Guyanese Hindus in America observed the annual pious festival of Maha Shivratri last Monday as they did in Guyana and around the diaspora. Maha Shivaratri is one of the most important festivals of Hinduism glorifying Lord Shiva, known as the Destroyer in the Hindu Trinity of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector and Preserver), and Shiva. Lord Shiva is known as the destroyer of evil and as the dispeller of fears.
According to Hindu teachings, Shiva is the lord of all things in the universe, including its originator. He is worshipped to ward off dangers and evils assailing mankind. Devotees pray with utmost reverence (bhakti) to the Lord and see God in everything around them. Hindus tend to fast for Shivratri.
They chant Om Namah Shivaaya. According to Hindu scriptures, anyone who fasts on Shivratri and prostrate on the feet of the Lord would gain salvation. The day is so auspicious that Lord Shiva sheds grace on anyone who even accidentally and unintentionally utters or listens to his name.
Contemplation of Lord Shiva is most fruitful and one begets true shakti from the Lord. Worshipers of Shiva gain longevity of life, success, and prosperity in all fields.
On Maha Shivaratri, Lord Shiva is worshipped only but Lord Shiva can be worshipped on any day. In the Hindu faith, an auspicious day has been set aside annually for the exclusive worshipping of a God or Goddess. Hence the observance of the Shivratri festival propitiating Lord Shiva, the fountain of all cosmic energy and power.
Shiva is the consort of Goddess Parvati (Mother of the Universe) and father of Lord Ganesh (who showers knowledge upon devotees).
I was fortunate to visit several temples on Shivratri night where mandirs were packed. Beautifully decorated Murthis of Lord Shiva are on display in the mandirs. On Monday, the Mandirs were brightly illuminated with electronic lights and the inner sanctum was beautifully decorated with flowers.
As they did in Guyana, Hindus thronged to the mandirs throughout the course of the day. Shivaratri obtains its name from the word rath which means night. So Shivaratri was observed in the evening, but puja was also performed in the morning before sunrise on that day as well as the following day. Most worshippers visited the temple on Monday evening making offerings to the lord. Worshipping is performed through rituals and oblations on a Shiva Lingam.
This was done through intense devotion, meditation, singing, and chanting of verses from the scriptures. People made offerings themselves with the pandits chanting mantras from the holy books. The lord bestows auspicious things in abundance on devotees who pray with sincerity and makes the devotees immortal.
There are some fifty temples in the greater New York area with each temple packed with worshippers. As in Guyana, many devotees kept vigil all night singing praises and offering supplications to the Lord. As in Guyana, temples held sessions throughout the day.
As in Guyana, elaborate puja (prayer and rituals) ceremonies were conducted at the homes of devout Hindus. The pandits conducted Shiv Puranakathas and some temples also hosted nightly discourses on Shivratri or on the Ramayana the preceding week.
The same was also observed at some temples in Guyana. There was a long procession of people entering the temples I visited in Guyana. At some mandirs, the scenes were that similar to a Diwali celebration. People performed non-stop offering of dhar and aartee. Incense burned continuously.
Fire glowed eternally in the havan kund as devotees made offerings of samagri and other paraphernalia. The long lines of worshipers offered jaal (milk, honey, water, sweet spices, etc) and were blessed by the pandits.
At the conclusion of puja, aartee was performed followed by the distribution of Prasad and dinner.