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Mahashivaratri is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night or the 14th day of the new moon in the Krishna Paksha of the month of Phalguna in the Hindu calendar. This festival is important to the devotees of Lord Shiva all over the world. Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the 'Tandava' and it is also believed that Lord Shiva was married to Parvati. On this day, the devotees observe fast and offer fruits, flowers and Bel leaves to Shiva Linga.

Lord Shiva is believed to be the core of centrifugal force of the universe. He is the dissolving force of life. He is one of the most fascinating Hindu gods. Many interesting stories have been related to the festival explaining the reasons behind its celebration and significance. The most popular one being that according to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he in order to protect the world drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as 'Nilkantha,' the blue-throated one. Shivaratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.

Shiva is usually worshipped in the abstract form of the Shiva Linga. He is generally portrayed as immersed in deep meditation or dancing the Tandava with his foot placed firmly on Maya, the demon of ignorance in his manifestation of Nataraj the Lord of Dance.

Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed this 'Tandava,' the dance of bliss and it is also believed that Lord Shiva was married to Parvati on this day. The Shiva lingam is worshipped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, water, yogurt, honey, sandalwood paste, etc., amid the chanting of Vedic Shlokas. Devotees fast throughout the day.

The ancient Nataraja temple of Chidambaram pays special tribute to Lord Nataraja – the dancing Shiva. Located about 150 miles from Chennai, it is one of the holiest temples of lord Shiva. Spread over 40 acres, the Nataraja is one of the few temples where both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are worshipped in one place. It is also one of the few temples where the Lord Shiva is worshipped in the Nataraja (dancing) form. It is here that the bejeweled idol of Lord Nataraj, in his celestial dance pose, symbolizing the five divine acts of creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and bestowment of grace is worshipped six times a day. The temple has carved pillars depicting Lord Nataraja in 108 poses of Bharathanatyam classical dance in the eastern tower.

The Natyanjali festival dedicated to Lord Shiva is celebrated every year for five days in the temple premises. It begins on the auspicious occasion of Mahashivaratri. During this time, leading dancers from all parts of the world congregate and dance in the temple as an offering to Nataraja. Natyanjali festival is jointly organized and designed to promote a universal message of 'Unity in Diversity' conveyed in the universal language of music and dance.
The magnificent temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, built a 1,000 years ago, provides a beautiful backdrop for the event. The setting is truly divine-Chidambaram's gold-roofed temple, with pillars depicting Lord Nataraja in 108 poses from the Natya Shastra.

One can see how dance and devotion are both intermingled in this festival. Dancing on the stage is a dream come true for every dancer no matter how accomplished or famous he or she is. Each dancer or rather devotee feels the ecstasy as they go into a trance while performing for the Lord. They meditate on this form through dance and behold him in all names and form.







By LAVANYA DINESH                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Lavanya Dinesh

Variety is the spice of life and some of us choose to color our canvases with myriad melodies. Raagas reflect our every emotion and mood, touch our hearts and provoke our senses.

I wake up one early morning to the soulful, somber strains of a raaga called ‘Todi’ played on the Shehnai (Indian version of the clarinet) by the late stalwart Ustad Bismillah Khan. The notes and ebb and flow of Todi convey pathos, a deep meditative spirit and a sense of gravity in equal measure. You have to hear it to feel the effect of Todi weighing you down into a spiritual stupor. I dream of ghats on the banks of the river Ganga in the holy city of Banaras. It immediately puts me in an introspective mood. As I do riyaz (practice) of raaga Todi dwelling upon notes in the lower octave, a calm resignation toward the maladies of life comes over me. ‘Kaa Kariye Jina Maaro’ in this raga, also known as Mian Ki Todi, (named after Mian Tansen – the legendary musician of the 16th century) is a well-known composition. Among vocalists, I especially enjoy listening to an old 1960s                             Sanjeev Abhyankar

 recording of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. The classic rendition by this maestro consists of the vilambit (slow-paced) composition ‘Tore Nainawa’ and the dhrut (fast-paced) piece ‘Yeri Maayi Aaj Piya’. Pandit Joshi’s style is always forceful and inimitable; at the same time, this version of Todi is brilliant, pure and unadulterated.

I would urge raaga lovers to pickup an HMV album of Kishori Amonkar’s meditative live vocal performance recording of this raga, also entitled Todi. Kishori’s tranquil ‘Begun Gun Gaa’ is deeply spiritual. A more youthful vocal rendition comes from Sanjeev Abhyankar in the ‘Mewati’ style of Guru Pandit Jasraj. Abhyankar sings ‘Ab Ghar Aayo’ (slow-paced composition) and ‘Maane Na Mora’ (fast paced) with serene abandon. Light music and film music enthusiasts also can enjoy raaga Todi in various film songs such as ‘Insaan Bano’ sung by Mohammad Rafi in “Baiju Bawra.” Lata Mangeshkar’s Krishna bhajan ‘Nand Nandana’ is another melodious sample of raaga Todi. Browsing through YouTube, I was so thrilled to find an old live recording of the melody queen Noorjehan’s ghazal ‘Jis Din Se Piya Dil Legaye,’ which I used to love as a child. The most fantastic YouTube clips of raaga Todi are found in the Jugalbandi (friendly musical duel) between my favorite vocalists Ustad Rashid Khan and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

My evening listening often gravitates toward lighter melodies such as the attractive raaga Kalavati. I have faint memories as a young child listening to a glorious song ‘Swagatam Shubha Swagatam’ in Kalavati composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar for the inaugural ceremony of the Asian Games held in India in the 1980s. My classical fix for raaga Kalavati is the evergreen composition ‘Tan Man Dhan Tope Vaaru’ sung by Dr. Prabha Atre. Her short and lilting rendition of the melody lifts your spirits. The ebullient and rich quality of this night time melody comes across beautifully. Sanjeev Abhyankar’s sweet and skillful Kalavati vocalization is another favorite of mine. The bandish (composition) ‘Bansi Ke Bajeya’ is imbued with dexterous taans (oscillating phrases). There are some outstanding light numbers in Kalavati as well. ‘Kahe Tarasaye Jiyara’ from the movie “Chitralekha,” “Sanam Tu Bewafa” from Khilona and “Koi Saagar Dil Ko” sung by Rafi are some notable examples. I also enjoy the song from a recent movie “Swades” based on raaga Kalavati called ‘Yeh Taara Woh Taara’. Raaga Kalavati lends itself to lovely instrumental expositions too.

This raaga sojourn will continue.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music and resides in Tampa. She regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the United States. She has three album releases to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for “The Times of India” and “Deccan Herald.” She can be reached at lavanya@lavanyadinesh.com





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