Mahasivaratri Festival- It’s Significance
Ancient Indian Epics and festivals have both religious and moral implications. Moral values are disguised in them and have to be drawn out. Even the religious practices or the so called rituals like prayer, Homa and so on are full of moral values, if we understand their inner meaning. Those moral values are to be imbibed by humanity to meet the materialistic onslaught .Here an attempt is made to analyze Mahasivaratri, one of the important Hindu festivals to bring out it’s significance and inner meaning or it’s moral ethical side. Generally , people follow rituals mechanically, which does not help to realize the purpose of festivals .It is hoped that this short article would help the reader to understand the values underlined this festival , to assimilate them and practice in their day to life, thus making life more wholesome and derive enduring happiness.
Mahasivaratri or the great night of Lord Siva, being one of the important Hindu festivals , is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor to propitiate Lord Siva.Unlike celebration of other festivals , Mahasivaratri festival is not celebrated with festivities, revelry and gaiety, on the other hand ,it is celebrated with solemnity and piety and devotional fervor.. This is so because, Lord Siva is the very incarnation of’ vyragia’ or renunciation or sacrifice of physical pleasures . and he is in deep meditation in most of the times .Lord Siva is the most powerful deity and one among the trinities ,Bhrahma , Vishnu and Maheswara among Hindu deities . ‘Siva’ means being auspicious and power or energy, the most powerful God of Hindu pantheon. The 14 the night of the dark half of every month in Krishna Chathurdasi is Sivaratri. However, the one which falls in the moth of Magha(Feb-March ) is celebrated as Mahasivaratri . This year it falls on 27 the Feb, (2014). It is believed as the most auspicious time to invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva by day long worship .Due to unique planetary position , a powerful natural upsurge of energy is said to occur on that night in the human system .Worship on this day is considered as beneficial for one’s material and spiritual wellbeing. Lord Siva is the destroyer of evil and protector of good. Those who utter the name of Siva on this night is said to be free from his past sins and wrong acts committed by him and would enjoy material prosperity , peace and happiness , apart from obtaining liberation from the cycle of births and deaths and attainment of absolute bliss , merging with Almighty during life after shedding the mortal coil .Perhaps we are reminded to realize our past mistakes , repent for them and not to repeat them and not to stray from the path of virtues.
Celebration starts on the day of Mahasivaratri. Devotees wake up early morning and after ritual bath, wear new clothes and visit Siva temples for worship. They observe strict ‘Vrata ‘or follow acts of discipline. Fasting or going without food is one such acts of self-control or being oblivious of body consciousness which lead to unholy life. There are people who do not drink even a drop of water till next day. ‘Sivalingam ‘ or Idol of Siva is worshipped throughout the night . ‘Abbishekam’ or ritual bath is most important. It is believed that much heat is generated in Siva’s body due to deep meditation and the holy bath cools down his body .Priests wash the Lingam once every three hours with milk, curd, ghee, honey, rose water, coconut water and just with plain water and offer ‘Bilwa’ or Bael leaves which is said to be most preferred by Lord Siva. In Bilwa leaf, there will be three leaves in a stalk which is supposed to represent three eyes( Trinetram) of Lord Siva . Devotees circumambulate Sivalinga by chanting devotional songs incessantly. Thousand names of Siva each of which describes his glory and splendor are sung in chorus. They maintain sleepless night or long vigil throughout night. It is called practicing ‘Jagaran’ .The following is the meaning of these practices .Fasting is a way of controlling our senses, which run amuck after objects of pleasure. So also resisting sleep, which is the most fundamental need .In other words development of self-control and a life of moderation and contentment are exhorted. The night long vigil also suggests the importance of presence of mind in our day to day life. The message is that we should not be preoccupied with the dead past nor with unborn future, but the real present and that whatever we do , we should do it involving ourselves fully . Other acts of vrata or self-discipline, to be practiced are Sathya or speaking truth , Ahimsa or injuring none by thoughts, words or actions ,Brahmacharya or continence or not indulging in sensuous actions unregulated , Daya or compassion to fellow beings, Kshama or patience, tolerance and accommodation , not being revengeful and forgiveness , and Anasuya or not being jealous . They also include not entertaining any evil thoughts during the whole day, instead filling the mind with sublime and divine thoughts by continuously chanting the hymns praising the glory of Lord Siva. These acts purify our heart and mind and strengthen our will power and actions guided by ‘viveka’’ or discriminatory knowledge or higher levels of consciousness. The self-discipline we display during the Mahasivaratri day should not be confined only to that day, but it should be displayed in our life style as such. We can say that Mahasivartri is a period of moral and ethical training, quite apart from its divine import.
There are many legends showing the significance of Mahasivaratri celebrations .Those legends also bring out several moral/ ethical values to the discerning eye . Due to limitation of space, only few are quoted .
1. It was on this day, Siva married Goddess Parvati , who did long penance to get an ideal husband like Lord Siva. Believing this legend , unmarried women pray for ideal husbands and married women pray for the wellbeing of their husbands . It is considered as a special day of worship for women like Thiruvathira festival, a festival of Kerala This shows that the marriage institution is considered as sacred according to Hindu thought and hence the partners are supposed to maintain it . Family life in Hindu scriptures is qualified as ‘Grahastaashrama’. Ashram means the abode of ascetics or perfect souls who have absolute control over themselves and not swayed by outside forces. Thus family is a place for leading disciplined life as per varnaashrama dharma, the ethics coded in our ancient works of wisdom. The aim of married life is propagation of human race and not indulgence in libidinal life for the sake of sensuous pleasure.
2. After the creation of the universe and the living beings, Lord Siva is believed to have answered that the day, Mahasivaratri is celebrated is the day of his choice for propitiating him, in response to question posed by Parvati. Parvati is believed to have told this to her friends and this practice was followed from generations to generations .
3. Lord Siva is believed to have performed the’ Tandava’ dance or’’ Ananda nritam on that day . It is a celestial dance of primal creation, preservation and dissolution which brings out the eternal truth that forms are created out of minute particles of high energy, which can neither be created nor destroyed,that they sustain their shape for a while and get dissolved and that this process continues. Modern Physics attest this fact. It is believed that life principle or Atma which is nether created or destroyed, but immutable passes on taking different material bodies . This movement is evolutionary , in the sense depending upon the good deeds done , it assumes higher and higher forms till it gets merged with the ultimate which is a birth less and deathless state . This renewal need not be confined to transmigration of the souls. Change for better is possible with in one’s life span .This means that we should always try to reform our character by assimilating the teachings of our ancient texts and be a better person in terms of our moral/ ethical/ human qualities qualities. Gods are embodiments of all virtues. So the only way to reach nearness to God and gets empowered is by cultivation of those virtues, as human life is strictly guided by Moral laws. God intervenes in the life of man as impartial implementer of moral laws.
4. It is believed that Lord Siva manifested himself for the first time in the form the form of ‘Linga’ on this day. .Hence, the day is considered as most auspicious for invoking his grace.
5. According to Puranas, during the great mythical churning of ocean called ‘Samudra madan’, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. Gods and Demons were terrified at the sight of poison which could wipe them out . .They ran for Siva’s help .Lord Siva gulped that poison, in order to save the world from disaster. Parvati is said to have held his throat tightly, lest the poison might move to vital organs . The poison collected in the throat tuned the color of the throat into blue. Siva got the name Neelakandan from this incident ,meaning person with neck of blue color. During Sivaratri celebration this lofty incident of Lord’s saving the world is commemorated .The message that comes out of this incident is that we should lend our helping hand in any adversity even at the cost of our lives rather than leading a selfish and egocentric life of exploitation. While churning the ocean for nectar, nectar was the last thing which came out after strenuous effort. This reveals the fact that real achievement is possible only through hard labor put in with tremendous amount of patience and personal sacrifice.
6. The Story of Chitrabhanu
• Chitrabhanu was a king who was a staunch devotee of Lord Siva .He had a rare skill of knowing his past. He narrated the story of his life as to how he became Siva devotee .He told he was a hunter in his previous life .One day he roamed about in the forest and it was too late to return to his village .He could not get any prey on that night . In order to escape from wild animals, he climbed up a tree and parched there the whole night .It happened to be a willow tree, which is Lord Siva’s favorite .He plucked few leaves and dropped them on the ground to attract his prey/ animals . A deer came on the spot .Before he could sent his arrow, the deer with tears rolling down it’s eyes told the hunter how deep would be the grief of his wife and children, if he did not return home. The hunter was moved, took pity on the deer and let it free. The hunter was too hungry and felt how ag grieved his family would be back home .He continued to drop leaves one by one to keep him awake, lest he might fall from the tree. There was a Siva linga under the tree. The Bilwa leaves fell on the siva linga, staying on the ground.. So also the water, he had in his pot fell on the linga drop by drop. The drops of water which fell on the Linga were equivalent of Abhisheka or ritualistic bath given to Siva by his devotees. On the next day morning , when hunter climbed down , Siva being happy ,appeared before him and blessed him . Though he dropped leaves to keep him engaged, it was literally an act of worshipping Siva and hence he got his blessings .This shows that if we do some good acts, even if we don’t seek anything, it may bring good to us .Sudden transformation took place in the life of the hunter. He gave up eating meat and hunting or stopped himsa or violence..He stopped hunting and kiing and selling animals for his livelihood. and spend his time in doing good work. He was reborn as Chitrabhanu to be the king and staunch devotee of Lord Siva. What moral does this story bring out? It brings out that we should be reformed in our life , that reformation can come about anytime, if we have open mind and that we should not harm anyone by thoughts , words a or action . We should not think of ill of any one, on the other hand we should think of good of others, we should share in the happiness of others. We should not do wrong to others, on the other hand, we should do good to others .we should be polite and gentle and not harsh at any time with any one and should help others and not harm them on any account .
To recapitulate, Mahasivaratri festival has very rich in meaning. Celebration in its true spirit is developing one-pointed mind to goodness, understanding the human values embedded in the festival, as pointed out in this write up and tring to live as per those values for achieving material prosperity , enduring happiness and lasting peace rather than blindly following the rituals .
After coulple of months of writing this article, I came across another small article on Sivaratri under the title ‘Celebrate Universal Consciousness ‘ authored by Shri Shri Ravisankar , in the column Oasis in Deccan Herald dt 5.3.2012
It is reproduced here:
This whole creation is a play of Siva, the dance of one consciousness, one seed, which has manifested into million species in the world. The whole world moving in auspicious rhythm of innocence and intelligence is siva. Siva is the permanent and eternal source of energy, the only eternal state of being. Sivaratri is when Siva and sakti became one. There is a story related to Sivaratri about the union of siva and sakti The primordial and dynamic energy is wedded to the transcendental. Siva is the silent witness, the ‘chidakasha ‘and sakti is ‘chitti or ‘chidvilasa’, the energy that plays and displays in the infinite space. Siva is the formless being. Sakti is the manifestation in the field. This is the recognition of dual aspect of matter and energy, prakriti and purusha, the dravya and guna , substance and its qualities . Recognizing the underlying non-dual nature of Brahman is Sivaratri.
Sivaratri is the night to celebrate the wakefulness of one universal consciousness without falling into the unconscious sleep state . It is an occasion to awaken one’s self from all sorts of slumber. The jagaran in sivaratri is not just forcing oneself to be awake or singing bajans loud. It is about keeping awake and being inward and being consciously aware of inner rest that sleep anyway brings about. When you surpass a certain layer of sleep, the rest in Samadhi or sivasayujya happens.
Siva is symbolically represented by linga.The divine is beyond any gender , so the divine is called as ‘Ekalinga’ .or one gender .That one gender is the self or Atman .
Siva has been associated with destruction or transformation. Transformation can only happen after destruction. Siva is that factor of transformation. Siva is very simple God., he is innocent –Bholanath .One just needs to offer Bel-patra to him But in this simplicity there is a great message.The Belpatra offerings signify the surrender of all three aspects of men’s nature Tamas, Rajas ,and Satva . You have to surrender positives and negatives to Siva and become free.. The greatest offering is yourself. Kailas is the legendary abode of Siva. Kailasa means where there is happiness and celebration, Siva is present. Whether in sanyasa or sanmsara, you can not escape Siva. Feeling his presence all the time is the essence of Sivaratri. Lord Siva is always depicted with eyes closed with a snake around his neck. He may appear to be sleeping, but this indicates his inner state is fully awake like a snake.
He is always painted blue in the picture. Blue signifies vastness of the sky. The moon on his head depicts everything within him. The entire ghosts, dead, devil, everything included in his gana. All types of people are present in Siva’s procession .So also in this world; all belong to that supreme soul. Sivaratri signifies being aware of everything you have and being grateful about it. Being grateful for the happiness which leads to growth and also for sadness which gives depth to life. This is the right way of celebrating Sivaratri.
By Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon
Specialist in Management Sciences and Author of Award winning Management books.