blessings for the divine presence of this deity, whose simplicity has defined their religion over thousands of years. Wish you all a very happy and peaceful Mahashivaratri.


  1. Among the innumerable deities in Hinduism, Shiva is the most powerful and yet so human like a God. I love this image for this human like quality. He is a Bhola, a simple householder, a poor man;so poor that no father wants to give his daughter in marriage to him, a Tapaswi. In short he represents the common man. Of Course, until some one meshes with him and he is forced to open his third eye.
    Wish you a very happy and peaceful Mahashivaratri.

  2. Wonderful Desi Babu!!! I am sharing this on Twitter...

  3. I liked the last bit......about ego & Shaivism.
    Didn't know Shiva had daughters!! Must google about them!

  4. Laxman, Hadaran : Thanks for your kind words.

    Soumya: Yes, he has two daughters, Laxmi and Saraswati, although only some Puranas talk about them.