Maha Shivaraathri

It feels like I have been deprived with sleep, but at the same time feel blessed. I just observed the Maha Shivaraathri last night and this morning.

A video of Lingaashtakam.

Why celebrate Maha Shivaraathri?

Maha Shivaraathri, the night of the worship of Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna (Feb / March) when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction.

 Here’re three reasons to celebrate Shivratri:

1. The absolute formless God, Sadashiva appeared in the form of “Lingodbhava Moorti” exactly at midnight on Maha Shivratri. That is why all Shiva devotees keep vigil during the night of Shivratri and do “Shivlingam abhishekham” (coronation of the phallic idol) at midnight.

Did you know? God in his manifestation as Vishnu made his appearance as Krishna at Gokul at midnight, 180 days after Shivratri, commonly known as Janashtami. Thus, the circle of one year is divided into two by these two auspicious days of the Hindu calendar.

2. Lord Shiva was married to Devi Parvathi on Shivraathri. Remember Shiva minus Parvati is pure ‘Nirgun Brahman’. With his illusive power, (Maya, Parvathi) He becomes the “Sagun Brahman” for the purpose of the pious devotion of his devotees.

3. It is also believed that on Shivratri, Lord Shiva became ‘Neelkandam’ or the blue-throated by swallowing the deadly poison that came up during the churning of “Kshir Sagar” or the milky ocean. The poison was so deadly that even a drop in his stomach, which represents the universe, would have annihilated the entire world. Hence, He held it in his neck, which turned blue due to the effect of poison. Shivratri is therefore also a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from annihilation.

The 14th slokam of Shivmahimna Stotra says: “O three eyed Lord, when the poison came up through the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons, they were all aghast with fear as if the untimely end of all creation was imminent. In your kindness, you drank all the poison that still makes your throat blue. O Lord, even this blue mark does but increase your glory. What is apparently a blemish becomes an ornament in one intent on ridding the world of fear.”

Source: mahashivaratri.org

When the prayers are observed, abishekam (cleansing the Shivalingam Moorthi/Idol) and Alangaraam (dressing of idols) and bhajan are held and Rudram is chanted. Devotees fast 12 hours and keep awake.

Huge crowds flock to the Lord Shiva temples to observe this significant night. During that 12 hour period there are 4 jaamams (sessions of abishakem, alangaaram and chants of manthras and singing Lord Shiva’s glories). The Lord Shiva followers will visit more than one temple in that one night to observe as many abishekams as possible.

Photo taken in Malaysia 2012 at Shiva temple

The Jaamams are as follows:

  • 6PM to 9PM
  • 9PM to 12AM the following morning
  • 12AM to 3AM
  • 3AM to 6AM

I also received a Bilva leaf at the end of the prayer. It come from the Bilva tree and is known as the Lord Shiva’s tree. Looks like a 3 leafed clover but in a larger scale. Each leaf stands for Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This leaf was offered to Lord Shiva.

About the Bilva tree

The Bilva tree grows in almost all parts of India, irrespective of the nature of the soil, and is bitter, astringent and dry by nature. Tall and austere, with a stern aspect, gnarled trunk and sharp thorns, the Bilva is undoubtedly Lord Shiva’s tree. Shiva is always worshipped with its leaves, and it is said that this tree is much loved by him. It is to be found in all Shiva temples throughout India. The Bilva is also found in Devi temples, where it is worshipped. At midnight, on the evening before Durga and Kali pooja (worship), a tantric ritual called Bel Varan is performed with the appropriate mantras. A particular energy is taken from the tree and placed in a kalash (pot). This energy is then transferred to the statue of Durga or Kali to charge or empower it for the coming pooja. The process is called prana pratishtha, the establishing of the life force in the statue. When the pooja is over, the energy is released, a process called visarjan.

The English name for Bilva is Bael, also called ‘stone apple’ as its rather large fruit is like pale yellow suns when ripe. The Hindi appellation is Bel or Bael Sripal. In Sanskrit it is also called Bilva or Sriphal. The botanical name for this tree is Aegle Marmelops, and it belongs to the Rutaceae family. In the Atharva Veda it is described as being so sacred that its wood may not be burned for fuel. It is still worshipped today as a totemic deity by the Santhal tribes in India.

Lakshmyaascha stana utpannam Mahaadeva sadaa priyam,
Bilva vriksham prayachchhaami eka bilvam Shivaarpanam.
Darshanam bilva vrikshasya sparshanam paapanaashanam,
Aghorapaapasamhaaram eka bilvam shivarpanam.

-Sri Bilva Shtakam (v. 6–7)

Definition:

Born from the heart of Goddess Lakshmi, the Bilva tree is ever dear to Mahadeva also known as Shiva. So I ask this tree to offer a Bilva leaf to Lord Shiva. To have darshan of the Bilva tree, and to touch it, frees one from sin. The most terrible karma is destroyed when a Bilva leaf is offered to Lord Shiva.

Indians believe that the knowledge of medicinal plants is older than history itself, that it was gifted hundreds of thousands of years ago to the original inhabitants by Brahma, the divine creator himself. Thus when the sages of the Ayurveda sought to heal human suffering, they were able to draw on knowledge that had already been evolving for millennia in the forests of India. One tree about which they had a very deep knowledge was the Bilva tree. The science of Ayurveda values the Bilva highly for the medicinal properties contained in its root, fruit and leaves, it is a healing tree which cures all diseases caused by vata (wind) and gives strength to the body.

The hunter and the Bilva tree

The Shiva Purana also relates the following story or myth. Once there was a cruel-hearted hunter by the name of Gurudruh who lived in the lonely forest. On the auspicious day of Maha Shivaratri he had to go out hunting because his family had nothing to eat. Maha Shivaratri (the great night of Shiva) is the most sacred time for fasts, prayers and offerings, when even the most involuntary acts, if pleasing to Lord Shiva, are made holy. By sunset Gurudruh had not been successful in the hunt. Coming to a lake, he climbed a tree and waited for some unsuspecting animal to come and drink. He did not notice that the tree he had climbed was the Bilva tree. Neither did he notice the shivalingam beneath it, nor the water pot hanging in the branch just above it.

After some time a gentle deer came to quench her thirst, and Gurudruh prepared to shoot. As he drew his bow, he accidentally knocked the water pot hanging in the tree and some water fell down on the shivalingam beneath, along with a few Bilva leaves. Thus, unknowingly and unwittingly, Gurudruh had worshipped Shiva in the first quarter of the night. As a result his heart was a little purified by this act performed on such an auspicious night. Meanwhile the deer, startled by the movement in the tree, looked up and saw the hunter about to release his arrow. “Please do not kill me just yet,” pleaded the deer. “I must first take care of my children, and then I will return to be food for your family.” The hunter, whose heart had been softened a little by the accidental worship, on noticing the beauty of the deer, let her go on condition that she would return on the morrow to give her body as food for his family.

Later that same night, the sister of the deer came looking for her. Once more the hunter took aim and once more, without his being aware, the water and the Bilva leaves fell down upon the shivalingam. Again, unknowingly, the hunter had worshipped Shiva in the second quarter of the night. The effect of this was that Gurudruh’s heart was further purified. His pranas softened a little more, and he allowed this animal to also go and tend to its young, provided it returned the next day to provide him and his family with food.

In the third quarter of the night, the mate of the first deer came in search of her, and again the strange worship took place as the hunter took aim for the third time. But the hunter’s heart was beginning to melt due to the worship, and he let the deer’s mate go also for the same reason and under the same conditions. Later when the three deer met together, they discussed who should go and offer themselves for the hunter’s food. Even the children offered to give their lives. Finally the whole family decided to surrender to the hunter together, for none of them could bear to live without the others. Thus they set off towards the lake with heavy hearts.

When they arrived at the Bilva tree, Gurudruh was very pleased and relieved to see them, and he immediately prepared for the kill. He took aim for the fourth time, but in the same accidental manner as before, worship in the fourth quarter of the night took place unknown to him. This final action of Gurudruh brought about a complete change of heart and, as he was about to release the first arrow, his heart overflowed with pity for the innocent deer. Tears filled his eyes at the thought of all the animals he had killed in the past, and slowly he lowered his bow. Greatly moved by the selfless action of these animals, he felt ashamed and allowed the whole family of deer to leave unharmed. Such is the purity and spiritual power of the Bilva tree that, even without his knowledge or conscious effort, the cruel-hearted hunter had been transformed into a man of compassion and understanding, and was delivered from his past bad karma by the grace of Shiva and the Bilva tree.

– Source swami Sivananda’s books

The above photo shows multiple things, Shiva sitting in the midst of his Kailash mountains. Shivalingam overlapped with Lord Brahma (The creator) and Lord Vishnu (The sustainer) on either side of  Lord Shiva (The destroyer), with their vaaganam(vehicle).

I pray that all the Hindus out there had a divine and blessed Maha Shivaraathri!

 

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