DemosNews: Om Namah Shivaya
Om Namah Shivaya

Initially, after several attempts to understand exactly what Shivratri festival celebrates and what the celebrations entail, I gave up.

Indeed, giving up on analytic inquiries into the culture that surrounds me here in India has become a recurring trend in my life. Questions continue to lead to vastly divergent answers, even when my most reliable sources are proffering answers to my most simple questions. But what I am finding is that giving up the Western-style, university-trained analytic approach is a big part of coming to an understanding of what surrounds me here in India. Throwing myself in first and thinking about it later has become part of the fun, and the only way to function.

And so the point is that I left Delhi in a hurry to get to Varanasi in time for Shivratri despite the fact that at the time, I only had a few snippets of information. 1)Varanasi is (as mentioned previously) one of the holiest sites in Hinduism, 2)Varanasi is in Uttar Pradesh -- the most populated and most Hindu state in the Republic, and 3)one thing is for sure, Hindu festivals never disappoint the curious observer.

Turns out, as suspected, I was not alone. Thousands of pilgrims cram into the old neighborhoods of Varanasi to visit the myriad temples where both man- and nature-made “Lingums” are enshrined. Lingums are iconic phalluses believed to be manifestations of Shiva himself and a reminder of time’s infinitude. Here is a relevant paragraph that I like from a website explaining the holiday:

"Time is invisible and formless. Therefore Mahakal Shiva, as per the Vedas, manifested himself as "LINGUM" to make mankind aware of the presence of Eternal Time. That day when Shiva manifested himself in the form of "Lingum" was the fourth day of the dark night in the month of 'Magha' i.e. February-March. Maha Shivratri continues to be celebrated forever and ever.”

And the celebrating is outstanding. Three days of festivities and three nights of parades and carousing. The hooplah is fueled by a mixture of religious fervor, general joi de vivre, and lots and lots of Bhang Lassi -- a sweet yogurt milkshake infused with a potent Indian hash byproduct. This concoction is dispensed of by children at street-stands, and men ladling out of huge drums from the front of the stage or back of the parade float. (It is surprising to me that the whole affair isn’t overwhelmed by hippies and pot-heads from far and wide.)

Pilgrams flock to the temples to show their devotion and appease Shiva by adorning the Lingums with milk, yogurt, honey, flowers, and bael leaves. The halls fill with shouts and whispers of the mantra “Om Namah Shivaya.” According to that same website from before, it is believed that “[h]e, who utters the names of Shiva during Shivratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths.”

Devotion is unswerving and sometimes borderline ferocious, and so inside, the temples get jam-packed quickly. Trampling with thousands of other bare-footed followers over the foot-deep piles of slippery, sweet, leafy detritus on the temples’ marble floors is a feeling I will not soon forget.

Outside the nights of Shivratri are filled with parades, other-worldly costumes and flashy bright lights. Like the wedding parades I am used to in Delhi, dozens of marching laborers hold tall faux-crystal chandeliers on top of towel-turbans on their heads. Each man’s chandelier is plugged into the next mans’ and the last man’s is plugged into a bellowing diesel generator on an ox-cart that follows the parade spewing out thick black smoke and a hell of a clamor.

Children dressed as various gods occupy their various floats in the parades. In order, I assume, to achieve maximum visibility, many of the god- and goddess-children are propped up on bicycle-seats mounted at the end of 6-foot poles that are attached like ship masts to their rolling floats. From afar, with the street level obstructed by the crowds, these spookey costumed children flow by, slowly sailing over the crowds (while holding onto their seats for dear life!).

Other costumed children sit in the floats, on horses, camels and elephants or walk on the street acting out the parts of their lovely, laughing or livid deities. One float was an uncharacteristically unadorned farm cart full of stark-naked little boys painted black as tar. Obviously I have not figured out what the hell that was all about.

But that is OK. Dive in first, and think about it later. Probably not a great life lesson, but it worked out well for me at Shivratri.

© 2021 NCW of DemosNews
THE DILLI: This is the blog of Noah Waxman, an American guy in Delhi (Dilli), India.

March 28, 2008 at 3:02am
DemosRating: 4
Hits: 1157

Genre: Away (Spectacles)
Type: Critical
Tags: India, Hindu, Festivals, Varanasi

Links:  http://www.thedilli.blogspot.c...

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