If you know where to look, you’ll find a lot of science buried in our mythology. Our Vedic rituals have evolved over centuries and were designed to codify and preserve our country’s intellectual property, especially our vast herbal wealth.
A fine example of this Vedic wisdom is the festival of Mahashivartri, that falls tomorrow. The tithi and nakshatra of each festival, that is the date and the star, mark the specific positions of stars and planets and keep an accurate track of the earth’s annual journey around the sun. At a time when the people of America and Europe were living in savagery, Indian astronomy was a fully developed science. The Hindu calendar that we follow today began way back in the beginning of Kaliyuga, around 3100BC.
Contrary to what many people think, Mahashivartri is not Shiva’s birthday. Shiva is without beginning or end, and hence is neither born nor unborn. Mahashivaratri is Shiva’s favorite day of the year, as defined by Shiva himself. It falls on the 13th day of the second half of the month of Maagha. This corresponds to end-Feb/early March, and is the day before the second new moon of the month.
It is believed that worshipping Shiva on this particular day and through the night, absolves a devotee of all sins.
Certain herbs and rituals are associated with the worship of Shiva.
Homa: The term ‘homa’ refers to Vedic rituals in which offerings are made to a sacred fire. Homa goes back to the early Rigveda, and to the original Aryans who migrated to India from Central Asia. Homa is derived from the Persian word ‘soma’, a herb that was used to make somarasa, a hallucinatory drink that priests drank before and during Vedic rituals. Modern day Parsis, who also have descended from the Aryans, have fire-based homa rituals that are similar to ours.
Samagri: A specific mixture of woods and herbs that are burnt during a homa. The fumes emitted by samagri are an ancient form of aromatherapy. The smoke fumigates the house and removes germs and pests. Unfortunately, authentic samagri for Shiva Homa is rarely available these days, and the original ingredients are either lost or no longer grown in India.
Rudraksha: Believed to have sprung from the tears of Shiva, Rudraksha berries are perhaps the most widely used herbal fruits in Hinduism. The technical name is Elocarpus ganitrus. Rudraksha seeds occur in several varieties depending on how many grooves and facets they have. The most common one is the five-faced rudraksha, called panchmukhi. Each variety is believed to have different mystical powers and electromagnetic properties, not one of which has been conclusively proven. However, there is considerable evidence that rudraksha extract is good for hypertension and inflammation. It is also a strong antioxidant.
Bael (bilva, wood apple, Aegle marmelos): Shiva is particularly fond of the fruits and leaves of the bilva tree. The leaves have a peculiar shape that closely resemble Shiva’s trishul and the fruit has several medicinal properties. Bael is considered sacred in Ayurveda. It is especially useful for gastro-intestinal ailments like dysentery and dyspepsia.
Bhang (marijuana): Known in the North as Shivji ka prasad, bhang is actually a pretty useful herb, if used as prescribed in the scriptures. Bhang has been used since three thousand years in India, for the worship of Shiva. It relieves stress, promotes alertness, reduces pain and fatigue, improves the digestion and in higher doses, it can induce euphoria that might seem like a spiritual experience to some people. Ayurveda has several formulations that include bhang, and the Indian government officially sells bhang through authorised shops.
Bhang is best taken in the form of thandai, a refreshing milk drink with several interesting ingredients, including the paste of marijuana. It’s just the right drink to keep you cool and alert during the long night of Shivaratri. If you drink enough of it, you might see Shiva himself!
Nothing wrong in enjoying Shivji’s prasad, provided you do so in moderation.
Join the voluptuous Mumtaz as she guzzles bhang and gyrates to ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’, the hit song from Aap ki Kasam. This song topped the charts on Binaca Geetmala through 1974. Please disregard Rajesh Khanna embarrassing himself as he tries to dance with Mumu.
Bham bham Bhole!