Shiva – the all-pervasive reality
Shiva is Mahadev, the One who possesses the attributes of absolute purity, knowledge, and practice. He is the Supreme Soul Who is beyond the effects of Karma and the cycle of birth and death. He is known as Yogeshwara, depicted seated in deep meditation. He has a third eye which is symbolic of perception beyond the illusion of duality. He adorns a crescent moon which represents mastery over time and mind. His blue throat is indicative of the quality of controlling negative thoughts and altering them into positive actions. As Shivling, He is worshipped as the formless Shiva, Who manifests in all beings and the Universe. The great night of Mahashivratri is the night when one merges with Lord Shiva. Merging with him, one comes to know about his/her true self.
Story of Mahashivratri – The Cosmic dance
As per legends, Mahashivratri is the night when Shiva performed the Cosmic dance of creation. When the Universe was not created, there was total darkness. On this great night, Shiva performed an incredible dance and from these vibrations, the universe was created. This cosmic dance known as the Tandav dance is believed to be the reason for the appearance of everything and vanquish of darkness. Since it was due to the action of Shiva, the darkness was lost and the Universe was created, it is referred to as the great night of Shiva. In a deeper context, His Cosmic dance is significant in the freedom of souls from the bondage of Maya – the illusion that conceals reality, Karma – the cycle of cause and effect of one’s action and Anava – the sense of individuality (mine). And Mahashivratri is celebrated each year to remember the darkness that was lost due to the cosmic dance of Shiva. By worshipping Lord Shiva on this day, devotees join His Cosmic dance.
Mahashivratri – the Grand Night for spiritual elevation
Mahashivratri takes place annually during the lunar month of Magha of the Hindu calendar. Dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva, the auspicious night is the best time for spiritual elevation. The planetary positions on this day are such that the Kundalini energy which is at the base of the spine naturally tends to rise upwards towards the Crown Chakra thus helping expand one’s state of consciousness while cleansing baggage of Samskaras (previous life and current impressions created upon mind). So, a custom of night-vigil is followed, to keep the spine erect throughout the night for supporting the process of rising of Kundalini and at the same time to consciously connect with the divinity of Lord Shiva. And this is done by indulging in Mahashivratri Puja which involves chanting panchakshari mantras, meditating upon Him, reciting hymns, and reading His stories, Shivling Abhishek, singing His glory in the form of Bhajan.
Aspects of Mahashivratri celebration
Mahashivratri Vrat: Unlike other days where fast is observed only for the day, on this day fast is observed throughout the day and night and concludes on the next morning after the end of Chaturdashi Tithi. The fasting is not limited to physical abstinence but also mental abstinence where one needs to refrain from getting affected by five vikars (vices of anger, lust, attachment, ego, greed, and ego). Scientifically it helps detoxify the body during the seasonal transition of winter to spring and at the same time spiritually it helps strengthen the mind.
Mantra Chanting: Shiva Panchakshari mantra – Om Namah Shivay is believed to balance the five elements from which the human body is emanated, to harmonize the physical and mental body. On this spiritually powerful day, repetition of the Shiva Panchakshari mantra benefits one by almost a thousand-fold.
Meditation: Meditation is about being in the present moment and drawing our awareness inwards to experience our true nature, the bliss of the self. Kundalini being in its active mode on this day helps one slip deep into meditation with ease.
Shivling Abhishek: The Shivling Abhishek is the worship of the formless form of Shiva. The worship involves holy bathing of Shivling with water, milk, rose water, fruit juices, Panchamrit (mix of honey, ghee, curd, sugar, and milk) and other holy items and offering of adornments like sandal paste, flower or Bel leaf garland and performing Aarti. The Abhishek ritual is carried out throughout the night in four prahar (units of time). Symbolically, Shivling Abhishek signifies the tapas (penance) one undergoes to realize the self and each offering made to Shivling is significant of a virtue. Since the Shivling emits a high frequency of peace and bliss on this day and at the same time the capacity of the body to absorb these frequencies is naturally high, performing Shivling Abhishek on Mahashivratri is highly beneficial.
Reciting or singing devotional Hymns of Shiva: Reciting of sacred Hymns dedicated to Lord Shiva is a powerful way to absorb the mind in its divine meaning and evoke Lord Shiva’s presence. On this day, one can recite sacred hymns like Shri Rudram, Namakam – the sacred names of Rudra Shiva, Shiva Manaspuja – mental worship of Lord Shiva, Shiv Aarti – praising the glory of Lord Shiva and Shiva Mahimnah Stotra – insight about the nature of Lord Shiva.
The great night of Shiva is the most propitious night dedicated to worship of Lord Shiva, the Supreme being, Who is all-pervasive reality – the Universal love, consciousness, and truth. Worshipping Shiva and celebration on this night we experience the divinity of Lord Shiva, Who dwells within all beings.