The exuberant festival of Maha Shivratri, the great night of Lord Shiva, celebrated with unusual pomp and splendor in the late winter, usually mid-February, before the arrival of spring is just around the corner. Mahashivaratri, also considered as the spiritually most powerful festival in the Hindu calendar, has many legends surrounding it around its origin itself, let alone the way it has evolved along the years and the manner of its ubiquitous celebration. In such a context wouldn’t it be fascinating to ponder upon few facts, though unfathomable by reason? We have tried to deconstruct a few.
1. The upsurge of Natural Energy
On the auspicious day of the Maha Shivratri, there is a natural tendency and even assistance from nature, as evident by the positioning of the northern hemisphere, to raise energies within the system. The whole system of yoga and spiritual process as such is about enhancing a human being from his limitations to his limitlessness. For this enhancement to happen the most fundamental process is that there is an activation, an upward movement of energy, which is prominently observed on the day of Maha Shivratri.
2. An amalgamation of Lord Shiva with Kailash Parvat
For the ascetics, it is the day Lord Shiva became one with Mount Kailash. He became a mountain – absolutely still. In the yogic tradition, the much sought after tradition in Hindu dharma, where the seekers obtain salvation through the Physical, mental and spiritual practice of Yoga, Shiva is not worshipped as a God, but as the Adi Guru, the first Guru from whom the knowledge originated. After many millennia of meditation, one day he became absolutely still. That day is Maha Shivratri. All movement in him ceased and he became utterly still, so for ascetics, Maha Shivratri is the night of stillness.
3. Lord Shiva Saved the World
The scriptures of the Hindu dharma, mainly the Puranas, point out the inception of the festival towards the utterly fascinating tale of Samudra Manthan or the churning of the ocean, from where the Amrita, the drink of immortality was derived.
The churning of the Ocean of Milk was an elaborate process, both the Devas and the Asuras painstakingly churned the Mount Mandara.
In the due process of churning, before the Amrita could be obtained, a number of things were released from the ocean. One of the many was the lethal poison known as Halahala, which as some tales have it, was so implacable it could destroy all of the creation. This terrified the gods, approached the revered Shiva, who then consumed the poison in an act to protect the universe. The Upadhi or title Neelakantha was attributed to Lord Shiva after this incident as his throat turned blue from swallowing the poison. Shivratri is the very celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world.
4. Marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati
After Goddess Sati, the eternal consort of Lord Shiva immolated herself in the Yajna fire organized by her own father, the King Daksha Prajapati, Lord Shiva took rigorous penance and retired to the Himalayas.
After the penance of Lord Shiva seemed to be never-ending, as the tales have it, Goddess Sati reborn as Parvati performed penance to break Shiva’s meditation. She won his attention, and when none of it worked for gods of Swarga loka (Heaven). It is said, she sought the help of Kamadeva – the God of Love and Passion who summoned Parvati to dance in front of Shiva. When Parvati danced, Kamadeva shot his arrow of passion at Shiva breaking his penance.
Their marriage was solemnized a day before Amavasya in the month of Phalgun, this very day of their unison is celebrated every year as the Maha Shivratri.
5. Observing Night-Long Vigil
The exuberant festival of Maha Shivratri, if observed throughout the night, provides an ideal ambiance to experience the natural upsurge of spiritual energy. Flabbergastingly observed with explosive meditations and spectacular musical performances, this unrivaled celestial extravaganza opens up the tremendous spiritual possibilities of the night. The night-long Vigil interspersed with colorful cultural presentations from around the globe expresses the eloquence of the festival.
6. Celebration In Many-A-Way
Devotees sing hymns and chant mantras, especially Om Namah Shivaya. Some sit around a sacred fire and toss offerings of grain into the flames while chanting to Shiva while others after fasting and meditating throughout the day, hold a vigil all night with continued prayers and meditation.
Other observances include Poojas and Abhisekas with temples dedicated to Lord Shiva filled with devotees offering prayers. The Shiva linga at the temple or in one’s home is bathed with milk, honey and water, and offerings are made to Shiva in the form of Bilva leaves, or the Indian Bael, fruits, and other specially prepared foods. Offering Bilva leaves to Shiva on Maha Shivaratri is considered especially auspicious.