Shaivism is one of the four main sects of Hinduism. In this particular religion, the followers think of Lord Shiva as the ultimate power and the supreme deity. The followers of Shaivism are called Shaivites and the religion is not only popular in India but other parts of South East Asia as well. The following are some of the rituals especially the sacred ash ritual which is considered one of the most important aspect of Shaivism. The sacred ash or the holy ash is called ‘bhasma’ or ‘vibhuti’ they are both Sanskrit words. In a symbolic sense the holy ash represent death and regeneration which is the ultimate truth of the world. Nobody can escape this cycle of life and death.
- The main deity that the followers believe in is Lord Shiva, but other deities are not excluded completely.
- The sacred ash is made by burning cow dung and is the identity of Shaivites.
- The followers are supposed to get up before sunrise i.e. 4 am approx.
- They should wear the holy ash as soon as they get up and think of Lord Shiva.
- Prayers should be offered to Lord Shiva only after they take a bath.
- The holy ash should always be stored in a silk bag or a brass container.
- The ash should be put while facing North or East direction.
- The best way to wear the holy ashes is to lift the head upwards so that it does not fall on the floor. And just in case they do fall they ought to be immediately wiped off with a clean cloth.
- The three middle fingers of the right hand are used to apply the holy ash.
- The holy ash should not be worn while lying down or while walking.
- There are certain times of the day when it is compulsory for the followers to wear the holy ash –while going to bed, sunset, as soon as they wake up (before sunrise), after bathing, before and after taking one’s meals.
- There are two forms of the holy ash, the dry form and one mixed with water. The dry one can be worn without mixing it with water. The form in which water is mixed is called ‘threepundaragam’. This form is put in the form of three lines using the three middle fingers of the right hand.
- There are some spots on the human body where the holy ash should specifically be applied –
- 2 knees
- 2 shoulders
- 2 wrists
- 2 forehands
- 2 sides of the ribs
- The length of the line on the forehead should be till the ends of both the brows.
- Elsewhere the lines should not touch each other and there should be space between them.
Although different people believe in different rituals, these are just some of the main sacred ash rituals that the followers of Shaivism follow. The ash is now known to be the most prominent identity of the religion. Apart from the sacred ash ritual there is another ritual that the followers closely follow and that is roaming naked. As shocking it may sound to some, this is true and there is a reason behind this tradition being followed by the sadhus or devotees. It basically symbolizes their self-sacrifice and remission of the worldly affairs and mortals. The devotees are often seen with long hair which is commonly known as ‘jata’. This again is a symbolization of Lord Shiva as it is believed that his supernatural powers used to be in his extremely long hair. It is also believed that the river Ganges flows from Lord Shiva’s hair, making hair sacred.
Every person has his own way of worshipping the God, some do it the way these followers do while others follow a subtle way to do the same. It all depends on an individual’s outlook.
Om Namah Shivay!!!