“Maha Shivaratri”, which in literal terms means “the great night of Shiva” is one of the most revered festivals of Hindus. It is observed annually on the night of Falgun Krishna Chaturdasi, before the beginning of summer, in the Phalguna month of the Hindu calendar (approximately around the end of February or beginning of March). With the advent of Spring, the Hindus observe this festival in the honour of Lord Shiva, the supreme most deity among the trinity in the Hindu pantheon.
Lord Shiva is the focus of the festival, who is part of the Hindu trinity which also includes Brahma, who created the universe and Vishnu, who preserved it. Shiva is manifested as a Yogi in the most concrete form and considered as a destroyer, cosmic dancer, primordial energy, formless consciousness and infinity in the most abstract form. It is also believed that the Shiva principle is most active on this day of the year.
Similarly, ascetics of Lord Shiva keep fasting for the whole day and worship the Omni God wishing for the well-being and prosperity of themselves and their family members some perform poojas, chant Vedic mantras, practice sadhana and meditation. These sacred practices bestow a sense of peace and oneness within us and with the world.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees visit Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus. Pashupatinath is considered the Guardian and Protector of the Kathmandu Valley and Nepal. The offerings to the stone sculptures are so numerous that their milky combination seeps thru the cracks of the temple and into the Bagmati River beneath.
A great fair is organized at the holy Pashupatinath Temple on this day. Unlike other Hindu festivals, this festival is nocturnal as the name itself suggests. People keep all-night vigils and do bonfires and merry-making. However, there are many rituals/activities that keep people busy during the daytime also like morning ablution and temple visit.
There’s a celebratory taste to Maha Shivaratri, with musicians gambling sitars and desk drums, dancers in colourful colourings lyrically surrounding the temple, and street carriers hawking religious wares. Additionally, Sages and Sadhus ‘Baba’ add extra charm to this festival. The bright turbans, accessories and their dreadlocked hair are the major attractions for tourists.
Maha Shivaratri is a solemn festival where people worship to overcome darkness and ignorance in life and the world. The festival is a wake-up call to move away from conflicts and move towards truth, beauty, peace, and benevolence – the ethereal qualities of Shiva.
Mahashivratri is celebrated by chanting prayers, fasting, and meditating on ethics and virtues such as self-restraint, honesty, forgiveness, and the discovery of Shiva. Mahashivratri is the time for our inner consciousness to come alive within our body. A tradition; a certain festival which is staying awake night-long is followed. Devotees chant “Om Namah Shivay” and “Mahamritunjaya” all night praying for light over darkness. Being awake the whole night gives up the time to celebrate, meditate and rest in the Shiva Tattva. Spiritual seekers and devotees of Lord Shiva meditate and rejoice in the Shiva energy.
Mahashivaratri is thus not only a ritual but also a cosmic definition of the Hindu universe. It dispels ignorance, emanates the light of knowledge, makes one aware of the universe, ushers in the spring after the cold and dry winter, and invokes the supreme power to take cognizance of the beings that were created by him.
Since Lord Shiva symbolizes truth, peace, beauty, and infinity. He represents the essence of our soul as well. When we worship Lord Shiva, we recognize these higher qualities within ourselves. Thus, Mahashivratri is the time to celebrate the soul or consciousness within. During Shivratri, we take refuge in the divine consciousness.
- Harish Chaudhary