Shiva: Matchmaker God
A time-honored Hindu practice yields powerful romantic results
BY: Lavina Melwani
Of all the gods of the Hindu pantheon, it is Shiva and Parvati who have the ideal family life. There are many stories of Shiva's passion and devotion for Parvati and their harmonious relationship. In Rajasthan, women celebrate a colorful festival called Gangaur in which they honor Gauri, a manifestation of Parvati, to ensure their husband's well-being.
"Shiva is not just a romantic lover, he's also a good friend and companion to Parvati," says Dr. Vasudha Narayanan, professor of religion at the University of Florida. "In fact, Shiva is said to love Parvati so much that she becomes part of his body. In many parts of South India, devotees worship Shiva as Ardhanareshvara-half Shiva, half Parvati. That's the ultimate union; they become truly one in body, and that's about as romantic as you can get!
"In his union with Parvati you see a cosmic union between the male and the female principles of the entire universe, for all of creation," Dr. Narayanan explains. "It stretches all the way from a very earthly, romantic love to a profound metaphor for the creation of the universe." The prayers associated with the fasts ask for a spiritual wedding or union with God, but when translated into the earthly realm, devotees believe that if you say the prayer you will have a happy marriage in this life.
While the Shiva fast originated in North India, many Hindu women in the West, especially within the Sindhi community, follow the practice. Radhika Kripalani, a New Yorker, has been keeping the Shiva fast since she got married and came to this country more than 30 years ago. She begins Monday morning by washing her hair, preparing a parshad or offering, bathing the Shiva icon in milk, and reciting prayers. In the evening, she breaks her fast with a simple vegetarian dinner. She believes observing this fast ensures the welfare of her husband and harmony in their married life.
Although many young single girls in the United States fast for Shiva, few want to discuss it publicly. After all, how cool is it to admit you're looking for a spouse or need help in finding one? Looking for equality in relationships, some women feel it's time that men started keeping the fast for the welfare of their wives. Although Hinduism doesn't ask males to keep the fast, a few freethinking men do join their wives in the practice.
In many Sindhi families living in the United States, the Monday Shiva fast is a tradition. For example, in one New Jersey household, fasting is a multigenerational affair. All of the women in the Mahtani family, from grandmother to mother to aunts and 15-year-old daughter Beena, participate. Perhaps the strongest testimony comes from Sherina, who married into the family.
"I was living in Spain and would visit my cousins in India and see them observing this fast," she recalls. "My grandmother was looking for a suitable boy for me, but I was very picky! Since both my brothers lived in the U.S., I kept insisting that I wanted to marry someone from America."
An aunt persuaded her to keep the Monday fast by offering a guarantee: "Fast for four Sundays and see the results!" Sherina says the outcome was "amazing-after exactly four Mondays, it worked! I was shocked!"
Within a month of starting to keep the fast, the family priest introduced her to Nari, a handsome businessman from Boston, and the two got engaged. They've been happily married for 14 years.
Does Sherina see the fast as a fail-proof way of finding a soulmate? I don't know," she says, "but it worked for me. There is some power in it."
For Sherina and other believers like her, one thing is certain: As a formula for domestic bliss, there's nothing quite like having a direct line to Shiva!