Mahasivaratri: Its Observance and Significance

Spirituality

By Gopalakrishnan – Chinmaya Mission Worldwide

Most of our festivals are meant for adoring a particular God or celebrating the happy memories of the extermination of evil by the divine dispensation of justice. Such occasions are usually marked by festivity and propitiation of the Lord with flowers and edibles. But Mahasivaratri is peculiar in this respect. It is a great night consecrated to Lord Mahadeva, the deva of Devas, falling on the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Kumbha. It is characterized by austerities like fasting, keeping vigil and the worship of the Lnga with flowers, bilva leaves and abhishekas.

The observance of Mahasivaratri by us, year after year, is due to the belief that whoever propitiates Lord Siva with sincerity and reverence on this particular night of each year would be vouchsafed moksha. The origin of how the Hindus and the other worshippers of Siva came to believe that they could attain beatitude by the observance of Mahasivaratri as vrata, could be traced to the conversation between Parvati (Shakti) and Siva after the cosmic play of creation was over. Parvati asked Lord Siva, “Of all the rituals observed in Thy honour, which pleases Thee the most?” To this, Lord Siva is said to have replied thus: “One who observes fast and keeps vigil on the Mahasivaratri night, even unconsciously, reaches my abode and enjoys ecstatic bliss.”

To lend strength and support to this belief, the following story has been told in the Mahabharata. In the Santi Parva, Bhishma, reclining on the bed of arrows, has referred to the merit that accrued to King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty from observance of Mahashivaratri.

Once, when King Chitrabhanu and his wife were observing fast on Mahasivaratri day, Sage Ashtavakra, who happened to visit the court of the king, asked him why he fasted on that day. The king, endowed with the power of his previous birth, narrated the fortuitous events that made him a happy denizen of Siva’s abode from the poor hunter that he was. This is how it happened.

On a particular day, the hunter failed to get anything till dusk, despite his roaming, and at night, he was forced to climb a bilva tree for shelter, as he had no time to take home the only deer that he had shot that day. Tormented by hunger and thirst and afflicted by the thought of his inability to feed his family, frustrated and vexed to the core, he was unconsciously picking and dropping bilva leaves, which together with the tears he shed profusely, happened to fall on the Siva Lnga at the foot of the tree. The next day, when he had obtained food for himself and his family by selling the deer, and was about to break his fast, a stranger came to him and begged him for food. And lo! The hunter served food to him first and then took his food. A change of heart had been produced.

This is the first indication of the efficacy of observing fast and keeping vigil on Mahasivaratri day. Later, when he shuffled off his mortal coil, the messengers of Siva came and conducted his soul to the abode of unalloyed bliss. If the unconscious observance of Mahasivaratri can have this effect, then how transcendental would be the state to which one would be exalted, if one performs these austerities with true devotion and sincerity!

The significance of this story is that at least once a year we should dedicate ourselves to the Lord in an earnest effort to unfetter the individual soul from the cycle of birth and death. Siva is the Nirguna Brahman which becomes Saguna Brahman when associated with maya or Parvati. Similarly, the Linga is only a symbol of Siva, as smoke is that of fire. Lingam only gives form to the formless Siva for the convenience of his pious devotees. Single-pointed contemplation on the Lord on Sivaratri day is likened to the worship of Siva Linga with flowers and non-stop abhishekam. In fact, flowers are nothing but the efflorescence of such deep contemplation. And to attain the mental attitude conducive for unceasing meditation on the Lord, the most scientific formula is the observance of fast, as food has an enormous influence on the mind.

Thus, properly understood, the observance of Mahasivaratri signifies that we can also, like Lord Siva, revel in the cosmic dance of the untrammelled glory of our true Self, the supreme Brahman, if only we could control our senses and the mind with the trident of discrimination and incinerate the mental impurities, desires and vasanas with the fire of true Knowledge.

Mahasivaratri day is also especially sacred for the members of the Chinmaya Spiritual Family because it is associated with a most significant event. It was on Sivaratri day that Swami Chinmayananda, our revered Gurudev, was initiated into the sannyasa order. So it is imperative that we should not let slip this sacred opportunity without taking an oath that we will never swerve, even a whit, from the path of rectitude chalked out for us by our benign Gurudev, in order to stem effectively the overwhelming tide of Satanic forces in our voyage in the unchartered ocean of samsara.

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Mahashivaratri Puja will be celebrated at Chinmaya Mission Mauritius, Charles Jolivet St, Beau Bassin, on Thursday 11th March 2021 as from 9.00 am until midnight.


* Published in print edition on 5 March 2021

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