900,000 devotees invoke Shiva with music and mantra in Coimbatore

By Madhusree Chatterjee, Gaea News Network
Friday, February 27, 2009

COIMBATORE - April, a young American artist from New York, swears by Lord Shiva. As do the 900,000 devotees who attended the Mahashivratri celebrations at Isha Foundation, a global non-profit organisation, 40 km from Coimbatore.

Clad in a white salwar kameez and a vermillion mark on her forehead, the slim bespectacled blonde was in a daze.

‘I was overwhelmed by the celebrations and the purification rites that Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev conducted on the day of Shivratri. I felt completely purified and connected to a higher plane, especially through the music that accompanied the ritual,’ she told IANS after an unusual ‘purification rite’ christened the ‘pancha bhuta aradhana’ at the commune Feb 23.

She was struck by the intense energy of the Hindu deity of ‘creation and destruction’ and the scope of the celebration of Mahashivratri (Night of the Lord Shiva) at the Isha Foundation, which places the festival at the top of its events calendar.

Hina, a software programmer from the US, got the shivers after the purification rite at the Dhyan Linga (Shiva) temple inside the retreat. She had to be calmed down by her companions, also from the US.

‘They were possessed by the divine energy of the Lord,’ Swami Patanga, a spokesperson for the retreat, explained at the end of the rite.

Led by mystic and yoga expert Jaggi Vasudev, the organisation, with 150 centres worldwide and over 250,000 meditators and volunteers, is engaged in holistic living through yoga and inner transformation, spreading environment awareness, social forestry and rural education.

Isha Foundation is spread across 145 lush acres at the foot of the Vellingiri Hills in the Nilgiri biosphere in Tamil Nadu (near the Karnataka border).

Nearly 900,000 devotees - including 5,000 foreigners and celebrities - had assembled at the retreat to celebrate the festival with a nightlong carnival of prayers, religious chants, meditation, yoga, music and dance.

Billed as the biggest in the country, the Shivratri celebration, in its 15th year, was opened to the media for the first time.

Throughout the day, devotees kept trickling in to the venue in buses, three-wheelers and cars from all over the country, braving the rising mercury and the scorching sun.

Music and sacred mantra were the essence of the celebrations. The star performers of the live concerts that continued till wee hours of the morning were the Gundecha Brothers of the Dhrupad Gharana from Ujjain, Sounds of Isha (the Isha Foundation band) from the commune and the Indian Ocean from Delhi.

The Shivaratri celebrations began at 5.40 p.m. with a special consecration rite by Vasudev at the Dhyana Linga temple - a cylindrical dome-shaped shrine of Lord Shiva built with bricks and granite, in the heart of the retreat.

The consecration rite, ‘pancha bhuta aradhana’, was a variation of a form of yoga known as the ‘bhuta shuddhi’ or purification of elements for good health and de-stressing.

The seer lighted the ritual fire, bathed the giant lingam in the sanctorum of the temple and offered flowers - to the beat of drums, music and dance. At the end of the hour-long rite, most of the devotees swooned apparently ‘with the intense cosmic energy generated by the music, primordial beats of the drums, chants, incense and the music’.

The purification rite was a precursor to the main celebrations later in the night - which started from 8.30 p.m. on a stretch of even ground encircled by hills, coconut groves, flowering plants and tropical trees.

Later in the evening, the seer clad in a saffron drape flagged off the festivities.

Shivratri is the 14th day of every lunar month or the day before the new moon. Of the 12 Shivaratris that occur in a calendar year, Mahashivratri, celebrated in February-March, is spiritually the most significant.

‘Once upon a time, India had 365 festivals - one for every occasion, but changes in lifestyles have reduced the number of festivals. Mahashivratri, however, stands out as a festival of a different kind because of the planetary positions, which creates a natural upsurge of energy, which make people react in different ways. This energy must be used in the best possible to raise one’s system by a notch,’ Vasudev said.

The connotations of Shivratri were diverse, he explained. While some felt that it was day Shiva, the Adi Guru, became enlightened, many believed it was the day he defeated his enemies. ‘For householders, it signifies the great celestial wedding of Shiva and Parvati. It was also the day, according to myths, when Kubera, the thief and the gambler, was granted a place in Shivalok (Shiva’s home) and made the custodian of his wealth,’ he said.

By dawn, over 900,000 devotees, both the common man and the celebrities - danced wildly to the music of the Delhi-based rock band Indian Ocean, along with their guru, in a state of trance and abandon.


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