In the auspicious month of Phalgun, with spring here, a joyful festival is on the anvil. On the 14th day of every lunar month, the auspicious festival of Shivaratri is celebrated. There are 12 Shivaratris in a year and one Maha Shivaratri. On the night before the new moon in the month of February or March, the Night of Lord Shiva – Maha Shivratri – with utmost spiritual significance is celebrated. And this year, it falls on February 13 (or February 14 also for some).
In Indian yogic tradition and some tradition of Tantra, Shiva is not treated like other gods. Known as Shambhu, Shankar, Mahesha or Mahadev, he is rather known as the teacher of all the teachers; as the first guru, the one from whom all the knowledge has descended onto the humanity. It is said that the yogic tradition – not only the one with asanas, but also the path of the self-realisation – began from him. Thus, Maha Shivratri is celebrated in various forms depending on the perspective. The worldly person celebrates Maha Shivratri as the anniversary of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, while the spiritual person looks at this day as one when Shiva attained victory over all of his enemies.
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HISTORY BEHIND MAHA SHIVRATRI
Generally Mahashivratri is celebrated as the anniversary of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati as the night of their wedding, but there are many stories in various texts and scriptures describing why Maha Shivratri is celebrated. One such story from Shiv Puran (Vidhyeshwar Samhita, Chapter 6) states that when Lord Brahma awoke from his deep meditative slumber, he wanted to find out who was greatest and the supreme. Later on, Lord Brahma saw Lord Vishnu, and they both began to argue with each other about who is supreme and the creator of the other. This argument took a furious from and seeing that, Lord Sada Shiva emerged in the form of a giant fiery Jyoti Linga; a voice came from within it saying whoever will find the top or bottom of this fire pillar will be considered supreme. The two gods agreed. Vishnu took the form of a varaha and Brahma took the form of swan and decided that the latter will go upwards, while the other will go downwards.
Millions of years passed, but neither was able to find the end. Vishnu understood that the one taking the form of the fire pillar is supreme and ended his journey. He returned to the place where he started, while Brahma – whilegoing upwards – saw a flower named Ketaki and thought that he would use this flower as a witness to prove that he had found the top of the Jyoti Linga. He told Ketaki to be his witness; she agreed, and they both went back to the starting point.
Vishnu accepted his defeat, as Brahma seemingly had the last laugh, showing the Ketaki flower as evidence. As soon as Brahma said this, a raging voice came from the Jyoti Linga and Shiva emerged in his glorious form of Shambhsadashiva. Brahma told Shiva the same story, but an enraged Shiva called him out as a liar; he cursed Brahma that the latter will never be worshipped by any human in temples, and also cursed the flower Ketaki, banishing it from being used during his worship rituals.
Shiva blessed Vishnu and gave him a boon that he shall always be the first to be worshiped by all. As the day on which Shiva manifested in this form was the 14th day of this lunar month, this day is known as Maha Shivratri.
Another story states that on this day, Shiva drank the poison from the Samudra Manthan and saved the word from devastation. That is why this day is celebrated as Maha Shivratri.
In the Shivaism tradition, this is the night when Shiva performed the glorious dance of creation and that is why this day is celebrated as Maha Shivratri.
SIGNIFICANCE OF MAHA SHIVRATRI
Whatever might have happened in the history behind the celebration of this day and stories may differ, but the procedure of celebration is almost the same everywhere. Everyone observes the fast, worship and chant the sacred hymns and mantras of Lord Shiva on this day. The Shiv Linga is worshipped by pouring water over it and people fast — sometimes without even consuming water — for the whole night. In Shaiva Yogic traditions, meditation and chanting is done to please Shiva in hopes to attain boons from him. This is the night to purify oneself from all the unwanted things or sins that have been done in ignorance unknowingly or out of misunderstanding.
MAHA SHIVRATRI AND SCIENCE
According to scientific reasons, on this day, the northern hemisphere of the earth is in such a position that the energy or the centrifugal force of the earth begins to move upward, which is why in yogic tradition, it is siad that no one should sit, lie or sleep with their spine bent; and instead the should sit straight upwards on the night of Maha Shivratri so that everyone can avail the benefit of this upsurge of energy.