Maha Shivratri – Celebrating Lord Shiva

Maha Shivratri (February 27th 2014) is celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva on the 13th (or 14th) night of the Krishna paksha (dark half or waning phase) of the moon (night before Amavasya) in the month of Phalgun (Feb-March) by almost all sects within Hinduism. It is a day of fasting for all devotees of Lord Shiva and is one of the eight most significant days of fasting in the Hindu Calendar.

Shiva Parvati Ganesha

As Lord Shiva is considered to be the lord of meditation and penance, devotees may be best served by engaging in introspection and self-evaluation of their spiritual progress on Maha Shivratri. Hence, this day may be considered as an opportunity to engage in awakening one’s inner spirit towards (self)-realization of the supreme. It is perhaps for this reason that the scriptures encourage us to remain awake throughout the night on Shivratri – to welcome the new moon and its spiritual energy into our lives.

The two mantras that are perhaps most relevant to invoking the power and energy associated with Lord Shiva are:

  • the simple, five-syllable (pancha-akshara) chant of Om Namah Shivaya ॐ नम: शिवाय:
  • the mantra of health and protection from (spiritual) death called the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra ॐ त्रियम्बकं यजामहे, सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनं, उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान्, मृत्योर्मोक्षिय मामृतात्

Origin of Shivratri

When creation had been completed, Shiva and Parvati went out to live on the top of Mount Kailas. Parvati asked, “O venerable Lord! which of the many rituals observed in Thy honour doth please Thee most?”

The Lord replied, “The 14th night of the new moon, in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun, is my most favourite day. It is known as Shivaratri. My devotees give me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths and offerings of flowers, sweets and incense.

“The devotee observes strict spiritual discipline in the day and worships Me in four different forms during each of the four successive three-hour periods of the night. The offering of a few bael leaves is more precious to Me than the precious jewels and flowers. My devotee should bathe Me in milk at the first period, in curd at the second, in clarified butter at the third, and in honey at the fourth and last. Next morning, he should feed the Brahmins first and, after performing the prescribed ceremonies, he can break his fast. O Parvati! there is no ritual which can compare with this simple routine in sanctity.”

Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Lord Shiva. She repeated it to Her friends who in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus was the sanctity of Shivaratri broadcast all over the world.

The Story of King Chitrabhanu

(source: Swami Sivananda)

Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king. The sage asked, “O king! why are you observing a fast today?”

The king said to the sage: In my past birth I was a hunter in Varanasi. My name was Suswara. My livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One day I was roaming the forests in search of animals. I was overtaken by the darkness of night. Unable to return home, I climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a bael tree. I had shot a deer that day but I had no time to take it home. I bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree.

As I was tormented by hunger and thirst, I kept awake throughout the night. I shed profuse tears when I thought of my poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously awaiting my return. To pass away the time that night I engaged myself in plucking the bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.

The day dawned. I returned home and sold the deer. I bought some food for myself and for my family. I was about to break my fast when a stranger came to me, begging for food. I served him first and then took my food.

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