Knowing that people all over the world observe Mahashivratri, it's nice to remember why so many feel such immense attachment to Lord Shiva. There he looms in our lives like his own Himalayan abode, so here are a few reasons for Shiva-bhakti that I think I share with uncounted others, re-strung like rudrakshas in a mind-mala.
A big reason for feeling drawn to Lord Shiva is that he is 'asutosh', easily pleased. He doesn't seem to want much ritually, just bael leaves and water, if that. So he's not a high-maintenance aradhya (worshiped one) in terms of fuss and bother, you can be Shaiva without ever setting foot in a shivala.
But this outward simplicity is deceptive, as anyone drawn to the Shaiva path discovers. To our increasing inner delight and challenge, Shiva-bhakti is quite complicated in what it asks of a person. Though at first it seems to lead out and away, Shiva-bhakti really leads in and as we find out more, the going gets interesting because we find ourselves changing to stay connected with our discoveries.
To follow the Shaiva path, the user segment includes a disdain for the paltry, a reluctance to sweat the small stuff and a perfect horror of nasty, vulgar commotions, shoutings and screamings. It seems essential to try and evolve a generally compassionate approach to human frailty. This romantic attitude can be horribly high-maintenance until it is internalised enough (and even then). So the Shaiva is always on his or her toes to stay on high moral ground, forced by inner-direction away from the slippery slopes found at every step.
They say that one of Lord Shiva's functions in our lives is to cure us of the presumption of thinking we know it all. But not all of us are strong enough to handle the stark truth. So this very same deity is held to have created a pleasant path through music and dance to lead our emotions towards concentration and awareness.
As many understand it, the Shaiva path defined in everyday terms is about good manners, discretion, mutual consideration and striving to be as un-obnoxious as possible despite being wretchedly human. A Shaiva is expected to be easygoing, patient and un-conceited, finding delight in life's small pleasures and is good for the long haul once committed. The Shaiva's work ethic comes from a life ethic. Not an easy aradhya to lease, after all.
- Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture