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Celebrating Shiv tattv in oneself is called Shivaratri
Shiva is the experiencer and the highest object of experience. Shiva is the goal of sadhana. There is nothing other than Shiva.
Shiva is that blissful and innocent Consciousness which exists in every atom of the universe and also in us. Celebrating the Shiva tattva in oneself is called Shivaratri…. Shiva means your Self, your innermost core, the purest Self.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Shiva is the formless absolute Reality —the nature of pure Consciousness….Shiva is Trilochana, the three-eyed One. The third eye is the eye of wisdom. The other two represent love and justice.
Every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction…without end…f Capra
Shiva is the essence of the cosmos, symbolised in movement.
Mulk Raj Anand
Shivaratri Fulfils God’s Promise In Gita
Shiva has a unique place in the Hindu pantheon. Being incorporeal, Shiva alone is usually not represented by a deity, and instead, is depicted by the lingam. The names of Shiva temples in India bear the suffix ‘nath’ or ‘ishwar’ to indicate that he is the preceptor of all beings. One of the many names of Shiva is Sarveshwar, Lord of all. Images of the deity Shankar often show him meditating in front of a Shivalingam.
Hindu mythology speaks of Krishna and Rama as avatars, they were born and they died. They are said to have worshipped Shiva. Other gods also take physical birth, but Shiva neither takes birth, nor dies.
Shiva incarnates himself in a human body, an occurrence that is celebrated during Shivaratri. Shiva’s incarnation is associated with ‘ratri’ or night because he manifests in this world when it is enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and evil. Omniscient Shiva dispels the darkness by giving humans the light of knowledge. The three parallel lines on the Shivalingam are symbolic of Shiva’s knowledge of the three aspects of time. The eye in the middle of the lines indicates the eye of wisdom he gives to human souls.
The Mahabharata refers to the regenerative role of Shiva, saying that when the world had plunged into darkness and vicious proliferation, “an egg-like form of light descended and established a new order”. In the Dharma Samhita part of Shiva Purana, it is said that at the end of Kaliyuga, during the time of destruction, a magnificent light revealed itself, blindingly luminous, radiant and eternal, and the world was created through this light.
Shivaratri is commemoration of the arrival of Divinity in this world to salvage humanity. In the Bhagwad Gita Krishna says that whenever righteousness declines and unrighteousness arises, he manifests for the protection of the good, destruction of the wicked, and reestablishment of a righteous order.
The Gita hints at this role of Shiva when Krishna says: “I am ‘mahakaal’ (God of Death). Death can never approach me.” Such an assertion can be made only by Shiva, the Supreme, Paramatma. Soul, one who never takes birth, is Mrityunjaya, immortal.
There is no room for confusion about the roles of Shiva and Krishna, because there is but one God, though deities may be many. The Supreme of all souls, across different faith traditions, is understood as being incorporeal and omnipotent. The Ocean of Peace, the Saviour and Almighty, is forever beyond the limitations of a physical existence.
He performs his tasks by giving power to his spiritual children, these gods and goddesses, the slayers of demons, who are also embodiments of purity, love and wisdom. They are not supernatural beings, but humans with divine qualities. They foster these qualities in their fellow humans, nurturing a new, elevated consciousness, and thus serve as divine instruments in the task of creating a righteous world order.
This is the secret of Maha Shivaratri, which will be observed on March 4 this year, the night the Supreme comes to liberate his children from suffering and sorrow, as promised in the Gita.
(The writer, daughter of the former Vice-President of Guyana, represents the Brahma Kumaris at the United Nations, NYC)
The Night Of Death And New Life
Udayraj A Gadnis
Maha Shivratri is perceived by most as an allnight celebration that is ritualistic. To the evolved, it is a night of death – quiet and peaceful.
Shiva as destroyer symbolises death. The darkness of amavasya that follows the big night creates an ambience that prompts the seeker to look for illumination. As the Adi Guru, Shiva inspires us to be awake – that is, aware. Hence the practice prevails of staying awake all night on this special day. Another aspect of darkness is anonymity. Mystical happenings, the occult, too are associated with darkness. So in one special night you have elements of isolation, awakening and the occult.
Maha Shivratri calls for unusual demands on the fragile body and rigid mind. Scriptures say that the body is only a mud house and the Atma is a passing tenant. Many mystical questions arise: how does the tenant select the house, how does it maintain and use the house?
Shiva is the final frontier for fulfilling all desires. You are limited only by your knowledge. The world is full of events which do not appear in your known consciousness, but then even your body is full of events which do not appear in your known consciousness, but that still does not prevent you from claiming your body as your own. You know this world exactly as you know your own body through your limited senses. It’s your mind that separates the outside world from your inside world, creating fear and mistrust. Hence, offering only water to Shiva is symbolic of simplicity and spiritual grace. Flow is the message here.
Maha Shivratri is neither a night of pleasure nor of pain. The understanding is simple: you have been given a beautiful stone at the age of 21 and you’re told that it is a priceless diamond. You safeguard it all through your life till you’re told – at the age of say, 50 – that it’s just a piece of glass. Suddenly you feel cheated; the pleasure you experienced at possessing the stone suddenly vanishes and what remains is pain. Shiva cracks the whip and wakes you up from a nightmare.
The end of pain does not lie in pleasure but in freedom from both pain and pleasure. The search for Shiva ends in the space within. So the ritual of Maha Shivratri is asking the devotee to be a witness. Witnessing is a normal natural process. The problem is excessive interest leading to a sense of self-importance that destroys the joy of living. The night of waking up from this dream is crucial. It can be painful if you desire to hold on to it.
Stop imagining that your dream is your own. The night of Maha Shivratri is better spent in solitude; you definitely don’t want to be woken up in somebody’s bed you never intended to spend the night with!
There is nothing wrong in having desires. The point is: what kind of desires do you have? Are they petty, are they narrow and selfish? If so, it’s time to expand the scope of your desires so that all the energy that goes to make up your various desires gets transformed into love. Ultimately, what do you really desire? You wish all longing for love and happiness to be fulfilled, isn’t it? Simply lead a life full of love and everything else will follow. After all you are not in the body. The body is in you, and you are the one who has the power to steer life the way you wish.
The writer is a mystic artist.
Night of Shiva
Maha Shivratri, which literally translates to “great night of Shiva” is a Hindu festival largely celebrated in all states of India. The festival is celebrated on the new moon day in the month of Maagha according to the Hindu calendar. The day is celebrated to venerate Lord Shiva, an important deity in Hindu culture.
People often fast on the night of Shivratri and sing hymns and praises in the name of Lord Shiva. Shiva temples across the country are decorated with lights and colorful decorations and people can be seen offering night long prayers to Shiva Lingam. Woodapple leaves, cold water and milk are offered to the Shiva Lingam on this day as they are believed to be Lord Shiva’s favorite.
It is believed that the people who fast on this night and offer prayers to Lord Shiva bring good luck into their life. The most popular Maha Shivratri celebrations take place in Ujjain, believed to be the place of residence of Lord Shiva. Large processions are carried out throughout the city, with people thronging the streets to catch a glimpse of the revered idol of Lord Shiva.
There are many mythological legends associated with this day. According to a popular legend, when a hunter could not find anything to kill for his food in a forest, he waited on the branch of a Woodapple tree. In order to attract deer, he started throwing the leaves of the tree on the ground, unaware that there was a Shiva Lingam beneath the tree. Pleased with the Woodapple leaves and the patience of the hunter, it is believed that Lord Shiva appeared in front of the hunter and blessed him with wisdom. From that day onwards, the hunter stopped eating meat.
According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as ‘Nilkantha’, the blue-throated one.
It is also believed that Hindu devotees stay awake whole night to give company to God Shiva, who was not supposed to fall asleep after drinking the ocean poison (Kalakootam).
Some folklore also consider this to be Shiva’s day as this was believed to be the answer given by Lord Shiva when asked about his favorite day by Goddess Parvati.
Devotees believe that Lord Shiva married Devi Parvati on Shivratri. Thus, the day is the union of Shiva and Shakti, the two greatest forces of the Universe.
The Story of King Chitrabhanu
Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa , was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king. The sage asked the king the purpose of his observing the fast. King Chitrabhanu explained that he had a gift of remembering the incidents of his past birth, and in his previous life he had been a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. The day before the new moon, while roaming through forests in search of animals, he saw a deer, but before his arrow flew he noticed the deer’s family and their sadness at its impending death. So he let it live. He had still not caught anything when night fell, so he climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a Bael tree. His canteen leaked water, so he was both hungry and thirsty.
These two torments kept him awake throughout the night, thinking of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously awaiting his return. To pass the time, he engaged himself in plucking the Bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground. The next day he returned home and bought some food for himself and his family. The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food. He served the food first to stranger and only ate afterward. At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, sent to conduct his soul to the abode of Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconscious worship of Shiva during the night of Maha Shivaratri. The messengers told him that there had been a Lingam (a symbol for the worship of Shiva) at the bottom of the tree. The leaves he dropped from the Bael tree had fallen into the shape of a Lingam, in imitation of Shiva’s ritual worship. The water from his leaky canteen had washed the Lingam (also a ritual action), and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously had worshiped Lord Shiva. At the conclusion of the tale the King said that he had lived in the abode of the Shiva and enjoyed divine bliss for a long time before being reborn as Chitrabhanu. This story is narrated in the Garuda Purana. ‘Shivaratri’ means ‘night of Shiva’. The important components of this religious festival are rigid fasting for twenty four hours and sleepless vigil during the night. Every true devotee of Lord Shiva spends the night of Shivaratri in deep meditation, keeping vigil and observing the fast.
The worship of Lord Shiva consists in offering flowers, Bilva leaves and other gifts on the Lingam, which is a symbol of Lord Shiva, and bathing it with milk, curd, ghee, honey, sugar, coconut water, butter, and rose-water.
The day is considered auspicious for women. They fast and pray to the Lord to get blessed with blissful married life, while unmarried woman would pray for an ideal husband like Shiva.
All through the day the devotees keep severe fast, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra “Om Namah Shivaya”, make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord amidst ringing of temple bells. They maintain long vigils during the night, keeping awake to listen to stories, hymns and songs. The fast is broken only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. In Kashmir, the festival is held for 15 days. The 13th day is observed as a day of fast followed by a family feast. Maha Shivratri a unique time to burn your bad Karmas with the blessings of Mahadev Shiva.
The story of Maha Shivratri
One of the most religious celebrations celebrated in Hinduism is the festival of Shivaratri. The festival, which is also known as Padmarajarathri, is celebrated every year on a humongous scale in different parts of the country in reverence of Lord Shiva. On the darkest night of the year, devotees stay awake and offer prayers, perform rituals and pay obeisance to Lord Shiva for his blessings. It is observed every year during the 14th day of the Maagha or Phalguna month (February-March), according to the Panchang, the Hindu calendar. On this auspicious day, devotees worship Lord Shiva to overcome darkness and sadness from their lives. This year, Maha Shivratri will be celebrated on February 21.
The story, history, significance and importance of Maha Shivratri
Lord Shiva is referred to as Maha Dev, signifying his special place among Hindu gods. Lord Shiva is one of the three most revered Hindu deities, forming a part of the great Holy Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh/Shiva – the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer respectively). It is believed that he performed the dance of preservation, creation and destruction, known as Tandav, on this night. It is also known as ‘Padmarajarathri’ and ‘The Great Night of Shiva’.
There are several stories behind the Maha Shivaratri festival. Sawan Shivratri originated with various versions. As per the story of Mahashivaratri, the festival is celebrated to mark the day on which Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati. And some people celebrate Shiv Ratri as the day when lord Shiva saved the world from the weed of poison that came out from the ocean during Samudra Manthan. Lord Shiva drank the poison and held the poison in his throat instead of swallowing it which made his throat blue. Shivji's name 'Neelkantha' is derived from this incident.
Shivratri is considered auspicious for women. Married women pray for the well being and long life of their husbands while unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva. But generally, it is believed that anyone who takes the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she is believed to reach the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
Lord Shiva's devotees line up at Shiv Temples to offer their prayers on this day. They fast and pray to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and perform maha abhishekam where they bathe the Shiva Linga with milk and flower. The phallus symbol representing Shiva is called the lingam. Devotees circumambulate the lingam and worship it throughout the night. It is bathed with the five sacred offerings of a cow, called the 'panchagavya' - milk, sour milk, urine, butter, and dung. Then the five foods of immortality i.e. milk, clarified butter, honey, curd and sugar are placed before the lingam. Datura fruit and flower are also offered to Shiva believing it to be sacred and the fast is broken the next morning after the nightlong worship.
Lord Shiv reveals Himself through Brahma
Among the numerous festivals celebrated in India, Shivaratri stands out. It signifies hope – bringing the promise of light and the end of darkness, the beginning of a spiritual renewal.
It is a commemoration of the task performed by God at the end of every cycle of time when humanity suffers due to spiritual ignorance and sorrow. Shiva, the father of all souls, incarnates in this world, ends the suffering of his children, and ushers in a world of peace, bliss, beauty and plenty.
Of all the figures in the Hindu pantheon, Shiva alone can perform this task as He is the only one who is free from all bondage and, therefore, capable of liberating others. The others in the pantheon are deities, whereas Shiva is the Supreme Soul.
This status of Shiva is also depicted in the images of Shankar, in which he is shown meditating in front of a Shiva linga, which is a representation of incorporeal God Shiva. It implies that Shankar, who is also called Mahadev, is worshipping a higher being. Even the names of Shiva temples in India, which bear the suffix ‘nath’ or ‘ishwar’, distinguish Him from the deities.
Shiva uses a human medium to perform His task of rejuvenating the world for His spiritual children. This medium comes to be known, and later worshipped, as Brahma, the creator, through whom Shiva introduces Himself to the world and reminds human souls of their true identity and their relationship with Him.
When souls recognise who they are and who their soul father is, they connect with Him by remembering Him. Through this mental link they receive God’s powers and blessings that help remove their weaknesses, or vices, and ultimately liberate them from all kinds of distress and depravity.
By living according to God’s directions, the human souls also attain divinity and are worshipped as deities when all humans have lost their purity and come under the influence of vices. They hark back to the golden age of their deity ancestors. Since the deity souls themselves are in the cycle of rebirth and go through the human experience of joy and grief like everyone else, they are not in a position to release others from suffering. It takes the Supreme Being to perform that task. The ‘Shivpuran’ quotes Shiva, the ‘Jyotirlinga’, as saying, “I will reveal myself from the forehead of Brahma.” It further says that Shiva showing mercy on suffering beings on earth, descended in the forehead of Brahma to recreate a better world. For this reason, He is hailed as Kalagni ‘Rudra’. As Shiva does not take birth like humans, the word ‘shambhu’ is suffixed to His name. ‘Shambhu’ is short for ‘swayambhu’, the one who incarnates on His own, or one who cannot be procreated.
The world as we know it today, could seldom be darker than it is, with the suffering of all creatures, and Mother Nature, nearing the breaking point. There could not be a more opportune time for God to arrive and end the miseries of His children. He has definitely performed this task at the end of Kali Yuga in every Kalpa, eternal cycle of four yugas, otherwise it would not be commemorated every year on Shivaratri.
The Times of India, Mar 07 2016
Shakti worship is a strong tradition in Kashmir that evolved along with the worship of Shiva. Over time, invocation of Shakti seems to have become more intense. There is ample evidence of this in miniature paintings.Devi in the Svacchanda Tantra is shown seated on the lap of Svacchanda Bhairava Shiva. Bhairava and Bhairavi are also depicted in some paintings separately but in the same form and with the same attributes. We also observe Bhairavi emerging as a full-fledged goddess known as Sarika in Kashmir. Sarika Pitha, situated on a hill at the centre of Srinagar city , is also known as Chakresvara or Chakresvari. There is evidence of a long line of sadhakas who have achieved spiritual heights through their regular meditational practice around this spiritual abode. A beautiful image of Sarika Bhagavati was recently developed in Kashmiri calendar art.With great reverence to the goddess, this image adorns each Kashmiri home even after their exile from Kashmir. A replica of the Sarika shrine has been created near Delhi in Faridabad, which is evidence of this deep-rooted tradition. One is also reminded of the practice of the strong Bhairava tradition in Kashmir where eight Bhairavas or Lokapalas guard the city . There may be changes in the nomenclature but one can definitely observe by this that the practice was complemented by physical models. In whatever condition these sites are at present, they stand as reminders of this hallowed tradition.
Shivaratri is observed as Bhairavotsava by Kashmiris, in which bhairava yajna is performed with elaborate ritual worship of BhairavaBhairavi along with devi putras, Vatuka and Ramana symbolically represented by the vessels of different shapes and sizes, during the Shivaratri Puja.
Once, while in ananda mudra, Shiva was in a playful mood. All his ganas appeared in his service. While thinking of Parvati, the Supreme Shakti, Shiva saw her in a garden in the Himalayas along with many other goddesses (her own creations) who were preparing various food items. Some goddesses were making containers of different shapes.
Seeing all this in his samadhi, Mahadeva Shiva took the form of Svacchanda Bhairava and appeared before them and frightened them.
Mahamaya became disturbed by seeing all this and looked into a water container. When she did so Vatuka Bhairava appeared there, along with his attributes. Finding the young boy, Vatuka, incapable of facing Svacchanda Bhairava, she looked inside another water container and there appeared the handsome Ramana along with shields. In this way Mahamaya created many ganas in order to combat the fearful form of Shiva. At this point the form of Shiva that had frightened all, disappeared. Thereafter all came to Parashakti for refuge. Offering delicious food, she blessed them. This day was the 13th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Phagun.
Shiva also appeared on this day at sunset in the form of Jvala Linga dispersing heat that cooled down by the midnight. The symbolic representation of this Jvala Linga is the Sunya Putula, the prime deity worshipped during Shivaratri puja as niskala Svacchanda Bhairava.
Shivaratri concludes with the ritual oblations made to each entity through the conceptualisation of the entire universe as Vishwadeva, one single divine entity . This is a great reminder to our obligation towards preserving and nourishing every creation of the blissful and compassionate Svacchanda Bhairava and Bhairavi who are popularly called Shiva and Shakti.