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Hymn to Please Shiva, Shivarathri Hymn, Shiva Worship

Maha Shivarathri is the most auspicious of festivals dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. It is believed that on this day Lord Shiva appeared to the world in the form of a pillar of light, or Jyotirlinga. Lord Shiva, the primordial teacher, is believed to be easily pleased; thus, any worship offered to him – regardless of its simplicity or grandeur – is thought to bring about great merit. All across India, and in many Hindu communities around the world, nightlong vigils are observed in honor of Lord Shiva. Devotees offer abhisheka, or a ritual bath, to bronze and stone sculptures of Lord Shiva in his many forms. Among the most popular of the forms that receive worship on this day are the Shiva Linga, Lord Dakshinamurthy, Lord Bhairava, and Lord Somaskanda.

Worship of Shiva Linga
Worship of Shiva Linga

Since Shiva is easily pleased, offering milk, water, leaves, flowers, clothes, fruits, or even an oil lamp is commendable. Simply meditating upon the form of Shiva with a pure mind and utmost devotion is considered the highest form of worship. The sage Adi Shankara wrote Shiva Manasa Puja as an affirmation of this notion. In this beautifully composed hymn, Shankara performs the Puja of Lord Shiva with vivid and devout imagination. Reciting this hymn on the night of Maha Shivarathri is the best way to begin or end the night’s festivities!

ratnaiḥ kalpitamāsanaṃ himajalaiḥ snānaṃ ca divyāmbaraṃ

nānāratna vibhūṣitaṃ mṛgamadā modāṅkitaṃ candanam

jātī campaka bilvapatra racitaṃ puṣpaṃ ca dhūpaṃ tathā

dīpaṃ deva dayānidhe paśupate hṛtkalpitaṃ gṛhyatām

Oh ocean of compassion!

Oh lord of those bound by the noose!

I imagine a throne made of precious gemstones to seat you,

cool water trickling from the Himalayas to bathe you,

divine clothes embroidered with various jewels to adorn you,

sandalwood with the intoxicating fragrance of musk to anoint you,

flowers composed of jasmine, champak, and Bilva leaves,

divine incense,

and a bright oil lamp.

Oh Lord, please accept these offerings which I imagine in my heart for you!


sauvarṇe navaratnakhaṇḍa racite pātre ghṛtaṃ pāyasaṃ

bhakṣyaṃ pañcavidhaṃ payodadhiyutaṃ rambhāphalaṃ pānakam

śākānāmayutaṃ jalaṃ rucikaraṃ karpūra khaṇḍojjcalaṃ

tāmbūlaṃ manasā mayā viracitaṃ bhaktyā prabho svīkuru

Rice pudding and ghee in a golden bowl studded with the nine precious gems,

five dishes prepared with milk and curd,



tasty water infused with herbs,

a piece of flaming camphor,

and the aromatic betal leaf,

These I have prepared in my mind with utmost devotion.

Please accept them oh Lord!


chatraṃ cāmarayoryugaṃ vyajanakaṃ cādarśakaṃ nirmalaṃ

vīṇā bheri mṛdaṅga kāhalakalā gītaṃ ca nṛtyaṃ tathā

sāṣṭāṅgaṃ praṇatiḥ stuti-rbahuvidhā-hyetat-samastaṃ mayā

saṅkalpena samarpitaṃ tava vibho pūjāṃ gṛhāṇa prabho

I offer a splendid umbrella to shade you,

fly whisks and a fan to cool you,

a spotless mirror to see you,

music from the vīṇā, bheri, and mṛdaṅga to please you,

sweet songs and dances to entertain you,

a full prostration to respect you,

and abundant forms of hymns to praise you.

Conceiving these in my heart, I offer them unto you.

Please accept my puja oh Lord!


ātmā tvaṃ girijā matiḥ sahacarāḥ prāṇāḥ śarīraṃ gṛhaṃ

pūjā te viṣayopabhoga-racanā nidrā samādhisthitiḥ

sañcāraḥ padayoḥ pradakṣiṇavidhiḥ stotrāṇi sarvā giro

yadyatkarma karomi tattadakhilaṃ śambho tavārādhanam

You are my soul,

Parvathi is my intellect,

your attendants are my five vital breaths,

my body is your abode.

My involvement in the world is nothing but worship unto you,

my sleep is a deep state of meditation upon you.

My roaming feet are constantly in the divine act of walking around you,

all my speech is in praise to you.

All the work I do is a form of worship to you, oh Lord!


kara caraṇa kṛtaṃ vākkāyajaṃ karmajaṃ vā

śravaṇa nayanajaṃ vā mānasaṃ vāparādham

vihitamavihitaṃ vā sarvametat-kṣamasva

jaya jaya karuṇābdhe śrī mahādeva śambho

Whatever may be the sins I have committed with my hands and feet,

those sins born of my speech and body,

or the sins arising from my work.

Whatever may be the sins born of my ears and eyes,

or of my mind,

or those sins arising from my doing of what has been prescribed and not prescribed.

Please forgive all of these sins, oh Lord.

Victory unto you, oh ocean of compassion, the greatest and most auspicious of gods!

Madurai’s Meenakshi – Sundaresvara Temple, The Gem of Indian Temples

The temple town of Madurai is most famous for the Meenakshi – Sundaresvara temple. This temple dates back to the early centuries of the first millennium, but the intricate and magnificent temple complex that exists today was built between 1623 and 1655 CE. The vast temple complex is home to fourteen monumental towers, or gopurams, as well as some 40,000 individual sculptures chronicling scenes from Hindu mythology. Entering through the east gopura, visitors are greeted by the eight forms of the goddess in the Ashta Sakti mandapa. Passing the the intricately carved pillars donning the goddess in eight beautiful forms, you arrive at the Muthupillai mandapa named after its donor. This is a wide and dark hall filled with sculptures of Shiva in his various forms. The small rays of light that seep through openings in the granite ceiling make for an enchanting and ethereal experience. Exiting this hall, you are immediately greeted by the bright sunlight and the open courtyard containing the Golden Lotus Pond.

Murals surrounding the temple pond
Murals surrounding the temple pond

In the middle of this quaint tank, there is a beautiful hundred petal lotus covered in gold. Along the portico, on the way to the main shrine, are beautifully painted murals narrating 64 glorious exploits of Shiva as referenced in the Tamil magnum opus Tiruvilayadal (divine game). The most famous of these is one depicting the celestial marriage of Meenakshi, a form of Parvathi, with the beautiful Siva, or Sundaresvara. The next stop is the Killikoondu mandapa, or the corridor of bird cages. Up until a few decades ago, this hall was filled with hundreds of parrots, considered very dear to the goddess. North of this corridor is the altar of Ganesha. Just beyond this altar resides Goddess Meenakshi in all her regal splendor.

The famous stone carving of the divine marriage
The famous stone carving of the divine marriage

The entire corridor around her sanctum sanctorum is richly decorated with intricate stone carvings and beautiful gold relief work. Inside the Garbha Gruha, literally the womb-house, stands the Goddess Meenakshi, carved from a single large emerald stone. Her left hand hangs gracefully by her side, while her right hand holds a golden lotus upon which a gold parrot stands. North of her chamber resides her consort Sundaresvara, surrounded by a hall containing gargantuan pillars embellished with carvings of his various forms. The most famous of these is the depiction of the marriage of Meenakshi-Sundaresvara, facilitated by Meenakshi’s brother, Lord Vishnu. Just before exiting the temple, you meet the thousand pillared hall, boasting a beautiful statue of Nataraja and his consort Sivakamasundari, as well as numerous carved pillars depicting the Hindu epics like the Mahabharata.

The famous scene of the sacred marriage is described in the Saiva Karanagama as follows: The Lord Shiva shines beautifully like bright saffron. He has three eyes, and fours hands. He is adorned with fresh flower garlands and exquisite gold ornaments. His entire body is draped with fine silk garments.

Amazing wood carving made by our artists from mango wood that came from Madurai, and received special worship in the Meenakshi temple
Amazing wood carving in mango wood that came from Madurai, and received special worship in the Meenakshi temple

His hands are decorated by jeweled bangles and gold lotuses. He holds the hand of Parvathi with one hand and the axe and deer in his other two. The Lord gleams with the effulgence of a thousand bright suns. He has matted dreadlocks and a diamond studded crown, embellished by the moon. The Goddess stands next to Shiva, holding his hand. She is decked with the most elegant red silk. Her chest bends slightly due to the weight of her many pearl, gold, ruby, emerald, sapphire, and diamond necklaces. She is adorned with champa and jasmine flowers in her dark hair. She gleams like the dawn. Her brother, Lord Vishnu, pours the holy water on their joined hands to consecrate the divine matrimony. The three stand beautifully under the golden kadamba tree, in the forest of kadamba (Madurai).


Bhairava, Lord Shiva as “The Protector”

When you visit any temple dedicated to the god Shiva, you are bound to see the peculiar form of Lord Bhairava. He is a very auspicious form of Shiva, and represents protection and security. The word Bhairava literally means one who shouts the sound “bai.”  “Bai” is an onomatopoeia; it’s basically the Indian equivalent for the “ruff” sound used in common parlance, which we associate with a dog barking.  This is an appropriate name for this form of Shiva, since he is either represented as a dog or as accompanied by a dog. In order to enter a temple dedicated to Shiva, you need to have the permission of Bhairava.

Kala Bhairava at Varanasi
Kala Bhairava at Varanasi

He functions as a protector deity and as a temple guardian. In fact, there is a popular belief that the city of Varanasi (also known as Benares and Kashi) is a temple in and of itself, and Bhairava in his form as Kalabhairava is the gatekeeper. Entering the city of Varanasi is considered to be very difficult, so those pilgrims who do enter the city offer flowers, oil, and food to Lord Kalabhairava as a token of appreciation. Kala means both time as well as the color black. In many popular folktales, Kalabhairava roams the city of Varanasi as a black dog. There are various forms of Bhairava, 64 to be exact. Of these 64 Bhairavas, there are eight distinct forms and eight Bhairava who fall under each of these categories. This Thai Brass statue of Bhairava represents the group of Bhairavas known as Vatuka Bhairava.

Vatuka Bhairava
Vatuka Bhairava

The popular formula for meditation of this form describes this deity as red in complexion with scattered, matted red dreadlocks. He has three eyes and carries a skull cap, trident, drum, and noose. In a temple, this form of Bhairava would be placed in a niche on the outer wall, surrounded by carvings of different forms of Shiva’s attendants. This form of the god is nude and his vehicle is a dog. While many people believe that Bhairava is a violent form of Shiva, he is indeed a benevolent form to the sincere devotee. The noose in his upper left hand signifies the bonds we have in the world. Family, wealth, desires, and material objects are all things that bind a man to the world. As such, men and all other creatures bound to these objects and relationships are known as “pashu” or literally those bound by the noose.

Kala Bhairava
Granite Bhairava with Dog

Being unclad, and having no possessions, Bhairava is known as “Pashupathi” or the Lord of those bound by the noose. Devotees who invoke Bhairava in their lives are blessed by him and receive his protection.In some households across India, a statue of either a dog or of Bhairava is installed in the garden or near the front door. Just as he protects the temple, he also protects the house from evil spirits and bad energy.


Vijaya Dasami, the 10th Day of Navarathri

Today marks the tenth day of the annual Navarathri festival. This tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami, which literally means “triumph on the tenth.”

Goddess Durga standing on the head of the buffalo demon Mahishasura
Goddess Durga standing on the head of the buffalo demon Mahishasura

It is commonly believed that Goddess Durga vanquished the buffalo demon Mahishasura on this day.  This victorious day also marks the day that Lord Rama defeated the demon king Ravana and made his journey home to Ayodhya.  Some narratives of Rama’s story describe Rama as having invoked Goddess Durga through the powerful Chandi Puja, or worship of Durga in her passionate and furious form.  Since Rama’s triumph over Ravana and Durga’s triumph over Mahishasura were both on this day, Vijaya Dasami has become a day synonymous with good beginnings. Many people around the world begin business ventures, musical study, dance, and other undertakings on this day.  While Navarathri is a festival dedicated to the Goddess in her various forms, the tenth day of the festival is a day on which both Durga and Rama are worshiped.  In North India, re-enactments of Rama’s life are portrayed in vivid theatre performances called Ram-Leela.  At the end of the play, a larger than life effigy of the demon Ravana is burst into flames to signify Rama’s victory.  Another key component of this day is the Ayudha Puja, or worship of weapons and instruments.  Children place their books in front of their home shrine, while others pay respect to the implements that make their livelihoods possible.  Cars, kitchen utensils, knives, hammers, chisels, computers, and other objects are cleaned and venerated by those who use them. In South India, there is a custom of erecting a doll display, which is worshipped for the nine days of Navarathi.  On Vijaya Dasami, the dolls are symbolically put to sleep after last minute visitors come and admire their beauty. These dolls, mainly of gods and goddesses, represent the same gods and goddesses that gave their power, Shakti, to bring Goddess Durga to life.  After the gods and goddesses gave their power to Durga in order for her to vanquish Mahishasura, they became as lifeless as dolls.  On the tenth day, after Durga killed the buffalo demon, she restored the life to the gods and goddesses and become reabsorbed into them.  This idea is seen in action in Eastern India, where large idols of the Goddess Durga and her retinue are immersed on this day after five full days of worship.  Wherever you find yourself in India, or abroad, this day is one of enjoyment and happiness. It marks the triumph of good over evil, and reminds us that we must cultivate the good in our hearts, and have victory over our not-so-good tendencies.



Kala Samahara – Shiva, Destroyer of Death

Shiva emerging from the Linga
Shiva emerging from the Linga

The vast corpus of Vedic literature refers to various sportive forms, or leela murtis, of Lord Shiva. One of the most important of these forms is that of Shiva as the destroyer of death. Kalasamhara Murti or Kalantaka Murti is the form of Shiva in the act of vanquishing the god of death and righteousness, Yama-Dharma Raja.

The Puranas tell the story of Saint Mrikandu and his virtuous wife Niyati who yearned for a child. They performed austere penances to Lord Shiva to bless them with issue. Pleased with their devotion, Shiva appeared to the couple and asked them whether they wanted a wicked son who would live till old age, or a pious son who would live until 16 years of age. They requested the latter, and thus Markandeya was born.

On the eve of his 16th birthday, Markandeya embarked on a vigil to Lord Shiva. Yama – endeavoring to take Markandeya’s life away – entered the altar, as he was deep in meditation to Lord Shiva. Yama took his noose and threw it around Markandeya’s neck. Aghast, Markandeya grabbed the Shiva Lingam and began singing to his protector.

“Oh Shiva, adorning the moon as your crown, protect me! Save me!”

With the noose tight around his neck, Markandeya hugged the Shiva Lingam. Consequently Yama’s noose touched the Lingam, and enraged Parvathi. Immediately the Lingam split and Shiva emerged. Parvathi, who resides in the left side of Shiva, kicked Yama to the ground to protect her devotee. Shiva lifted his trident and pierced Yama’s chest, leaving the God of death for dead.

Afterwards, Shiva picked Markandeya up and placed him in his lap. He asked Markandeya to request a boon. Markandeya, from the kindness of his heart asked Shiva to resuscitate Yama.

Sculpture of Kala Samhara Shiva from Tanjore Temple, resembling the bronze icon at Thirukkadaiyur
Sculpture of Kala Samhara Shiva from Tanjore Temple, resembling the bronze icon at Thirukkadaiyur

After being revived, Yama – the king of righteousness – innocently asked what he had done wrong to warrant such a gruesome death. Shiva responded that Yama’s only fault was misunderstanding Shiva’s boon to Saint Mrikandu. Markandeya was to live only till age 16, and thereafter remain immortal and ever youthful as a 16 year old.

This event is said to have occurred in Thirukkadaiyur, Tamil Nadu, where the entire story is captured magnificently in bronze. The statue of Kalasamhara Murti in Thirukkadaiyur is the reference for South Indian bronze artists who wish to capture this beautiful form of Shiva.

Since the depiction of death is deemed inauspicious within the Vedic temple, in Thirukkadaiyur the body of Yama is covered with a silk cloth and removed only occasionally. Thus most idols meant for home worship do not actually depict Yama’s death, but rather the moments leading up to it. As is the case with any powerful form of Shiva, a statue of Parvathi is often kept to the left of it to bring peace to his power.


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