The Tree of Knowledge
Shivaratri — the night of Shiva — falls on the 13th (or 14th) day of the dark half of Phalgun (February-March). Ceremonies take place chiefly at night. This is a festival observed in honour of Lord Shiva, who got married to Parvati on this day. People observe a strict fast on this day; some devotees do not even take a drop of water. They keep vigil all night. The Shiva Lingam is worshipped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc., whilst the chanting of the mantra Om Namah Shivaya continues. Offerings of bael leaves are made to the Lingam. Bael leaves are very sacred as, it is said, Lakshmi resides in them.
Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva, such as the Shiva Mahimna Stotra of Pushpadanta or Ravana’s Shiva Tandava Stotra are sung with great fervour and devotion. People repeat the Panchakshara Mantra, Om Namah Shivaya. He who utters the names of Shiva during Shivaratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths. Many pilgrims flock to the places where there are Shiva temples.
Shivaratri: A perfect Vrata
— Sri Swami Sivananda
When creation had been completed, Shiva and Parvati went out to live on the top of Mount Kailas. Parvati asked, “O venerable Lord! Which of the many rituals observed in Thy honour doth please Thee most?” The Lord replied, “The 14th night of the new moon, in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun, is my most favourite day. It is known as Shivaratri. My devotees give me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths and offerings of flowers, sweets and incense.
“The devotee observes strict spiritual discipline in the day and worships Me in four different forms during each of the four successive three-hour periods of the night. The offering of a few bael leaves is more precious to Me than the precious jewels and flowers. My devotee should bathe Me in milk at the first period, in curd at the second, in clarified butter at the third, and in honey at the fourth and last. Next morning, he should feed the Brahmins first and, after performing the prescribed ceremonies, he can break his fast. O Parvati! There is no ritual which can compare with this simple routine in sanctity.”
Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Lord Shiva. She repeated it to Her friends who in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus was the sanctity of Shivaratri broadcast all over the world.
The two great natural forces that afflict man are Rajas (the quality of passionate activity) and Tamas (that of inertia). The Shivaratri Vrata aims at the perfect control of these two. The entire day is spent at the Feet of the Lord. Continuous worship of the Lord necessitates the devotee’s constant presence in the place of worship. Motion is controlled. Evils like lust, anger, and jealousy, born of Rajas are ignored and subdued. The devotee observes vigil throughout the night and thus conquers Tamas also. Constant vigilance is imposed on the mind. Every three hours a round of worship of the Shiva Lingam is conducted. Shivaratri is a perfect Vrata.
The formal worship consists of bathing the Lord. Lord Shiva is considered to be the Form of Light (which the Shiva Lingam represents). He is burning with the fire of austerity. He is therefore best propitiated with cool bathing. While bathing the Lingam the devotee prays: “O Lord! I will bathe Thee with water, milk, etc. Do Thou kindly bathe me with the milk of wisdom. Do Thou kindly wash me of all my sins, so that the fire of worldliness which is scorching me may be put out once for all, so that I may be one with Thee — the One alone without a second.”
Offer this inner worship to Lord Shiva daily: “I worship the jewel of my Self, the Shiva residing in the Lotus of my heart. I bathe Him with the water of my pure mind brought from the river of faith and devotion. I worship Him with the fragrant flowers of Samadhi — all this so that I may not be born again in this world.” Here is another formula for the supreme worship of the Lord: “O Shiva! You are my Self. My mind is Parvati. My Pranas are your servants. My body is your house. My actions in this world are your worship. My sleep is Samadhi. My walk is circumambulation of you. My speech is your prayer. Thus do I offer all that I am to you.”
Significance of Shivaratri
— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Shivaratri means ‘the night of Shiva’ and is observed in honour of Lord Shiva (The meditative aspect of the Universe). According to the legend from Shivapurana, when Shiva was asked by Parvathi what pleases him most, He is supposed to have replied thus: ‘The 14th night of the new moon, in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun, is my most favorite day. It is known as Shivaratri.’
Shiva is the meditative aspect of the entire Universe. Shiva pervades the entire Universe. He is in every atom of the Universe. He has no form but is in every form, so full of compassion. Ling means symbol (chinha in Hindi) that is how it’s come to be used as in Striling, Pulling, (female and male gender) Chinha means that through which you can recognize the whole consciousness represented in the Ling. In Tamil there is a saying “Anbe Shivan, Shivan Anbe” means Shiva is love and love is Shiva, the soul of the creation called Isha or Shiva.
The devotees, in order to bring balance in the rajas (the primordial guna which brings forth activity) and Tamas (the primordial guna which brings forth inertia), and to uplift sattva (the primordial guna which gets the tasks accomplished), observe fast on this day. They keep awake at night and Shiva Lingam is worshipped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc., whilst the chanting of Om Namah Shivaya continues. Bael leaves considered sacred to Lord Shiva are offered. Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva are sung. The traditional ritual is done to bring auspicious energy on the Earth and to enrich the space within. However, the devotion plays the utmost role. The Om Namah Shivaya chanting is done to harmonize the five elements in the environment.
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