No Worries Curries Blog: Hinduism

Indian Festivals: Maha Shivratri - The Festival of Lord Shiva

By Conchita de Souza

Indian Festivals: Maha Shivratri - The Festival of Lord Shiva

Image: Sabudana Kheer is a pudding made from sago and can be consumed during fasts.

If you are not familiar with Hinduism and its many deities, it can be difficult to follow the elaborate and intricate mythologies and accompanying rituals that have developed over the millenia. Though I come from a strong Catholic upbringing, my time spent living in India as an adult as well as my practice of a classical Indian dance form (Kathak) have given me the opportunity to experience hindu traditions and learn about the customs, stories and practices that define it. From a very basic introductory level, the three Gods you might want to acquaint yourself with are Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Preserver) and Shiva (The Destroyer), the last of whom this grand festival honours. 

In Indian mythology, Lord Shiva is pictorially depicted as a muscular being with long flowing dreadlocks, the crescent moon on the side of his forehead and the third eye at its centre, a snake draped around his neck, a bare torso and his loins draped only with the skin of a tiger. He is depicted sitting in a meditative position, cross-legged with his four hands, two of which are held in mudra and the other two holding a trident (thrissur) in one hand and a percussion instrument (damaru) in the other. Aesthetics aside, Shiva is not so much a physical character as he is an all-pervasive energy and consciousness itself.


Image: A depiction of Lord Shiva (unknown)

Maha Shivratri literally means the Great (maha) Night (ratri) of Shiva and falls on the night before the new moon in Hindu month of Maagha or Phalguna (marking the start of springtime in the Northern Hemisphere). Like many grand festivals in India, it is celebrated in different ways according to the region and community and even the lore surrounding the origins of this festival differ. The underlying purpose of this festival is to honour, worship and rejoice in Lord Shiva.

The stories behind the origins of the festival include: 

  1. The emergence of Shiva linga - Lord Shiva, at the request of the other gods, decided to humble Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu who were arguing that each was the greatest of all gods. Shiva manifested as a great fire spreading across the universe. Brahma and Vishnu tried to find the ends of the fire with the former deity taking the form of the swan and trying to reach the top and the latter taking the form of the boar and ploughing through the earth. Brahma on his way up came upon a frangipani flower  (ketaki) and when he asked where she came from she told him she was an offering from the pinnacle of the fiery column. Brahma stopped there and carried the flower as proof that he reached the summit. Shiva saw through the lies and punished Brahma so that he would not be worshipped by anyone.

  2. The day that Lord Shiva performed his cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction. This dance is known as Tandavam and will be performed by classically-trained dancers at major Hindu temples across India (such as at Khajuraho in the central state of Madhya Pradesh).

  3. Lord Shiva’s union with Goddess Parvati whose devotion to him was pleasing and who is the avatar of the Goddess Shakti, representing the power to defeat evil.

  4. Lord Shiva is said to have saved the world by drinking a pot of poison when the oceans were being churned. Shiva never swallowed the poison but only held it in his throat which is why he is depicted as blue in colour. 

Lord Shiva and Yoga 

In the Yogic tradition, Lord Shiva is known as Adi Guru or Adi Yogi, which means that he was the first Guru from whom the science of Yoga originated and the first to practise Yoga. Those of you who practise yoga might be familiar with the position shavasana which is laying still, as though dead. Shava, lifelessness is the opposite of Shiva which embodies the potential for life. It is believed that on this auspicious day Lord Shiva, who had been in a state of meditation for millenia become completely and utterly still.

What happens on this day

Maha Shivratri is an auspicious time when the positioning of the northern hemisphere of the planet allows for human beings to experience a natural upsurge of energy. It is therefore a time of prayer, meditation and fasting.

A devotee would start the day with a sunrise dip in the holy river Ganga (or a shower/bath for those who are not able to bathe in the river) and put on fresh and clean clothes. They would proceed to a temple to offer a pooja (prayer) that involves a specific ritual of bathing Shiva’s linga in milk and/or water. The linga ritual will happen every 3 hours and the statue is bathed in natural items including that of milk, honey, yoghurt, sandalwood paste and rosewater. 

Most devotees would observe a complete fast throughout the day (no food or water), or, if eating, would consume light meals such as fruit, milk and certain vegetables and non-grain items. Spices are restricted to jeera (cumin), pepper, green cardamom, cinnamon and ajwain. Salt is avoided and instead black salt is used. Vrat foods such as sabudana khichdi (a dry risotto made from sago) and sabudana kheer (sago pudding) can be consumed, but usually only after the evening prayer.

In the evening the prayers continue and devotees will meditate, recite vedic mantras and chant hymns as well as offer seasonal fruit to Shiva. They keep vigil throughout the course of the night until dawn the next day when they will break their fast eating prasad (the food offerings made to the gods).

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Indian Festivals: Raksha Bandhan -The Festival of Sibling Love

By Conchita de Souza

Indian Festivals: Raksha Bandhan -The Festival of Sibling Love

Raksha Bandhan is a less known festival outside of India, but is faithfully celebrated amongst Hindus in the Indian subcontinent and throughout the diaspora. Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the day of the full-moon in the month of Shravan in the Hindu calendar, which is usually around the end of July or early August. This is an auspicious time for Hindus and there are variations of this festival celebrated throughout India. 

India, known for having as many festivals as there are days in the year (if not more) celebrates the love between siblings, specifically the bond between a brother and a sister but also between male cousins and female cousins. This festival extends beyond blood and kinship to meaningful friendships shared between others, especially those involving a degree of care.* 

A similar festival called Bhai Dhooj takes place soon after Diwali and carries with it the same significance and almost similar traditions (a thread isn't tied, but tilak is applied by sisters on their brother's foreheads).

Origins of Raksha Bandhan 

There are different references to the origins of this festival but we will discuss the most prevalent one. Click here if you would like to read more about the different stories in Hindu mythology pointing to the origins of this tradition. 

The account from the ancient epic Mahabharata, tells of Lord Krishna receiving a cut to his finger (some accounts have it as his wrist) as he threw his sudarshan chakra (a speared disk with 108 serrated edges) to behead Shisupala, his maternal cousin and a king who had become an arrogant and cruel ruler. 

This event was prophesied at Shisupala’s birth, when Lord Krishna healed Shisupala of his deformities and promised Shisupala’s mother that he would forgive Shisupala of his mistakes one hundred times over before he killed him. 

Draupadi was Lord Krishna’s close friend and a princess herself (later a Queen). After throwing the chakra, Draupadi was quick and tender to react to Lord Krishna’s cut, tearing off a strip of cloth from her beautiful saree and bandaging it around Lord Krishna’s finger. Lord Krishna was moved by this gesture and vowed to always protect her. 

Raksha Bandhan Traditions 

In the ancient language Sanskrit, raksha signifies protection and bandhan is the verb ‘to tie’. ‘The knot or tie of protection’ or ‘the bond of security’ are some loose translations that might assist with a general understanding of this festival. 

On this day, the ‘sister’ ties a rakhi band or bracelet, usually made of thread, around the ‘brother’s’ wrist as a reminder of the prayers she will offer for her brother’s safety and well-being. The brother in turn offers to protect his sister to the best of his ability and presents his sister with gifts. 

Amongst the religious, the tying of rakhi is usually preceded by a puja (prayer) ceremony during which prayers are offered to the gods, and sisters apply teeka (red powder used in religious ceremonies) and grains of raw rice onto the foreheads of their brothers. As is the case with most festivals, a grand meal follows. 

Around this time it is not uncommon to see boys and men of all ages with multiple threads tied around their wrist in a colourful fashion. 

Nowadays rakhis aren’t just limited to the simple temple threads but are also made from precious metals like gold and silver, for those sisters who wish to take things up a notch or two. 


As a side joke and especially amongst the younger population, many men find themselves ‘friend-zoned’ on this day, utterly disappointed by the fact they received rakhi from the women whom they were interested in and with whom they thought that they might have a chance at something more than just friendship. Sorry guys, you should have made your intentions clearer from the outset. 

*It must be noted that the concept of ‘siblings’ in India, as well as in many other cultures, is broader than our understanding here in Australia. Many refer to their immediate or more distant cousins as their brother or sister and the term ‘cousin brother’ or ‘cousin sister’ is also used to signify the same. 

Featured Image: Indian Express 

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Fasting in the Monsoons - The Auspicious Month of Shravan

By Conchita de Souza

Fasting in the Monsoons - The Auspicious Month of Shravan

The passing of the Indian monsoon also marks one of the holiest periods of the year for Hindus. Shravan is the fifth month of the Hindu calendar and usually commences in the middle of July and ends in the middle of August.  

This is an auspicious time for Hindus because there is believed to be a divine energy contained in the cosmos that makes it an opportune time for worship and reflection. 

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The Coconut: Its Uses in Indian Culture and Cuisine

By Conchita de Souza

The Coconut: Its Uses in Indian Culture and Cuisine

Not exactly a fruit nor a nut, the coconut sits almost between both classifications but leaning more towards the  former than the latter. It is in fact a drupe (a word which sounds like a mythical creature from a Harry Potter novel), a term used to classify stone fruits and under which peaches and nectarines, but also oddly, blackberries and raspberries fall. 

For many of us, the sight of coconut trees standing tall against the blue skies is synonymous with tropical travel, white sandy beaches and a mojito (or any beverage of your choice) awaiting us by the shore. For me, it speaks of a home away from home in the land of my ancestors called Goa. This small state is located on India’s west coast, where coconut trees are found in abundance, only to be rivalled in quantity by the southern state of Kerala, which literally means ‘land of the coconuts’. 

Coconut Trees

Skies full of coconut trees in Varkala, south Kerala

In India (and in other countries abounding in coconut), almost every part of the coconut and the coconut tree are used lovingly; the fruit, the nut, the shell and the leaves all serve their purpose. It comes as no surprise that the word for coconut in Sanskrit is kalpavriksha, which means ‘the tree providing the necessities of life’. In terms of its documented history, it dates back as far as 3000 BC and is mentioned in the ancient post-Vedic text called the Mahabharata.

Today, we look at some of the ways coconut has become part and parcel in the lives of Indians.*

Health & Beauty

Indians had used the coconut centuries before the Western world (recently) discovered its benefits. In the south of India, it is not uncommon to see the hair of girls, boys, women and men well-coated with coconut oil, which acts as a natural conditioner. Women from the south are renowned for their thick, dark and luscious locks attributed in some part to genetics, but also to the frequent application of coconut oil from birth. 

My mother used to apply coconut oil to my hair in the mornings before I washed it off in the evenings. It is a practice I continue until today, sometimes leaving the oil in overnight for better absorption. 

Coconut oil contains moisturising properties which makes it popular for use in hair and skin care products. It can be applied directly to the body like a lotion and contains antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It works well if you suffer from dry skin, especially in the winters (yours truly knows well) and can mend chapped lips too. Now you are probably wondering - ‘Is there anything that this plant can’t do?’

I won’t delve much further into the medicinal uses of coconut, but I will mention a few things. The water of the coconut tastes sweet when it is tender, but also has anti-dehydration properties which replenishes electrolytes far more effectively than your average sports drink. Tender coconut water is high in important minerals like calcium, magnesium (for the heart) and potassium (for the muscles). 


"Coconut provides five types of food products: Coconut water, coconut milk, sugar, oil and ‘meat’," or ‘flesh’ as it is also known (Ahuja 2014). 

In the south of India, coconut flesh is consumed in a variety of ways - it is ground and made into a chutney, often with the addition of tempered whole spices and used as accompaniments to dosa, idly and vada. In Kerala, Avial is a popular vegetable stew prepared usually with coconut milk that goes well with appam ( a pancake made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk). The Kerala chicken curry also incorporates coconut milk.

In Goa, many curries contain coconut milk at its base, such as Xacuti or Maas Kodi. Even sanas (rice cakes) are prepared using rice flour and coconut milk and they are enjoyed with a sorpotel (spicy pork curry). When vegetables are cooked with minimal spice and a dash of dessicated coconut, it is known as foogath and we have a recipe for pumpkin foogath on our website. Even the sweets of Goa aren’t spared from coconut’s outreach - Bebinc and Dos are two of Goa’s most popular sweets with the former containing coconut milk and the latter, ground coconut. Another favourite tea-time cake and popular during the Christmas season is baath, to which generous amounts of desiccated coconut are added. 

The flower clusters of the coconut release a juice, which once fermented, produces a local brew known as toddy or coconut palm wine. 


The dry coconut forms an essential element in rituals, ceremonies and festivities amongst Hindus. They are always used in offerings to God and any pooja (prayer) without coconut seems almost incomplete. Coconuts are smashed open whenever there is an initiation into, or inauguration of something new, like the opening of a new building. 

In Goa, the groom and bride, in their respective homes, participate in a ceremony called a roce, where they are both blessed by well wishers who, one by one, apply coconut milk to their skin. The idea was that the coconut milk would cleanse the skin of the bride and groom so that they would have a beautiful and clear complexion for their wedding day. Nowadays, the roce has become an event for relatives and friends to douse the bride or groom with coconut milk and have a blast whilst doing so. Click here to see a typical Goan roce in amongst the Catholic community. 


Surprisingly, coconut shells are useful for many things other than from bikini tops delicately strung on the chests of dancing island girls. You may have noticed that the shell of a dried coconut is encased in a husk. This husk produces a fibre called ‘coir’ that is highly resistant to salt water and can be used in the manufacture of ropes, mattresses, brushes and brooms, just to name a few examples. The shells can be treated and used as bowls and utensils, with beautiful carvings engraved into them. Unused shells make good flammable material for an outdoor stove fire. 

The palms of the coconut are handy for creating shelter and can be weaved and thatched to create handicrafts like mats or baskets. The bark of the tree is white ant resistant, and therefore is very useful in construction, especially when making rafters.

If you weren’t aware of this amazing plant’s ability to give, I am sure that after reading this, you will have a newfound appreciation for the immense utility that the coconut has offered humanity since the beginning. 

*Ahuja, SC (2014) Coconut - History, Uses & Folklore, Asian Agri-History,18(3):221-248 - this was a very helpful resource in putting together this post. 

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