BHAWNA ATMARAM

Shiva is one of the most recognisable deities of the Hindu Triumvirate due to the following features: his  tiger skin attire, holy River Ganga flowing from his long matted locks which are adorned with a crescent, a snake around his neck, a majestic trident in his hand, third eye on his forehead, a damaru and an ash-smeared body. Every year, the Maha Shivaratree festival (The Great Night of Shiva) is observed by the Hindu community worldwide to honour Shiva. In Mauritius, devotees fast and proceed on a pilgrimage to Grand Bassin (Ganga Talao) to collect sacred water which will then be poured on the ‘Shiva Lingams’ during the ‘Char Pahar ki Pooja’ on the night of the festival. Pilgrims abound from all parts of the island during the pilgrimage, typically dressed in white, with many carrying ‘kanwars’ to bring back the sacred water.

The pilgrimage is a highly solemn occasion to focus on Shiva, the Destructor of Evil. Destruction is essential to maintain the cosmic balance. Rebirth and regeneration can only take place after negativity is removed. Shiva symbolises supreme universal consciousness through his omnipotence and omnipresence. The pilgrimage that I undertake is a solo and quiet one. I get the opportunity to cast aside all worldly attachments and each step that I take reminds me of how as an individual, I am nothing but a mere speck in the vastness of the universe. Still, the infinitely tiny microcosmic being that I am is linked to the bigger macrocosmic dimension out there. I am not isolated. I form part of the wider universal chain of union linking our souls.

As a matter of fact, it is easy to forget oneself, to give up on oneself when one goes through the incessant tribulations of life. It is therefore extremely liberating when I cast aside my worries during the pilgrimage.  After some time, as I feel some soreness in my legs and a feeling of exhaustion threatening to overcome me, I breathe in deeply and slowly repeat the name of Shiva. My body is energised and I can only hear the echoes of Shiva’s name. At that time, I am linked to other fellow pilgrims who are going through the same soul-cleansing process. This is the way I interpret a spiritual quest. I am driven by an inner fire which destroys negative thoughts. The cool water from Ganga Talao soothes my soul. I feel the fresh air purifying my body. Mother Earth comforts and guides me in her midst. I close my eyes and the epiphany hits hard. We are all connected. We are one.