Column: How to have a pious party

Columnist Hunter Bassler on the extravagant rituals of Hinduism and Maha Shivaratri.

Religious rituals and traditions are, for the most part, pretty bland. While rituals such as meditation, scripture readings and prayer are both fulfilling and important for those who take part, they are often seen by outsiders as nothing more than dull and unpleasant tasks. The majority of religions have some variant of these unappealing tasks.

But there is one religion that makes their rituals party-like and extravagant. Rituals that excite outsiders and appear as celebrations and fests. The religion I am describing is Hinduism, which is, in my eyes, the most festive of any religion.

One of these festivals took place Monday. The festival, named Maha Shivaratri, is celebrated in honor of Hindu god Shiva. Shiva is part of the Hindu Trinity, along with other gods Vishnu and Brahma. While Hindus have many gods and divine beings, they believe that these beings are manifestations of one god. Each god has their own certain duties and powers, not unlike archangels in Christianity. Because of this, Hinduism provides a freedom to approach the religion in each individual’s own way, encouraging a multiplicity of parts to the one god.

Maha Shivaratri is believed to be the day on which Shiva performed the Tandava. Tandava is described as the cosmic dance that set in motion the creation, conservation and inevitable destruction of the universe. When this act was committed, Shiva proved that he was more powerful and supreme than any of the Hindu gods or goddesses.

The traditions associated with this holiday are an all-night festival, all-day fast and offering of bael leaves. Tradition states that Shiva is pleased with these acts and will bless those who perform these tasks with good fortune. Hindus flock to Shiva temples around the world where the celebration is traditionally held. During the festival, Hindus are required to wear brand new or fresh, colorful clothing.

The celebration is often filled with music, song and chanting of religious mantras. There is also the ceremonial bathing of Shiva Linga, which is an abstract symbol of the energy and potential of Shiva. The ceremony is also accompanied by many offerings of beautiful flowers, the burning of incense and the lighting of many lamps and candles creating a beautiful sight to see. These acts are in worship to Shiva and are said to, if performed sincerely, absolve the devotee of all sins and attains moksha, or liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.

While Hinduism may be relatively unknown in America’s society, one cannot deny the extravagance and beauty of their traditions and rituals. With the complexity and monotony that is so often related to traditional religious rites, Hinduism stands out as truly being a celebration and party. Perhaps this appeal is one of the reasons Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world.

In a society of spectacle, one that is becoming more and more obsessed with image, people are putting the entertainment value of an activity above any sort of real meaning — even when it comes to religion. Imagine baptisms being accompanied by strobe lights and dance music or Islamic Salat, daily prayers, ending in dance sessions. Hinduism shows the world you don’t need to choose between fun and important when it comes to rituals; sometimes you can have both.

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