Waking up early, on any sacred or festival day and just laying on the bed quietly, listening to the sounds of my mother, aunts and other elders prepare for the day ahead, is something I remember every time one of our festivals is around. I remember the jingle of bangles and anklets, the soft murmurs, and even the softer footsteps, the fragrance of incense sticks combined with the ghee from the lamp in the pooja room, my grandfather’s clear reciting of Shudha Brahma Paratpara Rama. We children would lay in our beds suppressing our excitement, listening and then with a sudden spurt of energy jump up, compete each other to have our bath and race downstairs to be part of whatever was taking place.
Part of my childhood was spent at my maternal home in Kerala, in a joint family. It was a rule every day that we woke up when we heard MS’s suprabatham (MS Subbulaxmi) from the temple nearby. MS’s voice and the suprabatham is an inalienable part of my childhood. We then finished our morning rituals, did our prayers and went to our temple pradikshina before we even had a glass of water. It was what it was, we never thought of it as a hardship and perhaps many in my generation here had a similar upbringing.
While every festival was special, Shivaratri was even more special for us girls, because it was on this day that Lord Shiva married Parvathi Devi. The legend has been told and retold of how the beautiful and talented Parvathi, the daughter of the King Himavaan meditated for years and endured numerous hardships to awaken love in Lord Shiva’s heart. Finally, she succeeded. As children, we never got bored listening to this story again and again. My grandfather who is a great raconteur would paint an ethereal picture of Parvathi as a regal and much-loved princess, as a love-lorn young girl, as a mendicant, going through the rigours of a sanyasin (saint) – all to get the man she has set her heart on.
Once the grandfather told us that if we observed our Shivaratri fast we too could get husbands like Lord Shiva. I believed in it implicitly, but a couple of my cousins whispered that they would pray to Shiva to give them husbands like Lord Krishna as Krishna was a fun-loving God. My aunts smiled, when they heard this and my grandfather’s widowed sister, laughingly asked, “which is better? To be the only wife of Lord Shiva and have his undivided attention or be one amongst the many wives of Lord Krishna?”
We were all stumped. Honestly even I wanted to marry Krishna as who wouldn’t fall for his twinkling eyes and magical smile. However, one has to be practical in such matters and even as a child I decided that I did not want to be one among many. So I chose Shiva.
We were also told that Lord Shiva, the eternal tapaswi keeps a vigil, protecting us and keeping us safe for 364 days and nights. It’s only on this one night (Maha Shivaratri) that he sleeps. This is why we have to stay awake and keep the vigil, offering prayers and singing bhajans. I don’t know the truth of this, perhaps its more of a matter of faith and not debate.
Image courtesy: Artist Manisha Srivastava
To be continued…