On the moonless night of the new moon during the month of Phalgun(that is today by the way), Hindus–especially devotees of Shiva–celebrate Mashivatri by fasting, keeping vigil, and performing puja to the Shiva Linga in honor of Shiva’s marriage to Parvati, Shiva dancing the Tandava (the cosmic dance), and various legends.
Puja, also transliterated as Pooja, is a ritual ceremony of gratitude. When performed during Mahashivastri, these are done by offering milk, fruit, and bel leaves. Puja during this festival holds special significance for women–married women pray for continued happiness, single women, for a happy marriage with a good husband.
The Heart of Hinduism offers this list, explaining the purpose and value of festivals:
- To create a special atmosphere, diverting the mind from worldly concerns and joyfully focusing on spiritual matters.
- To invoke the soul’s natural qualities by creating an environment replete with auspiciousness and the abundant gifts of nature.
- To give people spiritual impetus and inspiration, which helps them perform their daily duties.
- To dovetail the natural tendency for celebration with spiritual goals.
- To forge a healthy sense of belonging by peacefully bringing together individuals, families and communities.
These reasons can be generalized to most belief systems. Few faiths emphasize individual practice at the expense of community experience–if you believe in something “bigger than yourself”, it follows that this would be celebrated with the community of believers as a shared, unifying event of receiving, expressing, sharing, and giving joy.
Alas, I cannot link legally to this excerpt from The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. Ensler writes about the powerful experience of seeing representations of the lingam and yoni (symbolic genitalia) revered in Hindu temples and shrines (Scroll down to the second paragraph from the bottom).
UPDATE: Speaking of the lingam, a museum in the Netherlands prolongs its fertility art exhibit due to high visitor volume
Chanting of the Shiv Mantra