Spiritual significance of Maha Shivaratri


On February 18th, hundreds and thousands of Hindu devotees, as well as those who seek fragrance of high-spirituality shall observe Maha Shivaratri or the Great Night of Shiva’ throughout the world.

Maha Shivaratri is a time for new beginnings and endeavors, especially in regards to spiritual matters. It is celebrated with fasting, meditation, devotional songs, and worship of the physical representation of Lord Shiva — the god of transformation. During this time, it is customary to visit temples dedicated to Lord Shiva or to dedicate prayers to him.

From the 13th night through the 14th day of every month of the Hindu lunar calendar, Shivaratri, translated as the “Night of Shiva”, is observed by devotees. During this time, as the waning moon transforms into the new moon, Shiva, who is known as the “God of Transformation”, is honored and prayed to by those who seek guidance in an ever-changing world.

The Shivaratri that takes place during Phalguna, the last month of the Hindu lunar calendar, is particularly significant and is hence called Maha Shivaratri, or the “Great Night of Shiva”. Occurring shortly before the start of the lunar new year, in either February or March, as winter ends and spring approaches, Maha Shivaratri is a time for new beginnings and endeavors, especially in regards to spiritual matters.

Describing the significance of Shivaratri, scholar Syama Allard wrote:

According to Hindu texts, time is not linear but cyclical in nature. As such, the universe is in constant flux, going through a continuous process of being created, maintained, and destroyed, much like the waves of an ocean that rise, fall, and crash, only to be pulled back by the ocean to rise once again. 

Though the crashing of a wave can result in violent disarray and chaos, it is ultimately part of a larger process that is coherent and structured. The pull and push of waves along a beach has a rhythm and synchronicity to it that can be likened to a dance — the movements of which can be unpredictable and random at times, yet always in rhythm and harmony with the beat of a drum, or the playing of music. 

The universal process, thus, is also a dance. At the time of cosmic annihilation, Shiva, who is known as Nataraja, or the “Lord of the Dance”, performs a cosmic dance of transformation. Though this activity is described as wild and overwhelming, it should not be viewed as one of mundane passion or anger.

Shiva is considered to be the first and greatest of all yogis. He is abhava (“one who is never born”), and he is always in trance, or absorbed in connection with the Divine. Because the ultimate purpose of yoga is to connect to the Divine, all of Shiva’s actions can be viewed as a yogic asana. 

As a result, Natarajasana — a “lord of the dance pose” inspired by Shiva’s dance of transformation — is taught by many yoga teachers. A challenging position in which a person stands on one leg, and while keeping the chest out, reaches backwards to grab the foot of the other leg, the pose demands strong balance, drawing on a person’s capacity to stand firm through the release of negative energy. 

Just as Shiva’s dance of transformation paves the way for new creation, the release of negative energy during Natarajasana helps pave the way for one to make spiritual progress.

Maha Shivaratri, thus, is a time to not only commemorate Shiva’s cosmic dance, but to also meditate on how, in order to create anything new, one must first let go of the old.

Lord Shiva and Parvati

Narrated with varying details in the Ramayana and a number of Puranas (ancient Hindu scriptures), there was once a demon named Taraka who’s power infused fear in the hearts of the gods.

Unsure of how to defeat Taraka, the gods approached Brahma (known as the creator of the universe) for help, who told them that if Shiva could be convinced to have a child with Parvati, that child would be able to cause the demon’s death. Shiva, however, who had become steeped in asceticism and deep meditation after his first wife, Sati, died, showed no interest in marrying another. 

To stir Shiva out of his meditation and incite his passion for Parvati, the gods employed Kamadeva (the god of love), who fired a number of desire-inducing arrows at him. This, however, only angered Shiva, who emitted a power from his third eye that reduced Kamadeva to a pile of ashes. 

Parvati, who was actually Sati in her previous life, was determined to be married to Shiva. Committing herself to penance similar to his, she eventually gained his attraction through her austerity and devotion, and he agreed to marry her. As promised by Brahma, the two had a son named Skanda who went on to defeat Taraka. 

Together, Parvati, who is a manifestation of the feminine aspect of the Divine known as Shakti (the creative and energetic potency), and Shiva, who is a manifestation of the masculine aspect, represent the dynamic union that sparks creation. 

As the masculine and feminine energies exist in the Divine consciousness, they also exist in every person. Besides being a day to commemorate Shiva and Parvati’s union, Maha Shivaratri is a day to recognize the role each of these energies play in our lives.

In an article, Swami Venkataraman wrote:

Most non-Hindu Americans intuitively understand that these are symbolic and are meant to convey a special meaning or understanding. But the “cultural distance” is so far apart that there is usually little chance of grasping the essence and most people are basically left with thinking of Hindus as “an ancient culture”, which is true but is also sometimes an euphemism for “weird”.

Three days ago, there was also a Hindu festival, a local festival that is especially popular in the part of India I come from. Some friends asked me to write about the symbolism behind this particular Hindu deity (yes even Hindus ask such questions !!!). I share it below hoping to give my fellow Americans a glimpse into what sort of symbolism is behind every such deity worshiped by Hindus.

I am choosing to share this in particular because many Westerners, including famous scientists such as Carl Sagan (of “Cosmos” fame) and Fritjof Capra (“The Tao of Physics”) and Aldous Huxley (the famous English writer and philosopher) have grappled with this form extensively. It also happens to be one of my favorite Hindu deities. 

The Cosmic Dancer

The cosmic dance is the dance of life itself, including creation, preservation, destruction of the entire universe and spiritual grace to understand and go beyond to liberation. 

In Hinduism, the objective of life is not to go to heaven but to attain liberation, which means to understand the true nature of ourselves beyond the ego-person that we are familiar with. 

I have always wondered why dance was chosen as the art to represent this, not music, painting, poetry, sculpture or any other art. In my view, it may be because dance is the only art that cannot stand by itself without the artist. 

One can observe and enjoy paintings, sculptures, poetry and even listen to music, but there is no dance without the dancer being present and visible in the moment. It is a powerful way of showing God is immanent in all of creation. The creator and creation are inseparable.

In Bangladesh and other Muslim nations, none of the so-called mainstream media show interest in publishing article on most of the important occasions of other religious beliefs. Back in 2003, when we launched this newspaper, we had incorporated a separate section titled ‘Interfaith’, which we aspired to emerge as the platform of publishing articles on various religions in the world. Unfortunately, until now, we have been able to publish only a very few articles, although in my opinion, such publications would build bridge between people of faiths.

This is though my first article on the auspicious Maha Shivaratri, it is my earnest request to everyone to please contribute articles on various religions in this section on a regular basis.

On this auspicious and high-spiritual occasion, here is my prayers for everyone who has read this article: May Lord Shiva bless you with strength, wisdom, and positivity on the auspicious occasion of Maha Shivaratri.


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