The marketplace is bustling with shoppers and the crowds are out in full swing. The temples seem fuller and the chants of Om Nama Shivaya ring out distinctly over other sounds. All this hype is for the upcoming Maha Shivaratri. But what do we really know about this occasion? Today Western culture is spreading like wildfire amongst us. The older generation constantly worries that this will turn our centuries-old customs and traditions to ashes. But the Maha Shivaratri celebrations beg to differ. If anything it’s getting more attention from the youth than from the old devotees themselves. But is it for the right reasons? Here’s an insight into the little-known stories behind Maha Shivaratri.
Shivaratri celebrated as a way of paying homage to Lord Shiva (the auspicious one) actually comes once every lunisolar month of the Hindu calendar on the 13th/14th day. But “the great night of Shiva” also known as Maha Shivaratri is celebrated once a year towards the end of winter before the onset of spring. Hindu festivals are generally known for their revelry but Maha Shivaratri is a solemn affair noted for its introspective focus and meditation, centered on the admirable virtues such as self-restraint, honesty, and forgiveness. The zealous devotees stay up all night chanting prayers and worshipping Lord Shiva.
The myths about this moonless night are numerous.
Some believe that Maha Shivaratri marks the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Others say that this was the Lord performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of creation, preservation, and destruction. But the most popular legend regarding Maha Shivaratri revolves around the mythical churning of the ocean also known as Samudra Manthan. Conducted by the Gods and demons in order to obtain the nectar of immortality, this led to the disastrous discovery of poison potent enough to destroy the entire world. Lord Shiva gallantly consumed the poison and held it in his throat thus saving the world from potential destruction.
This is why Maha Shivaratri is actually celebrated, to acknowledge Lord Shiva’s noble action and pay homage where it’s due. Sadhus covered with Bibhuti (ashes) are seen naked in the freezing cold. They are said to have conquered the pain of heat, cold and suffering and consecrated their life to Lord Shiva. Devotees stay awake throughout the night to keep the Lord company.
But we have a deep-seated tendency to wing everything to our liking. Maha Shivaratri as we know it is a day when the otherwise illegal marijuana is available in abundance if you know where to look. It is a day of little children forcing travelers to give them money by obstructing roads. Horrifyingly, it is also a day of children being run over by reckless drivers drunk on bhang. But hey! It’s what the Lord Liked right?
All the respect that was due to the Lord goes up in smoke, not from the fireplaces that were supposed to be set to keep Him warm but from all the weed that’s being smoked. If Lord Shiva is the destroyer amongst the great Trinity we all believe in, where does that leave us?
Keeping awake is not what being awake on Maha Shivaratri actually means. The true meaning is to awaken the consciousness inside you and keep vigil on your thoughts, words, and deeds. It’s about time we acknowledged this.
Be Aware! Be Sentient!