The first fodder for the blog I finally created this year were articles written in 2013, intended to be the beginning of a “festival series”. Technically I am a Hindu and the scope is endless for a series like that to be immense and deep to explore. I am constantly told to pull out my personal opinion and stick to the facts in articles like this, but I’m not a reporter for a reason.
Shivpuri has always been where my words find their flow, whatever the topic may be. In a world fraught with the ugly consequences of religion, this town has taught me the beauty of worship. Three years ago, I witnessed firsthand Ganesh Chaturthi 2013, or the birthday of Lord Ganesh. I not only learned the words to Om Jai Jagdish once and for all during that annual ten-day celebration, I also saw how in a small town like this, religious festivals promote the people’s sense of community and are pretty much the main reason for social gatherings.
In the West people clean their homes with fervor once a year, with the intent of welcoming spring and the light and joy of the season into their homes. Hindus on the other hand have nearly fifty different annual religious festivals, every year so vast in festivals that a unique Hindu lunar-based calendar exists to mark them all. Coming up as I write this is Maha Shivaratri meaning The Great Night Of Shiva.
It is celebrated for over three or ten days based on the Hindu luni-solar calendar. Every lunar month, there is a Shivaratri (12 per year). The main festival is called Maha Shivaratri, or great Shivaratri, and this is on the 13th night (waning moon) and 14th day of the month Phalguna (Magha). According to the Gregorian calendar, the day falls in either the month of February or March. In brainstorming for this article I’ve heard about all sorts of rituals on the big day, whether it’s fasting in God’s name to prompt the deity’s blessings or prioritizing the time for prayer above any daily duties.
There was a procession through the heart of many-templed Shivpuri, to give a huge silver avatar of Lord Shiva the chance to “visit” the other deities in the area at their temples, carried on the shoulders of firm believers. Shiva is the patron god of yoga, meditation and the arts, as well as one of the Holy Trinity of Hinduism alongside Brahma and Vishnu. Witnessing the pushy, chanting crowd flooding the nearest temple as the statue was carried on its journey; I was reminded of a rowdy football crowd. Actually, when I got to see the masses of worshipping souls first-hand, I couldn’t help but realize the difference in spirituality and hardcore religious people.
To many people in small towns like this, God in any form (each standing for different blessings or different virtues) is like a friend, a being to have faith in when times get hard. The avatars of Hinduism’s many different deities help people to feel less alone in their struggles. The same goes for the average religious person, I suppose. The media likes to dwell on those who commit atrocities in the name of God, but people like that would use any excuse to spread their hatred.
As someone who draws inspiration and courage from fictional characters and celebrities I look up to, I would never disrespect those who take strength from the intangible. For me, the courage to face hard days comes from family members living and dead, and the love and support I luckily have from them. The strength comes from memories and emotions, as intangible as God but powerful nonetheless. Let people worship statues that represent virtues like honesty, love and gratitude if it makes them feel as strong as I do when I think of how it feels to hold my grandmother’s hand.
It can be no coincidence that the only hymn I know is my Gayatri mantra, when little Gayatri is who I think of when I need a sense of purpose. My family and friends are the only ones I ever need believing in me, but I’m sure at least some of them are as wonderful as they are because of their own faiths in greater beings. Here’s to nobody ever having to struggle or suffer alone, belief in even the possibility of happiness is half the battle.