I never imagined I would be making phallic looking symbols out of sand with my grandmother and mother-in-law, but that’s what we did this morning during our two hour Hartalika pooja (prayer). This festival is for women to celebrate the day Lord Shiva accepted the green and golden goddess, Gauri (a form of Goddess Parvati) as his wife. Lord Shiva and Gauri represent the divine masculine and divine feminine energy of the universe, their souls inseparable.
Each of us made Lord Shiva and Gauri with five handfuls of sand, on this day our husbands become Lord Shiva and so we are actually making idols of our husbands as the God. Lord Shiva is usually worshiped in the form of a Shiva linga, some scholars consider this to be a representation of the divine male energy (the phallus) which produced the seed which created the universe, whilst others find this extremely offensive and see it as an auspicious symbol (a literal translation of the Sanskirt word linga) of the formless and omnipotent Lord Shiva. Gauri, the divine feminine, is placed besides Lord Shiva as small quarts stones found in the same sand.
We then preformed a, what seemed to me, complicated pooja. There were lots of placing flowers, removing flowers, throwing rice, curd, a variety of leaves, cotton and water. Each item having its own significance.The quartz stones of Gauri were adorned with small manglesutras, sindoor and bangles, she was even given some coal for her eyes. A left handed person, like myself, can find a pooja difficult because everything should be done with the right hand, I had to be corrected several times. Grandma chanted mantras throughout and told the story of Hartalika.
Gauri loved Lord Shiva very deeply, she lived many lives of suffering, waiting and longing to be united with him. In one of these lives, her father was a King and had found her a husband, but she refused as she had vowed to love only Lord Shiva. Gauri’s best friend went with her into a thick forest so Gauri could not be marred against her will. There they stayed, living a simple life of penance and prayer, waiting for Gauri’s true love to come.
Lord Shiva saw this and he came to cave where the two women were living and finally married Gauri. That day, overjoyed, Gauri and her best friend observed a fast for Lord Shiva. So, not only is this festival about romantic love, it also honours the love and loyalty between female friends.
Today, women fast and stay up all night together as a tribute to the many life times of penance and austerity that Gauri, and her friend, endured so Gauri and Lord Shiva could be married. After all, wouldn’t we all do anything for the our friends?
Alfonso was very well behaved and sat behind me the entire time, he did very well for his first pooja. Tomorrow we will immerse the three Lord Shiva idols (our husbands) in the nearby lake before welcoming Lord Ganesh (the son of Lord Shiva and Gauri) into our home (Ganesh Chathurthi starts tomorrow!).
Happy Hartalika! May true love and friendship overcome all obstacles and hardships.