March 9. Great Night of Shiva
Mahashivratri or Shivratri is a Hindu festival dedicated to Shiva, sometimes called the Lord of the Dance.
Outline script for assembly leaders
Milk, honey, yoghurt, butter and sugar all play their part in this festival. In temples across India, bells ring, people fast and young women offer these five gifts and other seasonal fruits and vegetables as they worship the Hindu God called Shiva, in the hope that he will bless them with good husbands.
For Hindus, the night of each new moon is called Shivratri, "the night of Shiva" but, once a year, that night is even more special, because it is said that it was on this night he performed the dance of creation. Hindus commemorate the event with a 24-hour period of fasting. This begins at dawn on the day before the new moon and continues through the night. During that night, prayers are offered, scriptures are chanted and holy songs called bhajans are sung.
During the night, a statue representing Shiva is bathed in the five gifts and a continuous stream of milk is poured over the statue until dawn when the fast is broken and worshippers eat the gifts they have brought to the temple.
People have celebrated in different ways. The story is told how, hundreds of years ago, a hunter hid in a tree, waiting for an animal to become his victim. When a deer came to drink water from a nearby pool, the hunter took aim with his bow and arrow. The deer asked him to spare her life long enough to say goodbye to her children. The hunter agreed, but had to fast all night, during which time he prayed to the God Shiva. His prayers softened his heart so that, when the deer returned, he let her escape.
Without knowing it, the hunter had celebrated Mahashivratri.
With older students, it may be appropriate to explain how the "statue" of Shiva is a lingam, or phallus. In the more familiar statue of his eternal dance, he is treading ignorance underfoot and the circle of flame is the cycle of time. When he stops, the world will be consumed by fire, but the universe will be created again, dancing to a new tune.
Create Mahashivratri cards showing Shiva's dance.
Further information and legends about the Great Night of Shiva are available at www.vmission.orghinduismfestivalsshivratri.htm