Mahashivaratri — the great night of Shiva — is celebrated on the darkest night of the darker half of Magh/Phalgoon (Feb/ March) of the Hindu calendar. A night when Hindus offer special prayers to Lord Shiva. Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh, another name for Lord Shiva, form the Hindu Trilogy. Bramha is the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva is the destroyer and protector. He destroys or dissolves for Bramha to recreate.
Lord Shiva is also known as Neelkanth, the blue-throated one. According to the scriptures when the gods and demons were churning the milky ocean “khsir sagar” looking to bring out the nectar of eternal life, a deadly poison came up instead. Neither the gods nor the demons wanted it. So they went to Lord Shiva. The poison was so deadly that one drop in His stomach which represents the universe would have annihilated the entire world. Lord Shiva drank the poison but kept it in His throat which turned bluish, in a selfless act which earned Him the title of protector. Shivaratri is therefore celebrated to thank Lord Shiva as the benefactor and protector.
Mahashivaratri is not really a time of great festivity. It is not a time to get the bongos, drums and trumpets out. It is instead a time of fasting and religious devotion. Swami Venkatesananda in his book ‘Raja Yoga’ advises: “Do not show off your devotion.” Will the Hindu politicians take note or court maximum publicity on such an occasion? Time will tell.
The devotee on his part starts his preparations by making sacrifices. For days — the length of time is optional — he gives up meat, alcohol and observes abstinence to lead a simple and disciplined life before setting out on his pilgrimage. The pilgrimage to Grand Bassin is a journey undertaken with piety, serenity and solemnity — a journey the pilgrim has piously prepared himself for. Banners wishing Hindus a “pious Mahashivratri”, I feel, are inappropriate. Businesses and corporates seize the opportunity to gain publicity by conforming to the prevailing ethos but I have a problem with the wording. Perhaps “We join you in singing the praises of Lord Shiva” or “Glory to Lord Shiva” would be more appropriate for the occasion.
Last February I was at Umanath Temple in Montagne Blanche, my birth place, for Mahashivratri. At some time a member of the National Assembly, flanked by several bodyguards, came up and took a sip of juice that was offered. I consider that anybody who does not feel safe among devootees who are meditating on Lord Shiva on such a night should preferably stay in the comfort of his home. In England top politicians go around with minimum security and fuss.