Celebrating Shivaratri

Today, Monday is Shivaratri. Satya and I went to the temple Saturday to commemorate the festival and it was very crowded! I’d never seen it so crowded before. On the way back and forth I peppered Satya with questions about the festival. Here is what I discovered:


He said that Shivaratri commemorates a man named Kanappa (literally Mr. Eyes). Kanappa was hunting one night and sitting in a tree. On the ground below unbeknownst to him was a linga, Shiva’s sacred symbol. All night Kanappa was dropping leaves on the ground and many fell on the linga. Shiva was so happy about this that he appeared before Kanappa. Kanappa shrugged off the meeting initially and just continued on with his life. As he told the story to others, they told him, “You met Shiva! You are so lucky!”. Kanappa then wanted to see Shiva again so he performed many devotions to Shiva and even decided to sacrifice his eyes to Shiva if only he could see Shiva again. He poked out one eye and was preparing to poke out the next when Shiva appeared again to him. Shiva told him not to poke out his eye and even restored the other eye to Kanappa. Thereafter, Kanappa became a loyal follower of Shiva.

Satya says that this story demonstrates how easily pleased Shiva is and how generous he is. Satya and his family emphasize that Shiva is a simple, generous god. Before I met Satya all I knew was that Shiva was the destroyer-that was it, only that one dimensional view. Satya also says that Shiva even has worshippers among the demons, something I can’t quite understand yet. From my observations so far, Eastern thinking does seem to hold more complexity/shades of grey than Western.

At the temple:

We arrived 10 minutes before the temple was supposed to close for the night, but everything was still happening. In one area, the priests had placed a linga on the back of the Nandi and were leading it around. The priests were also doing the usual ceremony with the fire, blessing hat, and blessed liquid (forget what the liquid is). I still have to improve my sipping abilities-I can’t drink the liquid from my hand gracefully yet as it still goes onto the floor and on my wrist and chin. Little girls wore their most colorful outfits as did some of the women. Satya was a little confused with one group because they were chanting “Narayana Narayana” near Shiva. This confused him because that is one of the names of Vishnu, not Shiva. I guess we will have to ask his parents about that one. Satya also made sure to ring the bell near Shiva area. This was a little difficult because there were so many people there and a lot of people wanted to do the same. A lot of parents would also hold their toddlers in their arms so that the toddlers could ring the bell too. I tried to stay close to Satya, but there were so many people that sometimes we got separated as we made our circuit to the altars of various deities. This time, I did not get the peaceful, holy feeling at the temple but I think that is because we rushed to get there, had to deal with the crowds, and after all that only stayed for 20 minutes.

Last year we went to a small, North Indian temple for this festival. It was a lot different there. There, people poured milk over the linga and then in the main room people were chanting. Satya had no idea what they were chanting, but Saturday at the South Indian one he didn’t know either exactly all that was happening. Last year on Shivaratri was the first time I’d ever been to a Hindu temple and the first time we’d gone together.

Celebrating at home:

Satya called his parents and sister and told them we were going to the temple for the festival. His sister mentioned he was supposed to fast for the day. He sort of followed this because after our usual breakfast of oatmeal we didn’t eat a full meal until the evening. We also made sure we took showers right before we left because being clean is so important for Hindu celebrations. Satya mentioned wanting to bathe the idols we have in the house, but we didn’t get to that this time. In India, his parents had some family members over at their house. All in all, Shivaratri seems to be a smaller, quieter festival compared to some of the other festivals although Wikipedia mentions people staying awake all night in prayer, listening to musicians and watching dancers.


There is a lot about Hinduism/Lingayatism I do not understand yet. I still feel awkward going to the temple, but that is ok. There is a lot that Satya doesn’t know as well. We do what we can. We both think it is important to worship together and to support each other’s festivals and traditions.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Evenshine
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 14:46:38

    You’ve been missed! These traditions are fascinating. Are you and Satya doing anything for Lent?

    Thanks Evenshine. Hmm, we haven’t come up with anything yet. Lent has never been one of my favorite church seasons.

    My family’s Lenten traditions were mostly church ones-attending church for Ash Wednesday, going to communal confession (rather than individual confession), going to stations of the cross, and going for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and then Easter Vigil (in addition to regular weekly Masses). Outside of that there was only hot cross buns, tunafish hotdish, or fish on Friday’s from our family’s favorite restaurants.


  2. M
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 18:56:31

    Lurker delurking 🙂 Am from B’lore though not a Lingayat…

    The Shivrathri tale is that Kannappa was trying to escape the attentions of a tiger, and so climbed a “Bilva” tree. He spent the night trying chase the tiger away by dropping branches and twigs from the tree onto it – the rest of the story is as you posted…Shiva was pleased etc. The Bilva remains a favourite tree for Shiva, and its leaves are used for worship when possible.

    Shivarathri worship usually consists of an all-night abhisheka (the bathing of the shivalinga), accompanied by the recitation of certain specific portions of the vedas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shri_Rudram_Chamakam)
    People in the audience sing Bhajans at intervals as well.


    Hi M. Thanks for delurking and for filling in some details!

    So maybe people were singing to Vishnu because that is a popular song/chant that is familiar to everyone?


  3. TheGoriWife
    Feb 26, 2009 @ 05:26:26

    I also got a lot of “I don’t know why, that’s just how we do it” when I was still in the discovery stages of my husband’s religion (Islam). Or I’d ask why he did a certain thing, and he’d only say that the imam that taught him when he was a kid said so. It was very frustrating at first – I’d assumed he’d be an all access pass!

    That is a very good way of putting it.

    How are things now? Did you do a lot of outside reading or just slowly absorb things?


  4. niranjan
    Mar 02, 2009 @ 11:02:11

    Akka sooper write up. Try and watch bili hendthi movie if possible….


    I’ll try to look that movie up. I’ve never heard of that one.


  5. La Vida Loca
    Mar 02, 2009 @ 17:02:39

    you should write more and about your religion and tradition too.

    Thanks, I’ll try.


  6. Gori Girl
    Mar 02, 2009 @ 19:38:22

    I don’t think this is an important festival for North Indians, or maybe just for Bengalis – I asked three different Bengalis about it (including my husband), and none of them even knew off the top of their heads about any celebration for Shiva.

    From what I’ve heard I think you are right. Shiva is a much more popular god in the South than in the North. Why that is, I don’t know.


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