Maha Shivaratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of ‘Phalguna’. It falls on a moonless February night, where people all over the world offer special prayer to the lord of destruction. Shivratri (Sanskrit ‘ratri’ = night) is the night when he is said to have performed the Tandava Nrityaor the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction.
Among all the twelve Shivarathris that occur in a calendar year, Maha Shivarathri, is of the most spiritual significance.
On this night, the northern hemisphere of the planet is positioned in such a way that there is a natural upsurge of energy in a human being. This is a day when nature is pushing one towards one’s spiritual peak. It is to make use of this, that in this tradition, we establish a certain festival which is night-long. One of the fundamentals of this night-long festival is to ensure that – to allow this natural upsurge of energies to find their way – you remain with your spine vertical – you stay awake.
Legends apart, why this day and night are held in such importance in the yogic traditions is because of the possibilities it presents to a spiritual seeker. Modern science has gone through many phases and arrived at a point today where they are out to prove to you that everything that you know as life, everything that you know as matter and existence, everything that you know as the cosmos and galaxies, is just one energy which manifests itself in millions of ways.
This scientific fact is an experiential reality in every yogi. The word “yogi” means one who has realized the oneness of the Existence. When I say “yoga,” I am not referring to any one particular practice or system. All longing to know the unbounded, all longing to know the oneness in the Existence is yoga. The night of Mahashivratri offers a person an opportunity to experience this.
Shivarathri, is the darkest day of the month. Celebrating Shivarathri on a monthly basis, and the particular day, Mahashivratri, almost seems like celebration of darkness. Any logical mind would resist darkness and naturally opt for light. But the word “Shiva” literally means “that which is not.” “That which is,” is existence and creation. “That which is not” is Shiva. “That which is not” means, if you open your eyes and look around, if your vision is for small things, you will see lots of creation. If your vision is really looking for big things, you will see the biggest presence in the existence is a vast emptiness. A few spots which we call galaxies are generally much noticed, but the vast emptiness that holds them does not come into everybody’s notice. This vastness, this unbounded emptiness, is what is referred to as Shiva. Today, modern science also proves that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. It is in this context that Shiva, the vast emptiness or nothingness, is referred to as the great lord, or Mahadeva.
Every religion, every culture on this planet has always been talking about the omnipresent, all-pervading nature of the divine. If we look at it, the only thing that can be truly all-pervading, the only thing that can be everywhere is darkness, nothingness, or emptiness. Generally, when people are seeking wellbeing, we talk of the divine as light. When people are no longer seeking wellbeing, when they are looking beyond their life in terms of dissolving, if the object of their worship and their sadhana is dissolution, then we always refer to the divine as darkness.
Light is a brief happening in your mind. Light is not eternal, it is always a limited possibility because it happens and it ends. The greatest source of light that we know on this planet is the sun. Even the sun’s light, you could stop it with your hand and leave a shadow of darkness behind.
But darkness is all-enveloping, everywhere. The immature minds in the world have always described darkness as the devil. But when you describe the divine as all-pervading, you are obviously referring to the divine as darkness, because only darkness is all-pervading. It is everywhere. It does not need any support from anything. Light always comes from a source that is burning itself out. It has a beginning and an end. It is always from a limited source. Darkness has no source. It is a source unto itself. It is all-pervading, everywhere, omnipresent. So when we say Shiva, it is this vast emptiness of existence. It is in the lap of this vast emptiness that all creation has happened. It is that lap of emptiness that we refer to as the Shiva.
In Indian culture, all the ancient prayers were not about saving yourself, protecting yourself or doing better in life. All the ancient prayers have always been “Oh lord, destroy me so that I can become like yourself.”
So when we say Shivarathri, which is the darkest night of the month, it is an opportunity for one to dissolve their limitedness, to experience the unboundedness of the source of creation which is the seed in every human being. Mahashivarathri is an opportunity and a possibility to bring yourself to that experience of the vast emptiness within every human being, which is the source of all creation.
On the one hand, Shiva is known as the destroyer. On the other, he is known as the most compassionate. He is also known to be the greatest of the givers. The yogic lore is rife with many stories about Shiva’s compassion. The ways of expression of his compassion have been incredible and astonishing at the same time. So Mahashivratri is a special night for receiving too.
It is my wish and blessing that you must not pass this night without knowing at least a moment of the vastness of this emptiness that we call as Shiva. Let this night not just be a night of wakefulness, let this night be a night of awakening for you.
Previous post on Maha Shivratri:https://anshikasawaram.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/pious-maha-shivaratri-from-mauritius/