Maha Shiva Ratri is the `Great Night of Shiva’ – when Hindu devotees of the God Shiva spend a whole night in total worship and prayers of Shiva – either in their homes or local temples.
Shivarathri nights for coming years:
- Friday 24th February 2017;
- Tuesday 13th February 2018;
- Monday 4th March 2019;
- Friday 21st February 2020
Shiva: Tribal God of the Dance
Shiva is a god with a 3rd eye on his forehead – which he keeps closed, as the opening of it can bring forth divine flames which no one can bear! Shiva’s son Murugan (Karthigeyan) is said to have been born of the flames that came from Shiva’s 3rd eye!)
Shiva wears a serpent around his neck, a Crescent moon on his hair, and the river Ganga flows from her heavenly origins down to Shiva’s head, and after being slowed down, flows down to Earthly realms. Shiva is often seen to be meditating – on mountain realms, or in Crematoriums and graveyards. He has a tribal look, and only wears a Tiger-skin cloth (or deer skin). He holds in his hands a Trident (powerful weapon that targets any evil), and in his other hand carries a Drum..which he drums to reach a trance state in his dance!
Shiva taking on Karma
The day before (9th Match) is Pradosham, when Shiva is said to have taken in the poison of a great serpent and swallowed it so that it would not harm the worlds! (This symbolises the bad Karma).
People often pray to Shiva to ask divine help in breaking the karmic cycle or birth, death and soul’s reincarnation.. It is said that the worship and devotion to Hindu God Shiva enables a person to convert the negative karma from One’s life into positive energy – as Shiva is the remover of sin and and Lord or mercy. Mere words or worship are not always enough, as it has been known through mythological and religious stories – that Shiva has come in many disguises and incarnations and tested his worshipers …at times to extreme breaking points.. and revealed himself at the 11th hour (so to speak), before a crisis occurs, and rewarding his worshipers.
Tales of Shiva’s appearances to his devotees
In one story, Shiva came in the guise of a man being a guest at a family man who’s good deed and genuine honour was well known. In his guise, Shiva asked the man to `kill his only son, cook him and serve it as a meal.. The Host (worshiper) though extremely distraught was willing to do so.. as it is a rule in Hindu Vedas (sacred writings) that providing food for guests is a great thing in itself. Shiva, once satisfied, not only brought back the life of the child, but blessed his worshiper and family. This is an extreme story.
Another one tells of a King building a great Temple for Shiva and setting a date for the Temple Consecration, for which he had prayed Lord Shiva to appear. Shiva refused because he had already agreed to attend another even greater temple in another part of the country. The King was so puzzled but chose to attend the other Temple Consecration, and went to the said part in search of a person. It turned out that the said man was – though firm devotee of Shiva- very poor and had been building `an astral temple’ in his mind in regular meditations…and it was that Temple consecration which Shiva had chosen to attend.
A third story involves a Spider who was a devotee of Lord Shiva. In a forest, there existed a statue (Shivalingham) of Shiva. The dried leaves of nearby trees and other dirt often fell on the statue. So the Spider persisted daily and kept weaving webs above the statue, to create cover so that leaves and dirt will not fall on the statue. It is said that Lord Shiva appeared one day and blessed the Spider and gave it Moksha (ascension to divine realm at Shiva’s place).
The Hindu teachings highlight 64 of such specific stories of Shiva’s devotees – (not all human).
Dance of Destruction
Maha Shivratri falls on the 14th day of the dark half of ‘Margasirsa’ (February-March). The ceremonies take place at night. Some teachings say this festival is observed in honour of Lord Shiva’s marriage to Parvathi (Goddess Shakthi in one of her incarnations). On this festival people worship ‘Shiva – the Destroyer’. This night marks the night when Lord Shiva danced the ‘Tandav’- a cosmic dance of destruction. In the hindu stories, Parvati was said to have died, and pining for her and out of extreme sadness and anger, Lord Shiva began the dance of Destruction that shook the Cosmos and all of creation. (Parvati was then incarnated on earth as a King’s daughter, and Shiva eventually married her and brought her back to Kailasa – his dwelling on Mount Himalaya). [ Gods and Goddesses often leave their divine realms and incarnate on Earth in human form, and eventually return ].
Story of the Great Flame (Shiva’s night)
The Story of Maha Shivarathri that I am familiar with from my childhood involves the divine Male Triplicity – Lord Brahma (creator), Lord Vishnu (Protetor) and Lord Shiva (Destroyer and Re-creator). The story states that an argument arose between Brahma & Vishnu ..as to which of the two is the greatest God. They could not settle the matter, so they approached Lord Shiva. Shiva smiled mischievously, and offered a competition. Shiva took up form as a large flame, and he suggested that whomever finds the end of the flame first shall be named the greatest God (Brahma or Vishnu). Brahma took up form as a Swan and flew upwards, higher and higher, in search of the top of the flame. Vishnu took up form as a Wild Boar, and dug deeper and deeper into the ground, in search of the bottom of the flame. After a lot of effort, both Brahma (Swan) and Vishnu (Boar) gave up.. and it was then that realisation struck them both.
Both came to stand defeated, humble in front of the great Flame that is Lord Shiva, and praised him, as the greatest of all, as his was a form without beginning or ending. Shiva returned to hims normal form.
Shiva Rathree is said to be the night ..when this great search had taken place!
What happens on Shiva Rathri
Hindus observe a strict fast on this day and keep vigil all night. The Shiva Lingam ( phalic symbol representing Shiva’s union with Sakthi) is worshipped throughout the night by Abishekam (ritual washing with milk, curd, honey, rose water, fruit mix, and so on). Devotees continue to chant the sacred mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” . Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva are sung with great devotion.
It is said that those who utters the names of Shiva during Shivratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins, and will reach Kailasha – the abode of Shiva. Such devotees are liberated from the wheel of births and deaths.
What you can do on Shivarathri
Anyone interested in the spiritual work on this special night can worship Shiva in their own ways. Lord Shiva sees, hears and knows all.
- Light a Lamp or Candle on Shivarathri ..and keep a vigil all night.
- Fast for a day and night – if possible. Or consume only milk and fruits. Or just milk-rice.
- Do not eat any meat (if you must eat). Do not consume any drugs or alcohol.
- Keep your mind pure of distractions – as hard a sthis may be (doing so for a whole night can be hard!)
- If possible, create an altar in a clean and sacred place. Light incense. Decorate with flowers. Have a glass of water or milk on the altar, as well as a Shivalingham or Shiva statue (or picture).
- Cleanse the altar by ringing a bell over it a few times. You may also show Arthi (camphor blocks that are lit and burnt and wafted over altar or any statues).
- If known, sing chants or hindu hyms.
Silent meditation and prayers are equally fine.
- Chant `Om Shivaya Namaha’ – several times out loud, or softly in a meditative state.
- Visualise Lord Shiva as a cosmic force – the light of every star and galaxies (Old stars explode and die that their plasma and dust may coalesce and form new Stars and planets).
Bright Stellar Blessings
ps. my late father’s name – Navasothy -is that of Lord Shiva ..and means `Nine Flames’ 🙂
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