The Great Night of Shiva at Hillcroft

Mahashivratri-in

The Sanatan Shiv Shakti Mandir of Houston ( left), The Gauri Siddhivinayak Temple of Houston (right)

By Vanshika Vipin Varma

HOUSTON: Maha Shivratri is a popular Hindu festival that is celebrated every year in reverence of the Lord Shiva. It is a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from annihilation. Religious penances are carried out to gain boons through the practice of meditation and chants of “Om Namah Shivay” and Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is also performed to seek divine blessings of the Lord. Many worshippers participate in jaagran or the night vigil organized in various Shiva temples across the world. Devotees believe that sincere observance of the Maha Shivratri pooja and all night worship of Lord Shiva will absolve them of all their past sins and liberate them from the cycle of birth and death, which is moksha and salvation.

My experience:
I have been an ardent devotee of Shiva ever since childhood. One of my earliest memories of Maha Shivratri is the incentive I used to get in the form of thandai (a popular and very refreshing spicy cold drink made with milk), and cutlets made with sabudana (sago) and potato, after the day long fasting. The incentive gradually transformed into an understanding of the reason why this day is celebrated and that in turn imbibed in me a sense of thankfulness for everything that has been blessed upon us.

Celebrations of Maha Shivratri begin with the break of the dawn and continue all through the night. And Houston is no different when it comes to celebrating such cultural festivals. On Friday, February 24, The Sanatan Shiv Shakti Mandir of Houston and The Gauri Siddhivinayak Temple of Houston located at the Hillcroft area were amongst the several temples that celebrated the festival with much religious fervor. I got an opportunity to visit both these temples and be a part of a festival notable for its introspective focus and social harmony.


Visit to The Sanatan Shiv Shakti Mandir of Houston:
I first visited the Sanatan Shiv Shakti Mandir of Houston, located at 6640 Harwin Drive. The temple priests Virat Mehta, Hardik Raval, Prakashbhai Adhavaryu and Pralay Pandya were seen welcoming several of Lord Shiva’s devotees. Joy was writ large on their faces as devotees started coming in the temple in huge numbers to seek His blessings. The serene ambience and the chanting of Maha Mrutyunjaya Jaap cascading down in waves made it a mesmerizing experience.

Ghee Kamal (butter carved as lotus)

Ghee Kamal (butter carved as lotus)

Devotees were allowed near the Garbhgruh to perform Abhishek (offering of milk). After the day long chanting of Maha Mrutyunjaya Jaap the Maha Aarti was performed at 7:00 pm, followed by the Four-Prahar which started at 8:30 pm, with full energy, passion and thoughts filled only with the glory of his Lord, and ended the next morning at 6:00 am. A unique offering apart from the daturas, fruits and milk was the Ghee Kamal (butter carved as lotus) atop the shivling. This beautiful creation was one of its firsts in the USA. After the Shiv darshan, all devotees relished the thandai and prasad, which was made by the volunteers at the temple. 

Drama performed by Kalakriti Performing Arts

Drama performed by Kalakriti Performing Arts

The highlight of the day was the cultural program brought by local non-profit Kalakriti Performing Arts who presented a play titled “Samundar Manthan” directed by founder Kusum Sharma in addition to, two very nice Bhajan based classical Indian dances. Samudra Manthan was based on the story where Lord Shiv drank the poison that came out of Ocean’s churning by Gods and Devils. To bring the story to life, a huge snake replica (20 ft long by 1ft wide) was used. The crowd applauded each of the presented items with chant of “Har Har Mahadev”. At the conclusion of the program, Priest Virat Mehta came on the stage to honor the 35 participants and 10 volunteers and thanked Kusum Sharma and Kalakriti Performing Arts for helping the temple at every occasion.

Maha Aarti

Maha Aarti

A conversation with the priest the next day revealed that a startling number of 5000 devotees came for darshan of the Lord. The priest wished to thank the devotees for their support.

For further details visit their website at www.shivshaktimandir.org


Visit to The Gauri Siddhivinayak Temple of Houston:
My second visit was to The Gauri Siddhivinayak Temple of Houston, located at 5645 Hillcroft Avenue, Suite 701. This temple is close to my heart and I usually visit it every Monday, but Maha Shivratri just made it more special. I entered the temple and the chanting of the sacred mantra of Shiva had barely set me in the mood when I was welcomed with a big smile and a Namaskar by the temple priest Pradip Pandya.

Pandit Pradip Pandya

Pandit Pradip Pandya

To his recital of mantras, I got an opportunity to perform Abhishek to the Shivling, which was bought in from India and installed right before this Maha Shivratri day. Though there are many versions of why this day is celebrated, it is always great to hear it from a priest. Pandyaji was kind enough to explain to me his version of the significance of this day.

Abhishek to the Shivling

Abhishek to the Shivling

The Maha Pooja and Maha Aarti were divided into two sets; the first set started at 5:00 pm and 6:30 pm, while the second set started at 7:00 pm and 8.30 pm. Here too, all the devotees relished the refreshing thandai and prasad. Maha Mrutyunjaya Jaap was recited the entire day.

Mahashivratri-siddhivinayak-in-1

It was fascinating to see devotees being welcomed in huge numbers. These devotees got with them offerings for abhishek and prasad. According to Shiva Purana, there is a special significance of the six essential pooja items used in the Shiva worship. Bathing of Shivaling with water, milk and honey and wood apple or bel leaves added to it, represents purification of the soul. The vermilion paste applied on the linga after the ritual bath represents virtue. Offering of fruits symbolizes longevity and gratification of desires. Burning of incense sticks yields wealth. The lighting of the lamp symbolizes attainment of knowledge. Offering of betel leaves marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures.

In a conversation with Pandyaji, he mentioned that this year the number of devotees increased. He thanked Lord Shiva for his blessings that got devotees flock to this temple in large numbers.

The Gauri Siddhivinayak Mandir of Houston is a Non-Profit 501(C) organization, and all donations are tax deductible. For further details call Pradip Pandya at 832-466-9868 or visit www.SiddhivinayakHouston.com or email at siddhivinayakhouston@gmail.com

On this darkest night of the year, there was enough spiritual talk en route, after we left from this temple. Thanks to these temple visits, I realized that spirituality can come alive in a car journey too!

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