For those who wonder how it is that there are so many festivals in India, the answer is that at one time, India was the land where the most number of enlightened beings lived. The culture they helped shape for the land was crafted in such a way as to never miss an opportunity to remember and seek the Divine!
Mahashivratri: the night of Shiva
Mahashivratri is one of the most important festivals in India and is dedicated to AdiYogi, Shiva. Shivratris occur every month, on the 13th/14th night of the waning moon but Mahashivratri, occurring in February/March is considered the most important. It is believed to be the darkest night of the year.
Why is it important? From a yogic perspective, Mahashivratri is a time when there is an upward surge of energy on the planet. This makes the night of Mahashivratri a very conducive and auspicious time for spiritual practices or sadhana (since higher levels of energy are required to be able to increase our spiritual awareness). Traditionally, it is the most auspicious night for seeking Shiva.(1)
Shiva: Divinity and Dimension
In India, the Divine is represented in many ways, one of which is the Trinity of Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Shiva (Destroyer). Shiva is Mahadev (highest of the gods). He is personified as an ascetic and AdiYogi (the first yogi) and AdiGuru (the first guru) who married Parvati (a form of Shakti) but remains always in his transcendent nature.
As Yogeshwaraya, Shiva is the lord of yoga.
As Bhuteshwaraya, He is the lord of the five elements (the mahabhutas).
As Digambaraya, He is the one who wears space, the subtlest of the five elements, like a garment.
As Mrityunjaya, He is the conqueror of death.
As Triyambakaya, He is the one who perceives through the third eye, the inner eye of intuition.
As Ardhanareeshwara, He embodies both the male and female aspects of creation.
As Nataraja, He is lord of the dance (of Creation).
As Bholenath, Shiva is the innocent one who knows nothing. To the mind, ‘knowing nothing’ appears a dullness but to the spiritual heart, it is recognised as purity, which is beyond knowledge.
His trishul (trident) represents the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep which are all in time. Grasping the trishul in his hands, he represents the dimension beyond these three (the fourth state, known as turiya avastha in Sanskrit). His damru (hand drum) represents the expanding and contracting nature of the universe – the outer world as well as the inner world come into play for a while and then return to their single source only to again become manifest and continue the cycle. The snake around Shiva’s neck represents the absolute alertness of the yogi while enjoying the intoxication of pure bliss.
All of these symbolisms are to remind us of our highest potential. Several ancient mantras and chants do the same.
Angikam Bhuvanam Yasya
(Whose bodily movements are the movements of the entire universe)
Vachikam Sarva Vangmayam
(Whose speech is the language of All, the voice of existence)
Aaharyam Chandra Taradi
(Whose ornaments are the moon and stars)
Tam Namah Saattvikam Shivam
(I bow to You, that pure Shiva)
– Dhyana shlokam (cosmic dance)
See also : 7 Amazing Shiva Chants
Shiva represents that dimension of ourselves that is beyond the personality. Shiva represents no-thing or emptiness. This cannot be comprehended by the mind but has been verified by experience by yogis and sages over the millennia as the purest state of Being. Shiva, the Destroyer, represents the dissolution of the outer and inner worlds. For the true seeker, this is the fulfilment of all seeking, the culmination of all sadhanas.
The darkest night of the year is to remind us to search for what cannot be seen. The formless that supports all forms.The all-pervading darkness which supports the universe as dark matter is the outer representation of Shiva.
The distinction between “with qualities” and
“without qualities” does not exist in Him;
He’s beyond both attachment and non-attachment;
Stainless, He’s beyond all forms.
He’s beyond both qualities and the absence of qualities;
Though formless, He’s the substance of all forms.
So how can I worship that Shiva, who exists
everywhere, like space!
Shiva is not white or yellow; He has no color at all.
That supreme Shiva is both the cause and the effect.
Truly, I am beyond the process of thought; I’m Shiva.
Tell me, friend, how can I bow the Self unto the Self?
– Avadhuta Gita (III 1-2)
Mahashivratri is considered to be a most auspicious time for sadhakas to seek Shiva through practices like fasting, meditation and japa (repetition of mantras). This night, yogis, including aspiring ones, and devotees of Shiva, do not sleep the entire night. It is a night to not only be awake physically but to more importantly, awaken spiritually.
When the seeker becomes the sought, when Shiva is attained, every night becomes Mahashivratri.
Om namah Shivaya gurave
(I bow to Shiva, the guru)
(That is the embodiment of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss)
(That is beyond manifestation and is unending peace)
(That is unsupported and radiant)
– a popular ancient prayer before yogic practices
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