Maha Shivratri: When every devotee recalls Lord Shiva

Om Tryambhakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam | Urvarukamiva Bandhanan Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat || Maha Shivratri is considered one of the most popular and sacred festivals by the Hindus. The day is auspicious for tens of millions of devotees of Lord Shiva. Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, falls on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna, on a moonless night, when they offer special prayer to the Lord. This is the night, when the Lord of Destruction is believed to have performed the Tandava Nritya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. The festival is observed for one day and one night. Lord Shiva himself told his wife Parvati that this is the ritual performed by his devotees that pleases him the most. The 14th shloka of Shivmahimna Stotra says: “O three eyed Lord, when the poison came up through the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons, they were all aghast with fear as if the untimely end of all creation was imminent. In your kindness, you drank all the poison that still makes your throat blue. O Lord, even this blue mark does but increases your glory. What is apparently a blemish becomes an ornament in one intent on ridding the world of fear.” On this day devotees offer prayers at various temples across the country and Shiva temples are specially decorated for the occasion as people begin thronging these places since previous night. maha-shivaratriThe festival has been accorded tremendous significance in Hindu mythology. It says that a devotee who performs sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivratri is absolved of sins and attains moksha. Devotees observe day and night fast and give sacred bath to Shiva Linga with honey, milk, water etc. Hindus consider it extremely auspicious to worship Lord Shiva on a Shivaratri as it is believed that worship of Lord Shiva with devotion and sincerity absolves a devotee of past sins. This auspicious day is celebrated by observing a fast dedicated to Lord Shiva. Shiva Lingas are bathed with water, milk and honey, signifying purification of the soul. Devotees then paste vermilion on the limgam. In addition, flowers, fruits and bel leaves are offered to Shiva Lingas across the country, marking gratification of desire. Incense is burnt and lamps lit to mark the occasion. People get together in temples, etc. and chant ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ all night long. There is a legend for worshipping Shiva the whole night. Once, there was a poor tribal man who happened to be a great devotee of Shiva. One day he went deep into the forest to collect firewood. Unfortunately, he lost his way and could not return home. At night, he got scared at the growls of wild animals. Terrified, he climbed onto the nearest tree for shelter till day-break. To stay awake, he decided to pluck a leaf at a time from the tree and drop it, while chanting the name of Shiva. At dawn, he found that he had dropped a thousand leaves on to a Linga to keep himself awake. The tree happened to be a wood apple or bel tree. This unwitting all-night worship pleased Shiva, by whose grace the tribal was rewarded with divine bliss. This story is also recited on Mahashivaratri by devotees on fast. After observing the all-night fast, devotees eat the Prasad offered to Shiva. There is another plausible reason for the origin of the whole-night worship. Being a moonless night, people worshipped the god who wears the crescent moon as an adornment in his hair, Shiva. This was probably to ensure that the moon rose the next night. According to a legend mentioned in the Shiva Purana, once Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu, two of the Trinity Gods in Hinduism, were engaged in a fierce battle as to who was the superior of them. Petrified at the scale of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene. To make them realise the futility of their fight, Lord Shiva assumed the form of a huge column of fire in between Brahma and Vishnu. Awestruck by its magnitude, they decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other. Lord Brahma, the Creator, assumed the form of a swan and went upwards and Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, as Varaha went into the earth. But though they searched for thousands of miles, neither could find the end. While going upward, Lord Brahma came across a Ketaki flower floating down slowly. She told Brahma that she had been placed at the top of the fiery column as an offering. Unable to find the uppermost limit, Brahma decided to end his search and take the flower as a witness. An enraged Shiva revealed his true form and punished Brahma for telling a lie, and cursed him that no one would ever pray to him. The Ketaki flower too was banned from being used as an offering for any worship, as she had testified falsely. Since it was on the 14th day in the dark half of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a Linga and the day is celebrated as Mahashivaratri. Worshipping Shiva on this day is believed to bestow one with happiness and prosperity for the entire life. Mahashivratri is held in high esteem by women and married and unmarried women observe fast and perform Shiva Puja with sincerity to appease Goddess Parvati who is also regarded as ‘Gaura’ – one who bestows marital bliss and long and prosperous married life. Unmarried women also pray for a husband like Lord Shiva who is regarded as the ideal husband. According to another legend, during the samudra manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. This terrified the Gods and demons as the poison was capable of destroying the entire world, and they ran to Shiva for help. To protect the world from its evil effects, Shiva drank the deathly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This made his throat turn blue, and he was given the name Neelakantha, the blue-throated one. Shivaratri is the celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world. Immediately after Mahashivaratri, almost like a miracle, the trees are full of flowers as if to announce that after winter, the fertility of the earth has been rejuvenated. Mahashivaratri is thus not only a ritual but also a cosmic definition of the Hindu universe. The festival dispels ignorance, emanates the light of knowledge, makes one aware of the universe, ushers in the spring after the cold and dry winter, and invokes the supreme power to take cognizance of the beings that were created by him. According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship should contain six items: offering bilva (wild apple) leaves to the deity after giving it a ceremonial bath, which represents purification of the soul; applying vermilion paste on the linga after bathing it, which represents virtue; offering food, which is conducive to longevity and the gratification of desires; lighting incense, which yields wealth; lighting an oil lamp, which signifies the attainment of knowledge; and offering betel leaves, which marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures. These six items form an indispensable part of the Mahashivaratri worship, be it a simple ceremony at home or grand temple worship. Shiva is the Supreme Consciousness that illuminates the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Offering the threefold bilva leaves to the Shivalinga heralds the return to a level of consciousness beyond the three states, which is the fourth state, turiya. The absolute formless God, Sadashiv appeared in the form of “Lingodbhav Moorti” exactly at midnight on Maha Shivratri. That is why all Shiva devotees keep vigil during the night of Shivratri and do “Shivlingam abhishekham” (coronation of the phallic idol) at midnight. God in his manifestation as Vishnu made his appearance as Krishna at Gokul at midnight, 180 days after Shivratri, commonly known as Janmashtami. Thus, the circle of one year is divided into two by these two auspicious days of the Hindu calendar. Aum Namah Shiva Aum Namah Shiva is accepted to be a powerful healing mantra beneficial for all physical and mental ailments. Soulful recitation of this mantra brings peace to the heart and joy to the Soul. Sages consider that the recitation of these syllables is sound therapy for the body and nectar for the soul. The nature of the mantra is the calling upon the higher self; it is the calling upon shiva, the destroyer deity, to aid in the death (destruction of ego) and rebirth achieved during meditation. This goes generally for mantras and chants to different gods, which are different aspects of the higher self. It is also called Panchakshara, or Panchakshari, the “five-syllable” mantra (viz., excluding the Om). Panchakshari Mantra Namaḥ Śivāya is the most holy salutation to Śiva. The Panchakshara can be recited by Shiva devotees during pooja, Japa, Dhyana, homa and while smearing Vibhuti. Lord Shiva was married to Devi Parvati on Shivratri. Remember Shiva minus Parvati is pure ‘Nirgun Brahman’. With his illusive power, (Maya, Parvati) He becomes the “Sagun Brahman” for the purpose of the pious devotion of his devotees. During the Shivratri, Lord Shiva became ‘Neelkantham’ or the blue-throated by swallowing the deadly poison that came up during the churning of “Kshir Sagar” or the milky ocean. The poison was so deadly that even a drop in His stomach, which represents the universe, would have annihilated the entire world. Hence, He held it in His neck, which turned blue due to the effect of poison. Shivratri is therefore also a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from annihilation. The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra Om Tryambhakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam | Urvarukamiva Bandhanan Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat || The Maha Mrityunjay Mantra or Lord Shiva Mantra is considered extremely powerful and significant and it is chanted by the devotees during Shivratris. Also known as the Moksha Mantra of Lord Shiva, chanting of Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is said to create divine vibrations that heals. Devotees of Lord Shiva further believe that Maha Mrityunjay evokes the Shiva within human beings and removes the fear of death, liberating one from the cycle of death and rebirth. The Maha Mrityunjay Mantra has been taken from the Sukla Yajurveda Samhita III. 60. Significance Proper recitation of the Maha Mrityunjaya rejuvenates, bestows health, wealth, long life, peace, prosperity and contentment to us. Chanting of Shiva Mantra creates divine vibrations that ward off all the negative and evil forces and creates a powerful protective shield. The mantra protects the one who chants against accidents and misfortunes of every kind. Recitation of the mantra creates vibration that pulsates through every cell, every molecule of human body and tears away the veil of ignorance.

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