Who is Lord Shiva?
Lord Shiva is the most important Hindu God. He is honored by the group of devotees who follow Shaivism. Lord Shiva is the God of Yogis. He is also the patron of Brahmins, and the protector of the sacred texts, Vedas.
Lord Shiva is known as Shambhu (kind), Shankara (generous), Mahesha (great lord), and Mahadeva (great god). Prakriti or Nature is the mother of lord Shiva. Therefore, all the livings and nonliving exist because of Shiva Shakti (the unknown strong energy called Oum of Lord Shiva). There is a religious belief that we breathe, eat, move and perform everyday activities because of Lord Shiva.
Despite being the supreme God, he is the modest one. He is often shown in the temperament of meditation. Lord Shiva is one of the Trinity Gods. In the Trinity, Brahma, takes the role of a creator. Likewise, Vishnu takes the role of a protector of the creations. Whereas, Lord Shiva takes the role of a destructor so that Brahma can regenerate.
How is Lord Shiva Depicted?
The great Lord is portrayed as a three-eyed god, the third one centres his forehead. His headgears are the crescent moon and the River Ganges flowing from his hair. He wears a skull-garland and a serpent around his neck while tiger and deer hides are his clothes. He holds a drum called Damaru and Trishul (trident) on either hand. Likewise, his body is depicted as dry white with the ashes smeared from a funeral ground. Similarly, his throat is blue for he gulped the unwanted poison, the by-product produced during the churning of the milky ocean to yield Amrit (immortal nectar) as mentioned in Bhagwad Purana book.
The other manifestations of Lord Shiva are; a yogi (a homeless), a Dalit (an untouchable) accompanied by a dog (Bhairava), the lord of cattle, Pashupata (a herdsman).
Again, Shiva is also known as Rudra (hollow or formless). His vahana, the Stride is Nandi the bull. The sculpture of Nandi sits opposite the main sanctuary of many Shiva temples. The Great Lord Shiva is worshipped as in the form of Shiva Linga (phallus) at every temple.
Linga represents the formless Mahakaal who existed when the world was void or shunya and who will continue to exist when there will be everything. The Yoni (vagina) which acts as a base for the linga represents Maha Shakti (the Energy that creates and destroys). The Shiva Lingam is full of mysterious tales and myths, some of which are even baseless.
Maha Shivaratri, a Day for Lord Shiva:
Would the world come to an end if I start with, we should celebrate Lord Shiva to take our awareness to the basis of our existence which is Lord Shiva himself? Yes, due to the hustle and bustle of our busy schedule every day, we even forget our source of energy. We remember Lord Shiva to remember our existence itself. Then, there are plenty of stories that would convince you with what I am sharing here.
We celebrate Maha Shivaratri as a beautiful momentum to recall the day of love and unification between Lord Shiva and Parvati (daughter of Himavan, lord of mountains). Goddess Parvati had tried everything in her power to make Shiva fall in love with her as she was very deeply in love with him. When nothing worked, goddess Parvati followed the path of Sati (Lord Shiva’s dead wife).
Parvati abandoned all the comforts and started living in forest as a hermit. As a loner, she went through very tough acts like walking on the snow during winter with no clothes, spending days in the scorching sun during summer, standing on one foot motionless for hours and going hungry for days.
In fact, her abstinence was so intense that it equalled to that of the great Shiva. Following his footsteps, Parvati soon had absolute control over her body and mind. Her devotion generated a great amount of energy and heat which finally reached Shiva and who was shaken out of his meditation.
Lord Shiva was impressed with the intense Tapasya of goddess Parvati. So impressed was he by her self-sacrifice that he immediately agreed to make Parvati his consort. The love between Parvati and Shiva reminds us to make a link to any act that we did steadfast to achieve in our lives.
Maha Shivaratri is also a story of saving both, the Gods and mankind. It so happened, once the two powerful forces Gods and demons decided to churn the ocean of milk to obtain ambrosia or amrit, the nectar of immortality, that laid at the bottom of the ocean. But, during the process, the poison was also produced as a by-product, which no God and demon wanted it. therefore, Lord Shiva consumed the poison to save them both. The poison burnt Shiva’s throat blue. So, to honour this act of saviour, people celebrate Maha Shivaratri.
The river Ganges suddenly descended from heaven with full speed and force who could shatter the earth into pieces. Seeing the forthcoming disaster, Lord Shiva caught her in his matted locks and released her on Earth as gentle streams. After all, Jattadhari (one with the matted locks) gets prayers for him on the special day of Maha Shivaratri for saving the earth from demolition and the devotees pay a shower to Shivalinga (a symbolic representation of the cosmos). Therefore, celebrating Maha Shivaratri is like celebrating the Shakti of Lord Shiva, the reason for our existence.
We can find a lot of legends about Lord Shiva in various Purana (the holy books of Hindus). There is a number of stories about why we celebrate Maha Shivaratri. But after all, it is all about paying gratitude to Lord Shiva for protecting life on earth. There are not any hard and fast rules about celebrating the festival depending upon every individuals
What to do on Maha Shivaratri?
Maha Shivaratri a day to honour the kindest of Gods who becomes happy with just our remembrance of him. But, it is a very special day to honour and celebrate Lord Shiva – honour life and celebrate the being. Most people prefer spending their days in prayers, meditation, singing and dancing in hymns. All in total the following can be some:
1. Fast for a day on Maha Shivaratri
Fasting is a moral and spiritual act to purify one’s body and mind to acquire divine grace. According to Hindu belief fasting helps to increase consciousness to God or to be closer to God.
Likewise, they fast to cleanse and purify their body and mind. Also to participate in the life cycle called Samskaras. Similarly, people fast to celebrate the auspicious or holy days. Moreover, fasting has the benefit of countering the negative forces during inauspicious occasions. Therefore, by partaking in the virtuous aspect, a man makes close contact with God. Fast is imperative to the wellbeing of all the humankind.
Meditation is the process of unifying oneself with other human beings. Like Lord Shiva, if we also love other living beings, God becomes happy with us. In Hinduism, meditation has a place of significance for self-benefit too. The basic objective of meditation is to attain the oneness of the devotee’s Aatma (spirit) with omnipresent and non-dual almighty (Brahmana).
The devotees when are able to connect their soul with the universe, they attain a state of Moksha which symbolically means to get free from all worldly anxieties. So, it is advisable to keep awake and meditate the whole night of Maha Shivaratri as Lord Shiva also was Yogi (a sage) himself. The action of meditation could impress Lord Shiva and the chances of getting rid of worldly pleasure are certain.
3. Singing and Dancing
On this very special day, the devotees love singing and dancing to the hymns of Lord Shiva. In every chant, the devotees add Om Namah Shivaya. Om mantra refers to the sound of the universe. Chant indicates love and peace. The five letters Na, Mah, Shi, Va, Ya individually represent the elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Atmosphere.
Therefore, Om Namah Shivaya harmonizes the five elements of the universe. Can there be any reason for not chanting the mantra when it is about celebrating and paying gratitude for how well-formed our cosmos is? Of course, in the absence of any of them, Prakriti (nature) remains incomplete. Along with Om Namah Shivaya, the devotees love to sing Siva Tandava Stotram and Kaal Bhairava Astakam, songs of Shiva in ferocious form.
4. Organize Maha Shivaratri Pura/Rudra Puja
It depends on devotees how they would like to observe Maha Shivaratri. Some fondly organize Shiva Puja on this special day. Whatever you do in the name of Lord Shiva, it is on his devotion. The puja goes with strong Vedic mantras which sound so powerful and rhythmic. Rudra Puja takes place to purify the environment and to get rid of negative energy from the surroundings.
The world is a play of energy: negative and positive. When we pray to Shiva – the Lord of transformation – the entire negative energy around us in form of the disease, depression, and unhappiness goes aways and surrounds us with peace, prosperity and joy. Then peace surrounds us in body, mind and soul.
5. Worship the Shivalinga
Worshipping of Shivalinga is what everyone recalls, even when they hear, Maha Shivaratri. People queue up at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu from 01:00 hours in the morning on this day to offer milk and prayer to Shivalinga there. Basically, it is synonymous to worship Shivalinga on a Maha Shivaratri day.
The Shivalinga is a symbolic representation of formless Shiva. Worshipping the Shivalinga includes the offering of Bel Patra (bel tree leaves). The offering of the leaves signifies the three aspects of our being – rajas (our aspect that is responsible for our activity), tamas (the darkness inside us), and sattva (the positive aspect of us which represents prosperity, peace and creativity). In the hope of getting divine freedom, devotees offer Bel Patra to Lord Shiva. Especially, on the day of Maha Shivaratri, Bel Patra is a must, otherwise, the fast, offering and puja all are considered meaningless.
Maha Shivaratri is one of the most celebrated religious festivals for Hindus. Every year Hindus from all over the world throng to several Shiva temples during this festival and Pashupatinath Temple sees the biggest crowd. Hundreds and thousands of devotees visit the Temple.
Pashupatinath is considered the Guardian and Protector of the Kathmandu Valley and Nepal. During Maha Shivaratri, the Sadhus (sages) spend their days and nights in the vicinity of Pashupatinath Temple. Every year, Pashupatinath Temple witnesses thousands of devotees from neighbouring countries too. Though people could celebrate Maha Shivaratri visiting their local Shiva Temples, there is a belief that paying homage at Pashupatinath Temple once in a lifetime during Maha Shivaratri will yield people moksha (liberation from birth and death cycle).
Om Namah Shivaya
Feature Photo: Aarati at Bagmati by Priti Thapa