This is one of those rare Hindu festivals where the legend of origin is not that important. Instead, the focus is on the celebration rituals. Shivratri (or the night of Lord Shiva) occurs on every 14th night of the new moon. However, it’s only once a year – in February–March – that Mahashivratri is celebrated.
Although the Shiv Purana gives the legend of the origin of Shivratri – the day in the month of Agahan and constellation of Ardra, Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu accepted the superiority of Lord Shiva after they were unable to find the ends of the pillar of fire, which Shiva had transformed himself into – it clearly outlines the methods to celebrate this sacred night.
Many celebrate Shivratri according to their own perception of the festival. Some celebrate it to commemorate the marriage between Shiva and Parvati, some to celebrate Shiva as the destroyer who destroys all evil (outside and inside us) and some celebrate the stillness. For most, however, it is simple — a day dedicated to worship Lord Shiva.
But not many are aware of the actual meaning or the way to celebrate Maha Shivratri.
On the specific night of Maha Shivratri, the planetary placement is such that there is a natural tendency for the kundalini energy, housed in the chakra at the base of the spine, to rise up and reach the chakra at top of the head. The Shivratri falls on the night of the Krishna Paksha (which is the waning moon). From the next night onwards till full moon, the cycle of creation starts again. However, on the 14th night, the destructive part of the cycle of creation and destruction (symbolised by the waxing and waning moon), comes to a still.
Shiva is the state of silence, stillness.
On this night, the kundalini energy can rise easily, aided by the pull of the planets and moon, than on any other days. A rise of kundalini energy takes the seeker to a different level altogether. A word of caution here, that kundalini energy if forced to raise up by an over-enthusiastic seeker often ends up harming him/her as the path to the top of the head may not be clear, and the energy can divert into other areas of the body.
Spiritual masters advocate to keep the spine erect and to connect with it consciously on Maha Shivratri. Sadhguru, India’s well-known mystic and yogi, says, “Keeping the spine erect throughout the night opens many possibilities as…there is a great assistance from nature. All evolution in a human being is fundamentally an upward movement of energy.” Mohanji, a global spiritual leader, says there are many ways to connect to Lord Shiva on Maha Shivratri and among those is to “connect to the spine and feel the breathe through the spine to the top of the head and back and operate at the energy level inside.”
So how should Maha Shivratri be celebrated?
Fasting – Shiva Purana states that those who fast on Shiva Ratri eating only fruits, they are able to attain the benefits of Shiva worship for the whole year.
Reading Shiva Purana – Shiva Purana also mentions that on this day, one should read about stories of Shiva. What better place to find these stories than the Shiva Purana itself?
Donations – Donations of any kinds (food, clothes, money) to the needy whether human or animal is the best way to become eligible to receive Shiva’s grace.
Shiva Aarti – Shiva aarti can also be done anytime during the first prahar (6:33 pm to 9:43 pm), second prahar (9:43 pm to 0:52 am on February 14 morning), third prahar (0:52 am to 4:01 am) or fourth prahar (4:01 am to 7:11 am), according to Drikpanchang.com.
Chanting – Chanting the twin “Om Namah Shivaya” or Mahamrityunjaya mantra can also bring great spiritual elevation to the seeker if done with a pure heart with all dedication.
Worshipping of the Shiva Linga – Shiva Purana also states that worshipping Shiva Linga is essential on Maha Shivratri. One must make sure that one worships a Shiv Linga on which pranapratishtha (consecration) has been done. Worship can be done with just water or milk or at least five things such as honey, rose water, seasame oil, sandal wood paste, ghee, etc.
The idea behind the above rituals is to keep the seeker engaged in some spiritual activity the whole evening and night so that one’s spine is erect and one remains in Lord Shiva’s consciousness.
So, on this Maha Shivratri, let’s chant, dance, swing to the dance of Shiva! (And keep that spine erect!)