…The Musings of a Strange Guy

Maha Shivratri Festival

“Maha Shivratri falls on the I3th (or I4th) day of the dark half of ‘Phalgun’ (February-March). The name means “the night of Shiva”. The ceremonies take place chiefly at night. This is a festival observed in honour of Lord Shiva and it is believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati.

On this festival people worship ‘Shiva – the Destroyer’. This night marks the night when Lord Shiva danced the ‘Tandav’.

Shiva – the word meaning auspicious – is one of the Hindu Trinity, comprising of Lord Brahma, the creator, Lord Vishnu, the preserver and Lord Shiva or Mahesh, the Destroyer and Re-Producer of life. Shiva is known by many names like “Shankar”, “Mahesh”, “Bholenath”, “Neelakanth”, “Shambhu Kailasheshwar”, “Umanath”, “Nataraj” and others.

For few people, Shiva is “Paramatman”, “Brahman”, the Absolute, but many more prefer to see Shiva as a personal God given to compassion for his worshippers, and the dispenser of both spiritual and material blessings. Related to the Absolute concept is Shiva as “Yoganath” meaning the Lord of Yoga, wherein he becomes teacher, path and goal. As such he is the “Adi Guru” or the Highest Guru of ‘Sannyasins’ who have renounced the world to attain the Absolute.

He is the most sought-after deity amongst the Hindus and they pray to him as the god of immense large-heartedness who they believe grants all their wishes. Around him are weaved many interesting stories that reveal His magnanimous heart. Not only this, but these stories and legends also enrich the Indian culture and art.” (from http://www.indialife.com/Festivals/shivratri.htm )

Maha Shivratri is observed both as a discipline and a festivity, keeping a strict fast all day and night, taking only fruits and milk. As a special discipline of this festival, an all-night vigil is kept at the temple during which meditation and prayers are performed. All through the night, devotees pray and sing in praise of Shiva, recount His glories and exploits, chant mantras and recite his Names.

Here in Mauritius, Maha Shivratri is celebrated with much fervour by Mauritians of Hindu faith (and others); every year, thousands of people set out from their homes to go on a pilgrimage to the Grand Bassin sacred lake (now also known as ‘Ganga Talao’).

These pilgrims erect a Kanwar – a large wooden structure decorated with white paper and mirrors, which they carry to Grand Bassin.

Devotees carrying their Kanwar to Grand Bassin dress in white as a symbol of purification. The pilgrimage last several days as devotees walk from their respective village or town to the sacred lake. Several breaks are made along the way for a short rest and meal (bananas, water, milk or tea).

Many voluntary and religious associations set up special stopovers along the road to welcome pilgrims and offer them a break and food. Local public transport authorities organise special routes to and from Grand Bassin to facilitate the access to the sacred lake.

Prayers and devotional songs are held in the Grand Bassin Temple where devotees offer bilva (or bael) leaves, fresh milk, pure water and other sacraments over the Siva Lingam (a black stone pillar symbol of God Shiva).

Other rituals are performed by the lake and some water (from the lake) collected and taken home. On Maha Shivaratri day, devotees pour the water collected from the sacred lake onto the Siva Lingam at their respective temples.

On Friday (04-03-03), I set out from home with some of my friends to walk to Grand Bassin. It was a trying experience, especially with the harsh weather conditions on the road: we were all thoroughly soaked and were constantly buffetted by fierce gusts of wind; yet this was an uplifting experience as well; it was a sort of penance, if you like, and as the skies opened and the rain poured on us, we felt as if we were born again, purified and cleansed…

Today (Monday 07-03-03), I went there again with my uncle and my dad, though this time, we went by car. We had lovely weather and could thus spend more time walking about the place, visiting the temples and praying. I took some pics yesterday and today; some of them show pilgrims on their way to or from Grand Bassin with their kanwars; others were taken at the sacred lake itself (a lake intimately connected with the River Ganges in India, since water from that sacred river was brought here by devotees and poured there). Grand Bassin, set in the high grounds of our island, in the midst of woods and wilderness, is our connection to that other world, the world of the spirit.

The following few pictures were taken yesterday in front of my house, and shows pilgrims – young and old – united in their devotion.

One of the myriad kanwars making their determined way to the sacred lake.

Part of the temple complex at Grand Bassin; photo taken while climbing the hill to the Hanuman temple situated at its summit.

A view of the lake, with one its tiny islands in the foreground…

One of the most important rituals at Grand Bassin, where devotees come to pray and make offerings at the lake

Goddess Lakshmi, who bestows good fortune and prosperity…

Devotees worship Hanuman, the ideal bhakta, or devotee, of Lord Rama

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