SWAMI SHANKARATILAKA

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MAHASHIVARATRI. PART 1.

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by Swami Shankaratilaka

शिव śivaशिव śivaशिव śivaशिव śivaशिव śivaशिव śivaशिव

MAHASHIVARATRI

ABOUT THE MOST AUSPICIOUS YOGA NIGHT

The celebration, the ceremony, the holy, the sadhana.

शिव śivaशिव śivaशिव śivaशिव śivaशिव śivaशिव śivaशिव

WHAT/WHEN IS MAHASHIVARATRI

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Mahashivaratri the most auspicious day.

Is the most auspicious day dedicated to Lord Shiva and is popularly known as the night of Siva.

This holy night of Shiva is observed on the night before ‘amavasya’ in the Hindu month of Phalgun (February – March) as per traditional Hindu calendar followed in North India. The corresponding period in other regions is the night before Magh Amavasya.

Most Hindu festivals are noted for its mirth and color but Shivaratri is a night dedicated to prayers and contemplation. Of course, when Lord Shiva is worshipped there is joy all around but it is not just joy but bliss that is achieved through Brahman realization – When Lord Shiva is seen in all animate and inanimate.

When we realize that it is his Tandava that creates each cell and it is his Tandava that is responsible for the transformation of each cell – we attain Moksha.

– Planetary Position on Shivaratri Night –

It is believed that the planetary positions align in such a way on Shivratri night that it naturally creates an upsurge of energy in the human system. This is also why traditionally it is known to be beneficial both physically and spiritually to stay awake and aware through the night.

– Shivaratri and Amavasya (No Moon) –

The significance of Shivratri is closely associated with ‘amavas’ – the no moon night or full dark night as per traditional Hindu/Vedic Calendar. Amavas symbolically represents Kaliyuga or spiritual ignorance. Lord Shiva appeared just before the beginning of Kaliyuga to rid the world of evil and ignorance. Therefore Shivaratri is celebrated to get rid of evil and ignorance.

THE NIGHT AND LEGENDS OF MAHASHIVARATRI

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– Why is Shivaratri celebrated during night? –

Night usually represents evil then why is Shivaratri celebrated during night? The night after Mahashivratri is ‘amavasya’ (full dark night). A day when the world will be completely dark. Symbolically, nothing but only ignorance and injustice will prevail. This ‘amavasya’ also represents ‘Kaliyuga.’ Lord Shiva appeared just before the beginning of Kaliyuga to rid the world of ignorance and evil. This was during the night before ‘amavasya.’

Therefore special worship is done before ‘amavasya’ to please Lord Shiva who is the remover of darkness, evil and ignorance.

Then, almost all the myths and legends associated with Shivaratri happened during night and this is another reason.

– Shivaratri Myths –

Here are numerous myths regarding the origin of Shivaratri. Most of the stories of Shivratri can be traced to the Puranas. A few important legends are detailed below. It must be noted that almost all the myths happened during night and this is one of the reason for celebrating Shivaratri during night.

Myth of Shivratri based on Vishnu and Brahma searching for the origin of Linga. Lord Vishnu and Brahma wanted to know who was superior and this led to a fight. Lord Shiva intervened and said whoever can find out the origin or end of Shivalinga is superior. Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of a huge pillar of fire. Lord Vishnu went down searching and Brahma went up searching. Both traveled and traveled but never met the beginning or end.

After the futile search, Lord Vishnu and Brahma prayed to Shiva and appeared before them in the form of Jyotirlinga and this day of the appearance of Lord Shiva is celebrated as Shivratri.

The Story of Shivaratri based on Samudra Manthan

This is a famous legend on Shivaratri and happened during the churning of ocean by Devas and Asuras to get ‘Amrit.’ While churning the ocean, highly toxic poison came out and Lord Vishnu asked the ‘devas’ and ‘asuras’ to approach Lord Shiva. He agreed immediately to help them and drank the poison. In order the poison to have no effect, Lord Shiva should not sleep. So the ‘devas’ and ‘asuras’ kept praying the whole night. Pleased with the devotion Lord Shiva said ‘whoever worships me on this day will get their wishes fulfilled.’

– The story of Mahashivaratri and the fall of ketaki flower –

This myth is similar to the appearance of the Jyotirlinga legend. Brahma went up searching for the end of the Jyotirlinga and Vishnu went down. Brahma after traveling for a while saw a ketaki flower (screw pine) dangling down. He stopped his search and took the flower and returned to Lord Shiva. Vishnu too came back soon and expressed his inability to find the beginning. But Brahma said he found the ketaki flower atop the Jyotirlinga and ketki supported it. Lord Shiva became furious and cursed ketki flower that it will not be offered in worship.

– The story of Shivaratri based on hunter unknowingly dropping Bilva leaves on Lingam –

There once lived a tribal hunter who was a Shiva devotee. One day he lost his way while hunting and was trapped in the forest at night. Soon wild animals started to gather around him and he climbed a Bel or Bilva tree. In order to keep himself awake, he started plucking Bilva leaves and dropped it down repeating ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. In the morning, he discovered that he had been dropping the leaves on a Shivling. And the word spread that he was saved by Lord Shiva. People started celebrating the day as Shivratri. The story is mentioned in Mahabharata by Bhismha while on the bed of arrows. The hunter was born as King Chitra bhanu who could remember his previous births. And he discussed the importance of Shivaratri with a sage.

Apart from these myths, it is said that the reunion of Lord Shiva and Parvati happened on the Shivratri day. Another legend states that Lord Shiva performed the Tandava on this day.

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