Today I experienced, in some small way, my first Hindu festival in India. Maha Shivaratri is one of the most important festivals for those worshipping Shiva 'destroyer of the universe' and probably the most important of Hindu gods.
Maha Shivaratri or the day of Extreme Power is one of 12 Shivaratri throughout the year but this one was Shivas favourite day. It falls on the 13th night and 14th day of the Hindu calendar of Phalguna/Maagh, usually in February or March. In 2016 it falls on 7th March
On this day Shiva saved the universe by drinking poison. He didn't actually drink it but kept it in throat by using a yoga technique. This poison sent his throat blue, hence we see him portrayed as blue in colour.
On this day Shiva also married Parvati (also known as at goddess Shakti) the story goes that Shiva kept dancing (Tandava) and couldn't/wouldn't stop and this meant the world would end. Parvati worshipped Shiva and finally he stopped dancing and all was saved. Shiva and Shakti (Parvati) married and became one, this is known as Ardhanarishvara. 'Lord who is half woman' and you'll see him depicted with one half of his body as a man, the other a woman.
The festival is celebrated all day by fasting, although one meal is allowed and making offerings. It is believed that followers will be cleansed of their sins today. Although devotees will be at the temple throughout the day the most important time is throughout the night, when prayers and a vigil are held in respect of Shiva saving the universe from perpetual darkness. Throughout the festival the Shiva mantra 'om namah shivaya' is chanted.
We have 2 Hindu temples almost next to each other in Vasant Vihar, only a 5 minute walk from home. Hubby noticed they were selling flowers and offerings outside on his way to work, so I though I'd take a walk along and see what I could see. I always feel as if I'm intruding but I think this is just that I don't understand what is happening. Outside both temples were locals selling their flowers and food. Local street children accosted me as ever begging, it is so difficult to not be moved by them.
I first stopped at Shri Sanakan Dharam Mandir, where most of the outside photos were taken, but I didn't venture inside. On reaching the second m, Shankar Vidya Kendra, an elderly gentleman insisted I came inside. So shoes divested I joined him. First as he 'washed' his hands in what I assumed was holy water before taking me to where the lingam was. This is an abstract symbol of Shiva, recognizable to many as a phallus, showing power and sits with yoni, representing Shakti. We saw many of these when we visited Cambodia and the temples of Angkor Wat. I was given 2 pieces of fruit by one of the priests before soon after exiting the temple.
Only a few photos taken on my phone inside as it didn't feel appropriate