Today is Maha Shivaratri – the great night of God Shiva
Celebrate the overcoming of ignorance with this Hindu holiday.
An important Hindu festival, Maha Shivaratri means “great night of Shiva,” and is celebrated the 13th night and 14th day of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna—this falls within either coincidentally this falls toady, on the 13th of February this year. This solemn holiday venerates Lord Shiva, one of the most important deities in Hindu culture.
In Hinduism, Shiva is that aspect in the absolute Brahman, conceived as a triumvirate and responsible for creation preservation and dissolution of all creation over billions of years, with the other two of which are Brahma and Vishnu. Brahma is the creator, while Vishnu is the preserver of the world. Shiva’s purpose is to “dissolve” creation so that it can be recreated.
When Shiva is depicted as a man, he has a blue throat and face, and a white body. He has a third eye set in his forehead that represents wisdom and insight, a cobra necklace that signifies his power, a trident, which represents the Hindu triumvirate, and the vibhuti, which are three lines on his forehead that represent Shiva’s all-powerful nature.
Hindu believers feel that Shiva’s power of destruction is used to destroy not only matter, but illusions as well, thereby lending Maha Shivaratri a spirit of celebration from the darkness of ignorance.
The origin—the most prominent of several—of Shivratri lies in the story of how Shiva saved the world. According to the Puranas—Sanskrit writings containing Hindu legends—a container of terrifying poison rose up in the mythical churning ocean called Samudra Manthan. Demons and gods alike were terrified at this poison’s power—it was said to hold the power to destroy all creation.
These beings went to Shiva for help, and help he did. Shiva, in order to protect all creation, drank the poison, holding it in his throat rather than swallowing it. This caused his throat to become blue, giving him the alternate name of “Nilkantha,” the “blue-throated one”. Maha Shivaratri celebrates Shiva’s brave actions that ultimately saved the world.
The Rituals of Shivaratri
It all begins on a moonless night, when Hindus offer up prayers to Shiva. This is the night when Shiva is said to have performed the Tandava Nritya—the divine dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction. Celebrating devotees remain awake all through the night of the 13th, visiting their local Shiva temple or their private Shiva mandir.
One of the most solemn and important rituals is the bathing of the lingam—the symbol of Shiva. Adherents worship the lingam through the night, bathing it every four hours in the offerings of the cow—milk, sour milk, butter, dung, and urine. The five foods of immortality are also placed before the lingam—these are clarified butter, milk, curd, honey, and sugar.
Shivratri is also especially important for women, as married women use this day to pray for their sons and husbands. Unmarried women pray that they might receive a husband who is as like Shiva as possible.
The Most Important Hindu Festival
The Maha Shivratri observation at the Cove and John Mandir is well-attended by thousands of devotees each year, and, for many, it is the most sacred of all Hindu festivals, with devotees who perform sincere acts of worship for Shiva being absolved of all sins, attaining moksha—the escape from the cycle of death and rebirth.
This, for Hindus, moksha is one of the four primary goals of human life, alongside virtue, prosperity, and fulfillment, and so we can see why Maha Shivratri is so widely celebrated and revered.
Above all, this is the night and day when darkness is cast out of the human mind and heart, and illusions are destroyed by the cleaving sword of Lord Shiva, driving humanity out of its blindness and into the light.