Shivaratri, a Night Dedicated to Shiva
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Shivaratri, a Night Dedicated to Shiva

By Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy, Former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore

Shivaratri is celebrated all over India and in our city too. It is referred to as ‘Shivaratri’ perhaps because devotees worship Shiva throughout the night. This is particularly true with regard to most Shiva temples.

According to mythology, Shiva performed his Sandhya Thandava during the ‘pradoshakala’ or twilight time and this is called cosmic dance. It is believed that when he performed this dance, each one of the Sanskrit letters came into existence and thus he is credited with the invention of Sanskrit language. Later the great grammarian Panini arranged them in a proper order.

Adi Shankaracharya has composed many stotras which are current even today and they are a repository of Shiva-lore. In fact, Acharya Shankara brought into practice a form of worship famous as ‘Panchayatana’ which is a harmonious synthesis of various religious practices in which Shiva and Shakthi are prominent.

The British, who were adept in ruling this country, used the technique of dividing the Indian population as Aryans and Dravidians. According to them, Dravidians were the people who inhabited South India and were worshippers of trees, snakes, etc., and considered Shiva as a Dravidian God.

The British also told the people that Aryans, who lived in North India, spoke Aryan language (refined) and Dravidians were inferior because their language was not refined. They also said that Aryans were superior and Dravidians inferior. Shiva was referred to as Pashupathi, the Lord of animals and naturally was inferior to Vedic Gods.

As the Vedas were composed in North India, they were superior and the Dravidians were confined to South India where they were still aboriginals. The Dravidian movement was supported by the people of Tamil Nadu as they felt that they were the original people who lived in South India and the Aryans were from outside India.

Let us examine Vedic literature to find out the antiquity of Shiva as God Almighty. Shiva does not appear in the Rigvedic pantheon. Mention is made of Rudra, a hunter with his formidable bow. Actually the word Shiva meant auspiciousness (bhadram, shubham and mangalam). The Rig Veda depicts a primordial scene when Rudra was created. Brahma gave him many names such as Bhava, Sharva, Ishana, Shiva, Pashupathi, Bhima, Ugra and Mahadeva.

However, his prominence is found during the time of Yajur Veda where glorification of Shiva or Rudra takes place in the mantra ‘Rudradhyaya’ and is recited even now while doing abhisheka to Shiva. As he drank poison, he is known as Nilalohita or Nanjundeshwara and the Nanjundeshwara temple at Nanjangud is famous, considered as Kashi of the South.

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Every Hindu’s greatest ambition is to go to Kashi and worship the Shiva Linga there and get religious merit thereby. By worshipping Shiva Linga, one would not be born again and would get Moksha. Thus Kashi tour (Kashiyatre) has become a part of the life of Hindus. Now Kashi has become a clean city after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister.

The evidence of Shiva worship has now gone back to almost 5,000 years. The Indus Valley culture has given good evidence of the worship of Shiva. In Indus Valley sites seals have been found and they contain various animals and writing. This writing has not yet been deciphered in spite of efforts by foreign and Indian scholars. In one of the clay seals, deity is found with horns and three faces seated in the posture of a Mahayogi.

This brings to our mind the yogic aspect of Shiva. Further, Shiva is famous as Pashupathi, the Lord of animals. One Pashupathi seal has been found in which a deity is sitting in yogic posture. He has a crown which has a trident or trishula. He is surrounded by various animals which make him Pashupathi. This is taken as the earliest representation of Shiva in human form going back to about 3,000 BC. In addition, small Lingas also have been found at Mohenjo-Daro. Linga is most popular in present day worship. In fact, this brings to our mind the famous Brihadeeshwara temple at Tanjavoor. Thus Shiva was worshipped in both human as well as Linga form.

This event is celebrated particularly in Sringeri where the Jagadguru performs the worship throughout night, starting from about six in the previous evening and continuing till the early morning of the next day. Sringeri’s main deity is Chandramouleshwara which has a hoary antiquity dating back to the time of Adi Shankaracharya who scholars believe flourished is about eighth century AD.

People believe that they get religious merit (punya) in ample measure by watching this great spectacle on the day of Shivaratri at Sringeri. This year, this festival falls on 13th of this month. This year it is being celebrated by both Chandramana (Moon reckoning) and Sauramana (Sun reckoning). Our own city has the Eshwara temple as well as Amrutheshwara temple and Trineshwara temple. There may be many more temples where worship of Shiva is done.

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Once the worship of Shiva became popular, Puranas were composed in glorification of Shiva. Shivamahapurana became a repository of Shiva culture including various forms of iconography. Even foreign dynasties like the Kushanas were attracted by the worship of Shiva and they depicted him on their coins. Nandi the vehicle of Shiva too found a place on these coins.

Perhaps the earliest temple for Shiva in Karnataka was built around first century AD. This is called Pranaveshwara Linga located at Talagunda in Shivamogga district. Almost all the dynasties that ruled Karnataka from Kadambas to Wadiyars of Mysuru were worshippers of Shiva in addition to other Gods. Hoysala Vishnuvardhana who was a Srivaishnava built more temples for Shiva when compared to Vishnu. Even Hyder and Tipu are known to have given gifts to Shiva temples.

Thus Shiva is with us since the past 5,000 years and he will remain so in the centuries to come. A comment by a medieval Sanskrit poet may be recounted here. He addresses Shiva thus:

“You are being tormented because you live in the Himalayas; you have Ganga (water) on your head; devotees perform abhisheka throughout the night with water. I pity you. Please come and occupy my heart where I will keep you warm.” A splendid idea and concern for Shiva indeed!

Let us worship Shiva and think of Him and do good deeds as was done by the Lord Himself. That is our duty too on this Shivaratri Day. Let Him shower His blessings on us mortals.

The Lord who brought Ganga to Earth sits on Cauvery

Among many places where devotees can worship Lord Shiva, here is one idol that is in the middle of water. The statue has been installed inside the VC Canal on the way to Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary and it is a scenic spot when Cauvery River flows around the idol. It is over 200 meters before one enters the Sanctuary. Devotees can access the statue with the help of an electric pole that has been laid across the canal touching the base of the statue. There is a Shivalinga, an idol of Lord Ganesha and a small statue of Nandi. A priest performs regular puja to the idol and during Mahashivaratri, many devotees come here to pray to the Lord. The blue statue is so attractive that devotees say, “Lord Shiva brought the Ganga to Earth and he is now sitting on Cauvery.”

February 11, 2018

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “Shivaratri, a Night Dedicated to Shiva”

  1. Thethreewisemen says:

    what a silly statement reading the British. The same nonsense about Dravidians as inferior race brought about the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu and gave rise to political parties like the DMK. The distinction between Aryans and Dravidians existed long before British arrived in India. True that Sanskrit and even Vedas trace their origins in Aryan-inhabited North India, but that does not mean Dravidians are any inferior. Whilst great poets and literary figures who contributed to Sanskritoriginated in North India, there were too in South India-for example, the poet Bhasa. We reject the nonsense written here about Aryans and Dravidians.

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